The narrow, sprawling alleys in Darussalam house mosques, vendors, barbershops, tongs, and families. The evening hours fill up with the sound of many, many children playing and laughing.
If we were to rewind 20 years, we would have most likely found Palash, Kanto and Ibrahim – local kids aged between 6-8 - laughing and running about the streets near the local Adi masjid too.
All their lives and dreams came to a screeching, ruthless halt on the night of Shab-e-Barat in 2011. The three teenagers along with four other friends were roaming in Bordeshi village in Aminbazar.
Some 3km away from Darussalam, the seven friends, innocent and new to the area, were hanging around by the old Aminbazar bridge. There is a stairway that leads down from the bridge. At first, three ventured down those stairs, later everyone else joined when they heard screams from down below.
The other four teenagers were Tipu Sultan, Shams Rahim Shamam of Maple Leaf International School and Sifat Jabi Munif of Bangladesh University of Business and Technology and Al Amin.
The seven students from Mirpur were attacked, beaten and hacked. Only one survived.
The Aminbazar incident shocked the whole country and upended the lives of seven families.
Nearly one month ago, on 2 December 2021, a Dhaka court awarded the death sentence to 13 people and life imprisonment to 19 others on charges of killing six students in Aminbazar on the outskirts of capital Dhaka 10 years ago.
Judge Ismat Jahan of the Second Additional District and Sessions Judge's Court acquitted 25 others accused as their involvement with the incident was not proven.
All seven families continue to live with the heavy grief that burdened their lives since the news broke.
The lived 'trauma' experience of a decade
It was 9 pm on the night of Shab-e-Barat in 2011. Kanto came home with a friend Shakil from his madrassa, and both of them devoured bread and beef at Kanto's house. "He loved beef," Kanto's mother Lutfunnahar recalled. She again burst into tears, trying to hold back her emotions.
Then the two of them left saying they were going to say prayers. At that point, Shakil left on his own, while Kanto met his other friends who ventured to Aminbazar.
This was the last time Abdul Kader and Lutfunnahar saw their son Kanto alive.
During the night, Kanto's mother prayed and rested between her Shab-e-Barat prayers. She also had a bad dream.
"I saw a huge field. In the field, a group of 10-12 people were beating some young people. A police member was taking away a boy with handcuffs, so I ran after the police. Then I instantly woke up," recalled Lutfunnahar, "I was trembling in fear."
At 7am, Tara Miah (Palash's father) phoned Abdul Kader, and asked where Kanto was. He replied, "he might be in the mosque or the madrasa," recalled Abdul.
Abdul was told to turn on the television. There is news of six students being killed in Aminbazar on the suspicion of robbery. "My cable line was a problem. It was filled with static. So I went to Tara's house. The television said 'mob beating'," recalled Abdul.
"I could not trust my ears. I burst into tears. My [other] son also ran to hear the news," recalled Abdul.
What followed upended and devastated Kamruzzaman Kanto's family forever. Kanto was the youngest of the six victims.
One year before the killing, Abdul Kader, a truck driver, had an accident and became bed-ridden for a long time. He was unable to move without a cane. He had to exhaust his savings to run the family.
Now Kader is working as a transport agent and earns a monthly salary of Tk20,000. His younger son, Pranto, works in a shop and earns Tk10,000 monthly.
"If he [Kanto] was alive, he would have completed his education and gotten a good job. I would not have to work with this health condition. They have destroyed my family," said Abdul Kader.
After the brutal killing, Kanto frequently came into his mother's dreams. "I saw him in a white punjabi, pyjama and prayer cap. He would visit often after his death. He called for me," said the mother.
Whenever she wanted to touch him, he vanished. He came as a six-year-old boy. But for more than one year she did not see him in her dreams, said Lutfunnahar.
Over the course of the last 10 years, there is nothing left in the house among Kanto's possessions other than the blue-coloured shirt that he liked the most.
Kanto's mother's dream was to make him a mawlana and get him admitted at the nearby Tarbiyatul Millat Academy Madrasa to complete his Alim degree. Kanto also passed Dakhil from it.
But "he wanted to study science and engineering," recalled his father, "one day, he came to us and informed us of his decision. I think it was because of his friends. He wanted to study with them," said Abdul Kader.
As a result, he got admitted to Bangla College after finishing madrasa. He was able to complete about two weeks of his college education.
For the past decade, his mother, 46-year-old Lutfun Nahar, has been suffering from different health conditions, including: high blood pressure as she could not get rid of the trauma after losing her eldest son.
She sometimes screams at night in sleep. "She used to be extremely active and take care of all the household work," the father explained, "but it all changed with the news of our son's killing."
Currently, Imran Hossain Pranto is studying BBA, Abdul Kader's older daughter Shahnaz Akter Maria is in her second year in college, and his 9-year-old daughter Mayma is studying in the same madrasa where Kanto once studied.
The first Thursday of December 2021 was the day of the verdict. Lutfun was sitting alone in the darkness on a small balcony at her two-bed apartment in Darussalam.
All day long she remained transfixed, void of any other thought. All day long, she thought only of her Kanto.
"I knew that the verdict will be today," said Lutfunnahar, sobbing. Her health deteriorated the week before the verdict was due; after the local people printed posters showing the dead bodies.
The posters - an attempt to trigger national interest and demand justice - were pasted on walls in Darussalam and in different places like the Supreme Court and National Press Club area.
"I cannot look at the poster with the dead bodies. I could not look at the dead bodies, see how they were killed. It hurts," said Lutfunnahar. She said that she spent the last ten years trying but could not forget her son for a single moment.
It has caused her great suffering."Who will feel okay seeing such a scene? [in which her son Kanto's hands were tied]" she asked, "They cut the penis of three children. They showed no mercy."
The psyche of mob violence/beating
As per psychology experts, what enables mob violence can be, primarily, boiled down to a number of factors: the individual's psyche and state of mind, the scope for 'hiding one's identity' and, also, a belief that the justice system in place is inadequate.
Cognitive ability - that includes skills one's brain uses such as thinking - becomes compromised or 'reduced' in mob events, according to Sazzad Chowdhury, psychological counsellor, PHWC, "Emotional expression becomes heightened, and that coupled with reduced cognitive ability can lead to serious, detrimental consequences."
In layman's terms, those capable of mob violence are usually individuals who have been living with suppressed emotions and unaddressed, internal anger issues. As a result, when an opportunity presents itself to channel those emotions, they do not hesitate as they know they will not be held accountable - he/she becomes more susceptible to participate in mob violence.
"The individual acts as the mob, not an individual," explained Chowdhury, "and in many cases, the individual shows remorse after the fact when he/she can separate himself/herself from the mob."
There is "intrapsychic conflict" - meaning internal conflict - at play here too. This is when the individual sees and lives in an environment where wrongdoings are commonplace, and frequently go unpunished. Thus, the individual begins to believe, "if no one is being held accountable then why should I?". It develops a sense of lawlessness in the individual.
What we see more commonly in the streets of Dhaka or elsewhere in the country, are mob beatings of 'alleged' robbers or thieves. Chowdhury explained, "while there are usually individuals in the crowd who want to capture the 'alleged' thief or wrongdoer to hand them over to the law enforcement, there are also those in the crowd who want to 'get the job done'."
An individual's background such as: educational qualification does not matter.. " It is not guaranteed that an educated individual will not participate in mob violence", explained Chowdhury.
While it is understood that we learn about respecting others, morality and social behaviour in schools and education institutes, other factors and variables are at play here; such as our state of mind which is heavily influenced by suppressed aggression and anger.
Tipu Sultan was a second-year student of BBA in Tejgaon College. Tipu Sultan's mother Kazi Nazma Sultana said that he was good at singing since his childhood. He wanted to be a singer.
When Indian Kailash Kher came to Bangladesh, he [Sultan] was really excited to see him. But Nazma did not allow him to go to the concert, she used to be generally strict with his outings.
When he got admitted into college, the principal was very fond of singing. The principal took him to different places for musical programmes. Through a college batchmate, a fellow singer, Tipu Sultan came in contact with the Darussalam boys and became friends.
Tipu was a brilliant student who achieved high marks in his secondary school certificate and higher secondary school certificate. His elder brother is an executive officer working in a private bank. His sister completed her Master's from the University of Dhaka and now lives in Portugal with her husband.
Tipu Sultan was the youngest son of the family.
"He told me, 'Ma, I will buy a car and flat and everything. You will not have to live with [elder] brother.' He was always so concerned about me," said Kazi Nazma Sultana.
Though he was a university student, he liked to listen to stories like ThakurMar Jhuli. When he went outside he always held his mother's hand while walking.
"Our family has completely changed after Tipu's death. I used to sing, my Tipu sang, and my daughter sang. We had a happy life. After his death, none of us has touched the harmonium, let alone sung songs in the last 10 years," said Tipu's mother.
The family members even stopped eating the food Tipu likes the most: mashed tomato, he used to eat rice with mashed tomato, " My daughter has stopped eating mashed tomatoes. She is, after all, his sister," said Nazma.
"He liked to eat sugar canes. So we have not touched sugarcanes since his death. He liked my semai. We no longer eat semai. Whenever I see semai, he comes to my mind.
Happiness has disappeared from my house forever," said Nazma.
Burdens of trauma
A pattern of avoidance such as Tipu Sultan's family's decision to forgo Tipu's favourite food, singing and playing the harmonium are telling signs of trauma. "They are trying to avoid the memory of their beloved family member that certain activities provoke," said Chowdhury, "it is a kind of coping mechanism as they struggle to accept the reality [even after all these years]."
Can you die from grief? "This cannot be said with a guarantee, however, we know that psychological state of mind has a profound and drastic impact on physical health," said Chowdhury, "especially when the grief is coupled with trauma because of the nature of the loss [the brutal, untimely killing]."
Lutfunnahar's (Kanto's mother) inactivity, trouble in sleeping and night tremors can be explained as the effects of the trauma and grief on her psyche. And a loss of interest in life and one's work is a telling sign of an individual edging nearer to severe depression, said the psychology expert.
This sort of trauma has long term effects when it remains unaddressed. "[these families] are living inside the trauma for over a decade, not outside of it," said Chowdhury, "they are having to rely on 'maladaptive coping' as a means of survival."
The legal battle
Following the Aminbazar incident, a local businessman named Abdul Malek filed a robbery case against Al-Amin (the student who survived the 2011 Aminbazar incident) and the other victims.
A judicial inquiry by Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate Utpal Chowdhury later found that the victims had not been robbers. Only then did the police file a case with Savar police station, accusing at least 500 unidentified villagers of murder.
The Rapid Action Battalion investigated the incident and submitted a charge sheet mentioning 60 people in the case in 2013. The same year, the court pressed charges. A total of 92 people were named as witnesses and the judge gave the verdict after hearing 55 witnesses.
The CID has also investigated the incident.
All of this was a result of the families' — particularly that of Kanto's father Abdul Kader Suruj and Tipu Sultan's father Sheikh Md — relentless effort to seek justice. Abdul Kader, the father with a cane in 2011 because of a prior accident, eventually, was the person who physically ran the most.
The two fathers had been running door to door for many years. They collected evidence from colleges and provided it to the state council.
As Abdul Kader Suruj was not well-off, Palash's and other families provided financial support for the day-to-day expenses in the last 10 years.
The two fathers praised the tireless efforts of Shakila Giasmin Mitu, the assistant public prosecutor of Dhaka's second additional District Judge Court. "She wanted justice," said Abdul. Though she was a junior lawyer, she had fought the defences of around 30 senior lawyers in the court almost all on her own.
The main criminal, Abdul Malek, who filed the robbery case against the victims in 2011, was an influential man who ran a sand business.
Three among the accused in the case (Rashed in 2014, Sabbir in 2017 and Kabir Hossain in 2020) died while the trial was ongoing. This further prolonged the legal proceedings.
"When I saw the dead bodies [in the investigation documents], I was shell-shocked. I could not accept that the killing of the six students would go unpunished in this way,
"Many feared [to speak up] because they [Abdul Malek and the accused] were influential but I was determined that I would have to do it. Some villagers previously found two RAB members dead in the same village before the six-student killing incident. I have found it on a CID report," said APP Shakila Giasmin Mitu.
As most of the witnesses were from the Bordeshi village, they did not want to go against their neighbours. Then the state council had to cross-examine the witnesses.
There were some good initiatives that paved the way for justice. Over the course of the RAB investigation, a total of 14 accused have given their confessional statements before the court, admitting their involvement with the killing.
As a lone survivor of the incident, Al Amin could not have helped as much because he was severely hit on the head, and consequently suffered from memory loss to some extent. However, his deposition still helped the case.
"I am happy that finally, the victim's family have gotten justice. My hard work has paid off," said Mitu. She hopes the High Court will uphold the verdict.
The lone survivor
On the night of the verdict (2 December 2021), Al Amin, now 28, was playing cricket with other boys in Darussalam on a small land encircled by houses.
He now lives in his home town Shibchar in Madaripur. He lives on the rent money of a battery-run auto-rickshaw, which is Tk400 daily. Some years back, he married Afsana and now has a 3-year-old baby boy Arafat.
He was so severely beaten that he cannot do any heavy work to this day. Yet, Al Amin is satisfied with the verdict and plans to start a small business in the future.
"Allah saved me only so that we can prove that we are innocent. If I died in the area. They would call us robbers," said Al Amin.
"In that case, no one would have investigated the Aminbazar case. Even my parents would not have gone to bring my deceased body if they believed we died in mob beating because we got caught as robbers."
Al Amin's mother Shilpi Akter is also happy that her son survived the tragic incident.
"I am grateful to Allah that he gave my son a new life," said Shilpi, on the fourth floor of a rented apartment in Darussalam on December 2.
A dream deferred and killed
"If Palash went to the United States, he would have studied in a noted university and eventually secured a good job there," said Sirazul Islam, Palash's elder brother. But that did not happen.
One month after the murder of Palash, his immigration papers came in.
Palash wanted to move to California's North Hollywood where his eldest sister Maksuda Begum settled after winning the DV lottery in the early 2000s and studied physics.
Maksuda wanted to take all her family members to the US for a better future. She completed the grueling paperwork to bring Palash and their other sister Mahbuba Parvin to California, where she lived. Their papers were ready at the same time.
Palash, a handsome boy, was the youngest of all five siblings. At the time of his death, was a second-year student in physics at Bangla College.
His father, Mojibur Rahman, is a retired carpenter from Bangladesh Railway. Due to his limited income, his elder daughter financially supported him.
The family has lived in the Darussalam area for the last 20 years.
Ever since Maksuda moved to California, Palash's mother has been visiting her. She is currently living with Maksuda. Palash's brother is still living in Dhaka but moved from Darussalam.
Even after 10 years since Palash's death, the trauma is still being felt. "The family members no longer enjoy any family event. Everyone misses Palash," said Sirazul Islam. They feel his absence the most in family celebrations, Shab-e-Barat and Eids.
Before getting married, Sirazul shared his bed with Palash.
In 2011, Sirazul Islam was a student and searching for a job. "Palash could not get the things that he wanted like: shirts, shoes, mobile phones. The family could not meet all his wishes due to our financial hardship," the brother added.
Palash tutored students to earn money for his studies. "The financial condition of the family was not that good before, but now it has improved to a great extent. But he is not here to enjoy it," lamented Islam.
Over the last 10 years, Ibrahim Khalil's mother Beauty Begum passed away after the loss of her son. Shams Rahim Shamam's father Aminur Rahim Chandan also died after losing his only son.
And Sifat Jabi Munif was the only child of his parents, both of whom passed away over the course of 10 years. It is thought that they died 'of grief.'
They could not see the verdict.
*** The events that unfolded on the night of the murder and mentioned in this story are recollections from the memory of the parents. The bridge scene is what Al-Amin, the survivor, narrated to Abdul Kader, father of one of the six victims who died.