Bangladesh army gang raped Rita Chakma (13) on 19 December 1986 at Dighinala. In the early morning, about 20 Bangladesh army men from the Viswa Ram Karbari Para camp raided the indigenous Buddhist village of Nuaram Karbari Para. All the male inhabitants of the village were taken by force to cut the jungle surrounding the army camp. Bangladesh army encircled the village at 11:00 am and on the pretext of search entered the houses. Bangladesh army stripped and gang-raped all the women and the girls who were in their houses. Even the minors were not spared.
The Bangladeshi security personnel and Muslim settlers have been inflicting rape upon the indigenous women since the conflict started in the mid-1970s. Bangladesh military systematically uses rape as a deliberate tactic to destroy or damage the indigenous people. Women are targeted by the military for two objectives: as a member of the ‘enemy’ and as a female individual. By raping a woman, the oppressor does not just aim at hurting her. Personally, he takes what’s a woman’s private possession and at the same time, tramples and humiliates the identity of the indigenous Buddhist and Hindu people as a whole. Indigenous women are made pregnant by the Bangladesh military and Muslim settlers. Thus are forced to give birth to children of the enemy.
According to the Hill Women’s Federation (HWF), there have been 47 reported cases of rapes between January 1991 and June 1992, five in 1993, four in 1994 and twelve in 1995. The HWF maintains that there have been many more such instances, but due to social taboos and fear of reprisals, the victims or their families do not come forward with this kind of information.
The indigenous women are especially attractive and exotic to the Bangladeshi security forces and Muslim settlers. They move around more freely and are not bound by the same cultural and religious impositions that restrict the freedom of movement of Muslim women. These cultural differences combined with the military presence and the increasing domination of Bengali Muslim culture in the CHT have made the indigenous women more exposed to sexual attacks and harassment. The CHT Commission interviewed some rape victims in the refugee camps of Tripura, India. A woman told the CHT Commission:
“About 50 army personnel came in the night and rounded up the whole village and gathered us in one place. In the morning all the men were arrested. I was tied up hands and legs, naked. They raped me. There were three women there. They raped me in front of my father-in-law. After that we were tied up together, naked, facing each other. Then they left. Three other girls were raped in front of me. This happened in the month of Ashar (June/July) of 1985.”
Another refugee woman from Dighinala told in Tripura:
“In the early morning, 5 to 6 groups of soldiers encircled the village, and some entered the huts. They caught all men and brought them to the fields and tied them with rope. My husband had his teeth beaten out of him, all blood. My son ran to his father, and he was thrown to one side. The army ordered me to go into my hut and pointed guns at me. One grabbed me by the neck. My husband was near. My husband was almost beaten to death. I was raped by three soldiers in the room. After this I didn’t want to live anymore, but what am I to do? I am still suffering from it. My husband is still injured in the lungs and can’t work. I want to go back if there is peace, otherwise not. I want medical treatment as I am still suffering from rape. I am still afraid of Muslims. My ribs were broken, and my skin burns there. This happened in June 1986. I am still like mad, disturbed.”
A woman from Matiranga told what happened to her in April 1986:
“They (the army) surrounded the village early in the morning, we had not yet got up. Then they shouted to come out of the houses and concentrated all the people in one place. Then they started asking whether we had helped the SB (Shanti Bahini). All of us kept silent. …Then they started beating the men and the women. One girl was taken by three soldiers. I don’t know where she was taken. Then it was my turn. Two soldiers took me and subjected me to abuse. I was fully naked; they harassed me; they even poked me with a bayonet. I was left alone. I didn’t know what to do. Somehow I managed to cover my body with some cloth and went to the jungle and kept walking till I reached India.”
Life in the cluster villages is not safe, especially for women. Women in cluster villages are more vulnerable to rape by Bangladesh Army personnel and are often forced to spend the night with their rapist. A man in one of the refugee camps explained:
“I was forced to live in a cluster village. We had to come here because we have a teenage daughter and we were afraid that she would be raped by the army. …A woman neighbour was raped in 1989 after the cluster village was established. She then fled to India, together with 22 other families.”
Sometimes educated women are specifically targeted by the military. Recounting an army attack on her village, one woman who worked in a rubber plantation told the CHT Commission:
“The army raped some of the women, especially college students and women working in offices. Many girls were taken to the army camp. After this incident (1989), intellectuals of the village were arrested by the army so as to prevent them from taking shelter in India. …The girls who were taken away to the army camps were released after one week. In the camp the army raped them repeatedly.”
Forced marriage is one way in which women are used as an instrument to assimilate the indigenous people into Islamic Bangladeshi society and to alter the demographic profile in the area. Many indigenous women had been kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married. Indigenous women were murdered who refused to be converted and married. A woman who came to Tripura in July 1990 told the Commission:
“I was walking along the road to go to the fields with my six-year-old niece to plant some seeds. A man appeared before us, bound my mouth with a piece of cloth and took me away on his scooter. .I was kept for three months. I was forcibly converted to Islam and married.”
Bangladesh army and Muslim settlers use rape as a weapon against indigenous women in the CHT. Bangladesh army and Muslim settlers gang raped many indigenous women in front of their husbands, parents and children. Women live in continuous fear of rape. Women who have been raped may be rejected by their husbands or their families, or may not be able to get married. If they become pregnant, they have to conceal this fact and must try to have an abortion. If a child is born, it is impossible for the woman to stay in her community as the situation is not accepted, and she is ostracized. For these reasons, women who have been raped hesitate to talk about it at all because they are scared or worried about the social stigma. This makes it difficult to collect information on such a sensitive issue. The trauma of rape remains with these women form years, and many of them are still suffering from its repercussions years later.
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