Immediately after a certain incident, media just get busy with it. But when another incident occurs, it surpasses the previous one. Recent landslide in the hilly districts (including Rangamati, Badarban and Chittagong) that caused the death of at least 159 people has sparked criticism in the media and it ultimately overshadowed the incident of cruel attack on the ethnic communities at Langadu on June 2 in Rangamati.
Even during that time the amount of coverage our newspapers and television channels provided to the mishap in Langadu was much lesser than the coverage of Barrister Moudud Ahmed’s eviction from a house of Gulshan that he kept illegally under his grab for over 35 years. Most of the newspapers and TV channels couldn’t send any reporter to Langadu where over two hundred ethnic families consisting about 1000 people were evicted from their ancestral house.
Moreover, several national Bangla daily newspapers and one of the most viewed online news portals published the news of Langadu attaching the pictures of Gazipur boiler explosion that took place on September 10, 2016! This shows how callous and careless approach we adopt towards the marginalised people and how the frontline media remain irresponsible in such cases.
Attitude matters a lot and when it comes to media, it is more applicable as media make people aware and create public perception. Langadu’s incident is now far away from the focus as landslide is making headlines now. If the post-incident news and discussions could bring something meaningful to resolve the landslide problem, people of the hilly areas could feel relieved.
Unfortunately this will not be the case. Another incident will happen and seize all the attention of the media. This incident-based media hype points to our overall mentality as a nation. Situation may change the demand and importance of news as media have to keep pace with the time to make people updated, but what role does the state play in such situations? Does our system try its best to bring remedy for the victims? Does it listen to the cry of the people who survive such destruction like Langadu?
If the answer is no, then certainly we should rethink about our promise of building a humanitarian and secular country.
What did happen on June 1 and 2 in Rangamati’s Langadu? On that day, Bangali settlers unleashed a series of arson attacks on the ethnic community in Rangamati’s upazilla town over the killing of a motorcycle driver who was also a Jubo League leader.
Nurul Islam Noyon, organising secretary of Longadu sadar union Jubo League, used to carry passengers on his bike in and outside Rangamati to earn the bread and butter for his family members. Like every other day he took passengers on his bike to take them to their destinations, but he didn’t come back. His lifeless body was found in Dighinala upazila under Khagrachhari district.
Bangalis took the body to his village home in Langadu and campaigned to organise protests alleging that the ethnic people were responsible for his death. They brought out a procession from Langadu’s Baichchapara area where several thousands of Bangalis took part. Consequently the mob attacked the Chakma villages in Langadu Sadar union and looted the houses before setting fire on them.
Earlier, when the indigenous people understood that there might be an attack from the part of Bangalis, out of fear they informed local police and army and requested them not to allow any procession, but they said that the Bangali settlers have the right to protest. They also assured that the procession will remain peaceful.
But the local administration and law enforcement agency members completely failed to control the situation or they didn’t try to control it at all. In presence of them Bangalis have vandalised and burned over 200 homes and shops.
An elderly woman Gunamala Chakma, 75, of Tintila village died in the incident. The ethnic people helplessly saw that their houses were demolished and valuable goods including crops, domestic animals, furniture, electronic products, ornaments and cash were looted. Besides, many of them sent their young daughters to the jungle sensing the ensuing danger.
Finally the district administration imposed section 144 in the area around noon, prohibiting large gatherings, but it was too late.
Following the attack, some 300 ethnic families from three villages in Tintila, Manikjora Chhara and Batyapara fled from their houses to hills and forests out of panic. In photos and videos shared in social media, several hundred tribal people (including women and children) were seen leaving their homes searching for a safe place to secure their lives.
Many others have been reported missing since the attacks. Terming it communal and planned, locals alleged that the local administration was totally careless about saving them. Neither the army nor the police had taken any step to stop the rowdy attackers. Because of such apathetic attitude of the administration the anguished sufferers refused to take government’s relief.
Two suspects of the murder case, Junel Chakma (33) and Runel Chakma (18), were held on June 10 by the law enforcers. Later they confessed about their involvement in the murder. Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) confirmed that the motive was to hijack Noyon’s motorcycle. The killers and the victim Noyon had no previous feud or enmity. Police also arrested twenty four people in the charge of conducting vandalism and setting fire in the ethnic villages.
Certainly every sensible citizen expects that all the culprits responsible for both the incidents will be brought under law. But, the question is why the ethnic people of the locality had to suffer to such an extent? What was their fault? Why the ethnic people have to take the responsibility of a crime committed by an individual of their community? Why the police and local administration allowed the Bangalis to carry out a procession after such a killing where Bangalis were blaming the ethnic minorities for it? Why, despite being on duty, they didn’t play an active role?
How could the administration overlook what happened on May 4, 1989 in Langadu - when at least 36 ethnic people including women and children were killed – shot or hacked to death – while some went missing in the attack that was carried out in six villages following the death of Abdur Rashid, the then Langadu upazila chairman who had huge influence on the Bangalis.
During that time several hundred houses, many Buddhist temples and two churches were torched. Many of the ethnic people later crossed the border to take shelter in Tripura. Forgetting the tragic incident that took place 28 years ago, administration and law enforcement agency members kept faith with the Bangali settlers and consequently things got worse. And the people of our ethnic community had to face a terrible situation.
However, the victims returned to their villages. Finally they received relief from the administration. They are now trying to get back to their normal lifestyle. As time is the best healer, the victims of Langadu will adopt with the flow of life, but our policymakers have to think about the feeling of our ethnic communities. They must understand the secret agony of these people regarding such happenings. When they found that their ancestral house was looted and burned and the administration took no action against the perpetrators, what thoughts came to their minds? What patriotic lessons the tender aged ethnic boys and girls received when they had to flee hanging their school bags on the shoulders? How would they come out from the sense of discrimination?
These questions can be addressed if only the persons responsible for such communal violence get proper punishment and the officials related to the administration and law enforcement agencies face departmental action for their careless attitude. Unfortunately, if we look back to our past, we don’t find any reason to become optimistic. Whether it comes to the bomb blast in Roman Catholic Church in Gopalganj in June 2001, attack on the Ramu’s Buddhist community in September 2012, violence on Hindu community in Malopara in Abhoynagar under Jessore district in January 2014, bomb blast on a procession in Hossaini Dalan in October 2015, suicide bomb blast in Ahmadiyya mosque in Bagmara in December 2015 or the brutal attack on the followers of Baul religion in Chuadanga in July 2016, brutality in Brahmanbaria’s Nasirnagar in October 2016 or violence on Santal community in Gaibandha’s Gobindaganj in November 2016, justice has not been meted out in any of these incidents.
The Constitution of Bangladesh ensures affirmative action for indigenous peoples and prohibits discrimination inter alia on grounds of race, religion or place of birth. Article 23A declares that, “the State shall take steps to protect and develop the unique local culture and tradition of the tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities”. It also spells out in Article 28 (4), “nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making special provision in favour of women or children or for the advancement of any backward section of citizens”. Until the provisions and laws are implemented in favour of the victims, these will only exist in papers without creating any difference in the lives of these indigenous people.
Bangladesh is one of the very few countries in the world where people of different groups, religions and cultures have been living according to their history and heritage. More than 35 smaller ethnic groups have been living in the country for centuries mostly in the hilly areas. Their colourful lifestyles and cultures are an invaluable ingredient of our national culture. This cultural diversity has turned Bangladesh into a more enriched place as viewed by the people of other countries. Thus it is the duty of the state to protect their alphabets, language, literature, music, as well as their regular life. This is also the spirit of our independence. Bangladesh, to keep her ideals intact, needs to continue with its secular attitude and should never allow any imparity. If it doesn’t happen, the spirit of our liberation war will go in vain.