Runpau Mro, whose photos with Alikadam Upazila Chairman Md Abul Kalam went viral on social media, yesterday clarified that she had no allegations to make against the chairman.
Responding to a query on whether Kalam had made non-consensual physical contact with her, she replied in the negative.
Runpau made the remarks at a press conference held at Kalam's residence yesterday afternoon, reports our Bandarban correspondent.
Her elder brother Men Rung Mro also said that their family had no allegations to make against the newly-elected chairman.
The press conference was held following uproar from a cross-section of people, including local indigenous community leaders and rights activists, against Kalam.
They termed Kalam's behaviour harassment and unacceptable. They also demanded his punishment.
Condemning the photos, Rani Yan Yan, adviser to the Chakma circle chief, on a Facebook post, said “[This is an] Example of a public representative accepting greetings.
“…No one dared to protest indecency, public sexual harassment of an indigenous woman by an upazila chairman.”
Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, said Kalam's conduct was “unacceptable and unpleasant.”
“Through such an incident…her society and culture were dishonoured. Respect should have been shown towards her,” Sanjeeb told this correspondent over phone.
The chairman should be summoned and warned by the higher authorities, he added.
The photos -- which showed Kalam apparently trying to forcefully hug the woman -- were taken during a public reception for him in the remote Miringchara area under the upazila.
Following criticism, Kalam later removed some of the photos.
Afterwards, he said, “I am sorry for my behaviour and I have already deleted the photos from my post.
“I will never do this”.
Runpau's brother Men Rung had earlier said their family considered the incident to be “normal” as Kalam was a public representative and had been elected upazila chairman on multiple occasions.
“My sister is a simple woman. She respects the chairman a lot,” Men Rung told this newspaper yesterday.
He also said his family members were embarrassed to see the way the photos were all over social media.
He denied that his sister, who is unmarried and aged about 20, or any other member of their family had any complaints against Kalam.
Kalam, who was elected as an independent candidate during the second phase of the countrywide upazila parishad elections on March 18, first posted the photos on his Facebook account.
He is a former leader of BNP's Alikadam unit.
Meanwhile, rights activist Khushi Kabir said as the man in question was an elected public representative, locals could raise questions about his behaviour.
Sexual harassment is an offense in the country and there is a court directive to this end, Khushi, coordinator of Nijera Kori, said.
She, however, said the woman who was the supposed victim should be heard out first.
Asked about Kalam's apologetic stance, she said, “Apology is not enough. Action should be taken in this regard.”
Earlier in the day, Sing Young Mro, a member of the Bandarban Hill District Council and a leader of the Mro community, said “We strongly condemn the harassment of a Mro woman of remote Miringchara area under Alikadom upazila by the local representative Abul Kalam.”