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Kalpana was abducted at election night and never returned

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. 

 

Kalpana Chakma, an indigenous women’s rights activist of Bangladesh held the position of General Secretary of the Hill Women’s Federation. Kalpana Chakma is reported to have been forcibly detained by security personnel from her home in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh on 12 June 1996 – her whereabouts remain unknown. Courtesy: Amnesty International.

 

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

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What you can do about the recent atrocities against the Hindu & Santal community in Bangladesh

 

The situation of religious minorities, violence against Hindus  and atrocities on Santal indigenous people has not changed or improved in Bangladesh. Since late October, government has hardly acted against the identifiable  criminals and to prevent atrocities against Santals and Hindu minorities – let alone rehabilitation of the people who were faced with genocide in their ancestors’ land.  We stand with the victims and survivors in Santal villages. We echo the voices of Hindu victims and support the Santal resilence. We call upon everyone to take action by following the advice of our friends at Secular Bangladesh Movement and Swadhinota Trust. Below is a call out for action that we reproduced from Swadhinota Trust listserve, issued on 10 Dec 2016 World Human Rights Day by the Swadhinata Trust, Nirmul Committee with the support of the Network of Social Change.

 

Hunger Strike outside Bangladesh High Commission in London, 23 November 2016. Photocredict: Atish D Saha

 

We are extremely concerned at the recent atrocities against Hindu community in Brahmanbaria in October and against Santals in Gaibandha in November. These attacks have provoked new fears amongst minority religious communities in Bangladesh.

It is beyond the capacity of the small groups of individuals or communities under sustained attack to assert their rights against very powerful political movements and land grabbers. We therefore need political, moral and, most importantly, immediate financial support from people from across the world who are concerned about this terrifying situation. We hope the vision of a common humanity will prevail over this terrible situation and that help reaches the beleaguered victims as soon as possible.

Things you can do to support

 

Speak out about the plight of religious minorities of Bangladesh with friends, families, neighbours and colleagues to increase awareness

Write to

 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

Prime Minister’s Office

Old Sangsad Bhaban

Tejgaon, Dhaka-1215

Bangladesh

Via facsimile: +880 2 8113244; +880 2 8111015

your local MP, urging the UK govt to take the issue up with Bangladesh government http://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp/

 

 

Contact lobbying organisations

Amnesty International

1 Easton Street, London, WC1X 0DW

Email: contactus@amnesty.org

Telephone: +44-20-74135500

Fax number: +44-20-79561157

Twitter: @Amnestyonline

 

Human Rights Watch

Audrey House
16 -20 Ely Place
London
EC1N 6SN
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7618 4700
https://www.hrw.org/contact-our-office-london

 

Support organisations working in Bangladesh

Secular Bangladesh Movement UK
Unit 1, Ground Floor Retail Unit, Fondant Court, Payne Road , London E3 2SP United Kingdom
Mobile:0044 7737828922
Nirmul Committee

International Forum for Secular Bangladesh, UK

iforum.secularbd@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/groups/173829836415586/

Swadhinata Trust

International Centre for Community Development

Faculty of Social Sciences & Humanities

London Metropolitan University

166/220 Holloway Road, London N7 8DB

admin@swadhinata.org.uk www.swadhinata.org.uk

Issued on 10 Dec 2016 World Human Rights Day by the Swadhinata Trust, Nirmul Committee with the support of the Network of Social Change

 


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The missing lines in Bangladesh profile

A TRIBUTE TO INDIGENOUS FEMINIST KALPANA CHAKMA ON 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF HER DISAPPEARANCE

By Rumana Hashem

 

THE keyword of my search was ‘national election in Bangladesh’. The top line of Google results, in response to my search, appeared as “Bangladeshi general election, June 1996. The Seventh National Parliamentary Elections 1996 (Bengali: সপ্তম জাতীয় সংসদ নির্বাচন ১৯৯৬) were held in Bangladesh on 12 June 1996. The result was a victory for the Bangladesh Awami League, which won 146 of the 300 seats. Voter turnout was 75.6%, the highest to date.”

 

Information and description of the success of general election held on June 12, 1996 continued in the following pages. What is striking is that the line that I was searching for, a missing woman who was abducted by state security force on the night of the general election, has been totally missing from the page of General Election 1996. Confused I went to search again with a keyword ‘Bangladesh profile’, but found nothing on the very incident of a missing woman whose outrageous abduction and disappearance, on the night of a historical general election, has turned me into an academic from an activist. Stubborn I continued the search on the profile of my homeland, for hours, and realised, at the end of the day, that the lines about uncompromising Chakma feminist does not ‘virtually’ exist. The crucial lines about Kalpana Chakma are meant to be missing from the profile of the whole of Bangladesh.

 

Kalpana Chakma

Kalpana Chakma, an indigenous women’s rights activist of Bangladesh who held the position of General Secretary of the Hill Women’s Federation. Kalpana Chakma is reported to have been forcibly detained by security personnel from her home in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh on 12 June 1996 and her whereabouts remain unknown. Courtesy: Amnesty International.

This is not a shocking or new fixation. It is a reality, instead. In the context of a world secured by various peace-forces after the armed conflicts, this is the commonly accepted reality across the world. Iraqi peace activist and feminist-sociologist at SOAS, Professor Nadje Al-Ali, would call it a ‘truth’ to be abolished in order to reinstate democracy and gender equality. But doubtful I sit and try to rethink would it be ever possible to regain democracy in a state that began its journey with a constitution which disregards the rights of the ethnic minority populations? Many more questions arise. How was it made possible to remove the whole tragic phenomenon so harshly from the general profile of Bangladesh? Who was behind a stretched dark event on a landmark night in the history of the nation? How could the nation accept this brutal reality when an election was held to strengthen democracy?

 

Despite the significance of the General Election 1996 as a historical momentum, to those who thought that democracy was necessary and democracy in Bangladesh would be possible, June 12 has marked important to the whole heart of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. As an undergraduate student and a feminist activist at that time, I was personally 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. That night I was 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 daily newspapers have already reached out to the nationals, across the nation, that were eager to read news of election. The incident of the notorious abduction of an uncompromising female activist with her two living bothers from her own 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.

 

Two decades have passed since. So many stories have gone around the gendered phenomenon over the past years which cruelly ruled out the topic of a crucial investigation as relevant. Instead of conducting investigation more lives were taken away as they protested at the outrageous disappearance of a fearless Hill woman activist. The problem is not merely military. It is actually that of the misogynist approach of the civic nation that cannot see how Kalpana’s disappearance can be a national shame.

As I write this piece, the phrase that June 12 marks the 20th anniversary of Kalpana Chakma’s abduction sounds ostracised to a nation that fought against the culture of impunity before my birth in 1971. Unfortunately, since the day of the independence all we have seen is an ongoing process of reinstating the same culture of impunity that the nation was meant to fight. The process has been strengthened over the course of democratic fights as misogyny of a civic nation was juxtaposed, heinously, with impunity.

 

Instead of undertaking investigation into the gendered phenomenon, the continuum of gendered violence in the region, under peace-force, has been aggravated through gang rapes and sexual abuse of women at daylight. 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’. He would not comment on these or Kalpana Chakma’s disappearance because, in his words, ‘these are matters to be dealt by peace-force’. Nevertheless, he ruled out the chances for Kalpana’s return.

 
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. I was even prohibited to speak to Kalpana’s family and was forced to return from Khagrachari with incomplete data. The research is still open to add more data and further research on gender and armed conflict in Bangladesh.

 

Whilst some may find it obsessive of a researcher to bring back unpleasant stories in national life, the story needs to be told and revisited as long as the misogyny of the nation exists. We may not be able to bring back Kalpana but we ought to continue the discussion that is so crucial for minority rights, for women’s rights, for democracy and justice within the nation. The nation ought to revisit the failing and chauvinism that stood as a national shame and that prohibits social justice in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and elsewhere. It is time to both reveal and overcome the misogyny of the so-called civic nation that submits to, instead of recognising, the culture of impunity.

 

Note: A slightly edited version of the article was published on the New Age BD on 12 June 2016. This article has been reproduced from the previously published article on New Age.