Commentary: Issue 01/2013: Wednesday: 16 January 2013
At last we have now three inquiry reports before us – one by a commission headed by Abdul Jalil, a retired High Court judge, one by a police officer in Baghaichari thana and one by Criminal Investigation Department (CID), but sadly, none of these has been able to pinpoint the whereabouts of Kalpana Chakma or to identify her abductors. However the failure hardly surprises anyone who is familiar with the way the ruling elites of Bangladesh treat with the indigenous Jumma people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
While the demand for reinvestigation has become louder, a review of these reports is warranted to demonstrate how “an inquiry” denies justice to a weak and marginalized people.
Let’s begin with the report of the Commission of Inquiry headed by Abdul Jalil. The three-member commission also included the then Commissioner of Chittagong Division, Sakhawat Hossain, and Dr. Anupom Sen, professor of social science at Chittagong University.
The Commission submitted its report on 27 February 1998 but the government refused to make it public despite repeated demands by Jumma organizations and civil and human rights groups. However the report was made available to the later investigations.
The 40-page report concluded that “Kalpana Chakma has been abducted either purposely or by force, but because of lake of adequate evidences and proofs it has not been possible for us to determine by whom. Therefore, there is no reason to recommend legal actions against anyone.”
This failure of the Commission can be attributed to a host of reasons. Firstly, the Commission members lacked the kind of sincerity that any independent, impartial and fair inquiry would demand. They conducted their business sitting either in Dhaka or in Rangamati, and none of them visited the place of occurrence and examined the material evidences related to the incident.
Secondly, the Commission claims to have interviewed 98 persons, but surprisingly its interviewees did not include such important witnesses as the then TNO (Thana Nirbahi Officer) Hassan Jahangir Alam, Kalpana Chakma’s mother Badhuni Chakma and her sister-in-law Charubala Chakma (Kalindi Kumar Chakma’s wife). Their testimonies could have been of great significance since the later two were eyewitness to the incident of Kalpana Chakma’s abduction, while the former was the one who had written down the statement of Kalindi Kumar Chakma, the complainant of the case. To solve the mystery as to why the name of Lieutenant Ferdous, Nurul Haq and Saleh Ahemd did not figure in the FIR (First Information Report) as accused, the Commission could have asked for the production of the statement written down by the TNO. This would have provided the Commission an opportunity to corroborate Kalindi Kumar’s later statements with it.
Thirdly, while the Commission failed to attach importance to the eyewitness’ accounts of the incident, its members let themselves be influenced by military propaganda. For example, the Commission gave an extensive space to a rumour then prevalent that Kalpana Chakma was with her aunt in Tripura, India. Another example is the way the Commission cited a report of a fake human rights organization. It said: ‘A human rights commission conducted inquiry, and along with others, interviewed Kalpana Chakma’s mother. The interview was videoed. In the video, a copy of which was submitted to us by a witness from the army, Kalpana Chakma’s mother Badhuni Chakma said her daughter was fine and that she got news of her. We watched and listened to that video statement. The image of Kalapana Chakma’s mother recorded in the video is identical with those of her published in various newspapers.’
Kalpana’s mother, in a press conference in Dhaka, refuted the claim that she had told the so-called human rights commission that her daughter had maintained contact with her. Her statement was published in various newspapers, but Abdul Jalil’s Commission failed to make mention of it.
Lastly, the Commission failed to make use of a number of field investigation reports conducted by journalists and human rights activists immediately after the abduction of Kalapan Chakma on the night of 11 June 1996. When it was confronted with the question of whether the FIR was read out to Kalindi Kumar Chakma, these reports[i] could have been of great help. But without adequate investigation, the Commission went on to conclude: ‘It is not true that it (FIR) was not read out to him (Kalindi Kumar Chakma).’ The fact is that the FIR was not read out to him and it was acknowledged by the then TNO to a group of journalists and HR activists.
Now a few words about the police report and the CID report. In tone and tenor both the reports are identical. The court ordered an investigation by the CID after the police report, submitted on 21 May 2010, had failed to name any of the perpetrators. But the CID report, which was submitted to the court on 26 September 2012, is none the better. Both the reports were prepared without visiting the spot and without interviewing the key witnesses. The reports also failed to mention the name of the perpetrators – Lieutenant Ferdous, Saleh Ahmed and Nurul Haq – although the eyewitnesses had spelled them out during interviews with the investigating officers.
Moreover, the CID report has a contradictory element in it. On the one hand, it suggested that ‘reinvestigation of the case will be initiated in future if new information on Kalpana Chakma is found or she is rescued’, on the other it sought a court order to destroy the material evidences kept in Baghaichari police station. The question is: how fairly reinvestigation can be conducted if there is no evidence?
To sum up, the reports are biased and one-sided and skewed against the complainant. The inquiries were not conducted to find out the perpetrators of the crime, but to protect them. This is why all the Jumma political parties and civil and human rights groups rejected them.
But who can prosecute him whom the government has granted impunity?
Post Script: As we finish writing this commentary, we have been informed that the Chief District Judges’ Court in Rangamati today ordered reinvestigation by the Superintendent of Police of Rangamati district. We are unable to comprehend the wisdom of the court in issuing the order, which falls far short of the demand for a judicial inquiry. What difference will it make when even a retired High Court judge had to do the army’s bidding? The hard truth is that unless there is a change in the Army’s attitude and policies towards Jumma people, no inquiry will likely result in justice for Kalpana Chakma.
[i] a) Following a visit to Baghaichari, Priscilla Raj, in an article entitled “Where has Kalpana Chakma gone?” published in the 17 July 1996 issue of daily Bhorer Kagoj, wrote: “A mystery is deepening over the FIR (First Information Report) of the Kalpana abduction case as well. Kalindi Kumar, the complainant, said the FIR was not read out to him and that the FIR does not contain all his statement that he gave to the TNO. There is also controversy about who have written the FIR. The DC of Rangamati, SP and the OC of Baghaichari Thana told the visiting journalists, human rights activists and others that it was drafted by the TNO of Baghaichari Thana. However TNO Hassan Jahangir Alam disputed this, saying he had sent Kalindi Kumar to the Thana after noting down his complaint. The TNO showed the journalists and others the copy of the statement. What is remarkable is that although this statement makes mention of ‘guns and torches in the hands’ of the assassins, the FIR does not. Moreover, regarding the allegation that the FIR was not read out to Kalindi Kumar Chakma after recording his statement, OC Shahidullah said that the TNO had written down Kalindi Kumar’s statement and read it out to him.
“However TNO Hassan Jahangir Alam disputed this, saying that Kalindi Kumar first came to him and gave his statement to him, but that was not recorded as FIR. Mr. Alam acknowledged that he had not read out the FIR to Kalindi Kumar after noting down his statement.”
b) Morshed Ali Khan, a reporter of The Daily Star, also visited Rangamati and Baghaichari following the incident. He wrote: ÒThe OC of Baghaichari Shahidullah, also the Investigative Officer (IO) of the case confirmed taking Khudiram statement as identifying the abductors, but said that despite his best efforts to rescue Kalpana, his investigation was hampered due to various reasons. .... During the investigation it was found out that the First Information Report (FIR), written by the OC from Khudiram’s description, did not match the one recorded by the TNO of Baghaichari. The statement given to the TNO by Kalicharan was recorded with clear facts and figures while the FIR written by the OC lacked clarity. No one read out the FIR to Kalicharan before accepting it, it was alleged.” [Focus: A Month After Abduction, Kalpana Chakma Yet to be Rescued: Dhaka Saturday, 13 July 1996]
c) A representative of the Ain-O-Salish Kendra visited the place of occurrence and talked to cross-sections of people. On 6 July 1996, the organization, in its ‘Draft Field Report’ said: “TNO said he did not write the FIR. Rather, he said that he handwrote a statement on blank white paper for his own records. He then told Kalpana’s older brother to go to the police. The TNO’s notes are with him. He would not agree to let us copy it, but we did read it. It was far more thorough and specifc (eg how many men came, what time, name of Lt. Ferdous) than the FIR. We advised him to keep it in a safe place. He said he would produce it if ordered by the court.” [Compiled in Kalpana Chakmar Diary (Kalpana Chakma’s Diary), edited by Hill Women’s Federation, first published: 12 June 2001, page 183]