|Volume 7 | Issue 02 | February 2013 ||
SUSHMITA S PREETHA gives the latest on the endless pursuit of justice for Kalpana Chakma.
It could be the story of a young girl whose promising life was cut short by the calculated viciousness of a group of state-sponsored thugs. It could be the story of a fearless activist, who was abducted from her own home in the plain sight of her family members for being too vocal, too brave and too adivasi.
It could also be the story of the brother who lived through her abduction and sixteen years' worth of trauma, harassment, depression and injustice, a man who is still haunted by the last words of her sister, “Dada, mahre bacha (Brother, save me)!”
It could be the story of the mother who died, dejected and disconsolate a few years after her daughter's abduction, not knowing whether her child was raped, murdered or held captive by the brutes.
It could be the story of the four activists who gave their lives during protests to demand justice for her, and of the countless others who stood beside her family for the last 16 years to ensure that the state and its people wouldn't forget her.
Consequently, it could be the story of triumph of the army personnel who strutted into her house that night, confident that no matter how many people saw him carry out the act, he would be above and beyond the law. Heck, he was the law, as far as he was concerned.
It could also be the story of state-sponsored terrorism that allows, endorses and encourages law enforcement agencies to carry out unspeakable deeds against people who dare to challenge its hegemony.
It could be a satire of the justice system and the rule of law which, for the last 16 years, has deliberately failed to unearth the truth about her abduction.
It could also be the story of ruthless and unapologetic militarisation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts since independence (after all, one man's independence is another man's domination), giving the military an absolute power over the indigenous populations of the region.
On the other hand, it could be the story of the failure of an indigenous resistance movement that is so fraught with contentions, confusions and conflicts that it has long ceased to be a collective movement. Divide and conquer, after all, is a fool-proof strategy of domination, and one that we seem to have learnt well from our British predecessors.
Then again, it could be the story of how dissent and diversity has no place in a [fascist] nation-state of, by and for the Bengalis.
It could be and are all those stories, and more. The enforced disappearance of Kalpana Chakma and the events that followed reveal a reality so contorted and so problematic that it calls into question the very fundamental rights of citizens of our state.
The story of her abduction has been told and retold many times, and deliberate attempts have been made over the years to distort the truth about what really happened.
According to Kalpana's family, a group of 12 men, led by Lieutenant Ferdous, barged into their home at New Lallyaghona of Baghaichari in Rangamati in the dead of night, only a few hours prior to the national election on June 12, 1996. At the time, Kalpana had been vocally campaigning for the independent candidate, Bijay Katen Chakma, who had open ties to Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS). Kalpana was also marked for her strong criticism of and resistance to the military oppression in the region.
The men in plainclothes surrounded their house, and then entered it by opening the latch from outside. Lalbihari maintains that he clearly saw army and village defense party (VDP) men in front of the house -- including Lieutenant Ferdous, Saleh Ahmed and Nurul Haq. The men first took Lalbihari and then Kalindi Kumar and Kalpana, blindfolded, with their hands tied to the back. Fearing they would shoot him when they asked Lalbihari to step into the water in the nearby pond, both the brothers jumped into the water and escaped, barely missing the gun shots that were fired just then. They heard their sister's plea, but there was nothing they could do to save her.
The villagers searched for her body in the pond the next day with nets, but her body was never found.
Following the abduction, protests broke out all over the country, and four adivasis, Rupon Chakma, Sukhesh Chakma, Samar Chakma and Monotosh Chakma, were killed by Bengali settlers, and countless others threatened for daring to point fingers at the military and settlers.
The military first tried to detract attention from them by spreading the rumour that Kalpana and Ferdous had a love affair and that she had eloped by choice. But it soon realised that the rumour still linked Kalpana with the military, and so it discarded it.
In a farcical show, it then announced an award of Tk 50,000 to anyone with information of Kalpana. Later, in July that year, it claimed that she had fled the country using her passport, although she never had a passport, according to Kalpana's family and friends. To substantiate the military's claim, the Bangladesh Manobadhikar Commission on August 15, 1996 at a press conference suggested that Kalpana was seen in Tripura, India and that she had faked her own abduction. Of course, neither the military nor the Commission could offer any proof to validate their allegations.
Meanwhile, after three months of intense national and international outcries, the then government was forced to form a three-member enquiry committee in September, consisting of retired Supreme Court judge M Abdul Jalil, then commissioner of the Chittagong division M Sakhawat Hossain and Chittagong University sociology professor Anupam Sen.
The commission was instructed to submit a report within a month, but it did so more than five months after its formation. However, the report was never published officially, despite different groups over the years demanding its release. It made strategic sense for the authorities to keep the report hidden and delay justice, for its findings were bound to be vehemently rejected by Kalpana's family and rights activists.
After 14 years, copies of it could finally be obtained online.
The report concluded she had been “willingly or unwillingly abducted”, although how someone can be willingly abducted defies any and all logic. It further stated that it was “impossible for them to identify the abductor due to lack of witnesses and evidence”, even though Kalpana's brothers were eye-witnesses to the abduction and gave testimonies to the commission clearly naming the abductors.
The commission stated that the statements of the two brothers lacked consistency with the statement Kalindi had first filed with the Thana Nirbahi Officer (TNO) and were as such “untrue and baseless”, suggesting that Kalindi and Lalbihari had changed their tune after the protests to frame the said perpetrators.
According to Kalindi, he had mentioned the names of the three personnel in his first statement but the TNO had deliberately misconstrued his account, dropping the names. Since he didn't know Bengali, Kalindi couldn't read the statement that the TNO made him sign. “When he read out my statement to me, he said the names of the abductors. But later I was told that he didn't actually write them,” argues Kalindi.
The report dismissed all the independent investigation reports and depositions submitted by various organisations as well as the audio clip of her mother's interview in Chakma and its Bengali transcript as 'having no legal basis' and 'unauthentic' respectively.
It is apparent from even a casual reading of the 40-page report that the statements of the army and Bengalis had been prioritised, and attempts made all throughout to discredit the accounts of the hill people who testified against the army. The report even stated what a “brilliant” leader the lieutenant was, arguing that it was his “success” that made him a target of such false accusations. There were allegations by settlers and the army in the document that the Shanti Bahini had in fact abducted Kalpana, but the probe could not find any evidence to the effect.
The police investigations which followed have more or less replicated the rationale and conclusions of the commission report. The first police report (submitted 14 long years after her abduction) was rejected on September 2, 2010 after a hearing on a petition filed by Kalindi Kumar for its failure to identify the abductors and trace Kalpana's whereabouts, and further investigation was ordered.
The second CID report, submitted on September 27, 2012 was also rejected earlier this year, after Kalindi challenged its findings in court, arguing, among other things, that the accused named in the First Investigation Report (FIR) had not even been questioned, much alone arrested. Interestingly, even though the report says the investigation may be opened in the future if relevant information comes to light, it orders that the evidence found at the site of the crime be destroyed.
During the hearings on January 13 and 16, lawyers pleaded for a judicial enquiry, stating that another police investigation was very unlikely to lead to a fair investigation. In Bangladesh, after all, there is little to no precedence of the police challenging the army (or anyone challenging it, for that matter); besides, what were the chances that another police force would succeed where the highly trained CID itself had failed?
The court, however, dismissed the plea for a judicial enquiry, positing that with only three officials, it was severely understaffed and under-resourced to tackle a case of such magnitude. Instead, it ordered the police superintendent to carry out fresh investigations, giving it specific directives, including recording the testimonies of the three named in the FIR under Section 161.
The additional chief judicial magistrate, who issued the directives, did vocally criticise the biased and unproductive police investigations conducted so far, saying that he has seen too many cases where enforced disappearances happen under the aegis of law enforcement agencies and hence the truth never comes out in the open.
Now, the question remains, will the new investigation lead to any positive results? If history teaches us anything, the SP probe is likely to produce similar inconclusive results. Meanwhile, those demanding justice for Kalpana are entrapped in a never-ending bureaucratic maze, waiting for justice on a case whose verdict was decided by the powers-that-be a long time ago.
The impunity and immunity enjoyed by the military in the CHT are now open national secrets. Much of the communal violence, murders, rapes, abductions and harassment of the adivasi population that are systematically carried out by Bengali settlers happen with its tacit or direct support. The power and influence of the military prevent their open criticism -- even by our 'free' and 'independent' media -- and our state treats it like a beloved spoilt younger son, making concessions on its behalf, moulding national and regional policies to make it happy. Then again, it's a small price to pay -- these dispensations -- when the military aids the state in its nationalist quest to eliminate 'otherness' and exert its 'rightful' control over the region's resources.
Sushmita S Preetha is a reporter with The Daily Star.
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