It is true that female participation has increased significantly across all sectors, but they have not always been privy to the benefits of development. On the other hand, the level of violence against women has peaked to a point that it feels like the country’s struggle for independence is still persisting. The ideals that fuelled our fight for independence are dying. If one chooses to leave out a portion of the population and still wish to savour the taste of independence, that independence is all but meaningless.
With time, the state of violence against women has changed around the world, with women finding newer avenues to fight for their rights. In 1957, processions by women working in sewing factories in New York were advocating for equal pay, work hour limits and decent work environment. In 2018, these demands are joined by that of ensuring the overall security, freedom and the right to live humane lives.
The violence against indigenous women in CHT
If we choose to particularly focus on this topic, we can conclude that rapes and harrassment do not originate solely on the basis of greed and lust. It is rather a tool used in land conflicts, during attempts to occupy land, because of racial hatred, and mostly as a method of oppression of indigenous communities.
Everyday, I wake up with the same dreadful thought - has there been yet another incident the night before? In light of recent events, it is a thought that doesn't seem unjustified.
The incidents that are occurring in the Hill Tracts are causing the general inhabitants, friends on the plain and progressive people, a world of worries and mixed feelings. However, even these people are increasingly looking away from the distressed indigenous. Every now and then, there are killings, forced disappearances, rapes, houses are burned and looted - but the protests seem to die out within days. When I see people protesting against crimes being committed against people of other nations, it angers me that there are no protests or initiatives being taken for the ones committed against numbers to the indigenous communities of our country.
From Kalpana Chakma up until the latest case of the Marma sisters, where the siblings were subjected to inhumane physical harassment and mental torture – it becomes only too apparent that my country is not what it promised to be. The history of the hills suggests that the ones who were entrusted with the responsibilty to uphold law and order are the ones who violate it. Any protest that is aimed at them seem to perish away in the tides of time. In order to erase one crime, they commit another and the case turns towards another direction altogether.
The same story in different cycles
Such circumstances are not restricted to living in the Hill Tracts but also bear striking resemblance to cases such as Tonu’s. While in the case of Tonu the CID was able to discern the DNA of three individuals from her clothes, there lies a considerable amount of doubt about how much influence such a piece of information will have on the outcome of the legal proceedings.
The rape of the Marma sisters by members of security forces in Belaichari, Rangamati on the night of January 21, and the brutal attack on the Chakma queen and a volunteer on hospital premises, almost echo the kidnapping of Kalpana Chakma as well. Just like how we never received the official kidnapping and autopsy reports from the Kalpana Chakma case, it seems rather childish to desire justice in the case of the Marma sisters and other instances of violence against indigenous women.
As the mountains burn, indigenous women are tortured and raped while our society celebrates those responsible and empower them even further. The legal system too, has been historically incapable of bringing justice to the victims. The main reasons behind the persistence of violence against women, especially indigenous women, include the lack of legal measures taken for previous cases, patriarchal notions and the undemocratic systems of governance. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, which was signed in 1997, could have easily become the solution had it been implemented to its full extent. However, the ineffective and partial implementation of the treaty has only managed to marginalize indigenous women further.
The attacks on indigenous women at the hands of law enforcers and settlers may well lead to the disruption of peace in the hills. In times of such crises, it is upto indigenous women to be vigilant and empower themselves – socially, politically and economically. They must prepare themselves with progressive mindsets to fight against all kinds of forces. No matter what comes in their way, they must vow to continue the fight to ensure justice. Protests must not be centred on special issues and particular incidents, but it must be continuous and undisrupted, to ensure the rights of our communities.
This movement will only be successful when it represents all women in society. Democratic and progressive forces must join voices to sing the fiery tune of protests against violence and marginalization at every level.
The author is a cultural and human rights activist, and Artistic Director and General Secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Cultural Forum