Another One Bites the Dust: The Curious Case of Kalpana Chakma’s Eternal Disappearance

“We got such a kind of order from the court after 28 years of abduction, which is unfortunate,” lamented Kalindi Kumar Chakma, the brother of Kalpana Chakma, a prominent woman leader from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). This sentiment echoes the profound frustration and pain felt by many who have followed the tragic disappearance of Kalpana Chakma since 1996.

The recent dismissal of the case by a Rangamati court, accepting a police final report that cleared all suspects, including army’s Lieutenant Ferdous Kaisar Khan, has reignited concerns over women’s and human rights in the CHT region. Kalpana Chakma, a vocal advocate against the military presence in CHT and supporter of the autonomy-oriented movement Jana Sanghati Samity (JSS), disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and her case remains unsolved after 28 years.

Despite at least 39 officers investigating the case, no conclusive evidence has been found to identify the culprits behind her abduction. The judicial inquiry reports were never made public, and the investigations have been marred by delays, procedural violations, and alleged intentional omissions of key suspects from the original first information report.

“Kalpana’s struggle was more important than many other contemporary indigenous activists because she came from a remote village,” highlighted Dipayan Khisha, a member of JSS and Adivasi Forum. Kalpana’s disappearance has not only left a void in the leadership of indigenous women in CHT but has also become a symbol of the ongoing challenges faced by indigenous communities in the region.

The dismissal of Kalpana’s case raises serious questions about the culture of impunity prevailing in CHT, where cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances are not uncommon. The government’s submission to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances acknowledges the grim reality of human rights violations in the region.

Sultana Kamal, a rights activist, aptly stated, “Kalpana was abducted because of the prevailing culture of impunity.” Her abduction highlights the vulnerability of indigenous women and the need for greater protection and security measures in the hills.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, signed a year after Kalpana’s disappearance, aimed to bring peace and autonomy to the region. However, the accord’s full implementation remains elusive, with indigenous communities continuing to face challenges related to land rights, security, and cultural preservation.

The dismissal of Kalpana’s case underscores the importance of addressing the underlying issues affecting women’s and human rights in CHT. It is crucial to ensure that justice is not only done but is also seen to be done. The institutional impunity that civil and military administrations enjoy in CHT must be addressed to restore trust in the justice system.

The case has garnered international attention, with rights organisations and activists calling for a high-profile investigation and prosecution of the abductors. The international community plays a crucial role in holding governments accountable for human rights violations and must continue to support efforts to resolve Kalpana’s case and ensure justice for her and her family.

Kalpana Chakma’s abduction case serves as a stark reminder of the challenges faced by indigenous women in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. It highlights the urgent need for comprehensive reforms to address women’s and human rights issues in the region. As we reflect on the 28 years since Kalpana’s disappearance, let us renew our commitment to advocating for justice, equality, and respect for the rights of all, especially the most vulnerable among us.

Source: The New Age l The Daily Star l

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