It has been 20 years since Kalpana Chakma was kidnapped by the state – taken from her home in Rangamati in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts by a group of plain-clothed security personnel believed to have been from a nearby army camp. She has not been seen since.
Who is Kalpana?
At the time of her disappearance, Kalpana was 23 years old.
She comes from the Chakma community in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), where she was the organizing secretary of the Hill Women’s Federation, an organization that campaigns for the rights of Indigenous Peoples of the CHT.
Weeks before she disappeared, she had been campaigning in local elections for an independent candidate, who had widespread support among indigenous civil society groups.
No justice for Kalpana or her family
Kalpana’s disappearance is not a complete mystery. Two of Kalpana’s brothers, Kalindi and Lal, were abducted with her, but managed to escape. They identified three of their abductors by name.
Despite this, no one has been brought to justice for Kalpana’s disappearance and her family know no more about what happened to her now than they did 20 years ago.
Bizarrely, Kalpana’s absence has even been blamed for progress not being made during investigations of her case.
A judicial commission of inquiry was established by the Prime Minister and, in April 2014, the Rangamati Superintendent of Police assigned to investigate the case, filed a progress report saying:
“Since the victim Kalpana Chakma herself is the main witness in the case, until Kalpana Chakma is found or a final decision is taken about her, it is not possible to complete the investigation work of the case.”
Since then, the final case report has been delayed more than 25 times.
Conflict and tension
Kalpana’s disappearance, took place against a backdrop of conflict and tension between the Indigenous Peoples of the CHT and the government that has been ongoing since the independence of Bangladesh in 1971.
Indigenous Peoples have been pushed off their land after a long period of violence, repression and grave human rights violations forced them to flee their homes. The government then encouraged settlers to occupy the vacated traditional lands.
A peace accord was signed in 1997, but many of its provisions have not been implemented.
Authorities stand in the way of justice
When justifying her failure to complete the investigation into Kalpana’s disappearance, the Superintendent of Police said that she had been unable to complete one of the tasks set by the judge, which was to “rescue Kalpana”.
The statement appears to embody what civil society activists in Bangladesh see as a strategy of stalling tactics and misinformation, in what may be an attempt to protect members of the military accused of human rights violations.
Sadly, Kalpana’s case is not unique – the Jumma people of the CHT face a number of challenges in obtaining justice.
According to a report by the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission, an independent advocacy NGO, in cases where indigenous women report rape by settlers, doctors are pressured by the authorities to report no evidence of rape in their medical reports, arguing that a finding of rape would contribute to the tensions.
However, the impunity for crimes committed against members of the indigenous community in fact only stokes greater anger among the community.
Global pressure to find Kalpana
To mark the 20th anniversary of her disappearance, Amnesty International created a Tumblr of 450 photos showing people all over the world demanding to know where Kalpana is. These pictures will be sent to the Bangladesh government.
The acclaimed Bangladeshi photographer, artist and activist, Shahidul Alam, also shared photographs to raise awareness of Kalpana’s case in an exhibition at the Rivington gallery in London.
This article is written by Jerry Allen (Date: August 30, 2016) and published on Amnesty International UK.