Near and dear ones continue to cry out for justice for Rajshahi University professor AFM Rezaul Karim Siddiquee, who was hacked to death just over a year ago on April 23. His murder mobilised people against the brutal attacks on free-thinkers as intellectuals from all over Bangladesh united in their demand for justice.
“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”
For the people of the northern hemisphere, April is classically associated with mild weather, flowers, breeze, love and romance. So, how can it be cruel to me and hundreds of other students of Rajshahi University’s English Department?
April comes to us with the sense of loss and longing, of being rooted in the past. It re-awakened memories of things that cannot be experienced again as we lost our RKS, a father figure to so many of us, forever.
Rajshahi University Professor AFM Rezaul Karim Siddiquee, popularly known as RKS, was hacked to death by suspected Islamist extremists near his home in Rajshahi on April 23 last year while he was waiting for his university bus.
A collective scream composed of anguish, sorrow, and shock rose at the passing of this music and literary works enthusiast.
O Professor! My Professor!
Being a journalist, I both wrote and edited a number of murder stories of bloggers, free-thinkers, and secularists last year. I composed all those bitter pieces with a broken heart and grave concern as to me such incidents were a complete indication that nothing has actually changed for free-thinkers in our country.
But, when I received the traumatic information of RKS’ killing from my Rajshahi correspondent as the first story to be drafted by me in the morning, my hands started shaking for the first time while writing a crime piece. Tears rolled down from my eyes and I forgot why I was crying! I cannot recollect the complete memory of the day as to who wrote the story finally for me. Everything ran together in a blur, through which I could still remember my first class with him.
Memory evokes emotions, bringing either a smile to your face or tears to your eyes. My first joyful memory of RKS involved my late entrance into his class one day with a freshly cut branch of Gulmohar and my first lie to him that those flowers were for him to avert any consequences. His childlike wonder and joy made me ashamed and I promised myself: “I will never be late for his classes and will never lie to him.”
But I broke the promise to be on time over and over again over the next few years, something that will always haunt me as I didn’t get any chance say sorry to my professor. And I will never get the chance to thank him for considering my irresponsible acts with fatherly affection.
He was the first teacher to initiate fresher’s reception for us and to encourage a newcomer like me to perform on the stage on the occasion of my own reception ceremony. And, he was one of my teachers who guided me to get higher scores in my final year exams, providing me his handwritten notes and other materials.
Not all students are as lucky as Ekalavya, who cut off his thumb and presented it to his teacher Drona as guru dakshina. I regret not paying proper tribute to my professor!
A Complete Family Man
Recalling the memory of her father, Rizwana Hasin Shotovi, the daughter of the slain professor, said: “Apart from being an honest person, he was an ideal father as he always took crucial steps to ensure a healthy and wholesome upbringing for his children. From our childhood, he taught us morality, discipline, and sincerity.
“As a daughter, I sometimes complained that my father’s top priority was his students. But, our father-daughter relationship turned out to be something more wonderful when I got myself admitted in his department and spent six long years with him as his student. I felt that I discovered a new person in him, who is more than a simple family man or a university teacher.”
Riyasat Imtiaz Sourav, son of RKS, said: “My father is my musical inspiration. When we lost him, I was left with a gaping hole in my heart and the question: now who do I do it all for? But as he taught us how to act maturely, I put all the pieces of my shattered heart together and learned how to survive without him.”
Commemorating her beloved husband, Hosne Ara Sheera, said: “He spent most of his life practicing sitar, reading books and working towards the cultural betterment of his students and young generation. However, he was a complete family man and his feelings for me and the family was pure. He was an ideal father as well as a beloved husband.”
Justice Eludes Family
Hours into the killings of Professor Karim, militant group Islamic State claimed the responsibility for the attack, according to US-based SITE Intelligence Group.
His son later filed a murder case against anonymous people for the attack, which, police said, has similarities with the style of the murder of blogger and secular activists in the past.
The prime suspect in the murder case has not been apprehended, prompting his family members to cast doubt over the chances of getting justice.
Lamenting the slow pace of the investigation, Rizwana Hasin Shotovi, daughter of the teacher, told the Dhaka Courier: “The prime suspect of the case is still on the run. It’s been a year now, but no progress has been made.
“As the murder was planned by a powerful and evil force, we have concerns that the delays in the trial procedure will affect the case. We want fair probe and speedy trial of my father’s killers.”
Professor Shah Azam Shantonu, general secretary of RU Teachers Association, said: “A year has passed, but the law enforcers failed to arrest the main suspect of the case, which is disappointing.”
Contacted over the phone, Alamin Hossain, senior assistant commissioner of Rajshahi DB, said: “The detectives have carried out their duties with full dedication and submitted the charge sheet in the case. Of eight suspects, three have been killed in different incidents of crossfire and four are behind the bars.
“All four arrestees have given confessional statement under section 164 of the criminal procedure code (CrPC). The police are trying to capture the prime suspect and hopefully, the law enforcers will arrest him in a short time.”
Who was RKS
Commonly known as the “Man with the Silver Camera,” Professor Karim was a culturally active and open-minded person, who loved to take photographs, read books, write stories and play the sitar.
Born in 1955 in Rajshahi, he completed his graduation and post-graduation from Rajshahi University English department in 1976 and 1977 respectively.
He joined as a lecturer at RU English department in 1983. He also achieved PhD degree in 2000 and served as chairman of the department from 2001-04. He was promoted to Professor in 2006.
He was the founding editor of Kamal Gandhar, a cultural magazine.
He was the adviser of two cultural organisations — Arony Sangskritik Sangsad and Sundaram.
“He was a very peace-loving person who never hurt religious sentiments of anyone. He was also a politically neutral man,” said Abdullah Al-Mamun, associate professor of English Department, also a colleague and student of RKS.
He kept in touch with his roots, visiting his village often and celebrating festivals with children, who flocked to him.
Apart from attending and arranging cultural programmes, he used to participate in religious functions as well. He constructed a mosque at his village and used to donate to a local madrasa. The machetes of the extremists cut down Prof. Rezaul Karim Siddiquee in his prime. But he lives on in the memory of those who knew him and his name has become a rallying cry for peace-loving and free-thinking people across the nation.
The writer is Maria Salam, in-charge, English Version at the Daily Kalerkantho. (The story was first published in the Dhaka Courier on April 26, 2017.)