by Kabita Chakma for AlalODulal.org.
Perhaps the spirit of Bijoy Dibosh can rekindle the hearts of millions of Bangladeshis to do what is honourable. Just as #illridewithyou helped assure the safety and security of Australian Muslims, the spirit of Bijoy Dibosh may help bring safety and security to indigenous peoples in the CHT.
On 16 December 2014, I added the tweet #illridewithyou to my Facebook page. Sixteenth December: Bijoy Dibosh; Bangladesh Victory Day; the victory of justice over injustice.
#illridewithyou was a remarkable Australian twitter campaign in support of Muslim women. It began in very sad circumstances. On the morning of 15 December, a deluded armed man, who media described as ‘self-styled Sheikh Man Haron Monis’, a Muslim cleric with criminal history, took 17 staff and customers hostage at the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place, Sydney. The 16 hour siege in my resident city ended in the early hours of 16 December. It cost the lives of two innocent hostages and the perpetrator.
Following the incident, there was fear of a backlash against members of the Muslim community. There were reports that many Muslims were reluctant to take public transports. A woman named Rachel Jacobs saw a distressed Muslim woman on a train taking off her hijab. When they got off the train, Jacobs went up to the woman and said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with you’. In response, the woman hugged Jacobs and cried.
A Twitter solidarity campaign #illridewithyou emerged out of social media discussions of Jacobs’ act of kindness. It voiced support for Muslim women. The support spread throughout Australia. ABC news
reported that #illridewithyou was ‘rising by hundreds of tweets per minute. Within hours it had been used in almost 120,000 tweets’. The solidarity campaign was also repeated in many parts of the world.
Completing my Facebook status, I learnt about the murder of Umraching Marma (Chabi), a Year 8 school girl, on 15 December of last year. Her throat was allegedly slit by two Bengali settlers, Mohammad Nizam Uddin (aged 19/20) and Masud Rana (aged 19) from a village of Kaptai, in the CHT. She had been working on her family’s jum farm collecting vegetables. The accused confessed that she was murdered resisting rape.
Is murder of minors like Umraching unusual in the CHT?
A 2013 submission on CHT Jumma indigenous rural women, under Article 14 of CEDAW, notes that a high number of indigenous women have been sexually assaulted, raped, and murdered by non-indigenous men during daily activities, such as going to and from work on farms, tending cattle, collecting food and firewood from the forest, fetching water, and going to school, markets and temples. It stressed that sexual violence against Jumma women by settlers has intensified with the increased mobility of settlers in the post-Accord CHT. Indigenous women of all ages are losing their freedom of movement in the CHT.
Kapaeeng Foundation documented that in the last 7 years, till April 2014, 96% of the alleged perpetrators of violence against indigenous women in the CHT are committed by Bengali settlers and the other 4% are by law enforcement officers. It claimed that while sexual violence against CHT women was used initially as a ‘weapon of war’, and was later used for land grabbing. (Sexual Violence against Indigenous Women, The Daily Star, 21 December 2014).
Police work on the Umraching murder case has been exemplary. The victim’s father was able to file a case with the local police station. In many previous cases filing a case accusing a Bengali man of rape
was difficult. The police took immediate action to arrest the men and bring them before the court. Earlier this year the alleged rape and murder of 30 year old mother of two Sabita Chakma received different treatment. Police initially refused to file the case.
Amnesty International pointed out that in the Sabita murder case ‘the local police superintendent, when reporting that no arrests had been made, stated that: “The upazila parishad election was our first priority. Arresting someone could have raised Bangalee-Pahari tensions. So, we are taking our time.”’
Amnesty International added that ‘in cases where indigenous women report rape by Bengali settlers, doctors are pressured by the authorities to report no evidence of rape in their medical reports, arguing that a finding of rape would contribute to tensions between Indigenous Peoples and Bengalis.’ (Livewire: Amnesty’s global human rights blog, 24 June 2014). The well known 1996 Kalpana Chakma abduction case still awaits effective police action.
Since 2009, when the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals came to the CHT, their effective functioning has been insipid. A 2014 CHT Commission report ‘Marginalisation and Impunity:
Violence Against Women and Girls in the Chittagong Hill Tracts’ recorded a total of 215 cases of violence against women from January 2010 to December 2011. Of these, 166 cases were served with charge
sheets. Only 9 of these cases were tried, with no convictions. Human rights organisations speculate that absolute impunity enjoyed by perpetrators remains the major reason for continuation of sexual violence against indigenous women in the CHT.
The Umraching murder was not the only news on Bijoy Dibosh. A national Bangla daily revealed that on that day there were arson attacks on indigenous peoples of the CHT at Bogachari, in Rangamati, allegedly by ‘some miscreants’. On that day also hundreds of innocent children were allegedly murdered by Taliban militia in Peshwar.
Later reporting of the Bogachari arson stated that at least 50 homes and 7 shops owned by indigenous people in 3 villages were torched, allegedly by Bengali settlers in the presence of and with the active participation of some military personnel. The arson attackers also vandalised Karuna Kutir, a Buddhist temple, physically abused monks, and looted seven bronze Buddha statues. Police suggested that the arson attack was retaliation by settlers in response to the destruction of part of Asfar Ali’s pineapple and teak plantation by indigenous persons. Media reporting further revealed that Asfar Ali had previously grabbed the land from Padma Ranjan Chakma.
Grabbing of land belonging to indigenous peoples by Bengali settlers, powerful Bengalis and organisations, often using terror and deceit, has been practiced in the CHT since the late 1970s. Asfar Ali’s apparent land grabbing again brings sharp attention to the government’s failure to establish a just and functioning Land Commission, which is an important provision of the 1997 CHT Accord. The Bogachari arson poignantly shows how the full implementation of the CHT Accord is necessary to a just Bangladesh.
Harm was done to the people of Bogachari. There has been no judicial investigation. An 11 member probe committee has been set up to inquire about the arson. Such committees should not replace proper legal procedures. It is the responsibility of the government and its institutions to ensure the law is followed. Those who destroyed the plantations, those who took the law into their own hands by torching 3 villages, vandalising and looting the Karuna Kutir temple, and those involved in land grabbing must be brought to justice. Those charged with maintaining law and order, but instead thwart it, must also be brought to justice.
In the days after Bijoy Dibosh, we learnt that the arson victim’s families, including babies and the elderly, are homeless in December’s harsh winter. Living conditions for them are harsh, however, they demand nothing but safety and security from the state. They refused to accept relief in the form of food, grain, metal roofing sheets and cash assistance offered by the government on 18 December. Only when Mostafa Kamal, the Rangamati Deputy Commissioner, made assurances of security, did the victims accept the metal roofing sheets. It is imperative that all victims of Bogachari be justly compensated.
While the events that occurred on and around the Bijoy Dibosh in Australia and Bangladesh are quite different, one connection is that both the Muslims in Australia, and the indigenous peoples in Bangladesh, are minorities in their lands. Both deserve safety and security.
In Australia it was inspiring to see the flood of floral tributes at the hostage site in Martin Place, from people of every walk of life. On 21 December, Manal Kassem, a Muslim bride in her bridal dress and
wearing a hijab and veil, along with her bridal party, visited the memorial site. She added her wedding bouquet to the floral tributes. au.news.yahoo.com reported that Kassem ‘did it out of respect for her
country [Australia], that will one day be the country of her children and grandchildren.’
There is a reasonably good public confidence in Australia that its law and order system offers safety and security for all. The mass public campaign #illridewithyou, which touched people’s hearts, will further
strengthen safety and security for the Muslim community in Australia.
Is it possible to achieve the same for indigenous peoples in the CHT?
It may appear difficult. But I have confidence that all Bangladeshis, whether Bengali or non-Bengali, have the capacity to distinguish right from wrong. They have the capacity to respect justice, to respect humanity, and to stand by the oppressed.
Bijoy Dibosh is significant in marking an end to the injustices of 24 years of cultural, economic, racial and religious oppression suffered by the people of Bangladesh under Pakistan. While the spirit of Bijoy Dibosh, which represents victory over injustice, is weakened by incidents like the Bogachari arson and the murder of Umraching, the police’s dutiful work in bringing Umraching’s murderers to justice is making a difference.
Perhaps the spirit of Bijoy Dibosh can rekindle the hearts of millions of Bangladeshis to do what is honourable. Just as #illridewithyou helped assure the safety and security of Australian Muslims, the
spirit of Bijoy Dibosh may help bring safety and security to indigenous peoples in the CHT.