An Account of Communal Attack in Mahalchari
Bangladesh army and Bengali settlers attack indigenous people in Mahalchari
On 26 August 2003, Muslim settlers with the support of Bangladesh army attacked the indigenous people of Mahalchari under Khagrachari District. As a result, more than 350 indigenous houses were burnt to ashes. Moreover 100 indigenous houses, 4 Buddhist temples, 1 UNICEF run primary school were destroyed. Lord Buddha's images were desecrated. 2 indigenous people including an eight‑month‑old child were murdered. 10 indigenous women were raped and more than 50 indigenous people were injured, 9 of them were serious.
On 24 August 2003, the armed members of UPDF (United Peoples Democratic Front) abducted a Bengali businessman named Rupan Mohajan (30) son of Bijoy Mohajan of Mahalchari bazaar and demanded a ransom of Taka 500,000 (five hundred thousand). On 25 August 2003 a group of Muslim settlers led by Ratan member and Usuf member of Mahalchari Union Council contacted and held a negotiation meeting with the UPDF to release Rupan Mohajan. As the negotiation failed to release Rupan Mohajan, the Muslim settlers whipped up communal tension and in the afternoon the Muslim settlers barricaded the Mahalchari Khagrachari road protesting the abduction. The Muslim settlers under the banner of Bangalee Samanway Parishad held a gathering at Mahalchari bazaar where provocative, communal and incendiary speeches were delivered by the Muslim settlers to attack the indigenous people. In that gathering they also made a threatening declaration that the civil administration, the Bangladesh army and the police were all on their side, so they had nothing to fear. They also declared that if Rupan Mohajan was not released the next day on 26 August 2003 by 7:00 am. they would stage a programme of bonfire against the indigenous people.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sui Nue Prue Chowdhury (an indigenous Marma), the Chairman of Sindukchari Union Council who came to Mahalchari bazaar on his motor bike to inquire about the abduction and road blockade. The Muslim settlers captured and detained him for whole night in the shop of Swapan Dokandar. He was severely tortured by a group of frenzied Muslim settlers. The Muslim settlers also broke his motor bike. He was freed the next morning. The provocative, communal and incendiary speeches by the Muslim settlers at their gathering made the indigenous people of Mahalchari areas including Babupara very anxious. In the evening, a Muslim settler advised some indigenous acquaintances to be on their alert for possible attacks by the Muslim settlers. At that time, a passing Bangladesh army patrol gave out a threatening message to the indigenous people. The villagers passed that night with anxiety.
Modus Operandi of Bangladesh Army and Muslim Settlers
Since the morning of 26 August 2003, the Muslim settlers again began their same provocative, communal and incendiary speech against the indigenous people . The clock struck 8:00am. The indigenous people hardly anticipated that hell would break loose on them. They had a misconception that the civil administration and law enforcement agencies would hold back the wild and violent Muslim settlers.
It was a market day at Mahalchari bazaar. The indigenous people from different villages came to the bazaar, but they were prevented by the Muslim settlers from entering the bazaar. That was why they had to sell their vegetable and goods on a road at Babupara. They were again forbidden to sell their goods by the Muslim settlers and there was an exchange of hot words between them. Thereafter, the Muslim settlers chanted provocative slogans and brought out a violent and confrontational demonstration at around 9:00 am. The Muslim settlers began to beat the indigenous people in the bazaar and they went on a rampage against the indigenous shops. Then the Muslim settlers launched an attack on Babupara, a predonmantly indigenous inhabited locality. At this time, some UPDF gunmen opened fire on the attackers and four Muslim settlers were injured.
Thereupon the demonstrators shouted for other Muslim settlers to join them in the brutal attack against the indigenous people and with an ill motive spread a rumour that the indigenous people were setting fire on Muslim settlers' houses and killing the Muslim settlers. This rumour made the Muslim settlers more and more violent and agitated. They came running in droves along with the Bangladesh army personnel to join the brutal attack against the indigenous people. At that time, Mr. Binod Bihari Khisha was in his shop. He was dragged out from his shop. The Bangladesh army personnel struck him with the stock of a gun and the Muslim settlers hit him with sticks. He was beaten to death on the spot.
Simultaneously hundreds of Muslim settler under the protection of Bangladesh army equipped with machetes, swords, spears and sticks pounced upon the indigenous villages, took away valuables and finally set fire on indigenous houses. They also snatched away jewelleries from the indigenous women. First the Muslim settlers attacked Babupara and Sawmillpara. Then the Muslim settlers with direct participation of Bangladesh army carried out their attack on at least 12 indigenous villages. In this incident more than 350 houses were burnt down and valuables belonging to more than 100 houses were plundered and destroyed.
The Bangladesh army of 21st Eeast Bengal Regiment threatened the indigenous people with death if they tried to resist the Muslim settlers. The Bangladesh army supplied petrol and kerosene to the Muslim settlers to facilitate the arson. In certain cases, the army personnel themselves kicked, boxed and tortured the indigenous people then they handed them over to the Muslim settlers for their final physical abuse. Bangladesh army personnel of 21st East Bengal Regiment and the Muslim settlers attacked the indigenous villages namely Paharthali, Bhuatek, Durpujyanal, Kerengyanal, Hemanta, Thalipara, Rameshupara and Chongrachari Mukh. In all these villages the arson, rape and robbery took place under the very nose of the Bangladesh arrmy, police and civil administration. It was learnt that one settler named Tapas Chowdhury, owner of a Petrol Pump (Gas station) supplied petrol and kerosene in lavish style to the Muslim settlers for setting fire on indigenous houses.
In the afternoon of 26 August 2003, Mr. Abdul Wadud Bhuiyan, Member of Parliament and Muslim leader, Mr Humayun Kabir Khan, Deputy Commissioner of Khagrachari district and Mr. Motiur Rahman Sheikh, Superintendent of Police of Khagrachari district went to the spot for inspection. It is very surprising that there was no attack by the Muslim settlers on the villages of Lemuchari and Nuapara untill their arrival at Mahalchari. During their very presence at Mahalchari hundreds of Muslim settlers started their attack on Lemuchari and Nuapara. Mr. Abdul Wadud Bhuiyan, on his way to Mahalchari held a discussion with the Muslim settlers at Maischari bazaar during which he secretly instructed them to launch attack on Lemuchari and Nuapara villages. The victims confided that the Muslim settlers with the participation of Bangladesh army attacked Kerengyanal, Durpujyanal etc. On that day the Muslim settlers along with the Bangladesh army went to the said villages by motor boat and carried out series of attacks. Right after the army reached the villages, they opened fire to scare the villagers away and then the Muslim settlers started plundering all the valuables and burned the houses.
"First, the army personnel opened covering gunfire and thereafter the Muslim settlers launched attack, this is the Modus Operandi". Ms. Sonali Chakma one of the victims told Dr. Pratul Chandra Khisha. She told Dr. Khisha that they had taken shelter at Kengelchari Buddhist Temple where the Bangladesh army surrounded them. The army personnel tracked down the indigenous people and then the Muslim settlers attacked them with sharp machetes, swords, spears and sticks. Minati Khisha wife of Nilachan Khisha of Kerengyanal village stated that the women of her village while fleeing by a boat were surrounded and beaten by the Bangladesh army personnel. Moreover Kabita Chakma, Sabita Chakma, Pintu Chakma, Koel Chakma and some other village folks were forcibly thrown into the Chengi river by them.
Ms. Jena Chakma, daughter of Priyadarshi Chakma of village Sawmillpara stated that her old and infirm grand parents could not flee. She feared her grand parents had been killed and she had seen herself their home was set on fire by the Muslim settlers. 93 years old Mr. Jayanta Chakma of Sawmillpara village stated that this attack was nothing but the continuation of land grabbing spree of the Muslim settlers and the government had always been assisting the Muslim settlers. "This incident was supported by the military", his wife Kanakka Lata Chakma said. Ms. Nirupa Khisha wife of Mr. Pratul Chandra Khisha said, "while going to the temple I have seen the Muslim settlers burning houses after they had taken away all the valuables". She also told that Polashi Khisha wife of Sajib Khisha had given birth to premature twin while fleeing in panic.
Condemnation and Reaction
Even after the CHT Accord the indigenous people of the CHT are stunned at the brutality and magnitude of the atrocity. Many organizations including Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), Chittagong Hill Tracts Jumma Refugee Welfare Association, Parbatya Chattagram Mohila Samiti, Hill Women's Federation (HWF), Hill Students' Council (PCP) have immediately protested and condemned this heinous and barbaric attack. The PCJSS declared that this incident was perpetrated to keep the political instability going on, to grab the indigenous people's land and to destroy communal harmony. The PCJSS also demanded the government to resist the terrorist activities and ban the UPDF, compensation to the victims and arrest and exemplary punishment of the perpetrators of the crime.
The PCP, the HWF and the PCJSS brought out a protest rally in Khagrachari, Rangamati, Bandarban and Chittagong against unprovoked and unilateral atrocity on the indigenous people. The PCJSS submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh on 1 September 2003 with the following demands:
On that day, the Parbatya, Bhikkhu Sangha (Hill Tracts Buddhist Monk Association) organized a silent procession at Khagrachari protesting against the communal attack. They submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister through the Deputy Commissioner of Khagrachari district demanding judicial inquiry, re‑construction of destroyed Buddhist temples, ensuring security of life and property, exemplary punishment to culprits and compensation for affected villagers etc.
It is mentionable that the UPDF also organized protest rally and road blockade from 30 August to 1 September 2003 in Khagrachari district. But almost all the people in Khagrachari strongly condemned the imprudent activities of the UPDF. Particularly series of abduction and terrorist activities by the UPDF are providing a golden opportunity for the Muslim settlers as well as the Bangladesh Army to swoop upon the innocent indigenous people of the CHT. Moreover, the road blockade declared by the UPDF had created a problem in sending relief materials to the affected villagers in time and it had aggravated the situation further
Arrest and lawsuits by the Bangladesh Army, Police and Civil Administration
Soon after the atrocity, the Bangladesh army put all blame on the indigenous people. Bangladesh army arrested 7 indigenous youths including Ronald Chakma (17) and Suman Marma (22) who were seriously injured by the Muslim settlers. Under tremendous pressure from the public, the Bangladesh Army and Police had to arrest 47 Muslim settlers. But the victims dismissed it as an window dressing since the communal attack was made with the active participation of the Bangladesh army and police.
After having committed atrocities, the Muslim settlers lodged a criminal lawsuits against the indigenous people on 27 August 2003. A Muslim settler Mohamed Abul Kasem, son of Ashraf Mian filed lawsuits against 17 indigenous people. Soon after the abduction of Rupan Mohajan, his father Bijoy Krishna Mohajan lodged a lawsuit against 15 indigenous people on 26 August 2003.
In connection with Babupara incident, Mr. Hafizur Rahman, Officer‑in-Charge (OC) of Mahalchari Police station filed lawsuits against 5 thousand unnamed persons on 27 August 2003. In connection with Lemuchari incident he again filed lawsuits against some 2 thousand unnamed persons on 28 August 2003. Since no name was mentioned clearly in the cases whether the accused persons were Muslim settlers or indigenous people, the affected indigenous villagers had every reason to fear that the police might harass them only at an opportune moment in connection with these cases instead of the Muslim settlers.
On 1 September 2003 Kishalay Chakma son of Kali Ratan Chakma of Lemuchari village filed lawsuits against 44 Muslim settlers in connection with the communal atrocities including arson, robbery and destruction of property. But none of the accused had been arrested so far.
On 1 September 2003 a special law and order meeting was arranged by the Deputy Commissioner of Khagrachari. A representative of the UPDF which was responsible for the abduction of Mr. Rupan Mohajan was invited to that meeting. There was a strong reaction to the invitation of the representative of the UPDF and as such the PCJSS and the CHTRC representatives protested and boycotted that meeting. In that meeting an attempt was made to form a Peace Committee consisting of indigenous people and Muslim settlers. But it was a failure because of lack of decision. However, another Law and Order Monitoring Committee consisting of 21 member and headed by Additional Deputy Commissioner (General) was formed. Mr. Raktatpal Tripura, Councillor of CHT Regional Couricil was made a member in that committee without his knowledge and consent. That committee was formed mainly to divert and cover up the communal atrocities by the Muslim settlers upon the indigenous people and to exterminate the indigenous people from their ancestral homeland.
Background of the Incident
On 24 August 2003 an armed band of the UPDF abducted Rupan Mohajan, a Bengali trader of Mahalchari Bazaar, from the Singinala Football Field. Because of a long nexus and good understanding between a quarter of the Bangladesh Army and the UPDF, the Bangladesh Army and the Civil Administration took no step for the immediate release of Rupan Mohajan. Instead they instigated the Muslim settlers to launch a communal attack against the indigenous people.
It is also mentionable that since the signing of the Peace Accord in 1997 a vested interest group within the Bangladesh government had been aiding and abetting the Muslim settlers for the cominunal attack against the indigenous people to serve their interest. Bangladesh army had been assisting the UPDF to carry out its terrorist activities such as extortion, abduction, killing etc. If the law and order situation of the CHT remains unstable, the Bangladesh army can justify its presence in the CHT and undermine the Peace Accord. The core causes of this atrocity according to the observers are as following-
Once again it is proved that lasting peace and democratic governance can never be achieved in the CHT until and unless the Bangladesh army is withdrawn to their barracks and the Muslim settlers are withdrawn from the CHT to their original home districts (plains of Bangladesh). On numerous occasions it has already been seen that any trivial incident between an indigenous and a Muslim settler is turned into an unbridled violence and major communal riot by the Bangladesh Army and the Muslim settlers. Therefore proper implementation of the CHT Accord including withdrawal of the Bangladesh army rule in the CHT in the name of Operation Uttaran, withdrawal of all temporary camps of armed forces according to the Accord and rehabilitation of the Muslim settlers in their original home districts (plains of Bangladesh) outside the CHT is a must for the permanent solution to the CHT issues and lasting peace in the region.
Relief and Rehabilitation for the affected people
All the victims of this atrocity are the indigenous people who have been leading a sub‑human existence under the open sky. The situation has further deteriorated with the outbreak of diarrhoea, malaria and so on. Many of the victims had sought refuge with their kith and kin in Rangamati and Khagrachari district and nearby villages. The remaining are leading a desperate existence in the neighbouring jungles and bushes.
Some organisations namely, CHT Regional Council, PCJSS, CHT Returnee Jumma Refugees Welfare Association, Marma Unnayan Sangsad, Tripura Kalyan Sangsad, Marma Oikya Sangathan, Parbatya Bhikkhu Sangha, Bangladesh Red Crescent Society etc. and local administration had provided some relief materials, such as, food grain, utensils, clothes, medicine etc. to the affected families. It is learnt that Deputy Commissioner of Khagrachari district received Taka 400,000 and 120 metric tonnes of food grain from national government and distributed it to the affected families. But these relief programme were quite inadequate compared to the need.The office of the Prime Minister granted a cash of Taka 3 millions for the rehabilitation of the affected families. The grant would be channelled through the Bangladesh army authority. The affected families decided not to accept relief from the Bangladesh army in protest against army's active participation in the communal atrocities.
Indigenous people killed by Muslim settlers and Bangladesh army
Indigenous women raped by Muslim settlers and Bangladesh army
Critically injured indigenous people
Desecration and Destruction Buddhist Temples
Bengali Muslim settlers who led the attack
Sources:PCJSS (Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti)
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