Romel Chakma was a student and was taking the HSC examination which is equivalent to ‘A’ levels in Bangladesh. Surviving the dogfight of realities in a developing country with only one working eye is really not just another ball in the park. Nobody knows how crude the future would have been to Romel, yet everyone could see the spirit in him. Physically, Yes! he was short-sighted. But the fire inside told him to keep going the extra mile. The fire inside told him to stand not only for himself but also for other students. Probably, that same fire inside was too much to handle and that is why the Bangladesh Army decided to pour Kerosene over his dead body and set it on fire.
Romel Chakma was the General Secretory of the Naniyarchar unit of the Pahari Chhatra Parishad (PCP), which is the student wing of the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS). The latter organisation is largely known for its long struggle against the Bangladesh government for the recognition of the ethnic identity and rights of the indigenous tribes of the Hill Tracts.
On 5th of April, 2017 Romel Chakma was taken by the Bangladesh Army while he was out shopping. One, Major Tanvir was in charge of the operation. Tanvir and his men believed that it is possible for a person to set a truck ablaze with such physical disabilities. They literally dragged the slender built him to the camp and tortured him for the whole day. His spirits told him to keep going on, but his physique could not take the beatings anymore. The student leader collapsed.
Romel’s story may sound like a typical arrest of a wrong suspect and implementation of third-degree interrogation. But it is NOT. Definitely, the interrogation methods were torturous but there were no arrests whatsoever. For starter, there was not even a case filed against him to make the arrest. Police even did not know of the incident until the evening, when the army decided to hand him over to the police. The local cops denied accepting him due to the severity of the physical condition he was in. The Army later took him to the local hospital, who also refused to treat Romel seeing his debilitated situation and recommended them to take him to Chittagong Medical College and Hospital (CMCH), which is the best medical facility in the region.
On 19th of April Romel breathed his last while he was under treatment at CMCH. His death put an end to his life but not misery. At first, the army refused to give his family the dead body. Later cremation took place on 23rd of April in the presence of the parents of the deceased. The Army just wanted to give a small tribute to the so-called arson, they had added kerosene to fasten up the cremation process. To help the grieving family the army did not even let the parents get close to the body. The police and the Army are blaming each other for the incident.
The Romel Chakma incident is not the first of its kind in Bangladesh. In 1996, another young political activist Kalpana Chakma alongside with two of her elder brothers was abducted by the then lieutenant Ferdous Kaiser Khan and his men. The brothers were able to flee away from their captors but nobody knows what really happened to her. It’s been more than 20 years and she is still missing and her kidnappers are still at large.
More recently, in late 2016 one of the central leaders of PCP Bipul Chakma was arrested by the police while he was taking his mother to the hospital, who was a cancer patient. Bipul’s mother died a few days later and he was granted a parole for 7 hours to perform the cremation rituals. However, the police did not remove the handcuffs even when the religious formalities were performed. In the same year, around 2500 Santal houses were burnt down by Bangladesh Police.
The mainstream media of the country has been surprisingly quiet in regard to any incident related to the aboriginal people of Bangladesh. It is not because the journos care less about them. One thing for sure, they do care about selling news and the general people wants to know the truth. Then what is keeping them away from delivering a sensational news to the viewers/readers? The answer is simple – lack of empathy towards the endemic people from the government and the power of the weapon.
The involvement of the armed forces with these crimes makes it almost impossible for the news media to speak out loud. On several previous occasions, the medias had to bury issues and the law enforcement of authorities had to bring an abrupt conclusion to investigations due to the direct relation between the crime and one or more armed force personnel. One of the most recent incidents of such merit is the notorious rape and murder case of one Shohagi Jahan Tonu.
On March 2016, Tonu’s body was found in the Comilla Cantonment Area. Even though, when her body was recovered, it was clearly visible that she was violated, yet the first autopsy claimed she wasn’t. When the doctor who conducted the 2nd autopsy declared his findings of sexual assault, he was threatened to be killed with his entire family. It’s been over a year now, the murderers of Tonu are still to be identified.
Years after years, the crimes conducted by the Bangladesh Army are going undocumented. One of the classic examples can be during the period of the state of emergency from 2006 to end of 2008 the price of lands took a sharp hike. Generally, during a state emergency, land prices fall down due to the strict rules and lack of methods of cleaning the dirty laundry. Even though, rules were implemented for general people, due to the immense amount of money came to the hand of the Army, eventually it increased the prices by 3 to 15 times the original market value.
In reality, Bangladesh has never embraced the indigenous population as it’s own. Even the founding father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Muzibur Rahman had asked the non-Bengali tribal people to become Bengali when they had asked for the referendum in the constitution which had stated the citizens of Bangladesh would be known as Bengali.
45 years has been passed since Bangladesh has attained its independence, yet the hill tract region is yet to be truly liberated. Since 1979 the country is injecting people from the mainland just to have control over the locals. Over time, the governments build 232 military camps in the hilly area. However, since the peace accord around 119 camps has been called off.
From time to time, governments went no holds barred just to rule over of the natives of the hilly areas. While the mainland people got new schools, they got new camps. While a child in a Dhaka or Rajshahi was excited to meet his/her new Math or English teacher, a Chakma or Marma child had to witness inclusion of a new troop to the existing one to inflict further horror onto them.
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