She had been raped and brutally tortured before being killed
At first sight, the small one-room house made of mud and tin, located a few yards off the Khagrachhari-Dighinala road, seems an unlikely place for murder.
It is located in a quiet corner of a quiet hill town.
There is a small yard out front, and behind it there is a slope with a bamboo garden and a number of Shegun trees, where hardly anybody ever ventures.
Then you notice that the neighboring house is not quite visible from this one.
And it occurs to you that this home in the Noymail area of Dighinala Upazila in Khagrachhari could well provide cover for an unspeakably brutal crime.
An arrest was made yesterday for the rape and murder of class V schoolgirl Krittika Tripura Punati.
After initially suspecting four ethnic Bengali men – outsiders to the area – for the crime, the police arrested a minority man connected to one of the area’s feuding political factions.
Suspicions linger and the motive for the crime remains unclear.
On July 28, Krittika came home from school during her 45-minute lunch break.
Her mother had cooked rice for her and left for work. The class-V student of Noymail Tripura Guchchhagram Government Primary School was expected home for lunch at 2pm.
Along the six-minute walk from school, she stopped at her uncle Bibhuti Ranjan Tripura's tea shop.
Bibhuti’s tea stall is 150 yards from Krittika’s house, on the opposite side of the road in Noymail, close to where he lives with his family.
Shortly after her visit, her uncle took an autorickshaw to Dighinala. Two other men who were at the stall also left by motorcycle.
In the evening, when Krittika’s mother Onumoti returned home, she found the door ajar. The opened lock and keys were hanging on the door.
The lunch she had left was untouched and Krittika was nowhere to be found.
Then she noticed the blood stains on the mud floor of the veranda.
Around 10pm, Krittika's family, locals, and the police found the eleven-year-old’s body in the abandoned bamboo grove under a Shegun tree.
She had been raped and brutally tortured before being killed.
Her throat had been slit, both arms were broken, the left side of her head was smashed, she had cut marks from sharp weapons on her thighs, and the killers had raped her with a bamboo stick. Her pants were found hanging from a nearby tree branch.
She is believed to have been murdered at some time after returning home around 2:10pm.
JSS man arrested
Barendra Tripura alias Shanto, an activist of Jubo Samiti, the youth wing of Jana Sanghati Samiti (JSS), was arrested for Krittika’s murder at Larma Square in Dighinala sadar on Saturday, Dighinala police station OC Abdus Samad said.
He is one of the main accused in Krittika Tripura’s murder, the OC said. Shanto is also an accused in the murder of UPDF activist Binoy Chakma, who was killed in Khagrachhari sadar on February 17.
The day of the murder, four ethnic Bengali men, whose actions the local community described as “suspicious,” were present for several hours at Bibhuti’s tea stall. Local residents were unanimous in denouncing them as Krittika’s killers.
For many, the murder seemed another brutal chapter in the violent history of ethnic strife in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
But 2018 has witnessed an uptick in minority on minority violence in the CHT. An ongoing turf war between minority political factions has left 31 dead since December last year.
Moreover, the police say that the Bengali suspects’ alibis held up to scrutiny.
Dighinala police Officer-in-Charge (OC) Abdus Salam said police initially arrested and interrogated Shah Alam, 33; Nazrul Islam alias Bhandari, 32; autorickshaw driver Monir Hossain, 38; and autorickshaw driver Monir Hossain, 30.
The two men and two autorickshaw drivers were taken into custody because local residents suspected them as perpetrators. There are no Bengali residences within a 10-kilometre radius spanning Krishi Gobeshona and Bhoirofa.
But police said they failed to find evidence of their involvement in the murder. None admitted to the crime.
At the time of the murder, two of the suspects – alleged drug peddlers who were at the tea stall to do business with drug dealers - were at Khagrachhari sadar Shapla Chattar. Police say they have CCTV footage to support this claim.
After Krittika had visitied the tea stall on her way home, Bibhuti went to Dighinala, some 12 kilometers away, on Monir’s vehicle. Bibhuti left around 2:15pm together with his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
Shah Alam and Nazrul left on their motorcycle for Khagrachhari around the same time.
After 4pm when Bibhuti returned, he and the two drivers bought some liquor and drank it near his tea stall.
“It is true that the two men were at the tea stall that day. We interrogated them separately and their versions matched. But after our primary investigation, we have found no evidence of their involvement,” OC Abdus Salam said.
“We collected CCTV footage from Shapla Chattar and found the two there at 2:38pm,” the OC said, noting that the victim was attacked after 2:10pm.
According to the OC, it takes at least 20 minutes to get from the murder site to Shapla Chattar, meaning that the murderer would have had to perpetrate the crime in under 10 minutes. Given the brutality of the attack, this seemed unlikely, he explained.
“Her school was scheduled to resume at 2:45pm after the lunch break. She reached home after 2:10pm. Her house lock was hanging, the door was open, and the food was untouched,” the OC told the Dhaka Tribune. “Which means the killers attacked her before she started eating. The incident obviously took place before 2:45pm. Krittika had left her books back at the school as she had wanted to return to class.”
He said the two autorickshaw drivers – well-acquainted with the victim’s uncle Bhibuti with whom they used to drink alcohol – were with the victim's maternal uncle. They were not present when the girl was killed.
They are fearful
Police claimed that the Krittika's family was not cooperating with the investigation. “They are fearful. We guess that they know something but do not want to say it.”
Police sources said Noymail is an important area for regional political parties based in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
The reformist group of Jana Sanghati Samiti (JSS-MN Larma), one of the four Hill Tracts-based political parties, has a stronghold in the area.
Noymail has been used by JSS-MN Larma to collect extortion money from vehicles on the Khagrachhari-Dighinala highway. Over the last eight or nine months, the parties, including the United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF), have engaged in a row over supremacy.
Krittika's house had been used as a place to collect extortion money for the JSS-MN Larma group—as the poor family is not influential and nobody is there during the day, sources claimed.
However, Krikkita's brother, Umin Tripura, told the Dhaka Tribune that he normally does not stay at home as he works in Khagrachhari Sadar.
Their father died in a road accident six years ago, forcing their mother, Onumoti Tripura, to work as a farmer on other’s land, to earn her livelihood.
Police said they interrogated Krittika’s maternal uncle at Dighinala, on August 3, and that evening, armed men fired blank shots towards a hill from semi-automatic weapons, to spread panic.
“We think a third party is involved with the murder and they have some other interest. They wanted to showcase their brutality,” said the OC.
On July 28, a fifth-grade girl from a minority community in the midst of internecine strife was brutally raped and murdered in a house that doubled as an extortion collection den.
Why remains a question.