Minorities in Bangladesh, especially in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region, continue to be at the receiving end of majoritarian violence.
According to Asia Indigenous People’s Pact (AIPP), a rights-based organisation for indigenous people, at least 54 cases of violence against indigenous women were reported between January – December last year in Bangladesh. Of these, 35 were reported in the plains and 19 in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).
While at least five were sexually or physically assaulted, 18 women were raped. Another 14 women faced an attempt to rape.
The most recent victim is a 14-year-old Buddhist Chakma girl. She was abducted, forcibly converted to Islam, raped, and reportedly murdered in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh in 2020.
AIPP and International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) took cognisance of this incident and urged the Bangladesh government to take immediate action.
Sharing the teenager’s ordeal, AIPP said the girl was in the seventh grade when she was abducted from her village (Shilkhali Chakma Para, Teknaf) in Cox’s Bazar on January 5 last year. “Five abductors (aged 22-28) led by a Bengali Muslim man, Ataullah (aged 23) of Cox’s Bazar, allegedly abducted her from her house,” read the statement.
The kidnapping took place when her parents and elder sister had gone to work. However, some children, including her younger brother, who was playing in a yard nearby, witnessed the incident. Also, several people attending afternoon prayers at a local Buddhist temple heard cries from a three-wheeler coming from the direction of girls house, informed the statement.
The girl was held by Ataullah in different places around Cox’s Bazar and on January 11, 2020, she was taken to Cumilla district. On 21 January, she was forcibly converted and married to him at a registrar’s office, showing a false birth certificate that she is 18.
After 11 months and six days of abduction, on December 9, 2020, police called the girl’s father to identify her body in a Cox’s Bazar hospital morgue. Her mother-in-law claimed that she had committed suicide by drinking poison.
She left behind a 13-day-old daughter.
However, her plight didn’t end even after death. Police refused to hand over her body to her family as she was married to one of her abductors, who showed her to be 18 years of age. After a court decision proving that she was a child, her body was finally handed over to her parents on January 4 this year. The girl’s body was in police custody for 26 days (December 9, 2020 – January 4, 2021).
After her abduction in January last year, her father went to Teknaf Police Station to file a complaint. However, the Officer-in-Charge, Pradeep Kumar Das, refused to record the complaint. At the suggestion of the OC, the father filed a general diary, but no action was taken.
He, therefore, filed a case with the Cox’s Bazar Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal on January 27, 2020. On December 15 last year, this Tribunal ordered RAB-15 (Rapid Action Battalion) to reopen the investigation. RAB-15 is now handling this case.
AIPP and IGWIA said, “If the Officer-in-Charge at Teknaf Police Station had recorded the case when the girl’s father reported it, it is believed she could have been rescued in time.”
Speaking with EastMojo, Chanchana Chakma, president, Bangladesh Indigenous Women’s Network (BIWN), said, “The girl’s family is being threatened by the perpetrators to withdraw the case.”
The BIWN also marked this issue while highlighting that the Chakma community mostly lives in the forest. Despite living there since the British Raj era, they have no land rights, and this makes them more vulnerable.
The organisation found out about the girl’s case from media reports and local colleagues, following which, BIWN and other human rights organisations went to visit the family and investigate the case.
Five rights-based organisations: Bangladesh Nari Pragati Sangha (BNPS), Bangladesh Legal Aid Services and Trust (BLAST), Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD), Manusher Jonno Foundation and Bangladesh Adivasi Forum also formed a human chain and carried out a candlelight vigil in front of the Bangladeshi parliament building on Saturday, demanding justice for the girl.
There have been no arrests till now. Chanchana Chakma said that RAB-15 (Rapid Action Battalion) is now helping them, but no politician has come forward to help.
She said, “We demand justice for the girl and all indigenous women who face such violence, and punishment for the perpetrators. If they are punished, then such violence will stop.”
She added, “Stop militarisation of Chittagong Hill Tracts and stop Islamisation of indigenous women.”‘
The organisation also demanded financial aid from the government for the girl’s family.