By Rumana Hashem
Two decades ago an outstanding Indigenous feminist and a fearless leader of Hill Women’s Federation, Kalpana Chakma, was abducted from her home in Rangamati, Chittagong, on the night of the national election on 12 June 1996 in Bangladesh. She has not been seen since.
Instead of ensuring justice for Kalpana’s family and to prosecute those suspected of criminal responsibility for her enforced disappearance, the Bangladeshi authorities attempted to close the investigation. Bangladeshi police on 27 September 2016 asked a court in Rangamati to close the case, citing a lack of evidence, which was being challenged by Bangladeshi feminists. Multiple police investigations and a government-appointed commission of inquiry have failed to identify perpetrators, let alone initiate any prosecutions. This 12 June marks the 21st anniversary of Kalpana’s abduction. In tribute to the abducted feminist Kalpana Chakma, we reblog a previously published article, describing the dramatic events on her abduction and the aftermath, in the Dhaka Tribune.
June 12 has a historical significance to many Bangladeshis, especially to those who supported and voted for Awami League to form government in 1996. On June 12 in 1996, the AL won the Seventh National Parliamentary Elections and regained power to lead the nation after more than two decades.
The day is remarkable to the generation of 1975, including myself, who heard many stories about the party’s leading role in the war of independence in 1971 but never saw the AL in power before June 12, 1996. Nevertheless, when many Bangladeshis note the day as a victory day of their favourite political party since 1996, it has become a commemoration day to the lives of a significant segment of population of the country — the people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
On June 12, 1996, an uncompromising Chakma feminist and an inspirational activist at Hill Women’s Federation, Kalpana Chakma, was abducted by unabashed state-security forces at the dark of the night when the nation was focused on the general election that would bring in democracy to the nation.
Kalpana was vocal against militarised violence and military occupation in the land of adivasi. There is little doubt that her captors would belong to the same military that she regarded as enemy to her people and homeland. Protests in the aftermath of her abduction, of course, took place and outbursts across the CHT continued. But the end result of the protests against military is so that rather than bringing back Kalpana, four more protesters including a young boy, Rupan Chakma, were shot dead.
Rupan, Monotosh, Shukesh and Somorbijoy Chakma died in militarised violence against an outburst on June 28 in 1996, two weeks after Kalpana Chakma had been abducted.The incident brought in a clear message to the community and the nationals, who opposed militarised violence, that violence against indigenous people and women would continue while protesters against militarised violence are to be silenced.
Two decades have passed since. Many stories have gone around the gendered phenomenon over the past years, yet the demand for an independent investigation was cruelly ruled out as irrelevant. Instead of conducting an investigation on Kalpana’s disappearance, more lives were taken away. One may think that the trouble is the military. But the truth is more complex than we see.
It is not merely military, rather that of the misogynist civic nation that embraces culture of impunity as a way to uphold chauvinism. A close look to the events that followed Kalpana’s abduction after the General Election in 1996 would explain that the idea of democracy and justice has been disabled in the CHT, especially after 1996.
The incident of the notorious abduction of an uncompromising female activist with her two living brothers from her mother’s home was, as it appeared, less important to the majority of the nation. Only a small segment of progressive activists expressed willingness to discuss the matter. Others remained silent and did not want to know more — let alone speak.
If you search the profile of Bangladesh or the incidents on June 12 in 1996, there would hardly be any information available on Kalpana or the outrageous incident in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The lines about an uncompromising aboriginal feminist do not “virtually” exist. The crucial lines have been erased from the whole profile of Bangladesh.
The questions about who was behind a stretched dark event on the night of a general election and how was this disgraceful incident of kidnapping normalised in the national life seemed immaterial and obsessive to many within Bangladeshi civil society.
Instead of undertaking investigation into the gendered phenomenon, the continuum of gendered violence in the region, under peace-forces, has been aggravated through gang rapes and sexual abuse of women at daylight which were committed by both the military and civil Bengali men. During my fieldwork of a completed doctoral research on “gender and armed conflict” in the CHT, I was told by the Additional District Commissioner in Khagrachari that there have been some “isolated incidents on militarised violence against women.” But he would not comment on these or Kalpana Chakma’s disappearance because, in his words, “these are matters to be dealt by peace-force”. What he implied is that he was out of power as he was made up to chair an administrative body who would sit and listen to how brutal the sounds of militarised violence are.
There is no doubt that military plays an important role in controlling the incidents in the CHT. Subsequently, I was prohibited to speak to Kalpana’s family and was forced to return from Khagrachhari with incomplete data. Nevertheless, the point that should not be missed is that the nationals are equally submissive and misogynistic. The nationals submit to militarism and chose the culture of impunity as a way of controlling indigenous population. This was evident in the comments of the ADC in Khagrachari. At the end of the meeting, he ruled out the chances for Kalpana’s return.
Even so, the missing woman is far from being silent. The woman from the other side of the wall stands as more powerful than her skippers. Kalpana’s disappearance alone has discovered many more voices that are vocal against violence against indigenous people. At a personal level, the incident of Kalpana’s outrageous abduction and disappearance, on the night of a historical general election, has turned me into an academic from activist. I was an undergraduate student at that time, was committed to help the Election Commission in counting votes, delivering a prompt service and neutral result of the election to which the whole nation awaited.
On the night of Kalpana’s abduction, I had been serving the nation of Bangladesh as a loyal volunteer of Dhaka University Scouts. After a sleepless and hard-working long evening when I returned home at nine o’clock in the morning, the national dailies have already reached out to the people, across the nation, that were eager to read news of election. Kalpana’s abduction was only partly covered. Even so, it had its power which motivated me to pursue a scientific research on gender and armed conflict in the end.
We may not be able to bring back Kalpana, but the power of a missing woman is proven. It is time to reveal and overcome the misogyny of the so-called civic nation that submits to, instead of protesting, the culture of impunity.
Read full article on Dhaka Tribune: http://archive.dhakatribune.com/op-ed/2016/jun/15/missing-woman-far-being-silent