Tonu PHOTO: COURTESY
The fifth death anniversary of Sohagi Jahan Tonu will be observed today. Tonu, found raped and dead inside a cantonment, is the girl who made people cry and take to the streets. The #JusticeforTonu movement took social media by storm. With the passage of time, Tonu’s name is, however, fades from our memory; so does the hope of her ever getting justice.
A Bagerhat tribunal in recent times delivered a verdict in a rape case in seven working days. How has, then, been no headway in Tonu’s case in five years? Even the charge sheet has not been filed. The investigators have failed to identify a single witness. The answer appears to be simple that the culture of impunity pervades uor society. Tonu’s case, moreover, is a classic example of how inequality based on gender, class and social hierarchy further intensifies the culture of impunity.
Tonu, a 19-year-old student, went missing after she had visited a residential quarters inside the Cumilla cantonment. Hours later, she was found lying senseless in a bush inside the cantonment. Tonu was then taken to Combined Military Hospital where she was pronounced dead. Tonu’s father, a Class IV employee on cantonment staff, filed a murder case against unnamed people. The Criminal Investigation Department took over the charge of investigation. Two post-mortem examinations failed to establish the cause of her death although Tonu’s father, who first spotted the body noticed that the back of his daughter’s head was wounded and there were injury marks in the nose.
The evidence of rape was established through DNA testing. The second post-mortem examination affirmed that evidence of rape collected from Tonu’s clothes, not body. After the DNA test had confirmed the occurrence of gang-rape, Tonu’s family finally saw a ray of hope for justice.
DNA samples were collected from more than 20 suspects, but none of matched the three DNA samples found on Tonu’s clothes. The Criminal Investigation Department reported that it had interrogated more than 200 people, including some army men, but to no avail.
Investigation officers always avoided questions such as why a rape and murder happened in a cantonment. They avoided questions related to the interrogation of army personnel. The main investigation officer, at one point, made an explosive statement that Tonu was murdered in a planned way and a woman was also involved. He was transferred in no time and another subinspector took charge.
Reports suggest that the law enforcement agencies were pressuring Tonu’s parents to agree to their prescribed statements. The victim’s family reported to have been harassed with questions not relevant to the murder case. The investigators interrogated Tonu’s cousin to know of the boy who proposed her. They interrogated some of her male friends. A police source reveals that every possible link of affairs was to be thoroughly inquired. It seems that the investigation was kind of trying to mislead the case by associating her name with different men.
Cantonments are one of the highly secure areas with hundreds of guards and surveillance cameras everywhere. Then could a corpse be thrown into bushes and no one saw it? The lamp-post near the culvert from where Tonu’s body was recovered was not working that night. Tonu’s family repeatedly requested the investigators to check the surveillance cameras. They claimed that a girl was involved too who is alleged to have called Tonu on the day. The investigating agency, for some unknown reasons, neither responded to their pleas nor interrogated the girl.
According to Tonu’s family, some army men visited their house and took away her personal diary. They were kept under round-the-clock surveillance. Her father was threatened to be fired from job and the family was prohibited from contacting the media. A car tried to hit Tonu’s father on the day the Criminal Investigation Department interrogated prime suspects.
Since 2018, the investigators has cut off all their communications with Tonu’s family. Her parents have doubts about getting justice as investigating officers seem reluctant to advance the investigation any more. In 2020, the Police Bureau of Investigation took over the charge of the investigation after four years of no progress.
Tonu murder case sheds light on many of our social problems including the culture of violence, poor rule of law, gender inequality, victim shaming, a culture of impunity, legal loopholes, governance failure, and socio-cultural prejudices and stigmas from individual to social domain. Tonu’s death is a result of the lawlessness in society that we continue to nurture, a society characterised largely by unaccountable law enforcers and a justice dispensation system that has many loopholes. As we all demand justice for Tonu, we should remember that its entails working towards a society where no one meets the fate that Tonu and the likes did.