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Langadu attack: Manufactured rage?

  • Published at 02:37 am June 11th, 2017
  • Last updated at 02:37 am June 11th, 2017
Langadu attack:  Manufactured rage?
Langadu is no longer burning. Whatever there was to burn, has been burned. Every indigenous house, burned to the ground or demolished. But not a single house belonging to Bangali settlers were touched. It was a well-organised rampage that took place in Langadu upazila in Rangamati on June 2. Within two hours, the lives of indigenous families were ruined. Small groups consisting of hostile armed Bangalis marched with ill-intention and equipment to start a blaze that spread throughout the land. The blitz attack on the villages of Batiyapara and Tintila forced the residents out with the clothes on their backs. The people of Tintila are not unfamiliar with such mayhem. On May 4, 1989, 36 indigenous people were shot and hacked to death in a similar attack from Bangalis. [caption id="attachment_68459" align="aligncenter" width="632"]longdu Indigenous people flee their homes after the attack Photo: Facebook[/caption] But this time, the villagers fled as soon as they sensed the throngs of attackers approach. Only a handful of men stayed back, evacuating house after house, seeing off the women, children and elderly to safer areas in remote hilly locations and jungles. The men fled once the evacuation was complete. Only in Manikjorchhara the villagers decided to stand their ground. But the resistance only lasted for a while. The role of law enforcement agencies throughout the attack remains a mystery. In one Friday afternoon, 224 houses, offices and shops belonging to indigenous people were utterly destroyed. And all of it began with the mysterious death of Nurul Islam Noyon, organising secretary of the upazila Jubo League. How it all began On the night of June 1, Noyon – a Bangali who had settled in Batiyapara – told his wife that he will go to Khagrachhari town – a 63 kilometer drive on hilly roads – with two passengers, the next morning. He did not say whether the passengers were Bangali or indigenous. It was raining the next morning when Nayan set out around 6:30am, according to his younger brother Md Din Islam Liton. [caption id="attachment_68460" align="aligncenter" width="632"]longdu2 Indigenous people flee their homes after the attack Photo: Facebook[/caption] Liton claims to be the only one to have seen the passengers. He claims they were two Chakma boys with backpacks. He further claims a Bangali woman at Batiyapara bazar and a shopkeeper in Islamabad saw them. Around 3pm, Langadu police informed Liton that a photo of a dead body of a Bangali man was circulating on Facebook. The person resembled Noyon. The police requested Liton to examine the photos to confirm whether it was Noyon. Liton identified the body from the gruesome photographs on Facebook. Noyon’s family scrambled to Khagrachhari police station and filed a case after positively identifying the body. Noyon’s corpse was found mangled. His teeth and nails had been pulled out, fingers cut off, skull caved in and his flesh flayed. Pointing fingers Liton accused two indigenous people—Dipali Chakma and Imon Chakma in his case, suspecting them of carrying out the murder. But he did not say he believed they were the motorcycle passengers. But Liton believed that the PCJSS killed his brother because he refused to allow the smuggling of “arms and ammunitions” on three-wheelers, using his role as toll collector of the vehicles travelling between Langadu and Dighinala. [caption id="attachment_68462" align="aligncenter" width="632"]longkkkk Thousands show up at Noyon’s funeral Photo: Facebook[/caption] “We were not allowed to bring back my brother’s body on Thursday night because Langadu police Officer-in-Charge Moinul Islam warned us of things going awry. The next morning, we retrieved his body with police permission. The hearse was escorted by local Bangali settlers, friends and acquaintances, Jubo League leaders and activists on numerous vehicles. Around 10am, the cortege had grown to over several thousands in number and marched towards the upazila parishad field for the namaj-e-janaza. “Bangali from seven unions joined us,” said Liton. Liton said that although the family wanted to hold the namaj-e-janaza at Batiyapara mosque, various influential individuals had expressed their desire for the first namaj-e-janaza to be held on a grand scale at the upazila parishad field. “Our father had worked at the upazila office and it had a larger capacity. So we acquiesced,” he added. Suspicions, rumours, tensions On Thursday night, Langadu native Oruntal Chakma was chased by two Bangalis with sharp weapons. It was an omen of things to follow. Perceiving the imminent threat, Langadu PCJSS General Secretary Manishangkar Chakma, Langadu UP Chairman Kulin Mitra Chakma, Atarakchhara UP Chairman Mangal Kanti Chakma sat down to decide on their course of action. Meanwhile, Chakma families had already begun a pre-emptive exodus out of fear. Mangal told the Dhaka Tribune that local police and some Bangalis went to Manishangkar’s house at night and reassured them, saying “nothing will happen.” [caption id="attachment_68463" align="aligncenter" width="850"]SAM_0473 At least 224 houses, shops and offices were gutted by the fire Dhaka Tribune[/caption] By Friday noon, Langadu was abound with the rumour that Noyon was killed by indigenous youths. A history of conflict had been stirred up. The indigenous groups began fearing impending communal attacks over the issue. Even a team from the nearby army camp also visited the indigenous people and reassured them, requesting to ask the ones who had left to come back. When the body arrived on Friday morning, UP Chairman Kulin requested the police to ask the mourners to hold the namaj-e-janaza at the Batiyapara mosque and not the upazila parishad field. He was fearful of the fate of the Chakma village that lay on the way. Local police had assured that the namaj-e-janaza would be held at the local mosque and no processions would be permitted. Day of reckoning Thousands of men took part in the funeral procession with banners demanding punishment for “indigenous criminals.” As the procession moved, some began to hurl bricks at Chakma houses and shops. The first house to be torched was right in front of Tintila Rajban Bihar. The houses of Bitta Ranjan Chakma, former UP chairman Shukhomoy Chakma, Sanatan Chakma, Dipalu Chakma were torched. A PCJSS office was also torched. The procession did not stop as hostile groups detached to cause mayhem and destruction. Countless mourners had come to the procession bearing fuel, staves, and sharp weapons, claims indigenous witness. Kathaltola and Tintila was the first victim of the chaos that ensued. The namaj-e-janaza had just started when indigenous houses in every neighbourhood were being torched. The attackers were without mercy and humanity, not even sparing the schools or livestock. Chairman Kulin called the police and local administration, who pledged to help, but never appeared, said Mangal Chakma. After Kathaltola and Tintila, the horde now bore down on Manikjorchhara. Nero of the hills While the indigenous houses burned and the people fled for their lives, a solemn namaj-e-janaza was taking place. In attendance were the commanding officer of the army unit in Langadu, the police OC, UP chairman, local Awami League and Jubo League leaders and activists. Three banners were prominently displayed at the funeral. One of them, belonging to Langadu upazila Jubo League called for punishment of “ethnic terrorists”. The UP and local BNP leader Tofajjal Hossain told the Dhaka Tribune that they had asked people to remain calm: “We assured that the killers of Noyon will be brought to book.” “We requested them to refrain from violence. But those who had left the procession already had begun setting fires. We could see the smoke billowing up from the burning neighbourhoods,” he added. [caption id="attachment_68465" align="aligncenter" width="850"]SAM_0433 At least 224 houses, shops and offices were gutted by the fire Dhaka Tribune[/caption] The army, police and local representatives then made their way to the village, he further said. “At Manikjorchhaara, the indigenous locals and Bangali settlers stood their grounds. There were 200-300 Bangalis with local weapons. Most of them were young, between 17-20 years old,” Tofajjal said. “The locals stood resolutely, and the Bangali aggressors were unable to proceed. When we arrived, some of the indigenous locals armed with firearms fled, but the unarmed majority stayed. The army charged baton to disperse both groups,” he said. When asked if the houses were torched in presence of the army, Tofajjal claimed that the fire was in full-swing before the army and police could reach there. Jane Alam, local local Awami League leader, said: “Jubo League had plans to hold a protest rally, but they cancelled it when the fires started. “I can assure you that none of our party men were involved with the mayhem. We even told the police to conduct forensic tests on our phones,” he said, adding that there were groups with vested interests who were trying to frame them. Both leaders concurred that the attackers were numerous and were able to attack simultaneously. They allegedly travelled through the forests to cover distances more quickly than the law enforcement agencies could mobilise. The short-lived resistance of Manikjorchhara The final leg of the attacks took place in Manikjorchhara, home to 88 indigenous families. The villagers believe if the army had not dispersed them when they gathered together to repel any assault, their homes might have been saved. Kalaron Chakma, village headman, said two groups of hostiles entered the village from opposite directions. “We could have fought if the army did not follow them. Our men were ready to challenge those who set fire to our homes. But we had to leave. They were waiting to set fire as we walked away. It did not take long, we turned back and saw tongues of flame flicker up into the sky, fed by our houses and our livelihoods,” he claimed. His claims were supported by many more locals, who also there claimed that each group consisted of 20-30 youths. They were armed with sharp weapons and carried petrol containers. The locals claimed the attackers had not proceeded when they saw the locals stand their ground. But when the army soldiers fired blank shots, the locals were forced to disperse, leaving the village vulnerable to the predators. Crops stored in granaries were burned and cattle housed in sheds were killed – a vulgar display of wanton destruction.