by Meghna Guhathakurta
I first heard about the alleged abduction of Kalpana Chakma just after the incident occurred in June 1996. I was at that time teaching at Dhaka University. My first response was to get a broad spectrum of teachers to sign a petition for proper investigation. This I managed to do. By that time an election was held through which the people had elected a Government where the Awami League held the majority and everything seemed hopeful that justice would see the light of day! I too went with hope in my heart to several newspaper offices with my petition expecting to see it to come out in the next days papers.
We were after all promised press freedom with a new founded democracy! But then came the rude shock, in fact the first of many. No news of such petition appeared. As it became evident that the general populace were in a general black out about the situation in the Hills, a handful of concerned Bengali teachers and lawyers joined hands with the Hill Women’s Federation and Pahari Chattra Parishad along with varied political alliances and decided to hand in a petition to the Speaker of the newly constituted Parliament, because that was after all a symbol of peoples representation and sovereignty.
As we started on the march to the Parliament, we were duly stopped by the police at Bangla Motors. When we insisted that some representatives should be allowed to present our petition to the Speaker we were told that they did not have any suitable vehicle which could accommodate so many of us (we were about six or seven), so what was available was the police van (which was brought in case of arrests) where we could ride at the back. We said we did not mind and before they could say no, several of us jumped on board, led by the Late Barrister Shahjahan. Six women police women too joined us presumably to keep guard over us.
On reaching the Parliament, we were told that that the Speaker was busy in a meeting so would we see the Deputy Speaker, who was Advocate Hamid, the present President of Bangladesh! We agreed to do so and was led ostentatiously through lamplit corridors to his office. It was an amicable meeting where we heard us out patiently in a friendly manner and agreed with us on many things.
Although our prime aim was to focus on addressing justice for Kalpana Chakma we also addressed the overall situation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts which it must be remembered at that time was in a pre-accord state. WE insisted on a political solution to the problem and gained assurance. In the following year December 1997 when the CHT Accord was reached, we like everyone else thought that justice for Kalpana Chakma too will follow.
The media in the meantime had come out of the woodworks and had been projecting the struggles in relation to the Kalpana case, but alas the just like the un- implemented clauses of the accord, the Kalpana Chakma case took the political back bench. So when in 2012, the new Awami League government reopened the case, it brought hope again to the people seeking justice.
Now 19 years after the incident and 3 years after the re-opening of the court proceedings again our hopes are being dashed against the bedrock of impunity that seem to affect our political system as well inflict our democratic institutions with a quiet and sickening silence.
As per reports in the media, impunity in the Kalpana Chakma case is not only reflected in the non-punishment of those responsible as there seems to be no named persons in the original FIR, but also in not treating the “disappearance” as an involuntary disappearance. As a result the case becomes devoid of agency or intention, and that does not augur well for reaching a closure for the families involved, for the people concerned, for citizens who want to see a democratic country based on justice and peace.
June 12, 2020
Source: Hill Womens Federation Facebook page