By- Paritosh Chakma
Exactly 13 years ago, a Chakma indigenous woman leader was abducted by army officials and disappeared without a trace in Chittagong Hills Tract of Bangladesh.
Ms Kalpana Chakma, Organizing Secretary of the Hill Women’s Federation, was kidnapped from her home at Lallyaghona village in Rangamati district by Lt. Ferdous, then commander of Kojoichari army camp, at the midnight of 11-12 June 1996. The incident occurred hours before voting for the 7th General Elections in Bangladesh.
At the dead hours of the night (around 1 am), some plain-clothed army personnel knocked at the door of the Chakma family. Lieutenant Ferdous with his 11 soldiers raided Kalpana’s home and picked her up forcibly. Kalpana’s 60-year-old mother Badhuni Chakma told reporters -
“We were asleep when someone called out from outside and wanted to know who were inside the house. Then they pulled down the latch of the door from outside and entered the house. They kept powerful torchlight on our face and took away my younger son Khudiram saying that his 'Sir' (Lieut. Ferdous) wanted to talk to him. Few minutes later they took away my elder son Kalicharan and my daughter Kalpana leaving behind myself and Kalicharan's wife.”
Kalpana's mother said she recognised the voice of Lt. Ferdous who had visited their house earlier. The day before her abduction, Kalpana, who was known for her fierce statements criticizing the army and the Bangladesh government, had an argument with Lt. Ferdous about an incident of 19 March 1996 in which some Jumma people were injured and some houses belonging to Jumma people were set on fire by soldiers from his camp.
Kalpana’s elder brothers - Khudiram and Kalicharan were taken to the lake near their house, blindfolded and their hands tied to the back. But somehow they managed to escape from the clutches of their abductors. One of Kalpana's brothers recognised Lt. Ferdous and two Village Defence Party (VDP) personnel - Nurul Haq, s/o Munsi Miah and Saleh Ahmed - among the kidnappers.
Khudiram Chakma, brother of Kalpana, described how he escaped -
"I was asked to dip into the water near the lake. As soon as I did so, someone shouted 'shoot him'. Sensing imminent death I somehow untied my hand, removed blindfold around my eyes and started running in the waist deep water. I could hear one gunshot behind me but I kept running."
He could hear Kalpana cry out “Dada, Dada, mahre baja” in Chakma tongue which means “brother, brother, save me”. She was forcibly taken away, melting into the darkness. For the Chakmas and for her family, she never saw the light of the day.
On 27 June 1996, the Jumma activists staged demonstration throughout the CHT to press for the release of Kalpana Chakma. During the demonstration 16-year-old schoolboy Rupam Chakma was shot down by the police and three students - Monotosh Chakma, Sukesh Chakma and Samar Bijoy Chakma went missing in Baghaichari on their way to the peaceful demonstrations.
From day one, the army had tried to cover up the abduction of Kalpana. Although Kalpana’s brother Khudiram Chakma mentioned the names of Lt. Ferdous and the VDP persons (Nurul Haq, son of Munsi Miah and Saleh Ahmed) when he lodged an official complaint, there was no mention of any involvement by the security forces in the FIR.
The army denied any involvement in the kidnapping. Initially the army suggested that it was a love affair and that she and Lt. Ferdous had eloped. Later, the army dropped leaflets from a helicopter announcing Taka 50,000 to anyone who could provide information about Kalpana Chakma’s whereabouts.
There were misinformation campaigns too. A Bangladesh government-controlled NGO Bangladesh Human Rights Commission announced at a press conference on 15 August 1996 that Kalpana Chakma was seen in Tripura, India and that she had stage managed her own abduction. The Agartala-based Humanity Protection Forum investigated the allegation on the spot but found the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission's statement was absolutely baseless and false.
Following pressure from the national and international organizations and governments, the government of Bangladesh ordered a judicial inquiry into the abduction and disappearance of Kalpana Chakma on 7 September 1996, almost three months after the abduction. The government of Bangladesh set up a three-member enquiry committee to investigate the case. The committee members were former Justice Abdul Jalil (chairperson), Shakhawat Hossain, Deputy Commissioner of Chittagong and Professor Anupam Sen of Chittagong University.
Justice Abdul Jalil Enquiry Committee submitted the report to the Ministry of Home Affairs on 27 February 1998. But the report was not made public as yet.
Nothing happened despite widespread international condemnation, including a joint resolution on Bangladesh passed by the European Parliament on 24 October 1996 calling for the “immediate release of Mrs Kalpana Chakma” and setting up of “an impartial committee of inquiry” to identify her abductors and role of the army in her disappearance.
Every year the Indigenous Jummas organize rallies in protest against the abduction of Kalpana Chakma and demand that the government come clean. But such democratic protests really felt on the deaf ears of the Bangladesh government which has refused to make the report of the Judicial Enquiry Committee public and prosecute the perpetrators.
In fact, Bangladesh is a country where religious and ethnic minorities do never get justice. Abduction of Kalpana Chakma is not one off case. Many other Jumma women had also been victimised. Over 94% of the rape cases of Jumma women in the CHT between 1991 and 1993 were by the security forces. Over 40% of the victims were women under 18 years of age. None of the perpetrators were brought to justice.
Possibly Kalpana Chakma was killed in army custody. A virulent and fierce fighter for human rights of the oppressed Jummas in a democratic manner, she would remain a challenge for the Bangladesh government if she was spared by the army.
However, she continues to remain in the hearts of the Jummas and every lover of freedom to inspire them for justice and freedom of the oppressed sections of society. She is a Chakma queen of different genre.
Long live Kalpana Chakma.
Read further, "We will not let them forget you" - Daily Star, Bangladesh, 12 June 2009, http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=92157