Silencing the people of the Chittagong Hills
The Indigenous people of the Chittagong Hills (CHT) are forbidden to talk to outsiders without security forces being present according to a new Bangladesh Government directive. ‘Outsiders’ includes people of their own country as well as foreigners. It is now extremely difficult for foreigners to enter these hills, whether they are tourists or working on the development projects that the area urgently needs.
This racist order is designed to stop the people of the Chittagong Hills telling the world what is happening. The area faces many issues but the Bangladesh Home Ministry see that stopping communication as the most urgent need.
This absurd situation means that a visitor to the CHT wanting directions or wanting to buy something, will need to check the ethnicity of the person they are about to talk to. I assume, it means that indigenous people married to outsiders need to have a police chaperone in the bedroom.
So what is happening in the CHT that the government doesn’t want the outside world to know about?
Land is continually being taken from the indigenous people without their consultation for plantations, tourist resorts and to settle people from other parts of Bangladesh. The government continues to drag its heels on the implementation of the 1997 Peace Accord, which was aimed at creating mechanisms for resolving land disputes. Development projects continue to be obstructed, even though less than 2% of the Hill people complete secondary education (UNDP figures) and access to health is very poor. The army, mostly the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), continues to increase their land holdings, power and influence in the area and to increase their wealth.
But why is there an urgency to cut the flow of communication now? After all these issues have been continuing for several years.
Attacks on Women & Girls
During 2014, 117 indigenous women faced sexual and physical abuse, and 57% of them were children. Twenty one indigenous women were raped or gang-raped, seven were killed after rape, 55 were physically assaulted, 21 attempted rapes and 11 were kidnapped and attempted to be kidnapped. These numbers increase steadily year on year. The attacks frequently occur where there are land disputes between an indigenous people and settlers. But there have been never been any convictions. The victim’s family often know the alleged culprit. When the attack is reported, the police frequently try to hush the case up by offering to pay off the victim’s family. Doctors are now under pressure from authorities not to report rapes and to state “no rape occurred”.
Here is a sample of recent incidents:
15 December 2014, a Jumma girl from Rangamati district was brutally killed after raping. The victim was studying for the equivalent of GCSE. Victim’s father filed a case with Kaptai police station, but there was no arrests as yet.
19 December 2014, a 2nd year Marma girl was attempted to rape by a Bengali settler youth in Khagrachari district. The miscreant was caught by the public and handed over to police. The victim tried to file case, but police denied accepting the case.
21 December 2014, 2 settlers attempted to rape a 10-year old Tripura girl of Khagrachari.
Unfortunately this is typical of the way that indigenous women are treated throughout South Asia. In neighbouring India, there are over 100 million indigenous people who are treated as being below the caste system. This encourages as sense of superiority and entitlement over indigenous women throughout South Asia. But the hidden nature of the Chittagong Hills and the total impunity makes it a bigger problem.
On 14th January 2015, an eight year old Marma girl was raped by a plantation owner. ( http://alalodulal.org/2015/01/20/the-survivor/ ) The horror of this particular incident attracted international concern and a fund to help the girl was established.
It may be coincidental that the government attempts to hide the CHT after these incidents and the publicity they received. It may also be coincidental that the army (the BGB) are ignoring the Peace Accord and increasing their land holdings. As the International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission observe: the “majority of the communal attacks or incidents of violence against women in the CHT have taken place in the vicinity of the check-posts”. ( http://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/withdraw-hill-restrictions-65104 )
Thus the increase in army presence in the area is not likely to reduce these attacks. But still the BGB say this directive is to safeguard ‘law and order development and sovereignty’.
Hana Shams Ahmed says in ‘Can the Jummas of Bangladesh speak?’ – “The subtext is that Bengalis and foreigners who talk to Jummas are collaborating with them in devising something sinister that will go against the sovereignty of the country.” ( http://www.dhakatribune.com/op-ed/2015/feb/17/can-jummas-bangladesh-speak )
However, no evidence or even plausible accusation has ever been brought forward of outsiders collaborating with Indigenous people to detriment of the sovereignty of Bangladesh. The authorites just want to silence the Indigenous people.
Make a Jumma FaceBook friend
The Bangladesh Home Ministry have not considered the power of the internet and because the army needs to communicate, there is internet access in much of this remote area. So, as a simple action in support of these people, please can I suggest that Amnesty International members in the UK take a Jumma FaceBook friend or follow one on Twitter or send an email. Please contact me if you want to build a link, so that these people will not continue to be silenced.
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