Why we want our voice to be heard?


Wednesday, September 26, 2012



NB: I had written an update on the same topic, a couple of days ago, but had mistakenly uploaded it on my son, Aryadev’s, FB account, by mistake. Since then I had attended the meeting convened by the Deputy Commissioner, Rangamati (but not the rally or procession) on 25 September. So I have amended some bits. I can understand that there may be people who feel that I should not have attended, having regard to the sentiments of many. However, I felt that I should attend, since I represent an officially-recognized institution. I also wished to take the opportunity to express my views, before government leaders and officials, Bengali and Jumma leaders, and the press and media.

The recent attacks in Rangamati town on Jumma or predominantly Jumma (Pahari/Indigenous) settlements were illegal and cowardly. They did not cause as much property damage as a strikingly similar attack on 20 May, 1990, when several Jumma students and others – including then PCP leader, Proshit Bikash Khisa – took shelter at Rajbari, Rangamati. In the case of injuries, I don’t know. Perhaps more this time.

This time, as far as our home is concerned, only the women from our neighbourhood took shelter at our house, and for a shorter time (on 20 May, 1991 there were a few score for about a week). And I live, not in a sprawling bungalow – the then Rangamati Rajbari that was burnt down on 10 November, 2010 - but in my younger sister, Troya’s, small bungalow, as a sheltered person, myself. But I feel that the people were more prepared to “deal” with the issue, this time, women, men and children.

But the trend remains, it is Jummas defending, and non-Jummas attacking, excluding a significantly small percentage of incidents, over the last decade and more. That applies to other parts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) as well.

This time, it was after the CHT Accord of 1997. People had mobile phones, and could contact each other, at least to a limited extent. Previously, there was no mobile coverage. But let us remember that several over-subscribed cellphone networks get easily jammed.

(I suggest that every family have at least one or two different brands of sim cards, if they can afford it. Telephone numbers of the police, leaders, etc should be written down and kept for easy retrieval in emergencies)

This time, in some localities, Jummas and Bengalis cooperated to prevent attacks, to provide shelter and safety. So the positive stories are also there.

I was overwhelmed with telephone calls, did what little I could; ask people to remain calm, vigilant and steadfast, and not give in to panic, fear, despair, or hatred towards the attackers. I spoke to secularist progressive friends in Dhaka and to government officials posted in, or related to, the CHT. Some Bengali and other ethnic group leaders - mostly descendants of 19th century Bengali migrants to the CHT - had coincidentally come to visit me. They were given safe passage to their homes. Some Jumma groups stranded in a non-Jumma settlement were given safe conduct by some of the aforesaid leaders.

Just as the 1996 attack failed to result in an impartial and independent enquiry, the last few days’ Incidents too run the same risk, at least for the moment. I have heard of an enquiry committee formed by the Deputy Commissioner, Rangamati, including a member of the Rangamati Hill District Council. We should cooperate with it, so that it provides a thorough and unbiased report, with recommendations for preventive, deterrent and rehabilitative measures. However, an enquiry commission independent of the local administration would have been more acceptable. In a discussion meeting hosted by the district authorities of Rangamati that I attended yesterday (25 September), this was one of the observations that I made (a similar observation was made by a political leader as well).

Exemplary punishment to the perpetrators is perhaps among the best deterrent, and preventive, measures (although impunity remains the order of the day in Bangladesh, for unlawful acts of security personnel; as asserted by the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Dr Mizanur Rahman). At the DC’s meeting of yesterday, attended by political leaders, including CHT State Minister Dipankar Talukdar and CHT Regional Council member, Ushaton Talukdar, I referred to the communal attack of 20 May, 1991, which too was not followed by deterrent punishment to the perpetrators. I suggested that if the same trend was followed, would-be-attackers may well feel that they are above the law and indulge in similar attacks in future. I pointed out that the attackers did not have parachutes with which to disappear into the sky, nor any other means of disappearing into the Karnafuli reservoir waters. Their places of residence – temporary or permanent – can surely be located.

The core of my opinion at this meeting was that we must try to address the minds of non-communal Rangamati-dwellers and the minds of those who carried out the cowardly attacks. The ordinary people’s fears, sense of insecurity and panic – both Bengali and Pahari – need to be addressed. At the same time, we must instill fear in the minds of the attackers and would-be-attackers, that they cannot take the law into their own hands. If we fail to address these two mindsets, then meetings and social harmony (across ethnic and religious etc lines) may be insufficient to restore normalcy and prevent such occurrences in future.

When a state is unable or unwilling to protect its citizens, the citizens may have no other recourse, but to take their own initiatives.

The Right to Private Defence is, in fact, sanctioned by the laws of Bangladesh, including the Bangladesh Penal Code. The Code refers to the right of private defence of the body against death or grievous harm (section 96-106); the right of private defence of property, against robbery, criminal trespass and housebreaking at night, etc (sections 103, 104, 105). There is also a similar right when it concerns rape, kidnapping or confinement (section 99).

I say this out of my legal training. But personally speaking, as a follower of the Buddhist faith (no doubt with many failings and shortcomings), I cannot espouse or support violence. But what I would like to hope is that no citizen – indigenous, Bangali or otherwise in the CHT or elsewhere in Bangladesh - has to take recourse to this right (which is also a burden for the poor, the infirm and old, children, women, for minorities groups or otherwise disadvantaged groups). We have to keep on hoping for, and facilitating, steps, that will be taken by the state, so that citizens do not have to take recourse to the aforesaid rights, which may be legal, but which may yet cause short, middle or long-time consequences that both the state and our citizens wish to avoid, including communal disharmony and further conflicts, tension and insecurity.

The Bangladesh Penal Code has several provisions that can and should have been invoked against the attackers and concerned aiders, abettors, harbourers and conspirators. These include the offences of Riot (sections 146, 147, 148, 152, 153, etc), Affray (sections 159, 160), Criminal Conspiracy (sections 120A and 120B), Abetment (sections 107, 108), B), Unlawful Assembly (sections 141, 142, 143, 145, 149, 150, 151 etc), Owning or Occupying Land used by Unlawful Assemblers (sections 154, 155, 156), Harbouring Persons Hired for an Unlawful Assembly (section 157), etc.

An assembly is unlawful if it includes five or more persons, and the common objective of the assembly includes the following, among others: (a) to overawe by criminal force, or show of force… any public servant in the exercise of lawful power; (b) to resist the execution of any law; (c) to commit any mischief or criminal trespass or other offence; (d) to take or obtain possession of any property; (e) to compel any person to do what she/he is not legally bound to do, or to omit do that which she/he is legally entitled to do When a member of an unlawful assembly is armed with a deadly weapon, or with anything which, used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death, the punishment for this offence is higher.

Members of an unlawful assembly commit the offence of rioting, just by being a member of that assembly, even if it is other members of the assembly who actually participate in the force or violence concerned.

Provoking an unlawful assembly, abetting, or even harbouring or sheltering unlawful assemblers are also offences, unless the owner or occupier of the property informs the concerned authorities about the assembly.

We have not heard of prosecutions on these offences. This can take place by individuals initiating cases or by the state doing it. The primary responsibility lies on the state, especially where citizens are disadvantaged.


The Constitution of Bangladesh and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) are crystal clear on the duty of the state to act in an impartial and non-discriminatory manner. Non-discrimination is also a peremptory, and non-derogable, norm, of international law.

The action of security forces need to distinguish between acts made in self-defence and acts that are clearly in the nature of attacks, or pursuant to attacks, or preparatory to attacks. The distance of the groups from their home settlements is one of the clearest indications of whether they are attackers or defenders. If a group takes a position a little ahead of the boundaries of its settlement or locality, that is generally not an attacker’s posture. On the other hand, if a group goes far way from its settlement, then that group ought to be regarded as attackers unless there is evidence to the contrary. I hope the security forces bore this in mind such differences over the last few days.

In the future too, if (Heaven Forbid) such instances occur, we must try to ensure that the security forces keep these things in mind.

I feel that among the best deterrent measures are the following:

Exemplary Punishment to the Perpetrators

Those guilty of the attacks – irrespective of race, ethnicity, religion, class, gender or place of birth – should be arrested, charged, and if evidence supports, punished. Otherwise, this will result in impunity.

Social Measures
People of all ethnic, religious, gender, etc groups strive to maintain social unity against attackers.

Efficient and Non-Discriminatory Policing
Riots, not involving sophisticated and heavy weapons and armoury, are best dealt with by the police, rather than the military. Our national army should only be used in the case of violence concerning external enemies and internal forces whose actions are of a nature that involve weaponry and action beyond the nature that is and can be dealt with by police. This was not the case in the recent riots.

What we need is a multi-ethnic and efficient police force, as envisaged by the CHT Accord of 1997, under the authority of the Hill District Councils. This is also the modern and internationally-supported way of policing in post-ethnic conflict areas, such as in Eastern Europe, UK and USA.

Baseless or Exaggerated Rumours
Baseless or exaggerated rumours of deaths, injury, attacks, congregations, etc lead to the growth of fear, panic, hatred (racial or otherwise), etc., and disproportionate social reaction and individual complexities that may fuel the situation. We need to remain as calm as possible.

Recording of Evidence of Law-Breaking
Today, we have the advantage of cameras (including cellphones), internet and other modern-day gadgets and services. We ought to take advantage of these tools to record evidence, to prevent the spread of unnecessary rumours, and to help identify and prosecute the guilty.

Identifying the Guilty
Several, if not all, of the guilty persons came out openly to indulge in their cowardly and illegal activities. Some of them wore masks (to hide their identities?). However, they did not have magical powers to disappear into thin air or had parachutes or James Bond-like jet-propelled machines to enable them to fly away beyond visibility, detection, identification, arrest, prosecution and punishment. They necessarily had to withdraw into some hotel, boarding, office, home or other place within or near Rangamati town. The question is: (i) were steps taken to do that? And if so, were those steps adequate? I do not know the answer to these questions, but have raised them at the meeting of yesterday at the DC’s Conference Room. I urge you to do the same.

Partnership of State & Citizens’ Groups
I know that the partnership between our state and our citizens is still far from what it should be. But we must try to narrow the gap. Where the views and perspectives coincide, let us try to cooperate. Where they do not, let us try to find avenues of union, let us explore them with good faith and some “benefit of doubt”. And if the gap remains, let us speak out, and act, but within the bounds of law, national and international law, and with a spirit of metta and the longer-term goal of maintaining peace and harmony and protecting and promoting the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of all groups and individuals, including Jummas and Bengalis.
Raja Devasish Roy
Chakma Raja
Barrister & Advocate
Supreme Court of Bangladesh
Member od UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Rajbari, Rangamati 4500
Chittagong Hill Tracts Bangladesh

1 comment:

  1. " " আদতে পাহাড়িরাও তথাকথিত "সেটেলার" কেননা- এই ভূমিতে বাঙালির ইতিহাস ৫০০০ বছরের কিন্তু পাহাড়ি জনগোষ্ঠীর বসত গত কয়েকশ' বছরের-ই কেবল '' ''। ("" In fact paharirao so-called "setelara" because - in the land of 5000 hills, people stopped last year, but hundreds of years - the'' only'')