05/10/2006, 00.00
BANGLADESH
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Bengalis loot and destroy two indigenous villages in the Chittagong Hills tracts

by Nozrul Islam

In the Chittagong hills, Bengali thugs continue to terrorise indigenous communities, victims of murder, rape, land seizure, and a justice system unwilling to do its job.

Chittagong (AsiaNews) – One dead, four young women raped, 45 people wounded, several houses looted, and a destroyed youth hostel, is the tragic price imposed on two indigenous villages, Saupru Karbari and Noapara, in the Maischari cluster (Khagrachari district), by a gang of Bengali thugs who are depriving locals of everything, starting with the land that they made fertile "struggling against heat, rain and forest tigers". The criminal gang did not spare even a Buddhist hostel for poor children; it was heavily damaged.

The events in question date back a month. Reports about what happened appeared in some papers for a couple of days, but nothing more thereafter. This is typical of stories involving violence against indigenous peoples. As it is wont to do, the police failed to protect the victims. What is worse, as a journalist confirmed to AsiaNews, the police refused to hear the rape complaints altogether.

What happened?

The recent crisis began when a group of 50 Bengali settlers entered the eight-acre property of Ammesu Moghini, 45, on the morning of April 2 in order to cut down trees to build houses for themselves. Mr Ammesu tried to stop them but the men sent their women armed with sickles, hoes and sticks to chase him away. A few Bengali youths present at the scene stood by watching the attack before stopping the women and leaving. This points to certain premeditation in the attack.

The next day tens of youth came to Ammesu's home and started throwing stones against it. When he went out with his daughters Krojaima Marma, 15, and Tuimrashang Marma, 16, to stop the young men and ask for explanations, he was threatened.

"Leave this place; otherwise we'll kill you," some of the men shouted. Others, after entering the house and ransacking it, dragged the two teenage girls away taking them to the house of an accomplice named Hasina. Here Ammesu's daughters were tortured, beaten, stripped, gang raped, left unconscious and robbed of their neck chain and earrings.

When the girls' mother went looking for them, she, too, was abducted, tied, beaten, robbed like her daughters and left unconscious. As if the family did not have enough troubles, the woman's elder sister, 49-year-old Abaikroin Moghini, who heard her cries as she was going to the nearby pagoda, went looking for her. Her attempts to untie her sister came to naught because the Bengali thugs came back again and hit her repeatedly.

The same fate befell Sumona Mahatero, a courageous Buddhist monk, founder and manager of a hostel for poor children, who rushed to the site of the assault. As he tried to untie the women, he was taken by the throat, beaten and dragged into the street.

For Mahatero, he was the thugs' real target. His fault was that he had tried to stand up against those who victimised locals and instead tried to improve their lives. Because of him, outside thugs have not been able to seize the land they want.

The thugs also went on a rampage in the villages of Saupru Karbari and Noapara as well as the Buddhist hostel. They seriously wounded many local, defenceless indigenous residents, killing one. Many of the victims suffered deep cuts to the head. Mahatero's hostel was not spared the thugs' fury. In just one day, the work of a lifetime was gone; the place where 70 boys and girls lived and studied was a shell of what it was.

Without any outside help, using bamboo and wood, the monk had built a temple, a school, a hostel and a kitchen. He provided books to read and write, pens, chairs, tables and blackboards for the pupils. He was even able to get a colour TV for their entertainment.

No justice for the victims

People with broken arms and legs, head wounds and back injuries ended up in hospital. But even here they did not fare well. There received inadequate medical care and insufficient treatment. Many patients, fearing for the life, fled.

On top of all this, charges were laid against indigenous people, distorting the facts, putting the blame for the incidents on the victims themselves.

Police so far has refused to accept the rape charges made by the four women. It also failed to have the women undergo a medical check to verify their claims. The women were also not offered any medical treatment. Pretexts have delayed proceedings.

As far as it can be ascertained, no commission of inquiry has been set up. The Bengali thugs were arrested but then released one by one. Similarly, the government has not compensated the victims in any shape or form.

The villages that were attacked and neighbouring villages now live in fear. Families that fled have still not gone home for lack of security. Pupils attending the hostel have also not returned and it is doubtful whether they ever will. Currently, some 201 indigenous families have been left homeless and are sheltering in a state school. Others have had to live in the open. But even there they are harassed by the police which wants to chase them away.

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