Mehendiganj Killings: 4 lives lost to bloody rivalry
Four killings in 10 days -- first two on April 11 and then again on April 20.
Feuds, especially over the Ulania Union Parishad election and control of illegal toll collections at fishery ghats, led to the bloodshed in Mehendiganj upazila of Barisal.
The election, scheduled to be held on December 10 last year, was postponed following a series of clashes, but the rivalry continued and resulted in the killings.
Police and locals say rebel chairman candidate Ruma Begum and her son first plotted the murder of Saiful Islam Mistry to frame their archrival, Awami League-nominated candidate Abdul Halim Milon Chowdhury.
Saiful, a day labourer, was an easy target as his father was paralysed and his wife was helpless with two little kids. His stepmother Kohinur Begum took part in the murder conspiracy in exchange for Tk 40,000.
After the killing around 1:00am on April 11, Ruma's followers announced from a local mosque's loudspeaker at 3:30am that Milon's supporters had attacked Asha village and committed a murder, police and local sources said.
Hearing the announcement, Milon's supporters came out with sticks to protest this, and got locked into a clash with their rivals, which left a man named Sayed Chowdhury badly injured.
Sayed, who was a supporter of Milon, breathed his last at Sher-e-Bangla Medical College Hospital later in the day, said a senior official of the district police.
While police were probing the incidents, two others were killed in Shouldi village under the same union on April 20. This time the victims were two AL activists -- Siddiqur Rahman and Abdus Sattar Dhali.
A district police official, earlier involved in the probe, said these two killings were also plotted by Ruma's family "just to divert attention".
Four separate cases were filed with Mehendiganj Police Station over the killings.
The Daily Star, on a four-day visit to the upazila late last month, tried to dig deep into the rivalry, which started in 2018 after the passing away of Ruma's husband Altaf Sarder alias Altu Sarder, also a former AL-backed chairman of Ulania Union Parishad.
Milon, a member of Ulania union AL, took over most of the fishery ghat toll collections earlier controlled by Altaf, and secured the party ticket to contest the election.
Altaf's son Tareq Sardar, who had taken the helm of his father's group, started campaigning for his mother Ruma, contesting as an independent candidate.
On December 4 last year, a clash between the two groups left at least 33 people injured and three days later, four AL men came under machete attacks, according to local sources.
The next day, 19 houses were demolished, two shops vandalised, and 20 people hurt in another clash, leading to postponement of the polls.
But the feud was far from over.
On the night of April 10, Sarder family's hitmen Jamal and Jashim forced Saiful to Kaliganj Bazaar canal. Saiful's stepmother Kohinur was also present there, police sources said.
About seven to eight men killed Saiful by drowning him in the canal, took the body to a nearby forest and made some cuts all over it with a sharp weapon, a high official of district police told this newspaper.
The body was then dumped in a vegetable field and the announcement from the mosque's loudspeaker came, leading to a clash and the killing of Sayed.
Police said Saiful's stepmother Kohinur filed a case on April 13 against 44 people, including Milon Chowdhury, while Kazi Abdul Alim Chowdhury, a cousin of Sayed, filed a case against 39 including Tareq Sarder.
Police say Kohinur's initial statement was "confusing" and she also went into hiding after filing the case.
Later detained and interrogated, Kohinur admitted that she was involved in her stepson's murder for personal gains, according to a high official of Barisal district police.
Kohinur, then shown arrested in the very case she herself filed, gave a confessional statement.
Md Mominuddin, the then investigation officer of the case, now an inspector of Ujirpur Police Station, said the Sarder family was involved in the killings of Saiful and Sayed.
"Kohinur admitted her involvement in Saiful's murder. She also mentioned that the Sarder family was behind it," he added.
Mominuddin further said Tareq Sarder and his cadres Jashim, Miraz, Jamal, Kamal and Chunnu were accused in different cases filed with Bhola and Mehendiganj police stations.
Based on Kohinur's information, police arrested Jakir and Miraj last month and all three are now in jail.
"We have arrested three including Saiful's stepmother. We found involvement of around 18 people," Shajahan Hossain, additional superintendent of Barisal police, told The Daily Star.
He said the cases have been transferred to the Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) and the probe is on.
Contacted, Tareq Sarder trashed the allegations and said, "It is a conspiracy against me and my family. If a fair investigation is done, the truth will come out."
This newspaper tried to reach Ruma but Tareq said his mother was sick and not in a position to talk to the media.
This newspaper failed to contact Saiful's wife Khadiza Begum as she, along with her two kids, have been missing since the incident.
A month back, Khadiza gave her statement under Section 164 and claimed the Sarder family offered her Tk 10 lakh and a job at the union parishad office to make a deal in exchange of her silence, said police.
Around 10:00am on April 20, AL supporters -- Siddique and Sattar -- were killed in an attack at a wedding party in Shouldi village of Ulania.
Besides police officials, at least ten locals of the village confirmed to this newspaper that the killings were plotted by the Sarder group.
Abul Kalam, officer-in-charge of Mehendiganj Police Station, said they arrested nine people after the incident. Three of the arrestees -- Sohel, Sohag and Joynal -- also gave confessional statements to the court, he said.
"The cases are now under investigation by the PBI," he added.
Sources say the three in their confessional statements mentioned Sarder family's links with the killings.
Humayun Kabir, special superintendent of PBI, told The Daily Star a few days back, "We have received the dockets of four murder cases. We need some time to say something on the matter."
Talking to The Daily Star, Milon Chowdhury said, "The Sarder family killed their men and then tried to put the blame on us -- which came out in the police investigation and arrestees' confessions."
Asked about his rivalry with Ruma over the fishery ghat toll collections, he said the Sarder family resorted to criminal activities to ensure their control over the ghat business.
Local sources said there are at least 50 fishery ghats in Mehendiganj and over Tk 100 crore is collected as "commission" from these ghats every year.
Contacted, Talukder Mohammad Younus, general secretary of Barisal district AL, said it was the flow of illegal money that led to such fierce rivalry and the murders.
"It has embarrassed the party. We have informed the central committee about the situation and requested action," he told The Daily Star.