It has been 18 years since a poor tea seller was accused in a case filed under the Arms Act
Rabeya Khatun had lived an uneventful life. The 86-year old had a small tea stall in the Tejgaon area of Dhaka. With her wrinkly hands and smiley face, Rabeya served tea to her customers every day.
Her life of tranquility ended nearly two decades ago, when policemen showed up and took her to the Tejgaon police station out of the blue. The law enforcers arrested her for illegally possessing firearms in 2002. She even served six months in jail.
It has been 18 years since Rabeya was accused in a case filed under the Arms Act. Since then she ran back and forth to court with no signs of the case being resolved.
The investigation officer of the case died in 2014, but Rabeya's struggles were far from over.
Fate was finally kindly to Rabeya and the court acquitted the 104-year old of all charges on October 30 this year. A High Court bench comprised of judges Jahangir Hossain Selim and Md Riaz Uddin Khan passed the order that freed Rabeya from her misery.
Lawyer Md Ashraful Alam represented Rabeya in court, while Deputy Attorney General Harunur Rashid served as the prosecutor. The court also warned the people involved in filing the case and with the trial to be more careful in the future.
Present before the court when the verdict was being announced, she said, "At least I received justice before my death. But I have lost everything in the past 18 years. I have been roaming the courtyards begging for justice for almost two decades. Who will compensate me for that?"
On April 25 this year, a national daily published a report on the curious case of Rabeya Khatun titled "Adalater baranday ar koto ghurben tini," roughly translated as "How long will she roam the court balcony?"
Soon after, lawyer Md Ashraful Alam filed a public interest litigation at the High Court attaching a copy of the news report.
On April 30, the High Court suspended the proceedings of Rabya Khatun's case for three months and issued a rule asking why Rabeya should not be exempted from the case. After numerous hearings on this 18-year-old case, Rabeya Khatun was finally acquitted of all charges on October 30.
The case documents reveal that Tejgaon Police Station Sub-Inspector Abdur Razzak filed a case against Rabeya Khatun and two others on June 2, 2002 for possessing illegal weapons and bullets.
She was then arrested and sent to jail. She got bail after serving six months in prison. Later, the trial of the case began on March 24, 2003 against Rabeya and two other accused, Julhas and Masud.
The investigating officer of the case died in 2014. The High Court then directed the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner and Tejgaon Police Station to submit a report on whether the absconding Julhas was alive or dead.
A life torn apart
Rabeya was born in Sameerpur village under Daulatpur upazila in Manikganj district. She and her husband Shahjahan Siraj continued to live with her parents after her marriage.
Rabeya's husband died during a cholera epidemic in 1971. He left her two daughters. Now she is living with her younger daughter Laily in the Kazipara area of the capital.
Laily, her husband and her mother Rabeya used to live near the Andar Bridge area of Karwan Bazar in 2002. The 86-year old used to run a small tea stall in the Tejgaon area then.
On that fateful day of June 2, a team led by the Tejgaon police station sub-inspector launched an anti-narcotics drive in the area.
Rabeya recalls the day from her fading memories, "I let the sub-inspector sit in my home. I then served him snacks and juice. At that time, a police source named Bachchu entered the room and asked Rabeya to give him a stick.
"While Bachchu was trying to find a stick in my home, he started shouting that he had found something. Bachchu then handed a bag full of weapons to the sub-inspector. He told me that I have to go the police station to testify. They took my fingerprint. I stayed the night at the station.
She added that she was produced before a court the very next day.
Rabeya continued, "When the judge saw me first, he asked the sub-inspector why he had brought such an old woman to the court. The judge also chastised the policeman for bringing random people to the court.
"I was sent to jail for six months, then I got bail. Since then, I had to appear at court once every month."
Giving his reaction, Rabeya's lawyer Md Ashraful Alam said, "The court has acquitted a centenarian woman in a case filed under false pretenses. The poor old woman has received justice from the High Court before her death.
"This historic verdict will serve as a milestone in many other cases in the country."