Back from Mahalchari, Khagrachari
Audity Falguni


(This is the first of a six-part-series on the volatile situation prevailing in the Chittagong Hill Tracts after an incident on August 26 which generated animosity and hatred).

Chittagong Hill Tracts, the picturesque hilly region of the country, has turned volcanic again since the August 26 incident when around 10 hill villages with more than 360 homesteads of Mahalchari upazila of Khagrachari district were burnt down. It is reported that 79 houses of Babupara, 70 houses of Lemuchari, 12 of Noa Para, 38 of SawMill Para, one house of Thali Para, 37 houses of Pahartali,
96 of Basanta Para and Kerengyanal villages, four of Durpajyanal and 22 of Ramesu Karbari Para of Mahalchari upazilla, Khagrachhari, were burnt down.

Apart from arson, two persons were killed, nine men were injured, four Buddhist temples were damaged and 10 women were reportedly raped.

A spot visit to Babupara and Limuchari, two of the 10 fire-ravaged villages of Mahalchari last Friday presented a pathetic sight as no sign of relief, rehabilitation or reconstruction work could be seen in the affected localities. Scarcely any government assistance has so far been extended to the helpless hill people during the last 23 days.

Babupara, the worst hit village of Mahalchari upazila, bore tell-tale signs of arson and destruction as The Independent correspondents visited the village on Friday morning.

"Around 79 Chakma and Marma villages were set on fire. Of the 79 homesteads, 38 belonged to the Chakmas and 39 to the Marmas. None was spared. Only four or five houses of the local Bengali Hindus were intact," villagers told. The Independent preferring anonymity as earlier witnesses who made statements to human rights groups and pressmen from Dhaka are now reportedly being interrogated and harassed by the authorities.

Only Jyotsna Khisa (40), second wife of late Binod Bihari Khisa, who was killed in the clash with angry Bengalis on August 26 morning, and Sumon Marma (20), a young man severely injured on the same day, consented to tell their tales of woe.

"My husband is dead and my 18-year-old son Nidarshan Khisa is still fighting for life at the Chittagong Medical College hospital. We have got no support to build our houses again and are now living under the open sky," said Jyotsna Khisa.

"Bengalis came to our village at 9:30 in the morning on August 26. First they struck me on the head with a dagger. Later the army took me to their camp and hit me with a bayonet on my chest," Sumon Marma told The Independent.

It is reported that soon after the abduction of the young Bengali Hindu businessman Rupam Mahajan by extremists groups on August 24, local Bengalis had been agitating on the issue.

"On August 25 afternoon, local Bengali businessmen along with thousands of Bengali settlers gathered in Mahalchari upazilla bazar and shouted provocative slogans. Of the 300 shops at Mahalchari bazar, only seven or eight belong to the hill people and the rest are dominated by the
Bengalis, both Hindus and Muslims," said an old villager of Babupara.

"Next day the Bengalis came with thousands of settlers at 9:30 am and went on the rampage. They severely beat up Shai Nu Pru Chowdhury, the Chairman of the Sindukchari union," the old man added.

It was learnt from the villagers that the Bengalis filed false cases against 32 villagers of Babupara.

It was further learnt that although the GOC of the area promised to supply corrugated tin sheets to the villagers on September 10, hardly any steps has been taken so far.

The whole village appeared scorched, including even its trees. "Look at my home. It is all burnt now and my wife is getting insane," said Mong Sa Je Marma (40), another bold man who dared to tell his story.

Some of the villagers of Babupara have shifted to their relatives' houses in nearby villages and some have made tents. Around 10 or 15 army men were seen patrolling the village.

On a visit to Lemuchari village, it was found 63 homesteads of hill people, one Buddhist temple, two shops, one club house, one UNICEF school and two rice husking mills were all burnt down.

The damaged Buddha idol was thrown into the nearby pond some days earlier and that's why we cannot show you the idol," said Nitimoy Chakma (45) of Lemuchari village to The Independent yesterday evening.

The Keyang (Buddhist temple), however, was found half scorched.

Around three trucks of army personnel were seen patrolling the Lemuchari village.

Earlier at noon, The Independent reporter was not allowed to meet about 10 alleged rape victims of Pahartali and Kerenganol villages of Mahalchari upazilla by officials of an observation post at Tilapara village. Tilapara village is mostly dominated by the Bengali Hindus, native village of the abducted businessman Rupam Mahajan.

The whole Mahalchari upazilla was seen cordoned off by army trucks and army checkposts.

"Besides the regular support and strength of 600-800 army personnel of the Mahalchari zone office, seven to ten additional observation camps have been set up across the Mahalchari. The situation is really uncertain," said Second-In- Command (2IC) of the Mahalchari army zone office, Major Shamim to, The Independent.

When asked how long the uncertainty might last, he answered he had no

(To be continued)

Source:Uttorshuri, October 03, 2003 ( It was published in The Independent. Audity Falguni is a reporter of the Independent.

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( Evicted slum dweller, from High Court ground)