Kalpana Chakma: Activist Missing Since 20 years Ago, A Gaping Shame for Bangladesh Army

Mithun Chakma

Mithun Chakma is an organizer of the United Peoples’ Democratic Front (UPDF). He can be contacted at [email protected]

Today 12th June, 2016 marks the twenty years since the enforced disappearance of Kalpana Chakma in 1996 from her home in New Lalyaghona village under Rangamati district. She was 23 years old and a graduate student when members of the Bangladesh army and Village Defense Party (VDP) snatched her away in small hours of 12 June. Her elder brother Kalindi Kumar Chakma could recognize Lt. Ferdous, then commander of Kojoichari base camp, VDP leaders Nurul Haq and Saleh Ahmed as they shone a flash light on him after breaking the front-door of the house open and went inside.

After the incident, the army embarked on a massive cover-up campaign, initially insinuating that it was a ‘love affair’. But soon they back-tracked as they saw that this version of the incident clearly proved the army’s involvement and now said she was seen at Gandachara, a sub-division in Indian state of Tripura. This also proved totally a lie.

Then the army spin doctors suggested that Kalpana either might have been taken hostage by members of the now-defunct Shanti Bahini guerrillas or had left the country using a valid passport to attend the Beijing International Women Conference. But there were few takers of their ever shifting versions of the incident, which drew national and international condemnation.

The incident took place just hours before the voting for the 8th parliamentary elections began under a caretaker government headed by Justice Habibur Rahman. The Awami Leauge won the election and formed a 3-member enquiry commission headed by Abdul Jalil, a retired Supreme Court Justice, to probe the incident. The commission submitted its findings to the government on February 27, 1998, but the government is yet to make it public, although it made it available to the police investigators who were dealing with the Kalpana Chakma abduction case.

The sub inspector of Baghaichari police station, acting on the FIR filed by Kalindi Kumar Chakma immediately after the incident, conducted a separate investigation and submitted a report on May 21, 2010, 14 years after the incident.

Kalpana ChakmaKalindi Kumar Chakma filed a petition to the court rejecting the report, and the court ordered the CID to take up the matter and conduct further investigation. CID submitted its report on January 12, 2013. Kalindi Kumar Chakma again rejected the CID report, and the court issued order for further investigation, now by the Superintendent of Police of Rangamati district. However the SP is yet to submit a report to the court.

Kalpana Chakma ‘is’ a highly politically conscious person. She was the organising secretary of the Hill Women Federation when the kidnapping took place. She had taken part in and addressed the first conference of the HWF on February 15, 1995. In her speech she said, “The issue of repression, deprivation, humiliation and slavery of women is nothing secret. It finds expression in many different ways in the whole world including our country. In our Chittagong Hill Tracts there is wholesale persecution against both men and women. Incidents of rape and repression and killing of women have become commonplace.”<

She sought to link the women’s issue with the larger issues of the society. In the same address she went on to say: ‘But we know women’s liberation cannot come about without the liberation of the other oppressed peoples and classes of the society.’ Therefore, she fought for a classless society. ‘We want a society where there will be no difference between rich and poor, no discrimination between man and women and no exploitation of a class of people by another.’

Kalpana Chakma used to keep diaries and write down notes of what she thought in her mind or important lines from books she read. She also wrote several letters to her friends, and these letters were full of stories of her own political activities as well as reports of military activities in their area. In one such letter she wrote: “The Bengalis have increased provocative actions since March 11, 1996. They have been organizing marches and demonstrations. Since that date the Jumma people have been living in a state of ‘fleeing'”.

Kalpana not only took part in meetings and demonstrations, she also took the military head on. Around Boisabi festival in April 1996, barely two months before her fateful night, troops led by then Lt. Ferdous had burned down several houses belonging to Jumma people in the area. Few days after the incident Lt. Ferdous made an appearance in New Lalyaghona village and met Kalpana Chakma. During their conversation, she made a strong protest against the burning down of the houses of the innocent villagers and debated the rationale of their brutal repression of the Jumma people in the name of ‘counter-insurgency’. Apparently, Ferdous was unprepared for such an encounter. He might never have thought that a girl like Kalpana Chakma in a remote CHT hamlet would ever dare to argue with him. One often wonders if the army commander, who got used to treating Jumma people like anything but human being, felt offended by it and decided to take revenge and silence her forever.

Twenty years on, we still ask the same question: ‘Where is Kalpana?’ The government is doing next to nothing to find her out or to bring the perpetrators to justice. The inquiry reports are a scam. From the way the investigations were done (Abdul Jalil’s inquiry team never visited the place of occurrence and interviewed key witnesses including Kalpana Chakma’s mother Bandhuni Chakma, her sister-in-law Charubala Chakma and then Thana Nirbahi Officer who had written down Kalindi Kumar Chakma’s statement narrating the incident etc.), it can be safely said that their sole aim was to protect her abductors, not to identify them and bring them to justice.

If Lt. Ferdous, and the army for that matter, had thought that Kalpana Chakma would be silenced by making her ‘disappeared’, then they are wrong. Kalpana would not be silenced. She continues to live on to speak aloud against the Bangladesh army. In every protest marches, in every demonstration in the CHT, her name is heard. Every year, on 12 June, one voice resonates all over the CHT: ‘Where is Kalpana Chakma?’