Saturday, May 12, 2012

Rape of Jumma women: a tool of ethnic cleansing?

Commentary: Issue 03: Saturday: 12 May 2012

THE rape and murder of Sujata Chakma in Longudu has once again brought the issue of sexual violence against Jumma women to the forefront. The incident sparked protests throughout the CHT, resulting in the arrest of the culprit, Md. Ibrahim. But his arrest is hardly a guarantee that such incidents will not recur in future. There are hundreds of loopholes in the law, and there is a genuine apprehension that he might come out through one of them in a few months, as he did in another rape case in the past.

Historically speaking, before the arrival of the illegal Bengali settlers the word “Dhorshon” [in Bangla] or rape was unknown in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. It does not even occur in the languages of the Jumma people. But now rape has become a common phenomenon, thanks mainly to the Bangladesh Army and the settlers. Incidents of rape have become so commonplace and widespread that Jumma women do not feel safe anywhere – not at home, not at work, not at schools, not even in market places. The Committee for Directing Movement Against Women Repression in Ghilachari in a leaflet published on 14 November 2009 aptly described the situation in the following words:

‘We can’t go to school, we can’t work in the field, we can’t fetch water from rivers and streams, we can’t visit temples and our relatives, we can’t graze our cows in the field, we can’t go to work, and we can’t even stay back homes. They rape us everywhere and anytime. The army and settlers always lie in wait to rape us.’

The Ghilachari Committee published the leaflet during its movement against sexual violence triggered by a rape attempt by an army soldier. The movement was partially successful, as the army man responsible for the offense was not tried in a civil court but was reportedly ‘disciplined’ in the army’s internal justice system. Even then, it was a rare exception, given the fact that in the last 40 years or so not a single army officer or man or a settler has been brought to justice for sexual assault or for other offenses committed against the Jumma people. The case of abduction of Kalpana Chakma in 1996 attracted both national and international attention. But 16 years on, the perpetrators have yet to face justice. It is this kind of impunity that is responsible for the recurrence of sexual violence in the CHT.

There was a general expectation that the CHT ‘peace accord’ would put an end to human right violations including rape. But before long, it turned out to be a false dawn. The CHT Commission, in the first and only report since the accord, stated:

‘Since the signing of the Peace Accords, Jumma women are still not safe, judging from reports of incidents that continue to reach the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission. Rape, in particular, by both armed forces personnel and settlers is reported with frightening regularity. Sometimes women are held in prison, in socalled 'safe custody', after they have been raped. For example, on 28 June 1998, 13-year-old Kucharung Tripura was raped by three settlers at Alikadam thana.[1]

In a recent article entitled “Doorbar Network in CHT, Women joining hands to break down walls and transform society”, Tom Eskildsen cited a study on sexual violence in CHT conducted by Jumma-Net, a Japanese citizen’s group working for peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and for the human rights of the Jumma peoples. He wrote:

‘In the study covering 2003 through 2006, Jumma-Net analyzed reports of 15 incidents with 26 victims, as well as 5 attempted rape incidents with 5 victims in the CHTs. It has found that ‘three of the rape victims were killed and found dead. The majority of the rape victims (more than 15 individuals) were children in their teens or below, and many were gang-raped (9 incidents). Army or BDR personnel were implicated in 4 of the cases. In all but three cases, the suspects had been identified, and in the majority, criminal cases had been filed, but only 4 arrests and no convictions were reported.’[2]

He said ‘[h]ardly a month goes by in which we do not receive some tragic report of violent rape or gender-based violence there [CHT].’

In the context of widespread violence against Jumma women in CHT, The Hill Women’s Federation, a front organization of the United Peoples’ Democratic Front (UPDF), held a ‘grand rally against oppression of women’ in Khagrachari in November last year. But it made little impact on the situation. Sexual abuses, especially rape, continue unabated.

For example, between January and May 10 this year, at least six Jumma girls and women were raped; one case of attempted rape was reported while another girl in her teens was abducted.[3] All these incidents were reported in the newspapers.

Rape as a tool of ethnic cleansing
It is generally admitted that rape is often used as a weapon of war. According to the CHT Commission, during insurgency, rape was used ‘systematically as a weapon against women in the CHT’. [Life is not ours, page 107]. In post-accord CHT, rape continues to be used as a tool of ethnic cleansing. The Bengali ruling elites utilize rape to humiliate and disgrace the Jumma people. In many situations, (and CHT is one such situation) rape expresses a relation of domination and subordination. In the case of the CHT, with every rape the dominant Bengali elites remind the dominated Jummas of this relation.

Rape also expresses class relations. Even a cursory study of the rape cases in the CHT would reveal that almost all the victims invariably belong to the economically poor and marginalized section within the Jumma society.

Finally, for the ruling elites to rule and maintain domination, they have to continually reproduce fear among the subjugated, and what more useful and effective means of doing it is there then rape? [End]

[1] Life is Not Ours: Update 4 by Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission.
[2] The article is published in April 2012 in a book ‘Obstructed Voices of the Jumma People’ edited by Jumma Peoples Network – Korea.
[3] For details, see chtnews posts at

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