Oct 15, 2012

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Experiences Of Traumatic Clash In Rangamati

A Jumma development worker reports of his experiences of a violent clash in Rangamati and the reluctance of the military to protect indigenous people.

Below is an article written by Lelung Khumi:


The 22nd of September 2012 was and will always be a traumatic day for the Indigenous people of Chittagong Hill Tracts. I went to Rangamati on that day with some friends and a UP Chairman for business. The UP Chairman went to attend the scheduled meeting with other UP Chairmen of CHTs. We arrived at Rangamati Upazila Parishad office at 10am in the morning and dropped the UP Chairman. We planned to go visiting places while the meeting was on and do our work. As our car came out of the Upazilla Parishad, it was stopped by some Bengalis who told us not to go further as there was a clash at Rangamati College between some Indigenous students and Bengali students. We were told to stay inside the Parishad compound for safety. So we just stayed there. There were also two police vehicles inside, which took police to the conflict scene and returned to the Parishad compound, as it was considered to be a safe place.


My friends and I were observing the whole situation sitting close to the gate of the Parishad and taking some tea outside for two hours until 12 pm. I was worried about my brother-in-law who is studying at Rangamati College. I frequently tried to call him to check if he is okay, but could not reach him. Later he told me that he switched of his mobile because he was hiding on top of a tree somewhere inside the college. He was afraid that if someone rang him, he would be found and attacked.


While observing the situation we saw many military personnel going in their vehicles and running to the spot on foot holding sticks and guns. Those who didn’t have sticks, asked the sales men in the furniture shop in front of the Parishad office for some. The shop gave them hard wood sticks used for making furniture. We were not surprised to see the military personnel going to the conflict, as they are security forces. However, we were very surprised to see some young Bengali men also running with sticks alongside the military personnel. We also saw that, after a while, some Bengali men taken to a military hospital close to the Parishad.


We were not too afraid because there is a military camp next to the Parishad office. We felt that the attackers would not dare to attack us due to the proximity of the military camp. However, about 15 young Bengali men who were involved in the clash with Indigenous people at the college returned to the camp around 12 pm. They saw us sitting at the Parishad gate and chased us with sticks in their hands chanting: “catch and kill the Chakmas”. We were forced to run to save our lives. Some of us tried to run into the meeting place of the UP Chairmen inside the Parishad. But a friend of mine and I, along with other Indigenous people, did not run into the meeting, as we saw many UP Chairmen coming out. My friend and I ran into a little army camp attached to the main camp, as the only alternative was the lake. We asked the army personnel to protect us from the attackers chasing us. But they refused, saying that they could not provide any security!!


My life was threatened at that moment, and I could not understand why the army cannot protect everyone regardless of race, language and culture etc.! We stayed there for about 20 minutes arguing with them and explaining that we are not from Rangamati, but had come for some business. We asked for protection, but they kept refusing. We felt more and more worried. Meanwhile, two friends who came with us phoned and asked if we were in a safe place. They told us to go to where they were. We did not feel safe enough to go to meet them, but the army personnel kept telling us to leave. We felt it was no longer safe to stay there anymore, so, we left the camp and hid in the jungle for more than half an hour until a Bengali man, from our district and some other UP Chairmen, came to rescue us.


When we came out of the jungle we met with our other friends in the field of main army camp. There were many Bengali people gathering who had returned from the conflict zone. I saw a young Bengali man with a bandage in his right hand asking for snacks from a soldier. The young man said to the soldier something like: “Uncle, uncle give me some snacks. I am now hungry from fighting with the Chakmas”. The soldier said nothing and just laughed!


Later we realised that more than 15 UP Chairmen were injured by the mobs. Few minutes later some military personnel came and rescued the UP Chairmen but none of the attackers was arrested. All of those attacked were indigenous UP Chairmen. All Bengali Chairmen were safe. Two of our indigenous friends who were at the meeting room were safe because they appear Bengalis and the attackers didn’t recognise them.


It is very clear from the scene that this was a racial attack.


The big question in our mind remains why the attackers were not arrested then and have still not been arrested though the UP Chairmen Association of CHTs has stopped working for 10 days protesting againt the attack?!! What conspiracies are behind the scene!