“I think it is natural to expect the caged bird to be angry at those who imprisoned her. But if she understands that she has been imprisoned and that the cage is not her rightful place, then she has every right to claim the freedom of the skies!"
-once uttered thoughtfully by a 22 year old activist of the Hill Women’s Federation (HWF), Kalpana Chakma who was abducted by Bangladesh army on this day 15 years ago.
Despite over decade-long abductions, rapings, and killings of Jumma women by military in Chittagong Hill Tracts, this was the first incident that attracted the attention of both national and international media.
12th June 1996 at around 1 am, long before the sun shone and the national election-morning reached, about 11 Army persons surrounded the house of Kalpana Chakma. Among all of them, brothers of Kalpana Chakma identified only three: Lieutenant Ferdous from the nearby Kojoichari army camp and two Village Defence Party (VDP) personnel - Nurul Haq, s/o Munsi Miah and Saleh Ahmed.
They abducted Kalpana Chakma and her two brothers, Khudiram Chakma and Kalicharan Chakma. They took Khudiram Chakma beside a lake and ordered him to step into the lake. Khudiram described what happened next:
“I was asked to dip into the water near the well. As soon as I did so, someone shouted ‘shoot him. Sensing imminent death I somehow untied my hands, then removed blindfold around my eyes, and started running in the waist deep water. I could hear one gunshot behind me but I kept running.”
Hearing gunshot Kalpana's other brother Kalicharan, jumped into the water and managed to escape. He described:
"On hearing the gunshot and the shouting few yards away I untied my hands, removed the fold around my eyes and jumped into the water, they shot at me once and as I ran I could hear Kalpana cry out Dada, Dada, mahre baja (brother, brother, rescue me)."
When the incident became public knowledge right after its occurrence, it prompted widespread protest around CHT. At one such protest demonstration, on 27th June in Lallyaghona, four were killed by the attack of military and Bengali settlers. Among them, Rupon Chakma, a student of 10th grade, was shot dead by the security forces at the demonstration; Sukesh Chakma, Monotosh Chakma and Samar Chakma were hacked to death by the Bengali settlers while they were on their way to join the protest.
Due to continuous pressure from national and international media and human rights organizations, on 7th September 1996, the then Awami League Government was forced to initiate a three-members-inquiry-committee, comprised of former Justice Abdul Jalil (chairperson), Shakhawat Hossain, deputy commissioner of Chittagong, and Professor Anupam Sen of Chittagong University. However, the government never disclosed the inquiry report though apparently people had always been well aware of who the abductors were.
In the meantime, the Bangladesh Army staged quite a lot of dramas regarding the abduction of Kalpana Chakma to hide the truth. On July 18th 1996, the Bangladesh Army used leaflets to advertise that any person, who could give a clue about Kalpana Chakma, would be rewarded taka 50,000. It was very ironic how the ones who committed the crime were asking people to find the criminals! Few days later, Bangladesh army tried something different. They tried to convince people by saying that Kalpana Chakma had an affair with an army personnel and they fled together. However, later they realized that this statement associated army with the incident. Thus, afterward on 23rd July 1996, to shadow the truth, they made another press statement claiming that Kalpana Chakma had fled abroad, whereas she never had a passport that would allow her to go outside of Bangladesh. It was as if everyone was trying to lie as much as they could to conceal the truth. The Army only ridiculed themselves with all the foolish fables, enforced in each of their statements.
Advocate KM Huq Kaiser, who was the director of Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BHRC) at that time, also joined the army in that particular competition "who can lie more?" He claimed that Kalpana Chakma was seen in Tripura of India. However, when the journalists asked him, he failed to support his claim with any evidence.
Not only the military and the government officials, some state run newspaper and media also published fabricated news about sighting Kalpana Chakma in different places of the country.
Kalpana had to pay the price for standing up against the wrong thing, injustice, for speaking against the military repression and harassment on the Jumma people. On the contrary, Bangladesh army rewarded Lieutenant Ferdous, mastermind of Kalpana’s abduction. According to a report of 2007, he was promoted to the rank of Major and was posted back to Karengatoli army camp, a nearby village from Kalpana's home.
The opening quote, “I think it is natural to expect the caged bird to be … right to claim the freedom of the skies!" is taken from the book "Kalpana Chakma's Diary". Her personal writing, along with her poems, journal and letters, was published as a book named "Kalpana Chakma's Diary" by Hill Women’s Federation (HWF). However, the Bangladesh Government later banned it.
The situation that circumscribed Kalpana’s home at Lallyaghona village of Rangamati, at the time of Kalpana’s abduction, has not changed at all today. Still many Kalpanas are being killed and raped by the army and Bengali settlers.
Kalpana’s voice screaming desperately for help, “Dada dada mahre baja” (brother, brother, save me), still echoes in her brother’s head, haunting him endlessly. Unfortunately, we have hundreds of brothers like Kalicharan in CHT, who saw their sisters and mothers being raped or killed in front of their eyes by the military or Bengali settler people and still could not do anything to save them.
Kalpana’s brothers not only possess regrets of not being able to save their sister but also bear the burdens of tremendous harassment from the military and living a life under continuous surveillance since then.
After the Peace Accord was signed on 2nd December 1997, The Jumma people hoped that all the past injustices done to them, including Kalpana’s abduction would be justified. However, their expectations were never met. After 14 years of signing the Peace Accord, most of the major clauses still remain unimplemented. Jumma people are still losing their lands to the Bengali settlers; people still getting murdered; and women getting raped -. The perpetrators are never brought to justice. On the other hand, current Prime Minister, Sheikh Haisna received the UNESCO Peace prize for signing the Accord.
Jumma people believed that Awami League Government held a pro-CHT attitude. The belief became stronger after Awami League signed the Peace Accord in 1997 while the opposite political party, BNP, strongly opposed it and even carried out nationwide long march against it claiming that the Treaty threatens the sovereignty of the state. It turns out that actually both the political parties have the same approach towards CHT. Awami League differed in the way they knew how to manipulate people by showing fake concern for people of CHT.
Notingly, on the commemoration of Kalpana Chakma abduction day in 2008 (before the 2008 election, Bangladesh was under caretaker Government at that time) Dr. Dipu Moni, Minister of Foreign Affairs in Bangladesh, who was then women affairs secretary of Bangladesh Awami League, attended a human chain demonstration at Dhaka University that was organized by Hill Women’s Federation (HWF) demanding the publication of inquiry reports of Kalpana Chakma and bringing to justice of those responsible for the abduction. Showing solidarity, Dipu Moni said in the seminar: "human rights violations, like abduction of Kalpana Chakma are going on unabated in CHT. These incidents should be brought under trial. "
One can see now how Dipu Moni stands as an evidence and example for all those politicians, back at that time, who have tried to win votes before the election by giving fake hopes to and showing fake interest in Jumma people. Now that her government possesses the power, her government claimed at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) that, “Bangladesh doesn't have any indigenous people.” The denial of existence of indigenous people of Bangladesh was however opposed by many international organizations.
Despite all the disappointments and bafflements, still we dream for such Bangladesh where indigenous Jumma and other indigenous people living in the plains of the country be constitutionally recognized, where no other Kalpana Chakma would be victim of abduction or rape and murder, where Bengali settlers - would return the lands they grabbed from the Jumma people, where the military would not force the Jumma people to live in nightmares, where crimes like Kalpana Chakma’s abduction would be justified and where people can live peacefully.
Kalpana Chakma and her martyrdom have acted as an inspiration, not only for CHT women but also for all other women whose voices are suppressed. She was a first year student pursuing BA in Baghaichari Kassalong College. Hailing from a remote village of Rangamati, belonging to one of the poorest family of CHT, facing all the obstacles, Kalpana persevered to achieve education. She will live as one of the most inspirational role models for Jumma women and for all those who are fighting for their rights.
We must keep Kalpana’s memory alive, and demand that justice be done.
- chtnewsupdate team.
AI Urgent Actions July 1996 – Amnesty International http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/DOC34/008/1996/en
AI Urgent Actions September 1996 – Amnesty International http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/DOC34/010/1996/en
Bangladesh: Further information on: fear for safety / unacknowledged detention: Kalpana Chakma (f)- Amnesty International
All rights for all: Stop discrimination - Amnesty International http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/ACT31/006/1998/en
Bangladesh: Human rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts - Amnesty International http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/ASA13/001/2000/en
Chittagong Hill Tracts: 12th Anniversary of Abduction of Kalpana Chakma - Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization http://www.unpo.org/article/8283
Kalpana Chakma’s unresolved abduction, 13 years on- by Kabita Chakma http://www.chtarchive.com/cht-news/3-announcements/42-kalpana-chakmas-unresolved-abduction-13-years-on-
Kalpana’s Family: Living Under State Surveillance by Saydia Gulrukh http://www.shahidulnews.com/2010/06/living-under-state-surveillance/
"Life is not ours" - update 3, February 1997 By CHTC
Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy- United Nations COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS http://www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/TestFrame/2c012ff204d56cd2802566b3003fbd74?Opendocument
The Disappearance of Kalpana Chakma by Kajalie Shehreen Islam http://www.thedailystar.net/magazine/2008/06/03/hr.htm
We will not let them forget you - by Hana Shams Ahmed http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=92157