Women in the CHT: The Violent Hills
Pahari women are among the most marginalised and vulnerable groups of people in Bangladeshi society. They live as quadruple minorities under present social and political institutions. In a patriarchal and male-dominated society, they are a gender minority. In a Muslim-dominated country they are a religious minority. In a nationalist, Bangali-dominated society they are an ethnic minority. Within their own patriarchal community they face marginalisation, exploitation, and increasingly, violence. A strong political movement exists to resist this multiple marginalisation, but it has not been able to create enough resonance within the wider political structure.
The overwhelming number of Bangali settlers in the CHT has resulted in harassment and violence against Pahari women within the once secure neighbourhood of their homes. With no control over land dispossession and the non-functioning of the Land Commission to blame for this, and no sign of the army's loosening its grip over the CHT, it is indeed a worrying trend. There is no documentation of the exact number of women physically assaulted or sexually harassed or raped by the army and Bangali settlers in the CHT. Before the CHT 'Peace' Accord was signed there were reports of mass rapes by the army, some of which were documented in CHT Commission's report 'Life is not ours' and Amnesty International's reports 'Unlawful Killings and Torture in the CHT'. But there have been no investigations and no subsequent legal redress. And this impunity still continues even after insurgency ended more than 13 years ago.
The biggest concern in rape and other violence against women in the CHT now is the lack of access to justice and absolute impunity that perpetrators enjoy. In rape cases, the victim ends up going through further harassment from the side of the administration and law enforcers -- there have been instances where doctors at hospitals have refused to give Pahari women physical check ups or delayed the physical check ups so that the evidence disappears; the victim's family is asked to produce a 'witness' by the police; there is intimidation from the security forces, in at least one case the raped girl was further molested by the physical examiner himself; one victim who did not know Bangla had to 'act out' the crime in front of the court; there have been complaints about police delaying/refusing to take the case and many have been too afraid to file a case in fear. These and many other administration-led intimidation and harassment ultimately results in the perpetrator getting away with his crime.
For the full version of this article please read this month's Forum, available free with The Daily Star on March 7.
Hana Shams Ahmed is a member of the Drishtipat Writers' Collective and can be reached at [email protected]. This is a condensed version of a paper that was presented by the author at a consultation organised by APWLD and WAO with the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women in January 2011.