Recently, two gang rapes took place – one in Delhi and the other in Rangamati. In the first case, a 23-year-old Delhi medical student was raped on a running bus on December 16 by six men and then was thrown off on the street. The victim later succumbed to her injuries and died in Singapore. In the second case, a Marma school-girl of class-eight was gang raped on December 21 in Rangamati. Three “Bengali settlers” raped the 14-year-old girl and then killed her. Both the incidents were quite symmetrical in its forms and consequences and thereby expected to trigger similar reaction and protests demanding commendable punishment of the perpetrators. However, shockingly it happened otherwise in the Rangamti case which unveils the unequal power-relations between the center and periphery as well as an ugly face of minority-majority politics prevalent in Bangladesh.
If we critically look at the forms and degree of demonstration taken place in reaction to these two cases, we would see quite a contrasting picture. In the Delhi case, activists, rights-workers, mass people of different professions, civil society representatives, NGO workers, politicians, general students of school, colleges and universities, various professional and occupational groups, in fact people from every corner of the society expressed their anger, grievances and exasperation. Print and electronic media came forward with sturdy criticism of state’s inability in protecting girls and women in India. The tide of protest was so forceful that Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president and chief of alliance government, with son Rahul Gandhi came out of the house and expressed solidarity with thousands of protestors. President Pranab Mukharjee complied with the emotion and anger of the demonstrators and expressed deep concern over the case. Prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh addressed the issue making official statement before the nation and admitted the rationalization of people’s protest. In fact, Dr. Manmohan was compelled to pledge to take every necessary measure to ensure safety of girls and women across India in the face of increasing protests.
However in Bangladesh, we saw a completely contrary picture. Only Pahari Chatra Parishad (PCP) and Hill Women’s Federation (HWF) staged a small scale local demonstration by bringing out a procession in Rangamati on December 23. Then Marma Students Council (MSC), some adivasi students of Chittagong University, some Pahari NGO workers and Pahari rights activists formed a human chain in Rangamati on December 25. On December 28, a human chain was formed in the capital which was again organized by the Pahari rights activists. This is the extent of protest to the heinous crime committed against the underaged Marma girl.
No human rights organizations or notable activists made any official and formal statement demanding punishment of the perpetrators. None from the so-called civil society came forward and stood in protest against this deplorable crime. No NGOs made any protesting statement. The media too was quite silent on the issue – no exclusive coverage, hardly any update, no talk show whatsoever.
The silence in Bangladesh unlike that in India brings out a few critical questions to light. Why did the Rangamati case meet the state’s reluctance, media’s negligence and inactive role of the activists? Is it because it took place in the periphery rather than the center? Is Rangamati not a part of Bangladesh? Aren’t the adivasi people citizens of the country? Aren’t they entitled to justice as much as the plain-land people do? While the Indian president, prime minister and other political bigwigs became vocal about the rape and pledged justice to the Delhi victim; in Rangamati not even a local Union Parishad member or a chairman bothered to visit the victim’s family let alone the bigwig lawmakers.
But why such apathy? The answer is simple yet a bitter one. The victim — an adivasi — unfortunately does not belong to the mainstream community in the nation-state of Bangladesh. This is indeed the politics of cultural differences. When the state is not even ready to admit that there are any indigenous or adivasi people in Bangladesh, how do we expect that the state would address the matter of an adivasi rape-case with as greater concern as with others! Whereas the state’s exclusionary politics historically pushed the Pahari adivasi to the margin of the society, how could we expect the state to play its due role to provide justice to the adivasi girl? Whereas the print and electronic media are busy spending most of their energy, merit and strength to cover political circus taken place every day in the center (capital), it hardly has time to pay attentions to the periphery.
Historical evidences in fact reveal that Pahari women of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) have regularly been tortured by Bengali settlers and security forces since the CHT was militarized by deploying forces in the late ‘70s and settler Bengalis were migrated to the region in the early ‘80s. Hardly any rape or murder case drew the state’s sincere and cordial attention and rarely any perpetrator was brought to book. Is it then wrong to assume that the state and state’s establishment have consciously chosen to play an arbitrary role towards oppression of the Pahari people?
Rahman Nasir Uddin is an associate professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Chittagong. He is currently a visiting professor (as Alexander Humboldt Fellow) at Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany.