Tears of Hill: Violence against Tribal Women in CHT
- Maher Islam
[dropcap font=”arial” fontsize=”60″]A[/dropcap]t 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 Bailachari Signboard area of Matiranga, Khagrachari on 08 September 2017. She was traveling with her husband on a Chittagong bound bus named Bismillah Paribahan. Her only fault was that she fell in love with a Bangalee, got married to him before five years and living with him since then.
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 with a Bangalee 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 Bangalee.
More news on this topic by Maher Islam
Minu Marma, alias Ayesha Begum married a Bangalee 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 his 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 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.
The incident of Ayna Chakma of Bilaichari, Rangamati was almost similar but more horrific. On 29 May 2016, she was abducted by a group of activists of the student wing of a regional political party. Then, they took her to a nearby forest and sexually harassed her. Later, she complained in black and white to the police mentioning the names of the culprits. Subsequently, 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.
Juvenile Dipa Tripura of Dighinala, Khagrachari fell in love with a Bangalee named Ahmad Hannan. She knew that their relationship will never be accepted in her society and the dreadful fate waiting for her. So, they attempted to elope. But a group of activists of the student wing of a local regional political party stopped their vehicle and kidnapped them on 12 April 2015. The follow-up of the incidents was no different, Hannan was assaulted after he was taken into a forest; Dipa was gang-raped number of times, which was also recorded by one of the abductors. Later, being apprehended by security forces, one of them confessed the whole incident and disclosed other criminal activities they were involved in.
In another incident, a karbari (head of a locality) at Lama Upzilla 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.
While working together, two youngsters, one Bangalee and another Tribal, fell in love and got married. But their marriage was not accepted by the Tribals, as usual. Consequently, the young man had to lose his job and wife who by then was abducted by tribal miscreants. When he had been trying desperately to know whereabouts of her beloved life partner, his life was threatened also by some Tribal miscreants. On the other hand, the young lady was tortured to leave her husband which she rejected.
Then, tried to get married off against her will with another man, which also did not succeed. Subsequently, her family was fined financially, failure to pay the amount would result in an auction of the young lady. It may sound unbelievable, but the poor fellow named Shaikat Vodro requested the humanitarian organization and others to come forward to save his wife from auction through a press conference at Dhaka Reporters Unity on 23 February 2015. To the utter shock and surprise of many, he said, “women can be subject to auction like in the medieval age” in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
As learned from his blog, while working with Jatiya Mukti Council, he came in touch with Retina Chakma who was an activist of the student wing of a regional political party. To materialize their feelings for each other, they got married in October 2012. Once it is known to the other Tribals, both of them were pressurized to get separated which both of them rejected. Subsequently, Retina was abducted in August 2014 and Shaikat was fired from his job. None came to his assistance. (https://istishon.com/?q=node/15007).
The list of similar incidents appears to be endless. A number of Tribal girls had been subjected to brutal atrocities including kidnapping and gang rape in CHT just because of falling in love or marrying a Bangalee. Umachinga Marma of Guimara, Sonabi Chakma of Matiranga, Rina Tripura of Kutukchari, Rangamati, Monika Tripura of Ramgarh, and many more have similar ordeals to share. However, only the name of Retina Chakma could reach up to Dhaka; maybe because of her husband’s press briefing at Dhaka.
One thing is common in all these incidents. Their perpetrators are Tribal. Thus, it leads to an obvious conclusion that if any Tribal woman is violated by a Tribal no one may seek justice for her!! Similar incidents are plenty in CHT. Not surprising that feminist, intellectuals and rights activists do not speak out against such heinous activities and violence against women in CHT. Moreover, it is also not surprising that most of the people are not aware of true happenings in CHT due to media downplay.
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 a human chain demanding appropriate justice.
Astonishingly, once police investigation revealed that it was her husband and his associates who were involved in rape and murder of her, no one ever organized any sort of programme demanding punishment of the culprits. The most similar thing happened with Eiti Chakma of Khagrachari 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 for this case.
The case of two Marma girls of January 2018 may be showcased as the best example of hypocrisy on the issue of violence against women in CHT. Violence against a woman in CHT is not new, as it is clear with the number of incidents mentioned by now. But it hardly gets adequate space in the frontline news media in Bangladesh. Besides, there is another hard fact which is never talked about, almost like a taboo in the hill society of Bangladesh, i.e. rights of women in the customary or traditional justice in CHT. In contrast to this common scenario, the incident of two Marma girls has drawn attention both and home and abroad.
Credit goes to the feminist organizations, right activists, online bloggers, social media warriors, local leaders and the intellectuals. The credit is also inversely proportional to their discredit for not doing the same in all cases of violence against women in CHT, impartially. All of them may be accused as guilty of hypocrisy as they have shown that they are not impartial in the events of CHT as their efforts were never seen against all types of perpetrators as well as for all types of victims in CHT. In other words, they have proven that they are only available for some selective cases, especially against some chosen group of people.
Every life is important and loved dearly by their family members and friends. Yet, women in CHT have not been viewed as if not equal but with a bare minimum sympathy in many cases. Any Tribal girl marrying a Bangalee is subjected to the brutal and inhuman punishment which usually include gang rape by other Tribal. Even, the simple friendship between a Tribal girl and Bangalee boy was viewed as a punishable offense in CHT in some cases. In case of rape of a Tribal girl by another Tribal, traditional justice is usually followed to resolve it, which result in slaughtering a pig with the fine imposed on the rapist.
Once these heinous practices are brought to light by a writer Rokeya Lita in her work titled ‘Dumurer Phul’ which means an unseen object, she was treated to be raped. In her book, it was also revealed that most of the times, the victim of rape cannot resort to law of the land and she has to accept the verdict of the local village head who follows the traditional justice; even she may be fined if she goes to court for justice. It is also a not uncommon practice that the girl is married off with her rapist; as a punishment for him, as viewed by some Tribal.
Traveling in the remote areas in CHT and interacting with different types of people for eight months, Rokeya Lita expresses her mind, “Those of us who live in Dhaka often hear stories about rapes in the hills committed by Bangalee men. But the reality is otherwise. Only Bangalees are accused in the rapes, despite allegations against hill men being involved.
But the tribal leaders do not bring them to the fore. Sitting in Dhaka or taking a trip for two to three days in the hills, it is difficult to obtain a real picture of the situation there.” She goes on saying, “But the problem is hill women are not always accusing Bangalees of rape. In most cases, it is seen that their menfolk have politicised the situation to campaign for it.” (http://www.theindependent bd.com/printversion/details/36783)
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 case, it was not possible. But the hard truth is, most of the time the voice demanding punishment against the perpetrators was either absent or astonishingly low. Even, it failed to secure any space in national dailies, in many cases, especially when the wrongdoer is a Tribal.
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; especially whenever it involved a tribal who married a Bangalee. As if, marrying a Bangalee is a sin and thus, it is her destiny that she will be subjected to physical abuse and sexual torture; no one should say anything on this issue.
A young girl from Ramgarh of Khagrachari has been subjected to the latest efforts of filthy harassment in the social media. An open death threat is hanging over the head of Kraching Marma for marrying a Bangalee. While working together at Fakir Fashions in Rupganj of Narayanganj, they fell for each other leading to marriage. Subsequently, they were threatened and harassed by miscreants already. To avoid their harassment, they shifted their rented house few times also. In the meantime, the tribal miscreants have started defaming them in social media with filthy comments. She has already been threatened with rape as well as murder.
We are accustomed to the demand for justice of controversial kidnapping incident of Kolpona Chakma. But there is a mysterious silence in case of proven cases of so many kidnapping in CHT, e.g. Retina Chakma, Noyna Tripura alias Fatema Begum, Josna Chakma, Minu Marma alias Ayesha Begum, Ayna Chakma, Dipa Tripura and so on. Even, there is no voice against the perpetrators where the victims complained in black and white or shared their nightmares in press briefing openly.
NHRC has established first district office in Rangamati in October 2016. However, no news regarding the role of the office was noticed once Josna Chakma narrated her sufferings openly by herself, in Rangamati Press Club. It failed to make an appeal to anyone. Even her voice could not reach to the district office of NHRC which is located in the same city.
There is no denying fact that a group of intellectuals, rights activists and feminists are working hard to let others know how the Tribal women are being victimized by the Bangles in CHT. But the reality is, they 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.
Day by day, tribal women are being victimized by barbarous rape and molestation for marrying or befriending Bangalee, but no women organization, even the so-called intellectuals, have opened their mouths in this regard. Over last few decades, a number of IOs and NGOs have been working in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. But for some unknown reason, they also did not bring it to the notice of mainstream citizen of the society.
As already said before, there was numerous report of violence against women in CHT. Yet, those are usually not protested or justice is not sought against 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 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 adequate effort to publicise this type of news. Therefore, the violence against women in CHT is almost like silent tears which are being cried regularly but obviously unnoticed.