Wahida Zaman Shithi and Priyanka Kundu, UNB Staff Writers
Sexual violence against ethnic minority women is used as one of the main tools to force the people living in hills to migrate elsewhere leaving their ancestral lands, say experts and human right activists.
Pallab Chakma, Executive Director of Kapaeeng Foundation (KF), a human rights organisation working for promoting and protecting rights of the ethnic minorities in Bangladesh, told UNB that ‘indigenous’ people are being evicted from their ancestral lands which is being grabbed by other communities in the hill tracts, creating insecurity among them.
Continuous threats from influential quarters and local political leaders also lead to insecurity among the communities, he said.
Describing rape as one of the main reasons behind the migration of the ethnic minorities, Pallab said, “When threats don’t work, they resort to rape and sexual harassment to create fear among the indigenous people.”
As per Kapaeeng Foundation’s information gathered based on media reporters, a total of 32 ethnic minority women and girls fell victim to sexual violence in the last seven months this year.
Of them, 11 were raped, four killed after rape, two fell victim to gang-rape, rape attempts were made on nine and six sexually harassed, according to the organisation.
The report of another study, “State of Indigenous Women and Girls in Bangladesh: Issues and Concerns at a Glance”, published in October 2016 by Kapaeeng Foundation, Bangladesh Indigenous Women's Network (BIWN) and International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) stated that there were at least 466 reported incidents of violence against ‘indigenous’ women and girls in Bangladesh from January 2007 to September 2016.
Impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators plays a crucial role in the alarming trend of violence experienced by ‘indigenous’ women and girls, the study said.
A study report commissioned by the CHT Commission reveals that not a single conviction had taken place out of 215 cases occurred in the CHT documented by them, claimed the report.
Prof Robaet Ferdous of Mass Communication and Journalism department at Dhaka University thinks this kind of violence is a tool against the ‘indigenous’ communities to force them to migrate elsewhere after creating insecurity among them.
He told UNB that insecurity among the ‘indigenous’ people is created in four ways- attacking their houses, attacking their income sources, attacking their worship places and harassing the women sexually.
Sexual violence and harassment create fear among the people of the hill communities and at one point they feel forced to migrate elsewhere for the sake of their security and dignity, Prof Robaet added.
“Indigenous women are now insecure in their own country,” Chakma Queen Yan Yan, also an advisor of Chakma Circle, told UNB.
She claimed that lack of justice eventually legitimates sexual violence against these ‘indigenous’ women. “When victims don’t get justice, the harassment turns into a regular practice and gradually becomes a norm in the society,” she said.
Meanwhile, focusing on the root causes of migration, trans-border movement and displacement, United Nations this year declared “Indigenous peoples’ migration and movement” as the theme of International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, observed on August 9.
According to Kapaeeng Foundation’s Human Rights Report on Indigenous People on Bangladesh 2017, a total of 48 cases of violence against ethnic minority women were recorded in the year.
Of them, 20 were reported from the plain land while 28 from the CHT.
About 56 ethnic minority women were assaulted sexually or physically. Of them, at least 12 were raped, rape attempts were made on nine and nine either killed or murdered after rape, said the report.
Among other incidents recorded, four were gang-raped, eight kidnapped and two women sexually harassed.
Of the 75 alleged offenders, 65 were from the Bengali community while four from ethnic minority communities, according to the report.
It said the age of the victims ranged from 3 to 55 years.
Another report by the foundation claimed that over 500 ‘indigenous’ families from remote rural localities of Alikadam, Thanchi, Naikkhonchhari and Lama upazilas of Bandarban migrated to Arakan (Rakhine State) of Myanmar in the last 4-5 years giving in to pressure from influential sections, for lack of security, deprivation of potential services, shrinking of arable land.
It is also learnt that a few Tripura families found their path along with the migrants, claimed the report.
Although around 20 years have elapsed since the signing of the CHT Peace Accord with an aim to resolve the crisis in the hills, its core issues are yet to be implemented, the report said.
To ensure the security and human rights of the ethnic minority communities, a neutral country has to be built to ensure equal rights of its every citizen regardless of their class, race, language, social status and religion, believe the human right activists, suggested the report.