Only two and a half months into her marriage Aysha Siddiqua Minni had been waiting for her wedding reception, when her husband was brutally killed. The killers, a bunch of rowdy boys, barely beyond their teens, hacked Shahnewaz Rifat, the husband, to death in broad day light, in front of a petrified morning crowd.
A week later, as Minni was recalling that day, June 26, she shivered at the uncanny horror of the death scene.
Minni first met Rifat Sharif nearly three years back when she was taking higher secondary classes at the Ideal College in Barguna, a southern coastal district under Barishal division.
On 2 July, five days after the murder, reclining on a bed laid in a shadowy corner of her drawing room, with dark circles beneath her eyes that bore the insignia of sleepless nights, she recalled that distant past when she came across the energetic and flamboyant Rifat, a young man brimming with love for her. “Rifat stopped me in my way to home from college, saying that I was his acquaintance. I realized, it was a pretext to start a conversation. Initially, I avoided him. Soon I gave in to his repeated efforts day after day, and a romantic affair grew,” said Minni, when this correspondent met her.
Outside, it was a gloomy quiet afternoon, drenched in an onrush of monsoon clouds that rose from the nearby sea. The faint chirping of birds could be heard from the betel-nut and coconut trees, reminding nothing of the nightmarish week before.
Second among four children of a civil construction contractor, Mozammel Hossen, and housewife Jinat Zahan, Minni used to receive special attention due to her tender face.
“Minni used to wear expensive dresses. Whenever she asked for a cloth, I bought it,” Mozammel, the father, said. He never let his kids face economic hardship.
Rifat Sharif, 26, belonged to a well-off, politically inclined family belonging to Labangola Union. A higher secondary dropout, Rifat was unemployed. But he did not face cash crunch as he was the only son of an affluent landlord Abdul Halim Dulal Sharif.
“He was fond of motor bikes since the age of 12. His fifth bike was an Apache RTR 150”, Dulal Sharif remembered.
On the fateful day, Rifat Sharif rode the bike to the college gate. It was left unattended for hours after the incident. His friends brought back it to home later.
Riding on the bike, Rifat Sharif and Minni often hung out at the lakeside park and restaurants. Their parents allowed their relationship. They were not in a hurry to arrange their kid’s marriage. After all, Rifat Sharif was planning to start up a business while Minni was continuing her studies.
Minni passed HSC last year and got admission at Barguna Govt. College to complete BA (pass) course. She desired to join a government job.
Her father Mozammel, and occasionally her sweetheart Rifat Sharif, escorted her way to the college and home.
A Gang and a Stalker
The accused of the murder, Sabbir Ahmed Nayan was the younger son of Shahida Begum. He continued his studies till 2013 after he passed HSC. He used to identify himself as a student of the Barguna Govt. College. The head of the college Abul Kalam Azad, however, tells The Business Standard that Nayan was never a student of the institution.
According to the lawsuit lodged by Abdul Halim Dulal Sharif, the father of the deceased, the attack was carried out by Nayan, Rifat Faraji, Rishan Faraji, Chandan, Musa, Rabbi Akon, Mohaiminul Islam Sifat, Rayhan, Md Hasan, Rifat, Oliullah Oli, Tiktok Hridoy and four or five unidentified youngsters – all in their twenties.
All of them belong to a gang named ‘007’- code of the famous fictional secret service agent James Bond. Nayan, the self-styled gangster, boasted himself calling Nayan Bond.
Barguna society labels them as a rowdy bunch, as they used to mug people and run a narcotic business. They dared police action also.
Seven months earlier, Nayan caught sight of Minni and approached her. Refused, Nayan went crazy and began to stalk. At one point he started claiming Minni as his wife. His disturbance went intolerable when he threatened to kill Minni’s father and younger siblings.
“Sometimes, he got on rickshaw I was riding. He wanted to talk to me forcibly,” Minni said.
Initially, Minni did not inform her parents about the issues, fearing harsh consequences.
Ultimately she failed to hide her trauma as her mental condition had been deteriorating. Her father, although politically oriented and economically solvent, avoided legal action against Nayan. He was also worried over his younger kids’ safety. Helpless, he brought Minni under mental health treatment.
“Minni went through treatment under two medical health doctors in Barishal and Dhaka. Once she recovered a bit, I decided to arrange her marriage with Rifat,” Mozammel says.
Rifat convinced his father to send marriage proposal to Minni’s family.
Recalling, Rifat’s father Dulal said, “In March, Rifat and Minni tied their knot. The marriage was attended by a few of our relatives. A fest was arranged for 200 guests at a local Alia Madrassa premise. We planned arrangement of their wedding reception after Minni’s examination.”
The couple had plans for roaming around the tea gardens in Habiganj, where Minni’s aunt lived. The tour would have been their honeymoon.
“Even after the marriage, Nayan did not stop stalking me. He was reckless, showing guns. Once he compelled me to attend his birthday party,” Minni recalled.
A number of neighbours at Nayan’s DKP Road house, informed this correspondent that they saw Minni coming to Nayan’s home more than once.
Guardians Were Kept in Dark
Barguna Govt. College principal Abul Kalam Azad said, “Minni never informed any teacher nor submitted any complaint that she was being stalked or harassed.”
College Road neighbours informed that despite not being regular students Nayan and Rifat Sharif were involved with ruling party Awami League affiliated student organization Bangladesh Chhatra League.
Mohammad Shagir, a tea seller at the road, said, “Rifat Sharif and Nayan seemed to be friends, by the look of it. Often they took cups of tea and smoke cigarette together at my shop. They belonged to a same political group till 2017.”
After his marriage, Rifat Sharif planned to join Juba League – another ruling party affiliated organization. His father Dulal was a senior vice-president of the previous committee of Juba League’s Barguna district unit.
Dulal claimed, he had been in dark about his son and daughter-in-law’s perils.
“Rifat was indomitable. He used to roam around the village in day time. During his childhood, he passed whole day playing cricket or football with his cousins and local youngsters. He rarely sat for his studies. “But he passed all his academic exams with merely one-day preparation. He was meritorious,” Dulal says.
Rifat used to dwell at his father-in-law’s house since his marriage. He would love the delicious meals prepared by his mother-in-law. He also loved eating chanachur and Minni-cooked noodles. At evening, the couple often went to restaurants. Rifat was fond of junk food while Minni loved ice-cream.
“Rifat was like my own child. He was so adorable. He also looked after my family members. We chitchatted on many topics including politics and sports. But he never hinted me about the troubles my daughter or what they had been going through,” Minni’s father regreted.
The day before he was killed, Rifat stayed the night at his Labangola house. He performed a massage to his mother, an arthritis patient. No one could have imagined that, it was going to be his last night with family members. Rifat went to bed as usual at 11:00 PM.
The Day it happened
That night, when Rifat went to bed, almost at the same time, several kilometers away, Rifat Faraji, the second-in-command of ‘Bond’ gang was hatching a plan for killing. His plan – as he briefed his fellows in the closed messenger group – was revealed later when some screen-shots of the conversation were released in media.
On the ominous morning, hours before the murder, Minni, without the slightest premonition of what was imminent, escaped her breakfast and hurried to the college campus alone, to be picked up later by the her husband. So when Rifat called on her from the college premises at 10:10 AM, he said, “Let’s have some food”.
That was the last thing she would hear from her husband.
Nayan and his eight cohorts – all almost in and around the age of 20 – ambushed Rifat Sharif at the entrance of the Barguna Govt. College, dragging him to an opening, mercilessly beat and hacked him with sharp weapons. The murder was video recorded in a mobile phone by an anonymous onlooker, from the 4th floor of the college building. Later it went viral all over the social media platforms triggering a huge nationwide uproar.
The footage showed, a helpless Minni trying to save her husband.
Minni said, “There was not a single man ready to step forward to save a person under attack. I was locked in scuffle with Nayan and Rifat Faraji¬. When they left, I noticed that wounded Rifat already got on a rickshaw, all alone. I ran after him and got on his rickshaw. When I wrapped my arm around him, my fingers almost sank into his wounded neck”.
Rifat was bleeding profusely, from eight severe wounds in his body left by sharp weapons. One wound at his neck was deep and fatal. Rushed to the hospital, he died five hours later, beside his family members and friends and a number of emergency doctors struggling frantically to recover his heart beats.
The Collective Amnesia
A week later, The Business Standard correspondent talked to all five shop owners in front of the college boundary wall, where the murder was committed.
Four of them said, they were not present when the incident occurred.
“They are all lying,” said one eyewitness who regretted over the failure of protecting a victim from being murderers.
Two video footages have been released in social media. One is a mobile phone video shot from fourth floor of the Arts Building of the college. The video initially sparked protest against the murder and eventually brought the issue forth for legal action. Another one is a closed circuit camera video. The latter showed that at least nine youngsters, including the youngsters identified to be Nayan and Rifat Faraji with Ramdas, big sharp knives, was hacking Rifat Sharif.
Barguna Superintendent of Police Maruf Hossain on July 3 told journalists that he conferred a number of discussions on security issues among political leaders and local people representatives since he took his present charge at the beginning of the year.
“Drug addiction is severe in the district. Unfortunately, neither the socially influential persons nor the parents seemed to be active against the social problem,” Maruf said.
Nayan, arrested later, was killed in a gunfight with police. Till July 7, four among 12 accused killers and five others were arrested in connection with the case. Before the court, two arrestees admitted their involvement, SP Maruf said.
Fall of a self-styled gangster
With the first rays of the dawn of July 2, a news spread in Barguna town spread like wildfire: Nayan was killed in a gunfight at Purba Burirchar Union.
It was a drizzling morning. When the journalists, both local and from capital city of Dhaka, rushed to the spot to gather details, Nayan’s bullet-hit body laid upside down on a grass field beside embankment of a mighty river named Payra. He was wearing a blue shirt and a three-quarter pant. His cloths were blood-stained.
Local people including children and senior ones crowded there to see the notorious youngster. Some of them, who woke up early for their morning prayers, were gossiping about the gunshots they heard at around 4:15AM.
One senior citizen Shakhawat Hossen said, “What is the benefit of being a gangster if you embrace death like an animal?”
Nayan lost his father ten years back. His elder brother works in Singapore. Along with his mother, Nayan dwelled at their tin-shed houses adjacent to the Barguna Govt. College.
Neighbours of Nayan fear talking about his activities. When they heard about Nayan’s death, they expressed mixed reaction.
“Nayan never disturbed his neighbours,” says Anwarul, a tenant of Nayan’s house which his father bought.
Anwar’s wife Maksuda adds, “But he tortured his mother. Often we heard his mother’s scream and crashing sounds of fallen objects. One week before he killed Rifat Sharif, he chased his mother brandishing a sharp weapon.”
The neighbours informed this correspondent that 10 or 12 youths were used to be Nayan’s permanent escorts. Occasionally police raided his house. No children or teenagers younger than Nayan’s cohorts dared walk head up in front of them.
The Business Standard visited Nayan’s house but found it empty and dilapidated, as if it was ransacked. His books for higher secondary class were still piled up on a rack. There were a number of graffiti on the wall of his living room, expressing his love for Minni. Someone spread black colour on the graffiti.
There were a number of printed copies of the verses from the Quran, hung or pasted on the wall.
It was revealed, since 2015, Nayan got engaged in the district’s narcotic business ran by political leaders. He mugged people and snatched motor bikes to collect money for narcotics. On March 5, 2017, Nayan and his associate Imam were caught by police while carrying narcotics worth Tk 12 lakh, Sadar Police Station officials told The Business Standard.
But he was released soon.
In the July 2 news conference, Barguna SP Maruf regretted that criminals like Nayan often escaped trial due to their political attachment.
According to Police records, Nayan had been accused in eight cases, one under illegal arms act, two for carrying narcotics and five for attempts to murder.
Local people say that Nayan was a cadre of Sunam Debnath, local parliament member Dhirendra Debnath Sambhu. With Sunam’s blessings, Nayan carried out illegal activities. Sunam, while contacted, denied the allegation.
On July 2 evening, a number of political activists marched Barguna town streets, celebrating the closure of Nayan chapter. They distributed sweets among people. When the cheering activists left the place, some commented in an oblique jest - “Drug addicts are celebrating the death of a drug peddler”.
Investigation officer for the Rifat murder case, Humayun Kabir, a police inspector of Sadar Police Station, said, “Relatives are not willing to mention their connection with such a criminal like Nayan. Even Shahida feels disturbed while identifying herself as Nayan’s mother”.
Nayan’s maternal aunt Nasima, also his neighbour, refused to talk about her nephew.
“My husband’s departed soul will rest in peace now,” was Minni’s reaction when the news of Nayan’s death reached her.
Citing Nayan, Minni’s father Mozammel, says, “He killed my son-in-law, also he spoiled my daughter’s life forever. How can she recover from this trauma? What will be her future life?”
Sitting besides Mozammel, Minni gave a blank look on her father’s gloomy face.