Pamelia Khaled: Contextual background of Bangladesh indicates that in 1971, Bangladesh was born as a socialist country. Though discrimination against non-Muslims is rife, freedom of worship is provided for in the constitution (Bangladesh Constitution No. 2A, 1972). In 1988, Islam was declared the state religion.
Bangladesh is the world’s third most populous democratic Muslim state with a population of 154.7 million people of which about 80% are Muslim and about 12% are Hindu. There are also approximately 45 different ethnic communities living in different parts of Bangladesh.
More than half a millionpeople practice a mixture of tribal cults and Buddhist doctrines. There are alsoBiharis, Arab and Dutch settlers who have adopted the Bengali life style, as well as small numbers of Shia Muslims, Sikhs, Baha’is, Ahmadis, and animists. Though equal opportunity and social justice are fundamental principles of state policy (Bangladesh Constitution, No. 8 and 19, 1972).
Though the Constitution does not address multiculturalism specifically, Act 23(3) states that no citizen will be discriminated against based on “religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”… or “any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to access to any place of public entertainment or resort, or admission to any educational institution” (Bangladesh Constitution, 1972).
However, the government’s policy of resettling poor Bengalis in the sparsely populated Hill Tracts led to “racial and religious disturbances and this created deep unrest in the early 1980s. There are many weaknesses in the system; thus, government and its mechanism failed to hold up democracy and justice in the multicultural society, Bangladesh.
Ethnic communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, for example, have been the targets of victims of policies of population transfer, land eviction, cultural assimilation and ethnic discrimination by successive regimes of Pakistan and then Bangladesh. Different literature review indicates that from 1997 to 2010, under the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord, mass in-migration of Bengali settlers, locally termed political migrants changed the ethnic composition, economy, and political setting in this region, resulting in ethnic tensions between Hill People and Bengali communities.
Besides the land eviction and mass killing of aboriginals another issue is added recently, that is rape, gang rape of aboriginal women.
My Marma friend, who is a doctoral student of Harvard, Education faculty, he has written me email an hour ago regarding the aboriginal teacher gang rape issue. I am quoting from his email note. He is saddened and outraged with this news that a female teacher has been gang raped and killed in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Bangladesh. He mentioned that violence against indigenous men and women has been on the rise in Chittagong Hill Tracts. This sort of violence is often committed by the Bengali settlers who are brought in by the government.
In 2014 alone, there were over 16 such gang rapes followed by killings have been reported. The daily Star publishes a new today, June 08, 2014 “Teacher killed after rape in Bandarban”. This is the latest news of gang rape and murder of a school teacher.
He informed me that following to this report, U Pru Marma, a 23 year old school female teacher, was killed by Rohingyas, who were settled in Chittagong by the Bangladesh government, after gang rape. U Pru Marma taught in a school that is within 30 km of a school he founded with local community (Ananda School run by a non-government organisation (NGO). U Pru Marma was missing on Friday at around 9:00am. Locals found her dead body at 11:30pm at the valley of Ngarheisatong hill of Bangchhari in the upazila. The daily Star report says, Chang Tanchangya confessed to police that he along with three other Rohingyas of the area raped U Pru Marma and killed her.
According to my friend, this event happened within few days, June 3, 2014, after an armed mob of setters burned down many Indigenous villages and over 250 fled to India as refugees. He mentioned that Indigenous people of Chittagong fleeing attack and arson and becoming refugees in Tripura, India. This happened when a mob of armed settlers attacked Indigenous villagers and burned down many homes. Some fled to India, many more fled to other parts of Chittagong. It is easy to understand, the lives of children of these families and surrounding villages are also adversely impacted, to say the least. He is concerned that these atrocities have much implications to individuals, family members, school children, and the community.
My friend also narrated that last year, in August 2013, similar arson and attack took place while he was visiting his parents. Over 500 homes burnt to ashes and more than 1,500 people had to flee to India to save their lives. No one was brought to justice to date and more arson and atrocities continues with impunity.
These are by no means isolated incidents. There is a larger pattern of continued atrocities and human rights violations. Additionally, most such brutalities remain unreported. If no action is taken, more lives, like that of school teacher U Pru Marma, will be in danger. While he visited Chittagong last time, he found that many people live in fear, fear from their own government, military, and mob of settlers. During his last visit, one village elder asked him, “Why are we hunted like animals in our own village, in our own country?” he had no answer to question of this grandmother.
Should we ignore such injustices because we live in Canada, far away from Chittagong? What will we say to this grandmother? How we will console my Harvard friend, U Pru Marma ‘s family and her community( isn’t this my community?). Am I not part of this community?
My friend raised a question regarding the teacher rape issue: what can we do to stop such brutality? I am on the same page; I also feel pain, grief observing the atrocity in the community. I feel the same way my friend does for “U Pru Marma”, a young girl, who devoted herself in teaching. I wonder how Bangladesh government, home minister or state’s administration will provide answer of my friend. Isn’t that this gang rape issue and current social and political crime, brutality among the university students and violence in women indicate that Bangladesh government is alienated from the grass root society, people and their problems?
We all know a gang rape and killing incident in India and a national and international outrage, though gang rape did not stop in India or any part of the world. What else can be done? U Pru Marma and the girls around the world was gang raped and then thrown to gorge to die what commitment a state and its nation can do. Question to all of us, how can we create a nationwide/worldwide outrage against such barbarism? Could we not raise our voice collectively and collaborate with other countries including Bangladeshi organizations in Canada, US, England, and Australia, and inside Bangladesh?
The writer is Doctoral Candidate in Curriculum Studies and Teacher Development
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)
Research Assistant, University of Toronto
Founder-President Volunteer Association for Bangladesh Canada (VAB-Canada)