Many civil society organisations have expressed deep concern over the alarming rise of sexual violence against ethnic minority women in Chittagong Hill Tracts. The brutal rape and murder of Krittika Tripura again brought the issue to the fore. Nahid Riyasad concludes his piece on the issue reiterating the question of a survivor of sexual violence from Krittika’s hometown, ‘can education for jumma girls be ensured without ensuring her safety?’
She wrote in her exercise book, an essay on the liberation of war of Bangladesh. And, she wrote, ‘we earned our beloved Bangladesh fighting the liberation war.’ Pincer grip of her young hand is steady. Perhaps, she pressed her pen harder when writing the word – swadhinata (independence). She signs her name at the bottom of the page — Krittika Tripura. Her mother called her, Purnati.
Kritika Tripura Purnati (9), a class IV student of Noimile Tripura Guchhagram Government Primary School, was raped and later killed on July 28 in Dighinala upazila of Khagrachhari. It was a Saturday. Onumoti Tripura, her mother was at work. When Krittika didn’t return home after school, her mother went to the school and the authority informed that she never returned to school after launch. She went far and wide looking for her daughter. Eventually, neighbours spotted her lifeless body down the hill near her home. Soon images of her mutilated body began to appear in social media with details of the ways the child was killed. Alongside, a page from her school exercise book was also shared in social media. It was the page in which she wrote an essay on the liberation war of 1971.
Onumoti Tripura lodged a case under the Women and Child Repression Prevention Act at the Dighinala police station. In lieu to this case, Dighinala Police arrested three suspects in connection to the rape and murder of Krittika from Boalkhali area of Dighinala. The additional superintendent of Dighinala Police Station, MM Salahuddin, confirmed that Saha Alam, 33, Nazrul Islam alias Bhandari, 32, and Monir Hossain, 38, were arrested from their homes in Dighinala area after police recovered some evidence in connection to the murder.
Hill people, particularly the youth, expressed anger, frustration. They took to streets of Chittagong Hill Tracts. The students of Noimail Government Primary School held series of procession demanding justice for Krittika. On July 31, students of Khagrachhari Government College boycotted classes and took out a procession that gathered in front of the main gate of Khagrachhari District Judge Court. Members of different student organisations participated in the demonstration under the banner of Bangladesh Marma Students Council and Tripura Students and Youth Front. Other students’ organisations including Pahari Chatra Parishad, Hill Women’s Federation and Bangladesh Chhatra Union brought out processions in Khagrachari and Chittagong.
Even before her community could recover from the trauma of losing Krittika, another rape occurred in Rangamati. On Saturday, August 4, an adolescent Jumma girl, who was a special need child, was raped in Langadu upazila of Rangamati district. According to media reports the victim’s father was in the field and her mother went to neighbour’s house when a Bengali settler raped her, however, was caught red handed by locals. After a mild beating, he was handed over to the local police. A case was filed in connection to this.
As the Muslim majority in Bangladesh were celebrating Eid-ul-Adha, two Tripura girls, aged 12 and 17, were allegedly raped by two members of Border Guard Bangladesh in Lama upazila of the district on the night of Eid. In a case filed on Friday, August 24, with Lama Police Station, the girls said a third BGB man stood guard as they were raped in a bush not far from their village.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission, Indigenous Women’s Network and Manusher Jonno Foundation among other organisations have expressed deep concern over the alarming rise of sexual violence in CHT and over the nonchalant attitude of the government. In a statement issued after the rape and murder of Krittika Tripura, CHTC demanded exemplary punishment for the criminals. They said, though murder, abduction and violence against women are happening frequently in the CHT, no effective steps were taken by the local administration and the government. In a separate statement, Manusher Jonno Foundation said, between January and June, 23 incidents including four murders, rape, gang rape and sexual harassment in the three districts of the CHT prove that indigenous children and women are facing serious violation of human rights — a situation that is not acceptable under any circumstances.
A human rights lawyer who has been providing legal support to many Pahari victims of sexual violence, wishing to be anonymous for personal safety, appreciated the statements from of CHTC and Manusher Jonno Foundation and other similar organisations, but s/he adds and we quote them at length, ‘It is true that a culture of impunity exists, and it is contributing to the alarming rise of sexual violence. But, the context of sexual crimes is different in CHT, perpetrators’ ethnic identity is crucial to understand legal failure in bringing the perpetrators to justice. It is the settler Bengali men who are involved in this crime. The ethnic identity (Bengali) of the rapist has led the state to ensure that the rapist is above the law. Let me give you an example. As a lawyer practising in CHT, I had the opportunity of seeing several legal cases concerning rape closely. What I found most disturbing was that none of the medical reports of raped Pahari women attested to the fact that they had been raped. When Pahari women and children had been raped by Bengali men, pressure is exerted on medical doctors from administration to not confirm the fact that rape had taken place. Hence, doctors always write in their reports, ‘no evidence of rape has been found.’ Government doctors are instructed to do so by the administration on the grounds that if Pahari allegations of rape by Bengali settlers are found to be true, ‘communal harmony’ in the Chittagong Hill Tracts will be disrupted.’
Why ethnic identity of the rapists would matter in the eyes of law, one may ask! But it does. One may argue, sexual violence is on the rise in Bangladesh at large. True. The conviction rate in rape cases continues to remain remarkably low in the country. The situation is not specific to CHT. True, as well. In general, the low conviction rate speaks to the wider problem of patriarchal insincerity infesting the legal system, and allows perpetrators to enjoy a form of institutional impunity. What is particular to the situation in Khagrachari, Rangamati or Bandarban is that, in there, patriarchy has a Bengali chauvinist face. The administration is seen siding with Bengali perpetrators during criminal proceedings. Regardless of what is written in the books, in the case of the CHT not all are equal in the eyes of the law. If the rapist/abductor is a Bengali, then the hope of getting justice is truly lost.
However, the reality of sexual violence is not only about loss and tragedy. It is also about survival and defiance. Sanchita Tripura (pseudonym), a girl of Krittika’s school was raped when she was in class VIII. She survived the violence, faced the rapist in court and invested all her emotional and intellectual energy on her education. She excelled in HSC exam, now preparing for tertiary education. As alumni of Noimile Tripura Guchhagram Government Primary School she participated in the candle light vigil for Krittika. She worries about the girl child and young women from her school, she worries about their safety and future of education. She asks, ‘can education for jumma girls be ensured without ensuring her safety?'
Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Team.
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