RECENT ATTACKS ON INDIGENOUS SETTLEMENTS IN RANGMATI TOWN, CHITTAGONG HILL TRACTS, BANGLADESH: 22-23 SEPTEMBER, 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.
COMPARISON WITH SIMILAR ATTACK ON 20 MAY, 1991
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
(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.
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.
IMPARTIAL AND INDEPENDENT ENQUIRY
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).
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.
BANGLADESHI LAW & THE PROSECUTION OF THE GUILTY
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
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.
IMPARTIAL CONDUCT OF SECURITY
FORCES & EQUAL TREATMENT OF CITIZENS IRRESPECTIVE OF BIRTH,
ETHNICITY, SEX, PLACE OF BIRTH ETC
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.
OTHER DETERRENT MEASURES
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
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
Recording of Evidence of Law-Breaking
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
Barrister & Advocate
Supreme Court of Bangladesh
Member od UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Rajbari,Hill Tracts Bangladesh