Is Michael Chakma still alive? We need an answer

Published on Thursday, June 27, 2019

In a functional democracy, where basic human rights such as holding a political opinion were more than just lip service, the disappearance of a frontline defender of the ethnic people of the Hill would have generated a political shock wave, drastic action, and even solidarity.

But in Bangladesh, after months of the incident, all we have received from those who are responsible for upholding democratic principles and rule of law is a large-scale silence.

The problem writing a commentary on this matter is that, so far, it has been impossible to get a confirmation or an independent report that pinpoints the perpetrators (and it is wise not to make presumptions based on conflicting information).

But, oppression, all over the world, has an identical characteristic, that is, it pillages and curtails voices in a bid to control which and whose stories to be heard.

This might have a significance in this case as Michael Chakma is known as one of the most prominent frontline defenders of the right to live in the land that is central to the survival of the ethnic people of the hill and their culture.

Every nation has a past, which often can be quite dark. Our nation is no exception.

The glorious aspects of our history of which we're extremely proud of are undeniable. Yet at the same time as we venerate the heroism of our freedom fighters, bravery of our soldiers in keeping world peace, our fight to democracy, achievements of our hardworking men and women of the garment industry, and triumph of our cricket team we must also acknowledge how shamefully we have treated our ethnic citizens of the hill.

Because nation building is always a work in progress and the first step in resolving a conflict is to address the gravity of the problem.

All Bangladeshis have suffered during the dark days of dictatorship that lasted over a long fifteen years, but no suffering was as close as the sufferings of the Jumma people of the hill.

Just imagine, that your livelihood depended on the land where you're standing right now, and suddenly one day without any consolidation you were forcefully evicted, let alone the torture and humiliation. How would you feel?

Twenty-eight years since the foundation of the democratic ruling and over twenty years since the signing of the CHT peace accord the situation has not changed even in the slightest for those victims.

And because of decades-long anguish caused by oppression and exclusion the situation in the hill today has become so messy that in recent days we have witnessed a large number of women taking on the streets, stone-pelting. This is unprecedented and not a good sign at all.

The problem Bangladesh faces today in CHT is a social crisis that demands extraordinary care and a carefully designed detailed political response, but instead, the policy our government has adopted is to through the men of our armed forces at the forefront of the crisis.

There is no visible approach that indicates that the civil government is engaging with either the people or the political representation of the CHT at any level to find an effective long-term solution.

The political class cannot place this burden of conflict resolution to the army.

Firstly, because it's not their job. Their job is to maintain peace for a limited amount of time.

Secondly, such conflicts and the unexpected events that accompany it jeopardies the reputation of a humanitarian defence force our army has earned through bloody sacrifices and hard work of our brave soldiers in the conflict zones around the world, keeping the peace.

The ingrained oppression and deprivation the ethnic people all around Bangladesh are facing today is a matter of a national shame and Bangladesh has a statutory obligation of resolving them which requires active political participation and constant dialogue with people, especially with those who have suffered and those who are fighting for the rights they are entitled to as equal citizens of the country.

If we believe that nation building is always a work in progress, then we must also believe, defenders of rights such as Michael Chakma are the part and parcel of that building mechanism. It is the hard work of their kind that makes a great nation even greater.

This is timely for us to publicly accept the monstrous mistakes of the past for us to unite, to heal, and to reconcile. 

Right now we must put maximum effort, at least, to know what actually had happened to Michael Chakma. Is he still alive or he as well like many others before him become a victim of state-sanctioned killings?  

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