Police operations were too little, too late in the face of new market violence.

A day after the capital’s New Market area became the scene of furious battles between shopkeepers and Dhaka College students, law enforcement’s apparent inability to bring a swift end to the violence drew criticism yesterday.

 

The fighting, which started on Monday night over a disagreement at a fast food shop and spilled over into daylong clashes on Tuesday, claimed the life of a teenaged courier service employee. At least 50 others suffered injuries and five shops were gutted in fires.

Both shopkeepers and students alleged that a lack of prompt action by police allowed the violence to continue for hours.

 

When the clashes were going on, even cabinet members and top police bosses talked with journalists, but there was lack of fruitful action to stop the clash.

Eminent citizens said if police were active since Tuesday morning, the situation would not devolved to such an extent.

 

Dhaka University Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury said, “Quick police intervention could have stopped the clashes that continued for over 16 hours.

 

“These kinds of clashes took place in the past … in fact we have been witnessing it since the Pakistan era. And police intervened and stopped such incidents.

“I have seen in the media that police argued that they intervened later as it was a delicate matter. But their argument was not logical.”

 

However, police claimed that they played a “neutral” role.

 

AKM Hafiz Akhter, additional commissioner of DB, said in case of any violence, law enforcers try to stop it first by trying to negotiate with both sides.

 

“In this incident, police played a neutral role from the beginning,” he claimed.

 

The situation was relatively peaceful yesterday morning, but it turned complex later in the day when the New Market Business Owners’ Association announced that shops would be reopened. This angered some Dhaka College students as their demands had not been met.

 

Witnesses said as shops began to reopen in the afternoon with a small presence of buyers, at least 10 crude bombs exploded in quick succession inside and outside Dhaka College, bringing traffic on both sides of Mirpur Road to a halt for about an hour from 4:40pm.

 

Large numbers of police took position on the road to avoid any untoward incident. The traders took to the streets in front of New Market but were removed by the police.

 

Gias Uddin, a police inspector on duty in the area, said they removed shop owners and staffers to prevent further violence.

 

Mohammad Rifat, a student of Dhaka college, said the traders should withdraw their statement blaming students for the clashes.

Police said they have collected CCTV footage of the area and identified some perpetrators from both sides.

 

Sharif Mohammad Farukuzzaman, assistant commissioner of DMP’s New Market Zone, told The Daily Star that three cases will be filed over the murder, police assault and violence.

 

‘THIRD PARTY INVOLVED’

 

Traders yesterday said they would not take responsibility for the violence as other parties were involved.

 

At a press conference yesterday, Helal Uddin, president of the Bangladesh Shop Owners Association (BSOA), blamed the “third party” for the incident, but did not clarify who it was.

 

They demanded a proper probe and action against those involved in the incident.

 

“The attack on the ambulance was by no means desirable. The attack on journalists was also very appalling. There were unruly crowds. There was a third party, to be sure. However, if any trader is found to be involved in the incident, action will be taken against them,” he added.

 

New Market Business Owners’ Association President Dewan Aminul Islam Shaheen said they announced that shops would reopen in New Market area from yesterday, saying they had talked to the home minister about it.

 

Visiting the New Market area yesterday, it was seen that white flags were flying on the roofs of Dhanmondi Hawkers Market, Noor Mansion, Gausia Market and Ismail Mansion.

 

“There has been a lot of damage in the last two days, and we don’t want any more damage. That is why the flag has been flown on the roof as a symbol of peace,” said a trader of Noor Mansion.

 

Traders said shops being closed before Eid-ul-Fitr was a major loss for them.

 

Talking to The Daily Star, BSOA President Helal Uddin claimed that shopkeepers in New Market area incurred losses running into tens of crores of taka as they could not do business for the last two days.

At a press conference last night at the Dhaka College auditorium, students placed a 10-point demand and said strict action would be announced if the demands were not met immediately.

 

The demands include: identification of those who launched attacks and their exemplary punishment; bearing of injured students’ medical cost by law enforcement agencies and New Market Traders’ Association; proper compensation for family members of Nahid; bringing those who attacked an ambulance to book; withdrawal of DC and ADC of Ramna and OC of New Market Police Station; installation of CCTV cameras in every market and shop; formulation and implementation of a code of conduct for employees in every market; establishment of a special monitoring cell to ensure safety of buyers and protection of women from sexual harassment in the markets; and returning the college’s land leased to Chandrima Super Market and New Super Market.

 

A video went viral on social media showing ADC (Ramna Zone) Harun-or Rashid directing police to fire rubber bullets at Dhaka College students. He was heard asking for more bullets and was also seen slapping a police member in uniform.

 

Contacted, DMP Commissioner Shafiqul Islam told reporters that he had not seen the video. “Under what circumstances did the ADC slap another police member? If Ramna DC reports, the matter will be investigated and action will be taken,” he said.