NURUL Islam Nayan, in his mid-30s, a for-hire motorcycle driver, was found dead at Charmile, near Khagrachari Sadar-Dighinala road, on June 1, 2017. He was the organising secretary of Langadu sadar union unit Juba League, the youth front of the ruling Awami League.
Romel Chakma, a 20-year old HSC examinee, died in custody at the Chittagong Medical College Hospital, on April 19, 2017. He was the general secretary of Naniachar upazila unit of the Pahari Chatra Parishad, the student wing of the CHT-based United People’s Democratic Front. He was visually impaired, having lost sight in one of his eyes when he was an adolescent.
Both were from Rangamati district, Nurul Islam Nayan was from Langadu upazila, and Romel Chakma, from Naniachar upazila. Both were political activists. Both suffered violent deaths. May their souls wherever they be, find peace.
Nurul Islam Nayan’s killers: Confessions, doubts
NAYAN was in his mid thirties. ‘There is no picture of my husband, I only see pictures of houses set on fire on TV, but there are no pictures of my husband.’ I watch Nayan’s widow Jahanara Khatun on TV; her little girl, seated in the crook of her elbow, looks fixedly at the camera as her mother, utterly distraught, tells the reporter, ‘There is no peace. I want peace. I want his killers to be tried, and I want paharis and Bengalis to live together in peace’ (Ekattor TV).
They have three children, the eldest, a daughter, is married, while the son, an adolescent, goes to school. ‘He was the only breadearner, who will feed me? Where will I go with the kids?’ Duly jotted down by the reporter, it is a question to all and sundry, her neighbours, the larger community, possibly, even to her creator. Jahanara has received small amounts of financial assistance from the local administration, the local MP and the Bangladesh Army, and promises of her son’s educational expenses being met, but she knows that cash dries up fast, as do assurances.
Someone rang him on May 31st night. When I asked him, he said he had been hired for a trip to Khagrachari. Then onwards, press reports diverge, according to one, the conversation between the couple ended there; according to another, she had wanted to know more, leading him to reply, ‘Two Chakmas.’ A Dhaka Tribune report cites Nayan’s younger brother Mohd Din Islam Liton, who insists he had seen the passengers. ‘Two Chakma boys with backpacks.’
The next morning was the last I saw of him. Around midday, neighbours came and asked me what he had worn to work, they showed me an online photo but I couldn’t tell. Langadu police contacted Liton, he went to Khagrachari in the afternoon and identified the body.
Liton called me and said, it was true. Nayan was no more.
Liton accuses the PCJSS (Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti, which led the 20-year insurgency before surrendering arms and signing the Peace Accord in 1997) of being behind Nayan’s killing, because the latter had not agreed to the smuggling of ‘arms and ammunitions’ on three-wheelers. I came across this bit of information in a Dhaka Tribune report, but found no corroboration elsewhere.
Police traced Nayan’s mobile call list and arrested Runel Chakma and Junel Chakma on June 9th. They readily confessed; they had killed Nayan for his Bajaj Platinum motorbike. But on failing to sell it, on hearing of the Langadu arson attacks, they panicked, and dumped it in the Maini river instead. The search and retrieve operation took divers belonging to the navy and fire service nearly five hours. According to PBI (Police Bureau of Investigation) investigator Santosh Chakma, initially, Junel Chakma and Baburaj Chakma had hired Nayan’s motorbike for a Langadu-Khagrachari trip for 700 takas. Runel joined them from Dighinala. They stopped for tea at Khagrapole, Runel went and borrowed an iron rod from workers repairing a bridge. When they neared Charmile, one of them had said he wanted to take a pee. Nayan had halted.
A PCJSS report on the Langadu arson attack mentions witnesses who claim Nayan’s passengers were ‘Bengalis,’ not Chakmas. The report adds, Nayan may well have been murdered for his motorbike, but one must also bear in mind that a ‘syndicate of motor-cycle hijackers’ exists, that it is active in Rangamati and Khagrachari, and that it includes members of the ruling AL’s student organisation (June 2017).
Most press reports say, Nayan was beaten to death with an iron rod, a stray one mentions knife stabs. Only one report says Nayan’s body was mutilated — his teeth and nails had been pulled out, his fingers cut off, his skull had caved in, his skin was flayed — but it fails to mention the source of this information (Dhaka Tribune, June 11, 2017). These marks are indicative of torture, and it is not clear to me why hijackers would want to torture their victim, that too, in broad daylight, even though the place where his body was found is said to be a secluded spot.
I came across a post in social media which alleges that Runel and Junel had belonged to a crime gang which was headed by Bengalis, that they had been framed etc. But what I found more significant was what professor Mesbah Kamal hinted at, in a TV talk show on the Langadu arson attack. ‘[T]here is an association of motorcycle drivers, he [Nayan] beat the former president and won the election, there was a conflict over this. [It is important that the police] look into the matter to see whether this has anything to do with his death.’ (Desh TV, June 13, 2017). I have not come across any press reports indicating that the police are following up on this lead.
Other information reported in some national dailies in connection with Nayan’s death: at least 8 Bengali motorcycle drivers were killed in the last six and a half years by killers posing as passengers; all, except one, belonged to Khagrachari; at least a dozen were abducted; motorcycles of nearly fifty drivers were hijacked at gunpoint, or stolen. This information is invariably accompanied by the sentence, ‘It has been learnt from multiple sources that regional tribal armed groups are connected to all these incidents’ (Amader Shomoy, June 10, 2017). CHT-centred online news portals, those owned and run by Bengalis, generally convey this information in more inflammatory language.
Nayan had a ‘very good rapport’ with the Chakma community, says the PCJSS report, he spoke their language ‘fluently,’ the Jumma community can not accept his death ‘eas[il]y.’ Mesbah Kamal mentions this as well, Nayan was very ‘friendly’ towards the paharis.
Baburaj Chakma seems to have disappeared completely. I have not come across any news of his arrest or whereabouts.
Romel Chakma’s killers: Wall of silence
No one has confessed to killing Romel Chakma. Or, to be more precise, to have been responsible for the injuries which led to his death. The post-mortem report is under wraps. The PCP’s demand for a judicial enquiry, in a memorandum submitted to the home minister on April 25th was ignored, as was another memorandum, submitted to the prime minister on May 14th, demanding that military personnel responsible for Romel’s death, be punished.
Romel Chakma died of rhabdomyolysis, or acute renal failure, which can be brought on by torture, and of septocaemia. Monti Chakma, general secretary, Hill Women’s Federation, who visited him in the Chittagong Medical College and Hospital says, Romel had told her he had been blindfolded and beaten all over, particularly, on his testicles, at the Naniachar army camp.
Ward members Aung Shwe Prue Marma (Burighat) and Jogendra Chakma (Ghilachari), who were witnesses to the surat-e-hal examination (magistrate inquest) at the CMCH morgue on April 20, said Romel had been reduced to nothing but ‘skin and bones.’
The National Human Rights Commission formed a three-member probe committe to investigate Romel Chakma’s death. According to press reports, they approached the army zone commander at Naniachar but failed to get any response; field-level officers told the committee they could not speak unless they received orders from higher-up. NHRC has written to the defence ministry seeking an explanation. The probe report states, army personnel cannot ‘avoid responsibility’ for Romel’s death (New Age, June 24, 2017).
Will we ever know the truth? Will we ever know who killed them?
More niggling is the thought, will we ever know why they had to die?
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