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Protesters Demand Justice for Rape Victims and Rani Yan Yan

 Press Release by Jumma Peoples Network, UK

 London, 15 March 2018

Protest against rape and sexual abuse of Marma sisters outside Bangladesh High Commission in London, 15 March 2018. Copy right: JPNUK.

 

The Jumma Peoples Network UK, a non-profit, non-aligned human rights organisation based in the UK, in association with Survival International organised a peaceful demonstration outside the Bangladesh High Commission in London on Thursday 15 March 2018.

This event was held to condemn the physical assault on Chakma Queen Rani Yan Yan committed on 15 February 2018 at the Rangamati General Hospital and the rape and sexual assault on two indigenous Marma sisters on 22 January 2018, by the Bangladesh Security Forces. The attacks took place in their home in Orasori village in Rangamati Hill District, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh. Protesters condemned the attacks on indigenous women’s and their human rights defenders.

Two minutes’ silence was observed as a mark of respect for the victims of rape and sexual assault and to express solidarity with Rani Yan Yan and other women Human Rights defenders.

Protest against rape and sexual violence outside the BDHC in London 15 March 2018. Copyright: Pushpita Gupta

An indigenous woman from the CHT holds placard asking for Justice for Marma Sisters at the protest against sexual violence against indigenous women. BDHC, London, 15 March 2018. Copyright: Pushpita Gupta.

Kumar Sivasish Roy, Ujjaini Roy and Lal Amlai from Jumma Peoples Network UK, Chris Chapman from Amnesty International, James Swapan Peris from Campaign for the Protection of Religious Minorities of Bangladesh and Rebecca Durand, a womens human rights activist spoke at the event. Members from the Nirmul Committee, Community Women Against Abuse, Jumma Community, and more well-wishers were also present there.

At the end of the protest rally, a joint petition by the Survival International and Jumma Peoples Network, UK was submitted to the Bangladesh High Commission to be delivered to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

 

 

 

 

 

Please click to down load:

Survival International and Jumma Peoples Network UK joint petition to PM of Bangladesh 

 

Press Release – Demo in London and Survival International and Jumma Peoples Network UK – joint petition to PM of Bangladesh

……………………………………………..

Thank you for your solidarity.

Protest against rape and sexual violence in the CHT took place outside Bangladesh High Commission in London, 15 March 2018. Copyright: Pushpita Gupta.

For more information please contact:

Email: jpn_uk@hotmail.com

Web: www.jpnuk.org.uk

 

Note:The International Council for Indigenous Peoples of Chittagong Hill Tracts & Jumma Peoples Network International started the below petition to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and 4 others

You can Sign the petition if you agree with the statement below:

https://www.change.org/p/bangladesh-justice-for-raped-marma-sisters-rani-yan-yan-and-indigenous-women-human-rights-defenders

Justice for raped Marma sisters, Rani Yan Yan and Indigenous women human rights defenders

 

We the undersigned individuals and organisations are deeply concerned about the recent incident of sexual violence against two indigenous Marma sisters on 22/1/18 [1] and assaults on Rani Yan Yan (the Chakma Queen) and Women Human Rights Defenders on 15/2/18 [2] in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh perpetrated by Bangladesh military and security forces.

Human rights groups report there has been a concerted and coordinated effort to cover up the rape and sexual assault [3] and also attempts to impose a mainstream media blackout [4].

Incidents of rape and sexual assault are common in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, with a young Tripura girl reportedly raped on International Womens’ Day [5]. From 2014 to June 2017, there have been 297 reported cases [6] of violence against indigenous women and girls none of these cases have been properly prosecuted, nor the perpetrators punished.  Rape and sexual violence targeting indigenous women and girls are part of a systematic and brutal strategy to terrorise the indigenous communities and displace them from their lands. [7]

Background

On 22 January 2018 a patrol party from Farua Army Camp carried out house to house searches in Orasori village, Bilaichari district in Rangamati, Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh They entered the house of an indigenous Marma family. Two men raped the 18-year-old sister and seriously sexually assaulted the younger 14-year-old sister.  Their seven-year-old brother was present in the room.

The following day the sisters were taken to hospital for treatment. Whilst at the hospital they were placed under tight surveillance, unlawfully detained [8] and subjected to degrading treatment.  Rani Yan-Yan and other women’s human rights defenders attended the sisters for 20 consecutive days, to provide support and to bear witness to their treatment. One of the reasons Rani Yan Yan visited the sisters, is because she is also from the Marma indigenous group and can communicate with the sisters in their mother tongue. The sisters said they were scared to return to their village, for fear of retaliation for speaking out.  A writ was filed to release the sisters into the protective custody of Raja Devasish Roy and Rani Yan Yan. [9]

Attack on Rani Yan Yan and Women Human Rights Defender

The parents of the two girls, having allegedly been placed under extreme pressure from the Bangladeshi security forces, filed a counter-writ for their daughters’ release, which was upheld on the 13/2/18.  This led to a raid on the hospital by security forces and plain-clothes personnel when the sisters were forcibly taken from the hospital (15/3/18). Rani Yan-Yan and a woman human rights defender were assaulted, kicked and beaten trying to protect the sisters who were refusing to leave.  A physical assault of such magnitude on Rani Yan Yan is tantamount to an attack on all the indigenous people of the Chakma Circle. The Chakma Raj is held in high esteem and is considered to be the custodians of centuries-old traditions and way of life.

Accountability and Scrutiny

There is an intense lack of scrutiny of the situation facing Indigenous peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.  It is notable that Bangladesh is the largest contributing country to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UN DPKO).  It is abhorrent to think of perpetrators of such crimes serving as UN Peacekeepers.  We welcome the statement made by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (4/3/16) pledging reforms to improve accountability for abuse by peacekeepers including measures for stricter vetting of new UN personnel and quicker investigations. [10]

International Scrutiny and Safeguarding

It is commendable the international community is acting to combat the sexual exploitation and abuse of vulnerable women and children in communities by aid workers from International NGOs such as Oxfam and Save the Children.  However, the same level of scrutiny and accountability is required for all recipients of aid, including Bangladesh, especially when there are credible reports of vulnerable women and children and being sexually abused by those in power and having little or no means of holding those in power to account for their crimes.

Recommendations:

We call on Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Government of Bangladesh to:

  • End impunity for security forces for sexual and physical violence against indigenous women in the CHT
  • Bring all perpetrators of sexual violence to justice in the CHT and plains of Bangladesh in accordance to international standards;
  • Ensure access to justice for the Marma sisters in accordance to international standards, as well as ensuring their physical and psychological wellbeing
  • Carry out an independent, impartial investigation into the attack on Rani Yan Yan and the Women Human Rights Defender and bring the perpetrators to justice
  • Urgently ensure the security of Rani Yan Yan and the Chakma royal family and other human rights defenders in the Chittagong Hill Tracts
  • Implement the 1997 CHT Peace Accords in full before its 21st anniversary in December 2018. [11]
  • Demilitarise the CHT and removal of army camps in accordance to the 1997 CHT Accord

We further request assurance from the Government of Bangladesh to take all precautions to ensure that there is proper scrutiny of all personnel, including military from Bangladesh prior to serving in the United Nations to certify ‘they have not committed or are alleged to have committed criminal offences and/or violations of international law..’

We would like to make the following recommendations to the United Nations and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations to improve the accountability of both civilian and military personnel serving the UN. We request the UN to:

  • Exercise due diligence and ensure proper screening prior to deployment of personnel from Bangladesh that are alleged to be involved in criminal offences and violations of international human rights law.  (In accordance with UN Human Rights Screening Policy 2012) [12]
  • Allow Bangladeshi and Indigenous women’s human rights groups, women human rights defenders from the to submit details of named personnel involved in these disturbing events, which are in clear violation of international human rights law, as well as criminal offences.
  • The UN establish a database of personnel unsuitable for UN service. This should be open to contributions from indigenous women and human rights groups with experience and evidence of human rights abuses
  • Consider how information on allegations of human rights abusers can be gathered from countries with poor rule of law and lack of access to justice

We urge the Special Rapporteurs on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Women, Torture, Child Protection, on Violence against Children and for Children and Armed Conflict, Human Rights Defenders and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to urgently investigate the recent events with a view to making recommendations to provide protection and access to justice for the Marma sisters, Rani Yan Yan and women human rights defenders, reporting back to the United Nations at CEDAW and via the appropriate mechanisms.

 

We call on the international community, International financial institutions and donor countries such as the UK, Australia, USA, France and Canada, Japan (DfID, AusAID, USAid, CIDA, SIDA, NORAD, EU) to:

  • Ensure proper investigation of de facto military rule and access to justice in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, ensuring that issues relating to the treatment of the indigenous people are brought into the mainstream and to bring strong diplomatic pressure to bear.
  • Encourage and support the Government of Bangladesh and Indigenous communities in the implementation of the 1997 CHT Peace Accords and de-militarisation of the CHT

We ask supporters to stand in solidarity with the Marma sisters, Rani Yan Yan and other human rights defenders as they fight for justice and to hold their abusers and the institutions they represent to account for their actions.

You can help by writing to your representative:

USA

http://congress.org/

UK/EU

https://www.writetothem.com/

Canada

http://4mycanada.ca/wp/?page_id=99

Australia

https://www.aph.gov.au/Senators_and_Members/Guidelines_for_Contacting_Senators_and_Members

Further Reading and References:

[1] Rape of Marma sisters, In conversation with Rani Yan Yan; The Daily Star 2/2/18 http://www.thedailystar.net/star-weekend/human-rights/rape-marma-sisters-1528471

[2] Bangladesh: Assault on Chakma Rani Yan Yan: An Official statement from the Chakma Raj Office

http://iphrdefenders.net/bangladesh-assault-on-chakma-rani-yan-yan-an-official-statement-from-chakma-raj-office/

[3] Rights Groups accuse Bangladesh army of covering up sex assault, Al Jazeera, 28/2/18

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/bangladesh-minorities-bid-cover-army-sex-assault-180217110336276.html

[4] CHT incident, digital media and analogue government, New Age Bangladesh, 21/2/18

http://www.newagebd.net/print/article/35186

[5] Protest at DU against rape of Tripura girl, Daily Star 9/3/18

http://www.thedailystar.net/country/protest-at-dhaka-university-against-rape-of-tripura-girl-1545802

[6] Bangladesh: Uphold the Rule of Law and End Impunity for Security Forces, Asian Indigenous Peoples Pact statement 3/3/18

http://iphrdefenders.net/bangladesh-uphold-the-rule-of-law-and-end-the-impunity-of-security-forces/

[7] Indigenous women target of rape in land-related conflicts in Bangladesh, IWGIA, 8/3/18

https://www.iwgia.org/en/bangladesh/3235-indigenous-women-target-of-rape-in-land-related-conflicts-in-bangladesh

[8] Rape of Marma girl: Questions aplenty, Daily Star, 1/2/18

http://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/rape-marma-girl-questions-aplenty-1528153

[9] Settle rule on Marma sisters in 6 weeks: SC, Daily Star, 22/2/18

http://www.thedailystar.net/country/settle-rule-rangamati-marma-sisters-rape-confinement-6-weeks-supreme-court-1538443

[10] UN: Stop Sexual abuse by Peacekeepers, Human Rights Watch, 4/3/16

https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/03/04/un-stop-sexual-abuse-peacekeepers

[11] Suffering of Jumma tribes continue 20 years after peace accord

https://www.survivalinternational.org/news/11873

[12] Human Rights Screening of UN Personnel, UN Policy 11/12/12

http://dag.un.org/bitstream/handle/11176/387395/Policy%20on%20Human%20Rights%20Screening%20of%20UN%20Personnel%20December%202012.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

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Protest against sexual assault and attack on indigenous women in Chittagong Hill Tracts

Where? In front of Bangladesh High Commission, London

When? 13:00 – 14:00, Thursday, 15th March 2018

 

The Jumma Peoples Network UK, in association with Survival International, is organising a peaceful demonstration outside the Bangladesh High Commission, 28 Queen’s Gate, Kensington, London SW7 5JA, at 1pm to 2pm on Thursday 15th March 2018, to protest against rape and sexual abuse of two Marma sisters by the Bangladesh security forces in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a region in south-east Bangladesh. As well, the demo is being organised to condemn the violent assault on the Chakma Circle Adviser, Rani Yan Yan.

Although two decades had passed since the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord 1997 was signed, incidences of rape and sexual violence against Jumma women are increasingly evident in the region. The recent occurrences of rape and sexual abuse were committed as part of organised violence against Jumma women. Indigenous community representatives and local civil society organisations have reported that members of Bangladesh Army, who were deployed by the government of Bangladesh for security purposes, had first raped a 19-year old Marma woman, then assaulted her 14-year old sister in a village called, Orasori, in Rangamati – a sub-district at the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The two Marma sisters were raped and abused on 22 January, and both of the sisters were confined at the Rangamati Sadar Hospital since 24 January. They were subsequently taken out of the the hospital by force (against their will), and were handed over to their parents after three weeks, on 15 February. Amnesty International reported that the sisters are currently staying at an accommodation of a ruling party leader in a restricted environment, contrary to their request of shelter.

Instead of enquiring into the rape and sexual abuse of the two sisters, the Bangladeshi security forces had committed a violent physical attack on the Chakma Circle Adviser, Rani Yan Yan, and one of her volunteers on 15 February 2018, when they were visiting the ward where the two Marma sisters were kept. Most appalling is that an impartial investigation to prosecute the perpetrators is yet to begin and the survivor’s family has been subjected to intimidation by the army.

We call upon everyone to join the demo and to stand in solidarity with those fighting for justice for the Marma sisters in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The protesters outside the Bangladesh High Commission in London will ask the Bangladesh government to ensure immediate safety and security of the two survivors of sexual violence, and to begin an impartial investigation into the violence against the Marma sisters. A joint memorandum by members of the Jumma Peoples Network UK, Survival International, Amnesty International, Campaign for Religious Minorities in Bangladesh and Secular Movement of Bangladesh, Community Women Against Abuse and other human rights activists will be submitted to the Bangladesh High Commission to be delivered to Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

We ask our supporters to join the demo this Thursday. Organisations and individuals are encouraged to bring along your own placards and organisational banners to show your support for the indigenous women in Bangladesh.

For further information, please contact:

Jumma Peoples Network UK

Phone: 07723059225 and 07931777262

Email: jpn_uk@hotmail.com

Web: www.jpnuk.org.uk


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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.