Under an overcast sky, seven-year-old Sami sits restlessly on her uncle Sajid’s lap at Dhaka’s Army Stadium.
Though there is a large football field in front of her, Sami is not here for a sports event, but for a ceremony to pay tribute to victims of the July 1 terrorist attack at Dhaka’s Holey Artisan Bakery.
Her father, 36-year-old Rabiul Islam, was one of the two policemen killed in the attack.
“She does not understand anything… she keeps asking for her father. We don’t know what to tell her,” says Sajid, the younger brother of Rabiul, who was an Assistant Commissioner of Police in the detective branch.
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Rabiul’s wife has left for Manikganj, their ancestral house which takes two hours to reach from Dhaka. The funeral will take place there. “Their second child is due on July 15,” says Sajid.
At the tribute ceremony, organised by the Sheikh Hasina government, many other families have similar stories of loss and heartbreak.
One of them is the family of Abinta Kabir, a 19-year-old who had come to Dhaka from the US for summer vacation. As her brothers struggle to pick up her coffin, her mother says, “It is heavy.” The family eventually asks policemen and army personnel to lend a hand so they can load it into a small, refrigerated van. “Eyi shesh (it is finished),” an aunt is overheard telling the others.
The relatives of Faraaz Hossain, who sacrificed his life trying to save his friends — Kabir and Indian national
Tarishi Jain — are in shock. As Hasina meets his family, his uncle tells the gathering: “He has proven his school adage: once a tiger, always a tiger.”
The friends of another victim, Ishrat Akhond, remember her as an “art collector” who used to be “the life of the art scene in Dhaka”. “She had a great collection of local and international art,” says her friend Arif Jebtik.
“Ishrat was supposed to leave for Sri Lanka the next day… her grandmother had asked her to come back before Eid,” says a family member.
An Indian diplomat recalls how Ishrat was once so fascinated by an Indian artist in Delhi’s CR Park after seeing his work on Facebook that she travelled all the way to meet him. “That’s how passionate she was about art,” the diplomat says. Another time, she went to Kolkata, where she got to meet her favourite singer, Kabir Suman. She promptly sent a selfie with him to all her friends.
While Indian High Commissioner Harsh Vardhan Shringla joined ambassadors of Italy, Japan, the US and some other diplomats at the event, the Pakistani envoy was absent.
Tarishi’s family was not present at the ceremony as they took her body to India for cremation early on Monday.