THE torture and custodial death of Romel Chakma, a HSC examinee and general secretary of Pahari Chatra Parishad’s Rangamati unit is indicative of a troubling development in the law and order situation in Chittagong Hill Tracts. According to New Age report from Saturday, visually challenged Romel Chakma was picked up by the members of Bangladesh army from Naniarchar Bazaar on April 5. A severely injured and unconscious Romel was admitted to the Chittagong Medical College Hospital the following day and he died there on April 20. His family has reportedly alleged that he was cremated under military surveillance without following religious rituals and in absence of the close family members. There are other instances of similar deaths. On August 10, 2014, Duran Babu Chakma (also known as Timir Boron Chakma) was taken into custody by the army on allegations of extortion, and was tortured and declared dead after he was brought to Matiranga Health Complex. He too was reportedly hurriedly cremated by the military without the presence of his family on the false pretext that no one came to claim his body. While custodial torture and death is becoming a common occurrence in Bangladesh, such deaths have extra-ordinary political consequence in CHT where Jumma people are subjected to Bengali domination — ethnic, social, political and administrative. In this context, the death of a political organiser belonging to ethnic minority community would be interpreted as to be brutal silencing of minority voices in Chittagong Hill Tracts.
However, what is even more worrying in the death of Romel Chakma is that it exposes anarchic and undefined relationship between the civil and military administration in Chittagong Hill Tracts. In a letter to the National Human Rights Commission, Romel Chakma’s father claimed that there was no case filed against his son, yet he died in custody. Police denied taking him into custody, and Bangladesh army claimed that they handed him over to Naniarchar police. At another point, local police also claimed that Romel was injured in a road accident and admitted to the Naniarchar Health Complex. While such discrepancies in information regarding the arrest and subsequent death of Romel Chakma are deeply disturbing for us, it also proves that there is a deep divide between the civil and military administration particularly when it comes to the arrest of ethnic minority citizen. Be it the military or the police, he died in government’s custody and the government must reveal the truth and break this cycle of impunity that the military personnel apparently enjoy in CHT which become evident in the case of Kalpana Chakma’s abduction.
In protest of the death of Romel Chakma, several political organisations in CHT including his own organisation PCP already took to street and demanded that not only the army personnel allegedly involved in the torture and killing of Romel be brought to justice, but also put end to the unofficial military rule in CHT that privileges Bengali and marginalises Jumma people. We believe they have a point.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Editorial