People like me who live away from the hills at present, got really amazed to see compassion in many in the hill tracts in recent days. These people have extended solidarity and expressed sympathy in whatever way they could for the two sisters who are now ‘under treatment’ or according to some, ‘confined’ in Rangamati Sadar Hospital.
Many of these people are forming human chain, standing beside road with placards, giving speeches, posting notes and comments online, all for the sake of that humanity. Several influential figures of the hills have remained standby every day in the last couple of days for the sake of the recovery of the two girls whom they considered as their own daughters. Any of the efforts deserves a lot of thanks and gratitude, whereas they did a lot more than that.
Thanks to those who volunteered to accompany the girls in hospital, stayed beside the hospital beds, showing them the movies or playing the songs they like in order to make them feel better, supplying the daily essentials they need. In fact, thanking is not enough for what they are doing for them. Or what else could be said at this?
So, sensitivity to women is respectable, and compassion that still exists is considered heroic. However, I don’t know why I always find something else in their acts other than the sensitivity or compassion, and I find that in a considerable degree, which are in fact disgraceful. I know it is me who is thinking like this, but I feel that these people also have roles to make me think like this. As it is difficult to see one’s own fault, better I leave it to the readers to judge into. I just explain the context of my realisation.
Certainly we haven’t forgotten the tragic landslide in Rangamati. Particularly those who keep an eye on the hill tracts have no reason to forget that. However, many might not forget the landslide and aftermath, but forgot the death toll which was 120, of who 61 were Tribals. Over night nearly 1,500 families including both Tribals and Bengalis were forced to take shelter in different camps, losing everything they had, following the disaster. We who took shelter in the camps haven’t forgotten those people who stood by those affected people, despite many may have forgotten.
We know many hill people personally extended a lot of relief, and tried to bring relief for the affected. However, what makes us regret and sad that many whom we respect as our leaders or know as respectable according to our rituals didn’t have proper role at that time. If we had seen the efforts that we see in Ranimata (the matriarch of the community) or others today, then there would have no hesitation to commit any sacrifice for these respectable people.
Let us not forget also that only few of the volunteers who worked all day and night for the affected at the camps were hill people, rest of who were Bangalees. Of them many were students. Many were even not from Rangamati, who went there responding to the call of humanity, to stand beside the distressed during the Ramadan holidays. Out of the compassion felt in themselves, they spend the Eid holidays working for the affected leaving the celebration with friends and families. They didn’t do it for any publicity, but they were truly dedicated for the humanity that is why there was no lack of cordiality, enthusiasm and efforts among themselves while working for particularly those sheltered in the Buddhist temple. But for unknown reasons the volunteers or humanitarians who are visible today didn’t have any activity in those days after the landslide, which prompt the question if their compassion has a certain direction, biased, or just for show-up or politically motivated?
Whatever the reason may be, that their compassion or this sensitivity for women is not entirely motivated by pure love for people or inspired by humanity didn’t take too long to be clear. If it were really out of that love, we would see these people always, everywhere in the same way.
Unfortunately the fact is that it didn’t happen. These people didn’t protest many of the incidents of torture on women that took place in the hill areas. There was no such speech or protest even after some of the most horrible incidents of sexual torture were revealed. It feels, don’t know why, the compassion doesn’t apply irrespective of party and ideology. I think, you would get it more clearly if I give you some examples.
Shouldn’t we expect that those protesters would come forward when a teenage girl is assaulted in broad day light, abducted and gang raped, and the video of the rape is spread? Would there be any protest if the victim is a Chakma girl, and Pahari Chhatra Parishad activists are involved?
The protest indeed took place, following the incident. Pahari Chhatra Parishad itself called hartal and agitated demanding the release of their leaders arrested in connection of the incident. I know you won’t believe it. But I would request you look into the incident that happened to Ayna Chakma back in 2016. The fault of that girl was that she went to a shop owned by a Bengali to fill up an online application for college admission. There is no question of humanity, because hill people themselves were involved, condoned of any offence in the hills.
Another incident happened to a 6th grader, daughter of a Bengali day labourer in 2015, when a youth from the hill community attempted to rape her when she went to fetch cattle home. Hearing her scream, locals rescued her as wounded and blooded. We haven’t heard of anyone who held a placard in protest against the incident. The question is no more valid how many went to hospital to visit her at the hospital, let alone asking if any women’s organisation held a press conference in condemnation. None felt urge of wearing black badge or forming a human chain or placing a memorandum anywhere, perhaps the rights doesn’t apply for the Bengalis living in the hills whom we call settlers.
In January last year, a victim shared a nerve-wracking account of torture carried out on her, when she was chained and physically and mentally tortured for two months. Do you know who did this to Josna Chakma? It was the same Rangamati where this took place, but there was no volunteer or nobody around her. Let alone the big leaders of the hill, not even a local leader came forward to show sympathy. None protested that. As if, there can be no protest when someone from the same community commits the crime, as if protest would be according to the identity of the victim, not against the crime.
Dipa Tripura, daughter of Kshetralal Tripura of Dighinala in Khagrachhari loved a Bangalee. The consequences were known to all, so she attempted to elope. But a group of activists of an organisation kidnapped the girl along with her boyfriend. The follow-up of the incidents were no different, the Bangalee boy was assaulted after he was taken inside a forest, and the girl was gang raped, which was also taped. It is not an incident of long ago; it took place only in June of 2015. None dared to protest that incident too. Possibly the definition of right for women is different in the hills. Here, whether there will be a protest depends on who are the criminals, instead of what crimes have been committed. Ayna Chakma or Dipu Tripura had no volunteers around her like those who have been there for the two girls of Bilaichhari.
Colleagues turned hostile at Shaikat Bhadra for marrying Retina Chakma, both of who belonged to Jatiya Mukti Council. The Chakma members of the party now listed him as an enemy from Bangalee community; because, it is a great sin for any Tribal to marry a Bengalee. Even his own party didn’t come up to resolve the situation with the excuse of its ‘special interest.’ Surprisingly, a daily newspaper which is known as vocal for the rights of the ethnic minorities sacked him as staff photographer even after knowing his innocence, being pressurised by certain quarters.
It may sound unbelievable to many; the fact is Shaikat requested the humanitarian organisation and others to come forward to save his wife from auction through a press conference at Dhaka Reporters Unity on 23 February 2015. To our utter shock and surprise, he told us, “women can be subject to auction like in the medieval age” in Chittagong Hill Tracts. I won’t be surprised if you don’t know these incidents that took place in 2015 due to media downplay.
Most of the feminists belong to some organisation, where the interest of organisation may deserve priority over some individual issues in their eyes. Therefore, it is not unusual to many that some incidents can go unnoticed by the feminists, it also may seem quite normal that they would be vocal only in some special cases and not in many others.
I can’t remember how many wrote Facebook posts after trafficking of 11 Marma girls to Myanmar. I doubt if anybody protested, despite a medical team of five members were detailed to find evidence of their rape at Bandarban Sadar Hospital. The rescued Marma girls told police that a Buddhist monk regularly tortured them physically. How many in Dhaka took to the street in protest of that incident? How may national dailies ran the story with due importance? Did anybody organise a protest in Chittagong or Rajshahi? How many intellectual went to Shahbagh, Dhaka to protest this incident or issued a statement?
As a Buddhist monk was arrested in the incident among three, possibly no so-called protesters, feminists or intellectuals felt the urge to press a protest against that incident of rape. The way the incident with these two Marma girls has been addressed, the same didn’t happen to the case of these 11 girls. I have no way other than leaving it to the readers to find out the reason behind this.
This is why it feels all the protests, press conferences, social media posts following Bilaichhari incident were premeditated, carried out to demean someone specific, not out of sensitivity to women. And when we came to learn that no semen was found in the body of the two girls, then I lose all respect to those whom I once had enormous respect to.
It is hard to believe how they could use the sufferings of the girls for their interest. Many incidents including the ones of Kulsum Akter of Matiranga, Pakhi Akhter of Seltipara in Alikadam, Shaheda Begum of Maischhari in Mohalchhar or Jannatul Ferdous who was gang raped in a restaurant in Alutila, Khagrachhari have lost in oblivion.
And I know there are more to the incidents I mentioned here, which the readers are not aware of, because when people from the same community commit a crime to other women it is covered up, there is no movement in demand for punishment of the rapists, no procession is brought out, now news published in the newspaper. As most local correspondents of the media houses are Tribals, these incidents have no news value in their consideration. Because in these cases, the girls are victimised for love affairs with Bengali men, or Bengalis are not connected to these incidents, the rather terrorists of hill organisation are involved. Particularly none dare to talk about the incidents in which members of the terrorist organisations of the hills have involvement, which happened in case of Retina Chakma, Ayna Chakma or Dipa Tripura or Josna Chakma.
From ‘Dumurer Phul’, a book written by Rokeya Lita out of her experience in Chittagong Hill Tracts, many of us may already be knowing that when a Tribal man is found guilty of raping a Tribal woman, he is fined with a pig by the Headman of the area. Then, slaughtering the pig, its blood is sprinkled over locality to purify the area and the meat is eaten by the local elites. Moreover, referring the local customs and rituals, the victim is refrained from seeking justice according to the laws of the land. Hundreds of NGOs working on women’s rights never even paid attention to this. Have they or the Tribal leaders ever pondered how much humiliation this so called customs and rituals are causing to their women?
Time will come, when it would be known what actually happened in Bilaichhari. But one thing that has been clear already was that the activities we see around the two Marma girls by the people whom we had never found in disasters, and similar incident or even heinous sexual harassment, were not actually out of their compassion or sensitivity to women. It is just a matter of time what was actually behind the crocodile tears would be revealed.
There would be no benefit in the efforts to agitate people in politically motivated or premeditated way. It won’t be possible to fool the hill people for long. The ulterior motives behind the moves over specific incidents and masks of the players would be once unveiled. Let us not paint any incident with any colour other than the natural ones. Let us not be humanist for the sake of political interest, let us be true human inside for all irrespective of party or ideology.
Let us be equally sympathetic to all the victims, not misuse the issue to realise personal interest. Instead of blaming anybody grossly, we should help arresting the real culprits and ensuring their punishment.