Rafiqul Islam, a resident of Hamirkutsa Kalupara village at Bagmara in Rajshahi, suddenly became alert.
"I lost my job as a chain master in 2016 after giving an interview to a private television channel. I will not anger anyone again by speaking to the media about it," he said, responding to a question over the present status of former companions of the infamous terrorist Bangla Bhai.
Rafiqul's right hand and right leg were maimed in 2004 after he had been tortured inhumanly by Siddiqur Rahman alias Bangla Bhai – the then second-in-command of the banned militant group Jama'atul Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB).
The followers of Bangla Bhai held Rafiqul in a torture cell at Hamirkutsa High School for two days. Although he survived the indescribable torture that time, he is now living a maimed life.
Under the cover of eliminating outlaws, who were locally known as Sarbahara, the JMB had set up a den at Bagmara in 2004.
On August 17, 2005, it carried out a series bombings across the country. Afterwards, it picked Sarbaharas and Awami League leaders and tortured them.
Bangla Bhai established his main camp at Hamirkutsa. He stayed at the home of a local resident named Ramzan Kawar. Hamirkutsa High School was his torture cell where people from different areas, including Atrai of Naogaon, Raninagar and Naldanga of Natore, were held and tortured. There, 22 people were killed and more than 100 were seriously injured.
In 2004, different media outlets published a series of reports on the rise of Bangla Bhai, which pointed fingers at some ministers and leaders of the then BNP-Jamaat ruling alliance. Three years later, a state investigation also found it to be true.
On Sunday morning, The Business Standard talked to different residents of Palashi village, including victims Farhad Hossain Sajil, Aynal Hossain, Afzal Hossain and Hekmat Ali, in Hamirkutsa market.
They complained that those who had once been associated with Bangla Bhai have now become close to the Awami League thanks to the backing from the local lawmaker. The area is now in their control.
"If we tell the truth, we will have to suffer later. It is better not to speak up about it," said Sajil.
Another victim Aynal Hossain of Palashi village echoed Sajil, saying, "My father, uncle and I were tortured by Bangla Bhai for joining the Awami League. But we cannot open our mouths now."
Bagmara Upazila Awami League General Secretary and former upazila chairman Zakirul Islam Santu also said those who had been companions of Bangla Bhai have now become powerful as they are close associates of current parliamentarian Enamul Haque. Everybody is afraid of speaking against them.
"We staged the first procession against Bangla Bhai in Bagmara. However, they are trying to eliminate me although I am the elected general secretary [of Bagmara upazila Awami League]," said Santu.
Allegations run rife that M Altaf Hossain, secretary on educational affairs of Bagmara upazila Awami League, was close to Bangla Bhai but is now an assistant personal secretary of the lawmaker.
Syed Ali Kha, president of Jugipara union Awami League, was allegedly connected with Bangla Bhai too.
Zakirul Islam Santu said at least 26 of Bangla Bhai's associates have secured posts in different units of the local Awami League, including the upazila committee, because of the lawmaker's influence.
He also said Goalkandi union's Abdus Salam, who sought Awami League nomination in the general election, was also a close associate of Bangla Bhai. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina later cancelled his nomination paper.
The Business Standard called lawmaker Enamul Haque several times but he did not answer the phone.
Victims suffering due to lack of treatment
Ataur Rahman Ata, a local resident, was one of the many victims of the brutal torture of Bangla Bhai.
The 54-year-old man, now bedridden as he was heavily beaten with hammers and hockey sticks, is suffering due to a lack of treatment. His wife earns a living by working as a day labourer.
Ata said, "I received a grant of Tk1 lakh from the prime minister. Also, my eldest daughter helped me get a disability allowance card in 2020. I did not get anything else. Now there is no way for me but to rely on Allah."
Bangla Bhai's cohorts back to normal life
Mamun of Palashi village, once associated with Bangla Bhai, now works as a muhuri in the Bhabaniganj registry office. Mamun was behind the torture of 25 victims in Palashi by the JMB. After a long imprisonment, he is now working as a muhuri from home.
Mojnu alias Boltu, known as "Hockey Stick Boltu" during Bangla Bhai's terror reign because of his use of hockey stick for torturing, now has a hardware shop in Hamirkutsa market. He too served a long prison time.
Another one named Montu has a shoe shop in the same market. He was also a torturer during the time of Bangla Bhai.
Montu and Mojnu could not be reached for comments, but Mamun on phone claimed that he had no connection with Bangla Bhai.
He said he had been acquitted in two cases. "There are three more cases in my name. The witnesses do not identify me. I hope I will get rid of these cases, too. I am currently on bail," he said.
Mamun said in 2005, he was the union secretary of the BNP. "That is why I have become a victim to vengeance. I was not associated with Bangla Bhai in any way."
Bagmara police station Officer-in-Charge Ataur Rahman said there is no JMB in Bagmara now and no case against anyone either.
All cases have been dismissed. However, 42 people who were associated with Bangla Bhai at that time have to report to the police station every week, he added.