The enforced disappearances of Kalpana and Michael Chakma expose a policy of state-sponsored violence on Jumma community of Chittagong Hill Tracts, writes Anika Anjum Aurny
NAMES of Kalpana Chakma and Michael Chakma are mentioned regularly in protest meetings, seminars and discussions. Their names are visible in the slogans of processions, placards, festoons, ‘We want justice for Kalpana Chakma’, ‘Bring back Michael Chakma’.
Their names are mentioned together because their lives bear a lot of similarities. They are from Jumma community, they were protesting voices against oppression and harassment of the Jumma people. They are both victim of forced disappearances or ‘abduction’.
On 12 June, 1996, just six hours before the 7th national election, Kalpana Chakma, a human rights activist and feminist, the-then organising secretary of Hill Women’s Federation was abducted with her two brothers from her home at New Lallyaghona village. Kalpana’s mother Badhune Chakma and brother Khudiram Chakma’s statements clearly proclaim the truth of her abduction. Despite having eyewitness of the abduction, Baghaichari Police and law enforcement agencies in general played an inactive role.
Many considered the role of Bangladesh army after her abduction as repulsive and questionable. They circulated leaflets declaring Taka 50 thousands for information on Kalpana’s whereabouts. The Hill Watch Human Rights Forum blamed the army for deliberately trying to hide the truth.
Even though, the prime witness in the case, Kalindi Kumar Chakma, Kalpana’s brother mentioned Lieutenant Ferdous, VDP member Nurul Huq and Saleh Ahmed as the main perpetrator, their names were mysteriously deleted from the first information report and they have never faced a trial. The home ministry’s probe report on her abduction made remarks that questioned the integrity of the committee itself as it says, ‘she [Kalpana Chakma] was willingly or unwilling abducted for certain.’
The civil and military administration changed their statements about her abduction — one day she is said to have eloped, another day she has immigrated to India. Such changing statements expose that they are up to concealing facts.
During last 23 years, the investigation officer in the case was changed and three reports were submitted, yet the case remained unresolved. Even in the murder of four Jumma students who participated in the protest against her abduction organised by Pahari Chatra Parishad no one was brought to justice.
The negligence in the investigation in effect protected the perpetrators.
On the 23rd anniversary of her abduction, human rights activists, political leaders, sociocultural organisers pointed out that the government has always been negligent and unwilling address issues related to Jumma people.
Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, Bangladesh Mohila Parishad, Bangladesh Adivasi Women Network, Chittagong Hill Tracks Commission, Jatiya Mukti Council, Revolutionary Workers Party, Bangladesh Lekhok Shibir, Bangladesh Narimukti Kendra, CPB Women Cell, Students’ Federation — they all have pointed out the racist and discriminatory attitude of the ruling government in resolving Kalpana’s abduction.
On April 9, 2019, Michael Chakma, the leader of the United Peoples’ Democratic Front, central general secretary of the United Workers’ Democratic Front was on his way to Dhaka from Kanchpur, Narayanganj, but never reached home and remained missing and traceless since then.
Michael’s friends said that some people called their family demanding ransom for his release. Sonargaon police station officer-in-charge claimed that according to his call list, the last call placed him at North Kafrul in Dhaka.
In a joint-statement of UWDF, Ganatantrik Juba Forum, Pahari Chatra Parishad, Hill Women’s Federation alleged that Michael Chakma was abducted, possibly a new victim of forced disappearance. Eminent citizens including well-known intellectual, renowned educationists, noted thinker, human rights activist called upon the government to do the needful to bring back Michael Chakma.
The High Court also asked the home ministry to submit a report in five weeks on the progress of investigation on the matter of his abduction or forced disappearance. On June 26, the stated five weeks had passed, no report was submitted. It is believed that Michael Chakma was abducted as a part of a state-sponsored conspiracy to destroy the legitimate movement of the oppressed people and workers of CHT.
The abduction and forced disappearance of two young leaders of CHT says a lot about the law order situation and state’s failure in Bangladesh. It is not just forced disappearance, planned killing, violence perpetrated by settler community, land eviction, arson attack, illegal arms dealings and drug smuggling — all affects the lives of Jumma communities in CHT.
Since the signing of the CHT Accord in 1997, the number of abduction is 2396. Frustratingly, the procession of death in CHT is getting longer and longer — Tapan Jyoty Chakma, Shaktiman Chakma, Ranjan Chakma, Arabinda Chakma, Jony Tanchangya and Sunil Bikash Tripura.
Violence against Jumma women has also increased over the years. According to the survey of Kapaeng Foundation, in the years of 2013-18, 106 women became the victim of physical assault and about 100 women were raped. Some names were reported included Sabita Chakma, Sujata Chakma, and Tumaching Chakma. However, even in the cases of reported rape, women did not see justice. An alarming example of injustice is the case of Marma sisters.
The policies of oppression and discrimination that prevails in CHT, the role of civil and military administration in enforcing this policy paints a grim picture of the lives of ethnic minorities in independent Bangladesh.
The forced disappearance of Kalpana and Michael Chakma is reflection of this system. The non-implementation of CHT Accord and continued human rights violation say that the ruling government has no intention to resolve neither the abduction cases nor the political situation in CHT.
It can be said, very simply, that the government cannot avoid the responsibility of all abductions including Kalpana Chakma and Michael Chakma. In order to make the government accountable, we must continue raising our voice and demand immediate resolve to all cases of human rights violation. All who are involved in perpetrating violence against Jumma population, irrespective of their political affiliation, must be behind bars.
Anika Anjum Aurny is a student of University of Dhaka and a member of Bangladesh Students’ Union.
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