Maher IslamIt is neither uncommon nor at all surprising to see that there are protests being held regularly in Dhaka, especially in front of Bangladesh National Museum at Shahbag and National Press Club area against the rape of the Tribal woman in CHT. It is also common to see that some of the popular daily newspapers cover any such incident with adequate importance. In some cases, a number of write-ups were published cantering only one incident, just to display the level of seriousness in denouncing violence against women in CHT.
As a human and conscious citizen, anyone would welcome such efforts. Otherwise, write-ups and news disclosing such crimes are encouraging, as it helps other victims to raise their voices against oppression too. Moreover, processions, human chain, press briefing etc organized in protest of such crime demanding justice, not only act as an example of the availability of democratic environment in the country but also likely to contribute in bringing the culprits to justice.
The incident of two Marma girls of Bilaichari, Rangamati which happened in January this year is the most glaring example of such kind. Immediately after its occurrence, numerous posts flooded the social media, a number of write-ups were published in both online and offline news media and even there was an article published in Al Jazeera. Besides, more than 3 dozens rights activist and women rights platforms organized various kinds of protest including a torch procession over months, in Dhaka as well as different parts of the country demanding justice and appropriate punishment for the rapist. Some eminent citizen participated in those protest activities too.
Titled as ‘Rape of Marma Sisters – In conversation with Rani Yan Yan’, The Daily Star published details of the incident in the Star Weekend on February 02, 2018. Referring the wife of Chakma Circle Chief Mrs. Yan Yan, a horrific description of the incident was made available to the readers- “The two sisters—the elder is 19 years old and the younger is 14—say they saw four men from security forces around three in the morning on January 22.
According to them, the men came to their house in the village and took their parents out for questioning—about a terrorist or something of that sort, as there had been raids in nearby villages the previous day. Two of these four men went inside their house, with the torchlight on, checked the rooms and left. They went back inside the second time but left again. The third time, they turned off the torch and got inside a room where the two sisters and their seven-year-old brother were. The perpetrators apparently then put a gun to their heads and asked them not to make any sounds and cover their eyes. Both of the men raped the elder sister, by turn; then they sexually molested the other sister, but when one of them attempted to rape her, she started screaming despite the men’s threats [to be silent].”
What if, there are elements of politicization in such noble effort? What if, it happens that only selected incidents are protested? What if, the renowned women right platforms and personalities are not found active, showing similar sympathy even for a greater crime than that of what they protested before/after? What if, they even protested the self-made or fabricated incident, just to malign somebody? What if, the participants were misinformed or their good faith has been exploited by some vested quarters? Well, it is possible to cite a good number of examples to prove that such politicization of violence against women in CHT is being done regularly.
The aforesaid incident of two Marma girls may be showcased as the best example of such politicization on the issue of violence against women in CHT. Almost after four and half months, it is learned that the 3 member probe committee of National Human Right Commission concluded, “evidence does not indicate rape, Ansar member Giasuddin tugged victim’s (name mentioned) hand, quilt in an attempt to violate her; no clear evidence of Chakma Rani being assaulted.” (A Timeline of conflicting claims, New Age, June 12, 2018).
It may be mentioned here that it was also learned that the victims’ parents were out of the village on that night for jhum cultivation. It is worth mentioning, the medical board consisting of 3 members including a Tribal lady did not find any evidence of rape or even physical assault. (http://parbattanews.com, February 03, 2018).
Needless to say, the truth got no coverage in comparison to the sort of tsunami of blaming the security force members for a crime which was never committed.
According to The Daily Star (27 June 2018), “On June 17, a Marma teenage girl was killed after being raped allegedly by four Bangalee youths in Lalmai Upazila. Another teenage Tripura girl, on June 21, was gang-raped allegedly by a group of Bengali youths in Khagrachhari.” Obviously, some women rights platforms protested these incidents, forming a human chain in Shahbag, Dhaka. Similar protests were organized in all three hill districts and Chittagong as well. There were numerous posts in the social media also on these incidents.
However, hardly anyone knows that there was another horrific incident where three tenth grader Tribal girls were raped by a group of Tribal youths in the evening of 29 May 2018 at Mahalchhari of Khagrachhari district. The victims were gossiping in the field of Manikchhari Mukh Govt Primary School at around 6:30 pm on 29 May 2018. Threatening the girls, four Tribal youths took them inside a nearby garden and raped them. At one stage, one of the victims could escape and ran to her home. Being informed by her, her father along with local villagers rushed to the garden and rescued the other two victims. However, they could no apprehend the culprits. Subsequently, fathers of two girls went to the police station and filed a case (case no – 1/30/5/2018) at Mahalchhari Thana.
Police could apprehend all four perpetrators at that night. According to the OC at the police station, the culprits have confessed to raping in the initial interrogation. The victims were sent to the hospital for a medical test. (http://parbattanews.com, May 30, 2018).
The culprits are still in police custody. But there was no social media post, no procession anywhere in CHT what to talk about Shahbag or elsewhere. More astonishingly, some of the Tribal who could keep themselves free of regional political parties were surprised by their ignorance on this incident. Could it be that the perpetrators are Tribal; thus the incident has become a victim of politicization like many others in CHT!
Tamanna Khan, in her article ‘Rape used as a Weapon’, published in the Daily Star on July 28, 2014, has linked the incident of violence against women in CHT with the land issue as well as implementation to CHT Accord. Referring some Tribal activists, she claimed that in most of the cases the Bengalis are involved in all such incidents. Quoting Samari Chakma, a lawyer and rights activist in Khagrachhari, the writer has cited the example of Sabita Chakma, a 30-year-old Tribal lady who was raped and killed on February 15, 2014, allegedly by three Bengali sand collectors. There were a series of protest, as usual, demanding the punishment of the rapists. But the fact is, the medical examination report concluded that she was not raped. Moreover, there were a good number of incidents of violence against women in CHT where the issue of land was no way connected. Therefore, a question may pop up in the minds of the readers that could she, somehow, have one-sided information about violence against women in CHT?
In fact, there has been a number of incidents where the Tribal women were subjected to violence, sexual harassment and torture in CHT. In many such cases, the perpetrators could be identified; in some cases, it was not possible. But the hard truth is, many a time, the voice demanding punishment against the perpetrators was either absent or astonishingly low. Even, it failed to secure any space in national dailies. The only reason is, the wrongdoer was a Tribal.
Shockingly, instead of denouncing, violence against women is encouraged when it involves a love affair between a Tribal girl and a Bengali boy in CHT. Even, in many cases, the picture of the girl is posted in the social media, asking openly her death. Of course, demanding justice or punishment of the perpetrators no one ever stood beside the road with a placard, no one wore any black badge, no one arranged any press briefing, and none wrote a single line in any blog; whenever it involved a tribal lady who married a Bengali man. It has become almost obvious that the violence against such women has been politicized. A number of examples of such issues are also available.
At the end of the Eid holiday, a couple was returning to their workplace by bus. On the way, the bus was stopped by some miscreants including 10 to 12 female activists of a regional political party. Then they took the young woman who was sitting beside her husband, away from the bus by force. It was around midday, the incident took place on a bus with full of passengers. When the devastated husband tried to resist them, the miscreants threatened his life.
However, other passengers on the bus did not dare to step forward to help them. Since then, she is untraceable and no one knows her dreadful fate. This was exactly what happened with Fatema Begum, alias Noyna Tripura at Bailachhari Signboard area of Matiranga, Khagrachhari on 08 September 2017. No Tribal organization has ever protested or demanded justice. No one stood in front of the National Museum at Shahbag.
The incident of Josna Chakma is no less touching. She was chained around her neck and kept in captivity for two months till she could escape. Josna Chakma shared her ordeal with journalists during a press conference at Rangamati on 19 January 2017. As learned, falling in love, she got married to a Bengali while working in Chittagong. But the local regional political party did not accept this marriage and kidnapped her on 18 November 2016. Since then she was kept tied with an iron chain around her neck. Being a Buddhist, she married another Buddhist. But yet not spared as she got married to a Bengali.
Minu Marma, alias Ayesha Begum married a Bengali almost twelve years back. Both the families have accepted their marriage and they were living at Burighat, Naniarchar of Rangamati. Their eldest son was studying at a school at Rangamati. Once she was traveling from Burighat to visit her son who was sick, she was abducted by miscreants of a regional political party on 08 November 2016. She was then blindfolded and forced to walk for a few hours. In the meantime, she was also beaten a number of times mercilessly. At one stage, she was forced to make various types of communal and provocative statements against the Bengali and the Muslims, and they kept it recorded.
In another incident, a Karbari (head of a locality) at Lama Upazilla of Bandarban, fined an elderly man with four thousand taka on 23 March 2017, for impregnating his 14 years old grandchild. With that amount, a pig was purchased and then its blood was used to purify the locality. The poor girl was staying at his 70 years old grandfather’s house, to serve him who lost his wife a few years back.
Though, in some cases, there was protest immediately after an incident demanding punishment for the culprits. But when it was found that the perpetrator had been a Tribal, there was no more protest, subsequently. The incident of Bishakha Chakma could be cited as an example. She was lost from her house on 13 August 2014. Once her dead body was recovered from Rangamati Lake, the local public representative along with feminist activists organized human chains demanding appropriate justice. Astonishingly, once police investigation revealed that it was her husband and his associates who were involved in rape and her murder, no one ever organized any sort of programme demanding punishment of the culprits. Practically, a similar thing happened with the murder of Eiti Chakma of Khagrachhari in February 2017.
In September 2017, a formal application of a victim was surfaced where she sought justice against one employee of CHTDB, Rangamati who had been raping her regularly for around two years. Both the victim and perpetrator are from Chakma tribe. But people were afraid to speak out against the perpetrator as he was influential. Thus no question of protest or demand of justice arose in this case.
Due to the fact that whenever a Tribal is involved in a rape or violence against a woman, it is either not protested or an attempt is made to hide the crime. Thus, the perpetrators get immunity and dare to continue such crime subsequently. On the other hand, other Tribal get encouraged to commit such crime and violence against women continue in CHT. That is why, violence against women such as rape, abduction and sexual harassment especially by the Tribal miscreants is a common phenomenon in CHT. A few of such violence against Tribal are highlighted subsequently.
On February 2015, Umaching Marma and her family were tortured and fined Taka one Lac by a regional political party at Guimara, Khagrachhari as she loved and married a Bengali man at Dhaka. On 09 March 2015, the victim’s family paid Taka twenty thousand to them. The victim and her family were in a continuous pressure by the regional party to leave her Bengali husband. Later, the victim flew away to her husband to Dhaka.
On 12 Apr 2015, Dipa Tripura was abducted by UPDF backed members of PCP from Dighinala of Khagrachhari as she wished to marry a Bengali for materializing their love affair. Later, Dipa Tripura was gang-raped by the PCP members and they also recorded it. On 13 June 2015, security forces apprehended a PCP member named Sajib Tripura who confessed all of the aforesaid heinous activities.
On 29 May 2016, Ayna Chakma was sexually harassed by JSS (M) backed PCP members at Bilaichari, Rangamati as she entered into a Bangalee’s shop for online application of her college admission. The victim was beaten and then taken into the forest where she was sexually harassed by them. They also recorded the video of the whole scene in mobile. Later, she complained in black and white to the police mentioning the names of the culprits. Subsequently, the police could apprehend one of them. In retaliation, they called hartal demanding the release of their leader arrested in connection with the incident. Moreover, the family of the victim was threatened to withdraw the case filed against the culprits.
On 27 September 2016, a Tribal man named Aungthui Pru Marma was apprehended by Police for raping 02 girls of class Two and Four. He was an employee of the school at Bandarban district where they were the students. He raped those girls number of times since 20 July 2016.
On 18 November 2016, Josna Chakma was abducted by UPDF miscreants from Naniarchar, Rangamati as she married a Bengali. The UPDF armed miscreants took the victim in the jungle and tortured her for about 02 months tying with the chain on her neck and legs. She could flee away from the miscreants’ den and reported to a security forces camp at Kutukchhari, Rangamati on 17 January 2017. Along with her husband, she shared her ordeal with the journalists at Rangamati Press Club on 19 January 2017.
Paimapru Marma was apprehended and beaten by some UPDF members at Laxmichari, Khagrachari on 04 April 2017; as she had an affair with a Bengali and they were leaving their houses together. Subsequently, she was rescued by police and handed over to a local public representative who happened to be a supporter of UPDF. During her captivity, she died. Allegedly, she committed suicide due to inhuman sexual torture by the UPDF miscreants for two days.
On 04 July 2017, Modon Chakma was abducted by UPDF for not working in favor of them. Later, Modon Chakma could flee away from the miscreant’s hide. Following this, being agitated the UPDF miscreants abducted his wife and imprisoned her. However, security forces could rescue her later.
Not surprising that none of the aforesaid incidents was protested. No one sought justice for the victims or demanded appropriate punishment for the perpetrators. The main reason behind is that the perpetrators are usually Tribal miscreants or supporters of Tribal regional political parties.
In many cases, these were committed in the name of traditional justice. For obvious reason, usually, the victims do not dare to speak out against them; resulting in hardly any cases filed in the police station. Even if complained to the police station, victims are forced to fall into insecurity. On the other hand, most of the correspondents of mainstream national dailies in CHT are Tribal. Thus, they also may not make an adequate effort to publicise this type of news.
On the other hand, huge hue and cry are echoed especially in the social media whenever any violence against women is committed by a Bengali person in CHT. Even, some people are exploited while protesting against such crimes. Ironically, the same people remain silent when the crime is committed by a Tribal. It has been observed that the protest is organized not basing on crime but the perpetrators. That is why Marma Student Council did not bring out any procession when three Marma students were raped Mahalchhari. But they brought out processions in many other cases.
Therefore, it may be said that while protesting, a group of intellectuals, rights activists and feminist are concentrating all of their efforts on the tip of the iceberg only. They may or may not be aware that the whole iceberg is remaining unnoticed – because the whole issue of violence against women in CHT, has carefully been politicised since long.
♦ Maher Islam: CHT Researcher.