Kalpana Chakma vanished into thin air | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 12, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:25 AM, June 12, 2018

Kalpana Chakma vanished into thin air

Justice eludes family for 22 years

Since the abduction of indigenous leader Kalpana Chakma in 1996, an independent judicial inquiry was conducted and at least 39 officers have investigated the case.

The judicial inquiry report was never made public. On the other hand, all the investigation officers have found is “initial proof” of her abduction. They could neither identify any culprits nor could they find the reason behind the incident.

In her early 20s, Kalpana was vocal against oppression, and gradually became a symbol of struggle and inspiration among the people of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). But she would soon disappear without leaving a trace although there were specific allegations about who might be behind her abduction.

In this circumstance, indigenous and rights activists have expressed frustration and called for a high-profile investigation and prosecution of the abductors.

Kalpana, organising secretary of Hill Women's Federation (HWF), was abducted from her home at remote Niulalaghona village in Baghaichhari upazila of Rangamati in the early hours of June 12, 1996, a year before the signing of the CHT Peace Accord.

According to her family and indigenous rights activists, she was vocal against the military presence in CHT and supported the autonomy-oriented movement Jana Sanghati Samity, and thus earned the anger of security forces. Her family accused an army officer and two members of the Village Defence Party.

Following her abduction, a judicial committee was formed in September that year. Headed by a retired judge, the team interviewed 94 people including prime suspect Ferdous Kaiser Khan of Kojoichhari army camp in Rangamati. Two other suspects named by eyewitnesses were VDP men Nurul Haq and Saleh Ahmed.

However, the judicial committee never made the report public.

Marking the 22nd anniversary of the abduction, HWF and Bangladesh Adivasi Nari Network (BANN) at a discussion yesterday called for making the judicial report public and completing police investigation. The organisations also demanded full implementation of the peace treaty and ensuring security of women in the hills. 

“Kalpana was abducted because of the prevailing culture of impunity,” rights activist Sultana Kamal told the discussion at the National Museum in Dhaka. “She is a symbol of struggle,” she added.

Criticising the failure to find Kalpana, the CHT Commission member, Sultana, said the state has become “deaf and mute” on the issue but every conscious citizen should reiterate the call for justice.

On the day of her kidnapping, Kalpana's family filed an abduction case with Baghaichhari Police Station, and police took almost 14 years to complete the investigation. They filed the first final report on May 21, 2010.

But the report did not make any conclusive remarks about the suspects and their whereabouts, said Chandra Tripura, vice-president of HWF, while presenting a keynote paper at the discussion.

As her family rejected the report, the court sent it to the Criminal Investigation Department for further probe and CID filed a similar final report on September 26, 2012.

Kalpana's family refused to accept the report again, and the case was then handed over to the superintendent of police (SP) of Rangamati for reinvestigation. After the then SP was transferred, it finally came to the hands of SP Sayed Tariqul Hassan. He took over the case as the 39th investigation officer.

He filed the latest final report on September 7, 2016, citing that “initial proof” was found about her abduction. After more than two decades, the investigator also admitted the “failure” to identify any culprit and said in the report, “The chances of rescuing Kalpana Chakma in near future are slim.”

In the keynote paper, Chandra Tripura called this statement “irresponsible” and “disappointing”.

Kalpana's brother Kalindi Chakma filed a no-confidence report yet again with the court and sought a comprehensive investigation. The court initially fixed June 8, 2017 to hear the petition and asked police to submit their reply to the complainant's no-confidence. After more than one year of delay, the court is finally set to hear the complainant's petition on July 9 this year.

Asked for the update, Rangamati's incumbent SP Alamgir Kabir told The Daily Star last evening that he could not comment on the issue without going through the documents.

Speaking at the discussion, Adivasi Forum General Secretary Sanjeeb Drong called the submission of the inconclusive final reports “shameful”.

“Kalpana's struggle was more important than many other contemporary indigenous activists because she came from a remote village,” said Dipayan Khisha, a member of JSS and member secretary of Adivasi Forum, adding that she would make a greater impact on the movement of the indigenous people.

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