It’s Time to Defend the Rights and Safety of the Ethnic Minorities of Chittagong

 Adeeb Chowdhury:

The evening sky thickens with looming tendrils of dense smoke. An obscure haze chokes the village, leaving children with no option but to wail blindly into the darkness, screaming for help and finding none. The once-green meadows of grass now lie coated in ashes, blood, and the demolished remains of the town. Villagers pound their fists bloody on the doors of their houses, trapped inside as the flames encircle them—doomed to breathe their last within the confines of their own burning home. Others sprint free and attempt to escape into the horizon, the wrathful settlers hot on their heels, closing in for the kill.

This is the reality that reigns in the indigenous Langadu village of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, home of theJumma tribal people. In their villages, chaos has reigned for the past week. Lawlessness and senseless violence has claimed their prey. The unjustified wrath of the settler has gone unpunished.

Why is a blind eye being turned to the plight of the indigenous Jumma? It is often said that the genuine social development of a country can be determined by how its minorities are treated. If so, Bangladesh has achieved a failing grade. The settlers’ abuse has gone unchecked. Security forces stationed there, including army and police personnel, have not taken any initiative to put an end to the violence and defend the tribal villagers—in short, do their job.

The attack on Jumma villages occurred on June 2. This was triggered by settlers finding the corpse of Nurul Islam Nayon, a Bengali motorcycle driver. His death was deemed a murder and blamed (hastily and without vindication) on the entire Jumma tribe. Angry settlers took up arms and led an assault on three indigenous villages, trampling shops and lighting over 300 homes on fire. Eyewitness accounts indicate that nearby police forces did not even attempt to foil the attack, and instead stood by and watched the murderous assault unfold.

The attacks have resulted in injury, death, and the displacement of the Jumma people. One village woman, Guna Mala Chakma, was trapped in her home and burned to death in the chaotic flames. Women and children fell especially prone to violence as assault as attackers invaded the villages. As the villagers are forced to leave in large masses, it is undeniable that the situation endangers female villagers especially in such regions, as sexual assault and lawlessness leaves them vulnerable. As is often pointed out, war and conflict’s worst victims are often women, as they fall prey to targeted violence. Also, subsequent to the attacks, a protest organized by the Hill Women Federation suffered harassment from police forces and opponents, seen tearing the clothes and abusing the protesters. It will be impossible for the ethnic minorities to effectively organize protests and fight back in the absence of the support of the citizens of the plain lands—our aid and role in combating injustice is vital.

It is distressing—and disappointing—to note the complete disregard that Bangladeshi authorities seem to exhibit during such times of crisis. The fact that indigenous minorities are Bangladeshi citizens and residents, and therefore deserve to be treated as such, seems to be a bitter pill to swallow for many national leaders. It isn’t that hard to understand and implement.

Simply ignoring the indigenous population’s plight will solve nothing. Civil inequality and mistrust cripples a nation and renders social progress unattainable. We should—we must—recognize them as what they are: fellow Bengalis and fellow human beings. We must ensure that they are treated likewise. This may seem simple in words, but due to the toxic nature of intolerance present in much of Bangladesh, it may not be so easy to achieve in reality. However, through efforts to reform Bengalis’ mindsets about ethnic minorities, a brighter and more pluralistic future will not be far away.

Civil equality is a value often promoted and spoken widely of, but it cannot be attained in the absence of concerted efforts and educational programs. Many, many Bengalis—a startling and dismaying proportion—harbor distrust and resentment towards indigenous populations like the Jumma. Educational tools can help promote cooperation and goodwill among ethnic groups and dispel bigoted myths. Taking the time to understand another culture and its history can enrich relationships and boost benevolence and mutual respect.

Reforming security forces in the Hill Tracts is also essential. The failure of the army and police personnel in Rangamati cannot be overlooked. These so-called “security” militias have utterly ignored the needs of those they are hired to serve and protect. On June 4, when the Jummas organized a non-violent protest against the abuse they suffered, the policemen stationed there were seen assaulting the protesters—“kicking, punching, and hitting” the tribal people.It is vital that national authorities take the initiative to install genuine, well-trained, well-educated, well-meaning security forces willing to do what it takes to defend the abused.

The Jumma, and other indigenous people groups, must rest in the awareness that they are Bangladeshis, and are entitled to the rights that you and I are entitled to. They must know that they have the right to safety, justice, and peaceful protest. They must know that they have the freedom to report acts of violence against them without being afraid of being assaulted.

It is interesting—and depressingly amusing—to note that the treatment that Bangladesh is imposing upon the Jumma is startlingly similar to the treatment that Bangladeshis suffered under the rule of Pakistan prior to the Liberation War. We are quite literally creating the conditions that we fought a war to escape—an environment of unjustified violence, civil inequality, ethnic oppression, and police brutality.
As Bangladeshis, we must protect other Bangladeshis. As Bangladeshis, we must protect the values that made us yearn and fight for liberation—the values of equality and peaceful ethnic diversity.

Adeeb Chowdhury is a student of William Carey Academy.He is a fan of writing, researching and debating, focusing mostly on social issues, human rights, and global affairs. His multiplicity of interests include Model UN, international matters, and science, and his writings have been published on sites such as the Women Chapter, Mukto-Mona, Shuddashar Magazine, The Bangladeshi Humanist, BornoMala News, and more. He is also the Co-Founder and Vice President of the William Carey Academy Model United Nations Club. 



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