‘I was so scared that my hands were shaking’*Tribune Report
Compelled to leave one polling centre for fear of bodily harm and witnessing open vote-rigging at another, Dhaka Tribune finance and economy reporter Jebun Nesa Alo describes her experiences while covering the city polls yesterday. No stranger to the hassles women face on the streets of Dhaka, nothing could have prepared her for what she faced. Alo describes the ordeal in her own words:
*A group of unidentified youths stamp the ‘ilish’, the electoral symbol of Dhaka South mayoral candidate Sayeed Khokon, on a number of ballot papers inside Dholpur City Corporation Adarsha High School in Dhaka yesterday**
Photo- DHAKA TRIBUNE
The elections started off well. I visited a couple of centres before making my way to Ideal College in Dhanmondi which was virtually deserted at 10am. I had expected to see voters thronging the place.
Having spoken to the presiding officer of the centre, I was walking along a first floor corridor when I saw two young men, gathering together bout 30 adolescents.They were lining the young kids up to vote although it was clear that these children were not even close to voting age. So I proceeded to take a few pictures of these young children in T-shirts and trousers.
That was when things got bad.
One of the two men charged towards me and snatched away my mobile phone, saying photography was not allowed inside the polling centr.
He said it with such confidence, the way he carried himself put me in doubt. I wondered, in spite of myself, whether it was indeed illegal.
This young man, smartly dressed in black jeans with his off-white shirt tucked in and folded at the sleeves, then launched an interrogation.
He asked who I was, why I was there, whether I had my ID, and so on, although it was clear that I was a journalist
from the Election Commission ID pass hung around my neck.
I duly answered all of his questions.When I asked him who he was, he at first replied that he was nobody.
Then he said his name was Babu: “I am an agent for Fish.”
Fish is the symbol of the ruling Awami League-backed mayoral candidate Sayeed Khokon.
I insisted that he return my mobile phone and tell me his name in full.
By this time, about 15 polling agents, all working for Khokon, had surrounded me. They were making taunts and lewd comments while Babu, muscular and intimidating, kept confronting me.
I asked to speak to the presiding officer who had by then come to the spot to see what the commotion was all about. “What is the matter?” he asked very meekly.
I asked him who this Babu was, to which he replied: “I do not know him.”
When I asked him whether photography was allowed, he said: “Well, why are you using your mobile. You should have brought your camera.”
The presiding officer admitted that photography was not prohibited, causing Babu to begin scolding him and start shouting that photography was not allowed.
Visibly scared, the mild-mannered middle-aged election official took me aside. He collected my cell phone from Babu and said in a hushed tone: “I cannot comment on what is going on. Just go upstairs and see for yourself what they are doing.”
I decided to go up and see.
Upstairs, I entered a polling booth and quietly asked a woman polling agent whether there were any agents representing Mug, the symbol of BNP-backed mayoral candidate Mirza Abbas.
She said there were none and that everyone there was representing Sayeed Khokon.
Babu came into the polling booth, evidently following me. He walked around the room a few times and charged at me again, snatching my mobile phone away. This time he gave it to a younger associate who ran off with it.
Now he demanded to know why I was hanging around and making videos. When I began to protest, he said: “I will get you arrested by RAB.”
Note by Abz: (RAB is an acronym for rapid action batallion - a british trained semi military-semi police accused of crimes against humanity).
I walked out of the booth with Babu and said: “Sure, let’s go to RAB. I want you to take me to them.”
The man stopped in his tracks and now took on another tone. “You are making videos and creating problems here. I am telling you, you will get into trouble.”
His gang of polling agents had once again surrounded me. This time there were more of them and all of these men started making even lewder comments than before, coupled with gestures.
I told Babu once again that I was only doing my duty and there were no videos on the mobile.
But he would not let me go. Babu and his gang, who had encircled me completely, continued to harass, threaten, and intimidate me.
He agreed to return my cell phone only if I agreed to leave the centre immediately. I was so scared that my hands were shaking. I did not dare take out my other phone and make a call because then they would see that I was scared.
Throughout all this, there were no policemen around. There would be no one to step in if they assaulted me.
On my way out, a few people came in. They asked: “Are you a journalist?
Why aren’t you taking our quotes?”
They said: “The elections are taking place peacefully. People are participating enthusiastically and in a festive spirit.”
At New Model College, I found a different situation.
There were policemen there to escort me around the centre. They clearly instructed me where to go and where not to go.
My escorts told me not go to a certain section of the centre where there were no voters.
I insisted on going in to speak to the polling agents in one of the rooms.
I was astounded to see what was going on:
The doors were wide open and inside a group of people were openly stamping ballots.
They were all ‘voting’ for Sayeed Khokon.
One of the men inside brazenly told me to wait outside: “We are working here.”*
- See more at: http://www.dhakatribune.com/banglade....7deO2G7d.dpuf