Tuesday, June 20, 2000

The Bangla Cyber-war paranoia: Assam gulps the bait!


Bangladesh has had a very quiet entry into the information technology revolution, and unknown to the Assamese 'raieez' (public) are also its 'unsung heroes'. For instance when the CIS virus affected Bangladesh like the rest of the world last year, important people in Dhaka, were queing up to shake hands and seek the assistance of a sixteen year old, who it seemed, was the only one in a population of 120 million people to have an easy and cost effective solution, to mend crashed hard disk's and retrieve lost data files.

Therefore when the news of the alleged 'Bangla cyber war on Assam' flashed across my PC screen last week, it was only the headline that I glanced momentarily, before I skipped on to the next mail. I did not have the time then, to go through all the details and other than this cursory glance, I remember thinking, that perhaps some Bangladesh computer whiz kid, has managed to play a prank with his technological prowess, and has infected all the computers across Assam with a strange new virus - or maybe hacked the account of somebody 'very important' - a perfect cyber war scenario!

Amused, I sat back to await SOS coming in the form of, 'please help disinfect' emails from atleast two of my cousin's in Assam who I know own PC's. They have never sent me an email till this day, and I relished the opportunity of getting square with them. Indeed I had mentally drafted, a short curt reply - 'a cousin in need, is no cousin of mine'. That ofcourse did not happen, and I quickly forgot the matter.

Little was I to know then about the ongoing disquiet as also that the Assamese had in the meantime, redefined the word 'cyberwar' to mean an invasion of its geographical territory, replete with call's for high level intervention - the request made to none else, then the Prime Minister of India. Somebody in Assam has obviously over reacted - or was this PANIC ?


I must admit at the outset, that I am part of a growing fraternity of 'Netizens' here in Dhaka, Bangladesh who actively participate in debates that very often come up on many Bengalee Internet website, or news groups. At any given time, no less that ten thousand Bengalees in Bangladesh, and all across the world 'buzz' on the Net. This is a passion not only for me, but many like me, who have taken advantage of using the Net to vent their unpredictably unique opinions and points of view, that would otherwise not be considered 'print worthy' by any newspaper in Bangladesh.

For dubious reasons of 'sensitivity' - a useful ploy, dissent and alternative thinking are deliberately kept at bay, from what is construed pompously, as the sensibility of 'public opinion'. The prerogative of that judgment it seems, is understood only by editors of newspapers and media moguls. Therefore the 'public on the Net', and 'public at large' are evolving as two different species, and if this 'Assam cyberwar paranoia' is any indicator - they are also being delineated unnecessarily on hysterical lines.

Debate can happen from the privacy of your bedroom, at your appointed time, without any risk more severe, than backlash from other participants, in what in Netspeak is termed a 're-axe'. The most dreaded backlash can be 'hate mails', and the easiest way that I have dealt with them, is by 'comfortably deleting, without reading'. Ignorance can sometimes be bliss!

While most debates can be academic and esoteric (read boring!) others can be extremely lively or heated. I remember one, in the News From Bangladesh, the country's highly radical, uncensored (exception is the F word), on-line, daily newspaper website, which caters to over twelve thousand hits per day - a debate on Islam, that spiraled way out of control, and escalated to discussions on the sexual life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This continued, uninterrupted for well over three months and had this been a 'public forum' or mainstream newspaper in Bangladesh, I'm sure atleast half a dozen participants would have been tried and executed for blasphemy by our forever excitable 'kut mullah's'!

Yet here we were on the Net, and it all ended peacefully, with 'kichu monay korben na' (hope you did not get me wrong), 'ektu gorom na holay kee koray hoi' (if it does not heat up, where is the fun) and then the 'bhai, bhai' (brother,brother) camaraderie, followed by mild threats of 'porar bar apnakay dhora hobay (will get you next time) - which is typical of Bengalees making up after a feud. Two weeks later, it comes as no surprise to see two past antagonist in a debate, ganging up to make mincemeat out of a new protagonist - again very very typically Bengalee!

Since 1995, I have had the privilege of participating in more than a dozen such debates, and every one of them has been an opportunity for me not only to make friends and get to know many people across the globe, it has been one more innocuous and humble step - towards knowledge. Rest assured I have not made any enemies!

There are thousands of colorful and brilliant minds out there, as well as complete loonies, and people with very serious bias and attitude problems - but again at the end of the day its 'democracy' and 'freedom of speech and expression' that is the enshrined credo in the Net, and that is where the 'battles' - if not wars of the future will be fought. Something like a virtual 'e-world parliament' if we may. Peaceful 'battles of minds' and geared towards human consensus, that should never ever be equated or considered synonymous with the sins and ravages of WAR.


On to Dr.Jaforullah's article and his suggestion for a 'loose confederation' between Bangladesh, West Bengal and North East India, and the purpose of this piece.

It was my ebullient friend Tanveer Chowdhury, the Editor of News From Bangladesh which originally posted the article by Dr.Jaforullah aka Abul Hasanat on the 5th June 2000, before it crawled on to ), who called me frantically three days back to inform that 'tor Oshomiya bhaiyera cheitya gesay' (your Assamese brothers have gotten irate) - in very pun intended Dhakaiya dialect, that is the lingua franca amongst us friends.

He asked me to urgently go through the contents of the email and to put forward my views on the debate, which he considered would be 'unique' - given the fact, that I am a second generation Bangladesh-Assamese, born, raised and living in Bangladesh? So be it.

While we are just a handful in Bangladesh, we are nonetheless proud of who we are, Bangladesh citizens of Assamese descent, and I am absolutely sure, I am not alone. Out there, somewhere in the 'wilderness' called the rest of the world there must be many more like me, British-Assamese, American-Assamese, Pakistani-Assamese - who knows?

It's time we have our say without fear or favor, as to what ails Assam, and if a solution can be found to the unending human tragedy that has befallen our brethens and pains us no less - nothing would make us happier. We have a recent point of reference. The resolution of the years of strife in Ireland, came about the mediation, not only of the British or the Irish people, but to a large degree, the Irish-American communities.

To begin, here is a quote from R.Dutta Chowdhury's, article in The Assam Tribune, dated 15th February :

"In an alarming development, a group of Bangladeshi intellectuals have launched a cyber war to divide India and mooted a proposal to form a confederation comprising Bangladesh and the north-eastern States of India. The intellectuals are using the website to propagate their idea of inclusion of the north-eastern States of India with Bangladesh and according to security sources, such propaganda may result in serious consequences for the security of the country."

I'd like to thanks Mr.Chowdhury, for his report suggests in some round about way, that Dr.Jaforullah has been very successful, in getting the Assamese people, the party in position, its intelligentsia to justifiably 'gulp the bait,' co-opt and advance the purpose of an 'open international debate' on Assam. Dr.Jaforullah has perhaps inadvertently wheeled out his 'line', and has now only to reel in the proverbial 'fish' and let the public, and the world in particular scrutinize the 'fishy' state of affairs, that has been the tragic legacy of Assam for decades.

Dr.Jaforullah is certainly no 'intellectual'. I do not know the status quo in Assam, but that overly abused term in Bangladesh refers to someone who has only unsolicited advice to offer on any and every subject in the public domain, without ever advancing a possible solution. With thousands of 'intellectuals' in our peripheral horizon, basking in media overkill, Bangladesh has apathetically not found solutions to many of its own problems. Who knows, Dr.Jaforullah's proposal may indeed turn out to be prophetic for Assam and its people in the days ahead, and maybe in some degree for Bangladesh.

His proposal for a 'loose confederation' is by no mean a loose canon. Whatever its merits or demerits - confederation does not mean political control on Assam, it does not mean that Assamese have to bow to the whims and caprices of the 'miya munshiz', and it also does not mean that the Bangladesh people have some kind of sinister 'plot' to invade Assam, and destabilize India.

All Dr.Jaforullah's thoroughly researched and brave proposal implies is, it is an option, an alternative thought process. It means the Assamese people now not only have an opportunity to decide, they also have a proposal that tells them, how to decide - to the prosperous way forward. In all probability it might not work - but I see no harm as why we should not even give it a thought, because something entirely new, and nowhere near our current flow of thinking may emanate out of somewhere, that could well be the SOLUTION we are looking for?

This is a personal opinion, but clearly in fifty years, being part of the Indian Republic has not solved Assam's problems. It has been kept deliberately poor, it's wealth and resources plundered, its people held hostage to guns, its human rights trampled upon, and the state has even denied any opportunity by International observers to visit and carry out any impartial investigation into the problems. On the same token, by terming them 'internal matters' the Indian Republic has been carrying out systematic carnage and repression's in Assam, equal to what Bangladesh has witnessed in 1971, complete with 'black out' of news, with the tacit support of its all powerful media - the Assamese media being no exception.


Prophetic as this may sound, in the new millennium, and in the way the world is shaping, we will see many old borders being wiped off larger maps, and many new national borders emerging, because ultimately the precursors to those great changes will no longer be 'politics' as we know today - but essentially guarantees of economics freedom and free trade among people, to replace the brutal and demeaning protectionist trap expounded all in name of geographical or 'national sovereignty'. Individual sovereignty will definitely replace : 'political' sovereignty, and there is no two way to it. The sooner we accepted it, the better it is for all of us.

Politics in our region - has moved away from its true meaning i.e. the study of people, to study of the machination of 'political parties' and the demons they create in the guise of 'leaders'. It wont be before long when political futures will be decided, not by the number of votes that one connives to accumulate on election day. They will be decided pretty much, on how political parties bring in economic empowerment with a justifiable mandate for the development of its people, with a firm faith and practice of the institute of democracy, where freedom of speech and expression is a prerequisite for good governance.

Its perhaps this point that Dr.Jaforullah emphasizes when he says "the Government of India should not view the proposal as a death nail to their republic and other regions of the subcontinent can also form their confederations for economic development." This proposal is therefore not a threat to the Government of India, but more - a realization of changing times, focused towards reality, and devoid of any emotive excesses, that will only condemn Assam to the back seat of progress, if it has not already.

Truly, under the benign gaze of the Indian Republic, such ideas may seem 'treacherous' or 'separatist - but may we ask for whom? The Assamese people - perhaps - but what has been over exuberantly overlooked, is the proposal has come from a citizen of an independent country that shares a huge common border and perhaps a common destiny with the people of Assam. It is worthwhile reminding readers, that the citizens of Bangladesh have not been overwhelmed by the 'fear psychosis' that has been deliberately employed by the Indian Republic to envelop and bludgeon the people of Assam into unwilling submission. Bangladesh citizens have a right to think differently, perhaps even act differently.

To view an alternative idea coming from a citizen of a neighboring country with no known hostile intent, as 'propaganda' and 'security threat' implies that Assam is tethering on the brink of blatant subjugation, its media and intelligentsia, a party to tacit collaboration of its ruling class and their Marwari cohorts, all in an attempt to keep Assam forever shackled and ensnared in the dark ages, while great possibilities of it becoming an economic super power in the region is being deliberately thwarted.

Therefore is there anybody out there in the rest of the world, in Assam or in India, that can deny the hard TRUTH in Dr.Jaforullah's assertion :

"the economic malaise in North East India has been endemic for quite some time. For too long, the region has been neglected by the planners in New Delhi. For the last half a century, the NE region was affected economically without taking part in wealth accumulation."


Back to Mr.Chowdhury's report :

" Meanwhile, the security agencies have viewed the developments seriously and expressed the view that such propaganda may seriously affect the security of the country as a whole, at a time when most of the NE states, barring Mizoram, are affected by insurgency. Security sources also expressed doubts on whether Jaffar Ullah is the real name of the writer of the article."

The weakness of Indian security apparatus is clearly apparent from the above report. For one, security is a subject that is never discussed in public. Howsoever a security agency operates, gathers intelligence, thinks, or 'views developments' is confidential information - obviously the above is a figment of Mr.Chowdhury's imagination - a veiled, 'beware, big brother is watching you' kind of threat to an esteemed Bangladesh scholar, Dr.Jaforullah. Carrying this a step forward by 'reporting' to the central authorities in Delhi, is an implied and unprovoked, emotional blackmail on the people of Assam, all in efforts to deny them a right to speak out, with pains of 'dire consequences'. The Bangladesh authorities let me reassure everyone in Assam, will hardly be bothered to 'take up' for serious scrutiny anything that happens in the Net.

For far too long, there has been a patronizing and condescending attitude of the ruling class in New Delhi, to use local lackeys even here in Bangladesh to prove the 'invincibility' of the Indian security system - and its MIGHT, while it tries hopelessly to position itself as a 'global superpower'.

The 'wonderful life' of the Indian people as the propaganda of the Indian media would have anyone half believe, is propelled to make India appear as the 'happening' hub of the universe, while in reality it reflect less than one percent of the lifestyle of its total population. While it goes nuclear, its beauty queens romp the world stage, makes no effort to respect it smaller neighbors, and aging film 'superstars' make the middle class excited about the prospect of becoming millionaires through television game shows, while Hyderabad becomes Cyberabad to explain the 'great strides' India has made in IT, to become a super power, the dire situation is that the vast majority of its population live in abject poverty, and is denied fundamental civil and human rights,

Lurking behind all of that is an absence of a solid infrastructure and support system. It only takes an earthquake in Gujarat, to prove the fragility of India's human resource mobilization and management. It needs foreign rescue workers to pull out victim's from rubbles, and it has also to rely on mediamen and Net buffs in Assam to discover a 'potent threat' to its security, all because a Bangladesh citizen has come up with an alternative proposal to the future and prosperity of Assam.

Would the harsh reaction's been the same, had it not been Dr.Jaforullah, but an American who was the author of the same piece? Dr.Jaforullah is a respected columnist in Bangladesh newspapers, and while he does occasionally write in the pseudonym Abul Hasanath, there is nothing shady or deceitful about his real name.

Yet in another article on the Net, authored by Wasbir Hussain, dated the 22nd February for India Today, he quotes portions of a letter sent by the Assam Chief Minister's wife to Mr.Lal Khrishna Advani where she states
"unlike the border in Kashmir that has natural barriers, along Bangladesh, in Assam, Meghalaya and other parts of the region, the border is porous and navigable in certain stretches"
- all well said and done.

However the alternate proposed by her to the Honorable Home Minister of India is not only simplistic, but downright quixotic! On her own terms "Dr.Jayasshree Mahanta in her letter to Advani has reiterated the demand to fence the Assam-Bangladesh border of influx'.

Does Mrs.Mahanta have any idea as to cost implications of her proposal and the human resources that will be required to monitor the perimeter of such a fence ? As if that is not enough, how does she envisage 'fencing' the parts of the borders which on her own admission are 'navigable in certain stretches' ? Also is she capable of 'fencing in' the views expressed on the Net by the people of Assam?


While the question of illegal Bangladesh influx into Assam has been debated for long, I can say without any hesitation that the issue has been a deliberate communal political eyewash. While more than two million Bengalees of Bangladesh descent have made Assam their natural abode for almost a century, they have provided Assam's agrarian society, skilled farm workers and day laborers working on fallow land and contributed traditionally to Assam's economic well being. In any hypothetical 'expulsion' from Assam, it will the Assamese people that will be affected, as clearly they will loose a hard working community, who toil in the soil only to feed them. Their absence could prove to be a catalyst for severe food shortages and drought like conditions and pestilence may follow .


Last if not the least I would like to make a call to all conscientious Assamese to come forward and initiate a debate on Assam, which is free from any compulsion or threat, in a civilized world forum called the Internet.

I have had the opportunity to make friends with Assamese globally through the Net, and have been shocked to note, that all have shirked away from a sensible debate on Assam, mainly due to what they perceive as threats to their immediate families in Assam by the vicious and murderous goons that is patronized by the ruling AGP and its henchman's - in the event of their participation.

This proves all the more, the absence of any Assamese on the Net to take Dr.Jaforullah head-on when it was being debated with such earnestness, although thankfully, there were some Bangladesh national like Dr.Asad Khan who opposed vehemently the idea of a loose confederation.

Should such a debate be acceptable to the people of Assam, it will actually be worthwhile to include the ULFA leadership in hiding to participate, and take on a public scrutiny of their position - which is considered fair and principled by the freedom loving people of Bangladesh. However arrangements ought to be made to ensure that the conditions are appreciated by the people of Assam, before this debate can be initiated, and that also calls for the active participation of the representatives of the Republic of India.

If we can not debate - I am afraid I see no chance of peace and prosperity to ever return to Assam. Failing, blood will only beget blood, revenge will only beget revenge and injustice will breed further rebellion. That has been the testament of our times.

To rebel against injustice - is justified - is a time honored tradition. There is no such thing as a humane war. WAR's have never been solutions. With the Net as our backbone - war's and human conflicts can be avoided and I most emphatically add that a solution can be found.

So let them be battles not WAR! Let the 'battles of mind' begin, and all I can do is pray, that the best mind and ideas prevail.

Monday, June 12, 2000

Mac's Public Testimony on Jailing and Torture at Odhikar Human Right Conference

Maqsoodul Haque, Cultural Activist:

I was arrested last year on 2nd of November for reasons, which still remain a mystery to me. I have been a cultural activist in this country for a very long time and I have been a rock musician and later on, country for a very long time and I have been a rock musician and later on, I became jazz-rock fusion musician. My political views have always been questioned, because I never supported any particular political party. I never believed in anything more than speaking for the rights of the people of this country and with my experience as a musician I have always thought that perhaps this is the best way I can reach the young people of Bangladesh to share my ideas and views which have always not been the liking of the powers that may be on this part of the world.

I became jazz-rock fusion musician. My political views have always been questioned, because I never supported any particular political party. I never believed in anything more than speaking for the rights of the people of this country and with my experience as a musician I have always thought that perhaps this is the best way I can reach the young people of Bangladesh to share my ideas and views which have always not been the liking of the powers that may be on this part of the world.

My alleged crime if I am allowed to say that was a crime, I apparently made on last year. I came up with an album, the first jazz rock fusion album in the history of Bangladesh in the Bengali language and one of the experiments I did was I did render a jazz rock fusion version of a song made famous by Rabindranath Tagore, the nobel laureate and immediately I was punched upon by the cultural elite of this country.

Eleven odd Pro government, pro Awami League organization went public to ask for my punishment, to be banned from public performance and television performance and this was specified by the fact that actually Bangladesh Television allowed that song to be taped and put on air in June of last year. And the controversy started just after the song was aired by Bangladesh Television , the state run Television Center and it was a very malicious attack on me and this continued and thanks to lot of enlightened people of this country it was a debate which was very interesting to a certain stage when every body participated including Mr. Enayetullah Khan who had very kind words to say about my approach to the whole attitude.

This went on and I was very much honored that no one less then the biggest Tagore pandit of this part of the world Justice Habibur Rahman, actually wrote an article in the Prothom Alo. Which supported the fact that an artist actually has a right to interpret his dream and there was no way legally that act could be stopped.

But the tragedy followed that I was given show cause notice by the Government of Bangladesh basically Bangladesh Television by Mr. Nawazish Ali Khan the General manager and that punitive action will be taken against us in the first few days.

Consequently I refused to reply to the show cause notice because the notice showed nowhere the crime I had committed. It did not mention anywhere what particular guideline in The Bangladesh Cultural Code, if there is any such thing, I have violated.

So after the first two months of this debate, which was also carried on the internet and lot of people participated from all over the world it was a vary academic debate, it got very ugly towards the end when suggestions were made that I have done that with communal intent and that my intention was to demean the religious sentiment of the Hindu Minority of this country and it all got very, very malicious.

So I knew things were not very good on the other side. I started to get threats, telephone calls, letters and my movement was being monitored. The cultural activists have really proved that their fascist culture, their fascist character. 11 organizations some of them are not even closely connected with culture at all. Like the Awami League backed the pro government so called cultural activists.

This went on and there came a time when I realized that I was being watched, I was being hounded and I decided to go underground.

I disappeared for about 4 days and I went across to Bikrampur outside of Dhaka. Unfortunately I could not share all these with my wife and when I went underground she made a General Diary with the Pallabi Police Station in the Mirpur that I have gone missing with my car. So when I returned on the 2nd November morning of last year I was stopped half a kilometer away from my house by the police and they checked my identity. When I reached home I had a friend with me who accompanied me because I went to his village. When I reached home the police came back checked with my wife, they asked her is this your husband she said yes he is back home thank God.

It was morning about 7 o'clock my wife went back to the police station and took the GD back. She said my husband is back I don't need to pursue with the GD any more. However, at 8.30 in the morning three policemen came to us and they in very abusive terms wanted me to get out of the house. And I wanted to know from them exactly what the specific charges against me were and they said not to ask questions 'you will be in trouble, you will be more trouble then you know'. Therefore, I said I am not coming out and they went away.

In about 45 minutes time, another police force of about 40 police officers in uniform and some in plain clothes encircled my house and kept on ringing the bell and banging the gates. I refused to come out of the house. I was fearful because it was our young friends, my wife and I in our house. We were fearful of our security and I played on silence for about 20 minutes. Then my wife and me came out to say 'look if there is any warrant against me then please tell me then I will very gladly come out'.

Then they said, 'no you come out, you have to come out right now'. We again shut the door, then we heard the gates been broken. I wrote a note in Bangla to say 'entering somebody's house, to break into somebody's house without a warrant is illegal and I threw it out the window. That sustained the police for a while but again it all started. Consequently about ten minute's time they broke 2 steel gates, my main gate and they came into my bedroom and handcuffed me. They dragged me and on the way as I was been dragged out in the full view of my neighbors more than hundred neighbors were then standing there to find out what was going on. All the time, I was kicked and punched on my face, in my back, in front of my neighbors.

Then I was being taken to the Pallabi police station. Again I was in the full view of many people and I was beaten up. I was locked up in the custody and it was a very harrowing experience. All my friends my wife, her friends everybody showed up. But the police gave absolutely no reason why I had been arrested. Inside the lock up I was being denied food and water. Till 9 o'clock of the next morning, almost for 24 hours, I was being denied food or water.

All the while I was fearful of my security because all the criminal elements being put in there and I could see some of them are very violent. It was probably asked by the police to beaten me up while I was inside. It was making my life hell. While I was inside the custody and worst if not the least police's behavior towards me was very much in a 'tui tui" basis which is like the lowest form of address you can get to any class of people in this country calling 'tui' which is the worst derogatory form of address to anybody.

When I was taken to the court, in the court custody where I was for a while, there we eventually realized that I have been arrested under section 54. And the alleged suspicion was that, I am a leader of a well planned terrorist organization of the city there could be possibility I may recourse to illegal arms and that they wanted a 4 day remand which of course the honorable Court rejected but none the less the damage is done. I had a worst time in jail.

The first 24 hours in the thana custody and the next 2 days because the bail application came a little late because of some holiday so I was incarcerated in the Central jail for three days and one day and four days of my life had been taken away from me. Is this not enough?

The pro government press planted a story in all the newspaper of the country that I have actually been arrested for beating up my wife. In addition, with my photograph, me being handcuffed and roped on my waist and story of me beating my wife had been played up in different media in different way.

The tragedy of the whole situation is that till today that I am speaking of my experience, nowhere in the press, no one has come up actually to find out whether I have actually beaten my wife. No one has taken my wife's interview. I am pretty surprised with one thing that, how could the press suggest that I could beaten up my wife.

Even if I have beaten up my wife, the case would have began by my wife, and I believe that there is such a thing as wife abuse or child abuse which is a non-bailable offence. So how could I be bailed out in three days? So I wonder why the press of our country never came to me. This is a conspiracy. This may be called fascism. This is something we all have got to be aware of . This can happen to me it can happen to anybody of the society no matter from what social strata you come to and the worst abuse is of course the psychological abuse.

Psychologically I was devastated. I had to go underground after my release about for 15 days and then the physical abuse the forced sitting which have resulted in my back having a very acute low back stress. I am still under treatment of my doctors. It is going to be a long-term thing. Part of my spine have actually been curved I have got my x-rays to prove that all because of these 18 hours of forced sitting. So, I think I am not the sort of a person who goes around for sympathy. But I think I demand sympathy on behalf of the people of Bangladesh because if I am one victim, then I think there could be hundreds and thousands out there who still haven't been heard and thank you for giving me this opportunity.

Odhikar Bangladesh

Thursday, June 08, 2000

The News from Bangladesh Interview - To Jail and Back

Interviewed by Ahsanul Akbar

Maqsoodul Haque, popularly known as Mac, went through a plethora of controversy last summer following his jazz-rock-fused rendition of a Tagore number.

The worst was yet to haunt him: Mac was arrested on charge of beating up his wife, according to a 03/11/99 press release. After being granted a bail, on 5/11/99, the artist hibernated switching off all connections.

Working on his forthcoming solo album, Mac has a very busy schedule. Music seems to be his sole raison d'être for now. Nonetheless the 'Bad Boy' of Band Music (as BBC interprets) spared some 'good' time for this layabout!

1. Is the Bad Boy that nefarious to abuse his marital life?
I have never ever claimed any monopoly on virtues. I have faults just like every other human being, but certainly there is none in the world who can claim that I have a capacity for violence, whether that be towards man, woman, child or animal. By nature I am a pacifist and the 'wife beating' allegation was planted as part of a sinister conspiracy by the police, press and the 'powers that be' of the fascist country called Bangladesh to circumvent responsibility for breaking into my house - an innocent citizen in broad daylight and arresting me without a warrant or any specific charge.

A 'Bad Boy' image is something, which most rock musicians have to live with, but I am considered 'bad' for quite other reasons. I guess I am the only musician in Bangladesh that has a unique political and social commitment. Being a thinking human being I have lived my life as an apolitical cliché free, non conformist, anti establishment, kick ass radical (as opposed to radical chic!) which is certainly not everybody's pinch of salt. I have humiliated and embarrassed a lot people in the hypocritical 'bhodroloke' society with my poison pen and my acid tongue and have made 'powerful enemies' whether that be through my writings or my songs - or perhaps the way I choose to live my life. At 42 it is impossible for me to change, and guess I will have continue to pay a price for my beliefs. So be it.

2. We'd like to hear what DID happen for real on that epoch-making 2nd November 1999.
I returned at about 3.30 am on the morning of 2nd November from the sleepy village of Bagra in Bikrampur where I had gone to collect music materials from a Kirtan festival as also to scout location for an upcoming video shoot.

My friend Faisal Haque Shahin, a postgraduate student who also hails from Bagra, accompanied me there. For three days I was the guest of Dr. Sukanto Ghosh. Shahin also returned with me to Dhaka and I asked him to stay back till day break - in my house in Pallabi to which he consented. It was the first time in three nights that I had caught any sleep. By the time I went to bed after breakfast it was about 5 am. In the morning at about 8 am. I was awakened by a constant ringing of the calling bell. When I peered out from my first floor studio, I was surprised to see three uniformed cops and two plain clothes man in front of my gate. When I enquired what the problem was, I was brusquely told that I had to accompany them to the police station where I was to be 'questioned' by the Officer in Charge (OC). When I wanted to know if there was any specific allegation or any warrant for my arrest, I was asked to 'shut up and cooperate' otherwise the consequences would be serious. I flatly refused to their 'order' and the cops left.

Twenty minutes later about two dozen cops arrived, this time in a van. They encircled my house and had rifles and shot guns pointed towards me. This lot had the same things to say, and I kept repeating that without a warrant I was not willing to accompany them to the station. For fifteen minutes the altercation continued after which the OC personally arrived in the scene. In the filthiest language possible, I was told that I had to 'give myself up' in five minutes otherwise they would break all the gates and doors of my house to 'grab' me. I decided to play on silence - a harrowing ten minutes, after which I heard the breaking of the locks in my portico gate. I wrote a polite note in Bangla to the effect that 'breaking locks of a house in the absence of a magistrate was illegal' and dropped it from my window. This restrained the raiding party for a while - and Niboo and me took this opportunity to appear in our veranda to request the police to go away if they did not have a warrant. A crowd close to hundred had already assembled in our gates and our neighbors joined in pleading with the police that I was a law abiding citizen - to no avail.

In the meantime I decided to barricade the main door and the steel gate together with it. Living in Pallabi, Mirpur the worst 'crime zone' in Dhaka, security in my house has always been good. In another fifteen minutes the cops rammed themselves into my drawing rooms. They reached my bedroom where I, Shahin and Niboo had besieged ourselves. Seeing no other alternatives Niboo asked me to give up and opened the door. The cops stormed in with rifles and pistols drawn. As I was being handcuffed I again wanted to know what my crime was. I was told was a 'dacoit'!

I was thereafter dragged into the van and hauled up to the Pallabi Police station. Shahin too was forced to accompany me to the Police Station and although he was never arrested, he was confined to the OC's room and subject to abuse worse than me. He was released past midnight.
3. What happened thereafter and what were the charges that were finally made against you in the court?
The first fifteen minutes in the Police Station was harrowing. Claiming direct descent to the ruling family, the OC, a haughty man from Gopalganj slapped me resoundingly and used the filthiest language that I will probably ever hear! This abuse was carried out not as a mean of extracting a confession or interrogation but mainly to express his irate feeling to my 'audacity' for resisting arrest and sitting like a 'gentlemen' cross-legged inside a police station! By 11.30 am I was inside the hajat lock up and my ordeal I had just begun.

Until after afternoon of the following day I was denied water and food, and since the 'hajat' had other criminal's mainly heroin addicts on the threshold of withdrawal symptoms, I feared for my security and could not sleep a wink all night. All the while my wife Niboo and my family and friends who had flocked to the Police Station as well as many of my neighbors were kept in the dark when they wanted to know the exact reason for my arrest and the charges against me. It was not until 4 pm on the 3rd of November 1999 when I was finally taken to court and had access to a lawyer in the Magistrate court that the charges were made known to me.

The police case (State versus Maqsoodul Haque - I like the ring to that!) stated in black and white that I have been arrested ostensibly for being a 'mohanayok' or super hero of a highly organized terrorist gang; that I have access to illegal weapons and ammunition and in order to recover those and as also to arrest my accomplices a remand for five days was prayed for. The Honorable Magistrate was not satisfied with the charges and I was granted bail. Interestingly my wife Niboo who I was accused of beating up by the press stood as a guarantor for my bail.

4. Where did the press pick up this story of wife beating?
Minutes before I was being taken to the court, a crime reporter (a breed of journalist I never had the privilege of any earlier acquaintance) and a camera person from a local tabloid appeared in front of the hajat. They wanted to know why I have been arrested. I said I still do not know and it is better that they enquire with the OC.

The wife beating story I learnt later was planted by the police as they clearly had no other option to protect themselves of their wrong doings. If the true charges against me were narrated to the reporter, the press would have had quite a different headline that would have read 'Mac arrested on terrorist charges'. That would have made things more difficult for them.

Clearly the establishment would have lost their credibility for this illegal arrest. The arrest of Lucky Akhand on falsified on case of murder during the BNP era when his drummer went missing perhaps provided a reminder. Therefore the wife beiatng story was planted to destroy my public image, and for the police to appear koochie koochie innocent - simple as that.

I would also like to remind you that had I, in the unlikely event beaten up my wife, the case would have been most surely be lodged by my wife or her relatives - not the police, neither would I have been granted the luxury of a bail (the case of the Dhaka University teacher who is still behind bars in perspective). Ironically there were no pressmen at the court on that eventful day - so the truth was never revealed until before this.

5. What do you think was the real motive for your arrest?
My perception being in the receiving end, is that the entire police operation was fine tuned with orders from high up to discreetly arrest me under Section 54, the dreaded block Special Powers Act. If I had stepped out of my house at the first instance the small police party arrived, I am more than pretty sure that I would have been picked up under the SPA. Because I refused to court arrest and the eventual high profile involvement of the OC to finally nab me - indicates clearly that it was an attempt at a Section 54 arrest that went awry.

With so many people standing witness in a broad daylight operation the terrorist allegation was all that seemed credible for the police to place me in remand which as you know are basically 'dholai khana' (bash up stations) to 'straighten me out', I learnt later that the police have a right to break into premise only when they have specific information that arms and ammunition are present. Nothing of the kind was found in the search of my house.

6. A public statement/disclaimer was crucial to allow us to have an insight into this gratuitous police act. Why did you not contact the press or make use of the Net?
You are quite correct - but things were pretty fluid even after I was granted bail by the court. The Detective Branch of Police (DB) had me under surveillance, my house in Pallabi was under 'watch' friends and relatives who have moved my bail application were picked up and harassed. I was hiding in the houses of my friends and relative for better part of two weeks staying completely incommunicado. There were also rumors that I would be picked up again. I came to know later that many friends from the press came to my house in Pallabi to find it deserted.

Importantly I owed a lot to my wife Niboo ( a juniour school teacher) to maintain a low profile as she was being asked embarrassing question by parents of her students. For my family, it meant a serious has loss of face - as in my seven generation there is no record of anyone who has ever been arrested of has seen the inside of a jail!

I was reminded again and again during my ordeal that I came from a long succession of law makers - not law breakers. My great grandfather was an OC, no mean achievement in the colonial Raj, my own grandfather father a serving judge of Calcutta High Court at the time of his death at the end of an eventful career. I therefore thought the best option for me was to wait till the storm had cleared out in order to pick up the pieces of my shattered life.

When you fall that hard no one else can come around to help you pick up your pieces and since very personal innuendoes had been circulated I could trust no one else other than my own judgment to put forward my side of the story at an opportune time. After all behind every dark cloud lies a silver lining. I told myself - every dog has his day, someday!

7. This is 'policified-thuggery'. Do you think this sordid affair has a connotation to the Tagore controversy that erupted in July last year?
The answer to that is a 'definite maybe'!

Clearly those that launched the savage attack through the press in July, 1999 for my alleged blasphemy of rendering a jazz rock fusion version of a Tagore song, were none other than cultural activist, admen and pressmen combines, combined cultural nexus combines so called intellectuals living in the age of dinosaurs and aligning themselves to the political sycophancy and self appeasing chicanery that is our ruling 'pro Independence' Awami League. There were public calls to ban me to from the state media and performances as also demand that I be given 'exemplary punishment'.

At the end of the day, with the support of more 'enlightened involvement' from the real world and thanks to intensity of the debate on the Net - I had at the end, virtually what may be termed a 'win win' situation. No individual with conscience could take this stand of abject stupidity of our cultural elite to deny me my right to expression.

If you will remember one columnist even mentioned that the Prime Minister herself was informed about my audacity moments after the telecast - and that the 'high priestess' (the columnist ex wife) of Tagore music in Bangladesh claimed that the BTV producer had begged forgiveness. I guess my real crime was to remain defiant and to remind the columnist through rejoinder that the Prime Minister herself was an 'off key' singer of Tagore songs in public functions despite the many years his ex wife trained her in the rigors of the music. I learnt later that many in the establishment were not entirely amused by my rebuttal. Also my refusal to answer to the 'quixotic show cause' served on me by the General Manager of BTV on behalf of the Government irked a lot of people. Could be it all started there?

Additionally, a friend informed me that a visiting delegation from Biswa Bharati, Shantinekatan, West Bengal, India had demanded that I meet them. I was to ordered to pay my fealty and in an indirect way 'atone for my sins'. I refused and countered that by asking them to come over to my house instead, if they thought I was really so important. I guess I burnt my boat badly!

Nonetheless I was convinced that the article by the Justice Habibur Rahman on the entire debate very conclusively ended the controversy - but two weeks after that, I found to my horror that yet another intellectual had brutalized me and the Poet Farhad Mazhar (who wrote one of the most brilliant article on the controversy) in Protham Alo.

Terming me a 'sycophant' blessed by Mazhar, my singing and Mazhar's endorsing of my sacrilege proved that we are the descendent and have the genes of Sultan Mahmood from history - and what we have done amounted to desecration i.e. converting Hindu temples to Muslim mosques?

This came as a shock to me as all through the debate I wanted to steer clear off any communal overtones. But here we were - I was told tongue in cheek - that as a Muslim I had no right to distort something held in religious reverence by the Hindus. I thought as a Biswa Kobi (world poet) Tagore was the property of the world - not a particular community. Ironically the intellectual himself was a Muslim! When I enquired with Protham Alo as why the malicious article was printed when the debate was truly over - I was told that they had to print it under duress from a leading cultural activistwho also happens to be head of one of he leading ad agencies of Bangladesh. The so called freedom of press is at the mercy, whims and caprice of admen - people who provide revenue - the life blood of newspapers! The press has no other choice other that to co-opt?

My reaction to that was to completely cut myself off and by early August I took the plug off my Internet connection in disgust - and a decided never to even think about the debate. When one stops into that kind of meanness in a debate - the health of culture and responsibility is truly suspect.

8. And how about the press/media they seemed to have taken an anti-Mac stand....
In some round about way - I guess we have the freest press in the world. I am convinced that our press can just about write anything and everything and never be accused of lying to the public.

If you remember something last year following the attack on a 'pro Government poet' mullahs were resoundingly picked up from various madrasas all over Bangladesh and jailed as Harkatul Jihad terrorist - yet couple of months later when it went to court all were freed. No terrorist was ever found. Likewise, most newspaper will go on and on, for days especially when it concerns character assassination - I believe there is a huge market for perverted news relishes! In my case the hatred of the press towards me stems from my refusal to speak to a majority of newspaper during the Tagore controversy as again their dependence for sustenance on the admen cultural activist - vicious nexus. There were attempts by the BNP and Jamaat to give a political colour to the Tagore controversy which I found reprehensible and therefore refused to speak to to its mouthpiece Dinkaal. Inquilab wrote "Drunken Mac beats up wife - lands in Police custody"; people that know me closely were amused for I had given up booze some two years ago!

9. Your close friends/acquaintances had no doubts/qualms over the 'news' and never posted any sort of rebuttal. Would you comment on this?
I guess most of them were truly embarrassed.

As I sit on talk you today - most of my friends have abandoned me. Loyal as I am to all my friends, in the last five months none have contacted me and I have decided to live my life as a recluse as far as possible. I am sure many of them believe printed words in newspaper and tabloids as they would the words of the Koran! With friends and acquaintances such as these - do I really need enemies?
10. How long did you spend convalescing in Darjeeling and are you fully recovered?
About four weeks. Niboo and Dio accompanied me so it was great pleasure. We also made a trip to Sikkim. The traumatic experience affected me physically and mentally. I still suffer from flashbacks and wake up at night in sweat. I lost about 6 kgs of weight. I have recovered sufficiently to get back at the normal rigor of my life.
11. Do you see your musical career being affected as a result of this mess?
No way. In the musician fraternity there was hardly anybody that believed the bullshit being circulated - I had strong support and understanding. Channel I put several of my videos and on my videos and an old interview just a week after my arrest. They interviewed me today on what 'really happened' on 2nd November 1999. Some small but popular teen music weeklies have already put my side of story. I have made concert trips to Cox's Bazar, Chittagong and Rangamati on my return from Darjeeling.
12. The fans, of course, holds an utterly tarnished image of Mac (kudos to our press). Do you foresee the media co-opting with you now that you are speaking in public for the first time?
Yes. Now that I have clearance from my lawyers to speak on the matter several newspapers have contacted me. I will be speaking selectively to a few of them. As far as my fans are concerned - I have had a deluge of mails and telephone calls after concert trip. Unlike my friends and acquaintances most of my fans have the common sense and intelligence to understand that I have been a victim of a vicious conspiracy, and I guess that way I am blessed.
13. You are the 'chauvinist-Mac' now! Did you face any charge /protest brought by women's rights activists (e.g. Shommilito Nari Shomaj) in the aftermath of this hullabaloo?
Is that so? I thought all along that I was more of a male feminist! Despite my acquaintance with many 'leaders' of the Shommilito Nari Shomaj none got in touch - but then Nasreen Huq a friend from Naripokkho was among the first one to get in touch with Niboo to find out the realities of the press report. I met her on Eid-day and I don't think she believes I am a women abuser!
14. You were a contributor (ir/regular) magazines (Bhorer Kagoj, Choltipotro, The Daily Star) and also took part in occasional e-debates. Will the radical pen flow once again?
I have been some kind of a restricted writer so to speak. The Daily Star prints only 'harmless' articles that I pen, and Protham Alo being a sister publication also probably maintains the same status quo. The core group of Choltipotro who were instrumental in seeing my articles published have resigned and joined a new magazine, which is yet to begin circulation. The new management thinks of me as a nuisance! That only leaves me with the Internet and Naeem Mohaiemen's Shobak Onelist. I am grateful to him for he has circulated pieces without censoring them although we have disagreed. Because of my current pressure with music, I don't see myself getting back on the Net soon - but I will surely get back one day perhaps as early as June/July 2000.
15. Any plans/projects bubbling at the moment and any message for the music enthusiasts?
I am right now busy finishing off my first solo album (Boishakhee Jhorer Ratreetay) which should be available in Bangladesh by end May. I will be sending over a CD master to Naeem for my website so that it can also be available on the net, I have to hand over a second solo album to my distributor by November. In the meantime (thanks to all the indirect publicity following my arrest) I have been featured in two singles in mixed album -including the honour of singing the title for 'Shondhi', which received positive reviews, this Eid. I have recorded three new singles and have been contracted for many more. So I have my hands quite full. I have started working with some young independent music producers - where my involvement is no more than selling my voice - i.e. composition and marketing are not in my control.

dHAKA's activities are currently suspended thanks to the unofficial ban on my public performance - but the band is still together with the exception of Picklu who is tied up with his office. We still have not found a suitable replacement. The band has contributed three tracks to my new album. We will start rehearsals in June/July in a new practice pad in Moghbazar. We are negotiating a concert tour of West Bengal come September. Lets see.

Seven of my videos have yet to be telecast - and producers are in touch with Ekushey TV. Channel I have recorded two songs from my new album as a studio version and they should be telecasted in the next two weeks or so.
16. Finally what is the status of the case against you in Court and are what are you doing about it?
In the last five months the Police have neither charge sheeted me nor have submitted any final report which they are obliged to submit within three months.

There have been suggestions by many to patch up the matter with the police - but I am not interested. Every month there is a day in court, which mercifully I do not have to attend. However in the last hearing on March 9th the Magistrate in disgust sent a summon across to the Police - which they still have not bothered to respond to. I look forward to this matter being resolved in Court - no matter how long it takes - and guess a laid back approach would suit me best.

Till then I remain a 'Bad Boy' to the press in Bangladesh and a 'terrorist super hero' to the Government of Bangladesh. What remains unresolved is that I am innocent human being and a terrible victim of circumstances. I call myself an ultimate survivor - and God willing I will survive this. I don't need anybody's sympathies but even a dog deserves our empathy. If I have been reduced to a dog - I could do well with a whole dosage of that in the intervening.

Thank you Ahsan for taking time out to locate and talking to me.

Published in the News From Bangladesh (NFB) site on June 08, 2000.

Footonote: The Judges Court hearing the case in Dhaka, Bangladesh, exonerated Mac of all charges made against him in October 2001.

Police torture (that Mac doesn't talk about in public) ruptured his spinal column, and led to three months of recuperation with physiotherapists of the British aided NGO Center for the Rehabiltaion of the Paralysed in Savar, Bangladesh. His wife Nazreen Haque Niboo passed away on the 19th March 2004.