Inquiry Report of Citizens’ Committee on Matiranga-Taindong Communal Attack upon Jumma villages by Bengali settlers

Citizens Committee for Humanitarian Support for Matiranga Indigenous Victims 2013

Press Conference
After spot-investigation of the affected indigenous areas in Taindong

Date: 31 August 2013, Time: 11:00 am
Venue: Sagar-Runi Auditorium, Dhaka Reporters’ Unity, Segunbagicha, Dhaka

Taindong, Matiranga, Khagrachhari. People of Baga Para, Sarbeshwar Para, Manudas Para and many other indigenous habitats used to make their hard-earned living mainly through agriculture in the green valleys of Taindong. But the green is no more unsullied; it has been blood-stained. The sprightly locality has become overcast with gloom, sorrow and apprehension. The habitats are no more the buyers and sellers in the marketplace; they are not any students of any school. They don’t have the foothold on the ground. They don’t have a roof overhead. The fear of being attacked again is chasing after them. They are living an uncertain and unprotected life. This is their life. The reason is nothing but an arson attack including setting the homes and belongings ablaze after looting all the valuables by the people of the different ethnicity and culture, which you may already be aware of. We came to know about the details of the event upon conducting a spot-investigation. A number of issues have come out to our senses in the interviews we had with the indigenous people, Bangalees, Settler Bangalees and local administration, which we are presenting to you.

Dear Friends in the Media

A mob of Bangalee settlers launched a communal attack on the indigenous inhabitants of thirteen villages in Taindong at 3:00 pm on 3 August 2013. It was originated based on the usual rumour and false propagation that a Bangalee settler named Kamal Hossain had been kidnapped by some indigenous youths. Upon this false claim, the unruly settler broke into mobs with communal slogans on their lips and attacked the indigenous villages with dangerous weapons. They set as many as thirty-four houses ablaze, totally vandalised and looted 259 families. Another 902 families suffered loss in different forms while escaping from the rage of the settler mobs. The attackers also rampaged the Janaseba Buddhist Temple and looted the Buddha’s valuable statue and the stole the money from the donation boxes. The miscreants damaged a number of statues of Lord Buddha. Even three education centres aided by UNICEF were not spared from attack and looting.

Almost 3,000 persons from 12 villages took refuge at the no man’s land beside the Indian border, nearby Panchhari upazilla and in the adjacent forests. After the incident, the government and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) gave assurance on the lives and property of the victims, upon which they came back to their own respective villages. The initiatives, which are not in the list of top priorities, for their emergency relief and rehabilitation are way less than adequate. Though few families received an amount of Tk 16,500 in two instalments, some corrugated iron sheet, 20 kilos of rice and tarpaulin, most of the victims are living under open sky, exposing themselves to different types of sufferings including starvation and ailments. Ashamoni Chakma, an infant girl of two months, died of pneumonia caused by the incessant rainfall of the monsoon. It is worth mentioning here that the police station did not accept any of the incidences as litigation. Rather the incidences have been recorded as general diaries (GD) with the intent to shift the focus.

Dear Journalists

The police station has only received the litigation regarding setting fire and looting. According to the concerned Police administration, they have so far arrested 12 Bangalees who were allegedly involved in this massacre. An investigation committee has also been formed. The most interesting part is that the motorcyclist Kamal Hossain, whose name was used in the rumour of kidnapping, has also been arrested by the Police. He has confessed at the Court in his statement under the Article 164 that the rumour was spread as a part of the pre-plotted conspiracy to attack on the indigenous people. We came to know in our investigation that the attackers kept spreading communal animosity and rage at Taindong Bazaar from 29 July till the day-before the attack. A good number of indigenous people took shelter near the Indian border on 31 July when a settler procession advanced towards the village. The actual attack broke on 3 August. The role of local BGB during the commotion appeared questionable to the investigating team. The victims told the team that on the day of attack when the indigenous people came to a place known as Crossing in response to a BGB invitation for settlement of disputes, the settler Bangalees started beating them in presence of the BGB, accusing the indigenous people for the false kidnapping of Kamal Hossain. The BGB members did not play their due role at that time, the victims told the team.

Dear Journalists

Incidences of attack on indigenous people in the hill are not sporadic. Many a time they received promises for safety and compensation. All went in vain. In 1981, a group of Bangalee settlers attacked a Tripura village in the same area. There is an allegation of mass killing in the Rambabu Deba village in 1986. The indigenous people had to cross the border during that period and live the refugee life years after years. The memories of the life of the refugee camp are still alive in their hearts like a fresh wound. Two old men of above-seventy stated their touching experience to the team that they had to face their houses being burnt into ashes for three times after 1971. Promises made, the 20-point treaty with the returnees from India and the CHT Accord signed in 1997… nothing could stop such violence. The peace and security have been seized away from the lives of indigenous people. They are living like refugees on their own land. These poor folks feel like being prisoners. While 90 per cent of land in Matiranga has been dispossessed after the incidences of 1981 and 1986, there are 24 cluster villages for Bangalee settlers. There are 41,000 Bangalee voters in Matiranga while the number is only 26,000 of indigenous people.

Dear Journalists

The decreasing ratio of indigenous people in Matiranga is alarming. It is evident that the reason behind such attacks on indigenous people is to possess the remaining 10 per cent land. Their whole intention is to evict the indigenous people and take possession of their land, which will be a gross violation of human rights.

Dear Fellow Journalists

We are narrating our observations and findings as follows:

1. The image of Bangladesh to the international community gets a dent every time the indigenous people take refuge in the neighbouring country as a result of communal attack. Moreover, stealing and damaging the Buddha’s statues put dark spots on the long-cherished glory of having communal harmony.

2. Living in the same country, the indigenous people are being subject to such attacks and vulnerable to security, as a result of which they are living in this country in a traumatic situation only because of diversity in ethnicity and culture, which totally goes against the core spirit of the Constitution of Bangladesh.

3. Regardless of the place and time, since the incidences are identical in terms of grabbing the land of the indigenous people through attack on and eviction of them, taking immediate and wholehearted administrative actions were imperative. Timely administrative actions either couldn’t be or were not taken. So this massacre was obvious. The most important point to mention here is that the attackers used the loudspeaker of the mosques to unite before attack. They also held pre-attack meetings at the mosques. It is our observation that using the coverage of religion for such action goes way beyond any political norm or practice. So, in such cases, the …of the power-centric political parties works in a grave way and the real culprits remain behind the veil.

4. The indigenous people cannot take their produces to the marketplace in fear of assault on the way. The small kids cannot go to school in absence of security. The fright has taken a deep root in the mind of the indigenous people. They are apprehensive about being extinct in few years’ time, which in no way is good for the state, as it is not a positive sign in the parameter of civilisation.

5. The local people have clearly stated that Mr. Abdul Aziz Master, teacher of Tanokkapara Govt Primary & High School and Mr. Muktar Hossain, head master of Saheb Sardarpara High School, have led the Taindong attack. It becomes a grave concern for the society when respectable teachers get involved in such disgraceful acts.

6. A peace assembly was organised by the local administration. But the interesting fact is that the venue was a Madrasa. And most of the indigenous people did not attend the programme. It is important to consider the mind-set of the persons in charge of the administration of the hills. While exchanging views with the district and police administration of Khagrachhari, the team has noticed the predisposition of the senior members to indicate the reason behind the attack to be alleged toll collection.

7. The observation of the team suggests that the main reason behind the arson attack was to grab the land of the indigenous people; not the so-called toll collection and kidnapping drama. If the so-called toll collection is taken into consideration as indicated by the administration, the question that still remains is: who would bear the responsibility to take legal actions against toll collectors? It appeared to us that such negative mentality of the responsible persons in the administration towards indigenous people is a big barrier to restore a fair and legitimate administration in the hills.

With a view to safeguarding the life and living of the indigenous people living in Chittagong Hill Tracts, we are making the following recommendations:

a. Rehabilitate all the victim families in Taindong with appropriate compensation and rebuilding their homes.
b. Bring all the conspirators, instigators and direct participants in the attack under punitive measures on the basis of the findings that may come out of a judicial investigation committee which has not yet been formed.
c. Rebuild all the Buddhist monasteries, re-establish all the statues of Buddha and restore security of the monks.
d. Strengthen internal coordination of local security administration by activating Police Force and also engage a combined police force consisting both Bangalee and indigenous members in the hills.
e. Above all, amend the Land Dispute Settlement Commission Act 2001 in the light of the CHT Peace Accord before the end of tenure of the present parliament. Take visible steps in order to implement the Peace accord.

Dear Journalists

We are announcing in the following section the next programmes of the Committee for implementation of the recommendations made above:

1. Meeting with the Parliamentary Standing Committee for CHT Affairs
2. Meeting with concerned officials of the Home Ministry, Education Ministry and CHT Affairs Ministry
3. Fund raising to assist the victims of the indigenous communities
4. Organising a demonstration programme involving citizens from all walks of life in Dhaka

We would thank you all once again for responding to our call.

Citizens Committee for Humanitarian Support for Matiranga Indigenous Victims 2013

Secretarial contact:
IED Office, 13/14 Babar Road (2nd Floor), Block B, Mohammadpur, Dhaka 1207