‘We will never say that she is dead’

Kalpana Chakma, a leading Indigenous Peoples’ rights campaigner in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, was abducted from her home on 12 June 1996, allegedly by the military. She has never been found. For our 16 Days of Activism campaign against gender violence, fellow activist Kabita Chakma talks about their work and the ongoing struggle for justice for Kalpana.

(The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International).

I first became an activist when I got involved in the struggle for our indigenous rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. I was working with the Hill Women’s Federation in the Khagrachari district. We were very concerned by the fact that the mainstream media failed to show the true situation of the hill women – how they were being tortured, abducted, raped, discriminated against and killed. We demanded our rights – hence we started to protest.

I met Kalpana in 1994 at a huge gathering at Bagaichari College. It was one of the many meetings we used to organize in different villages to do publicity campaigns. I especially remember the hard work of Kalpana.  She was very active in motivating the students and members of the society. We were very impressed with Kalpana’s leadership qualities and speeches.

I first got the news of her abduction from my colleagues in the Hill Women’s Federation. That day, after she finished her campaigning work (for Bijoy Ketan – a political candidate representing the interests of Pahari Indigenous People at the time), she went home. We did not have any clue that she had become a target of the army. The military would do all kinds of things to stop our political activities, but the idea that Kalpana had been targeted was beyond our imagination.

We were astonished. We were shocked. We started protesting in the CHT and Dhaka (the capital) right away. Not just protest, we carried out a huge campaign. We went to practically all the places we could think of to get signatures. This is how Kalpana’s abduction came into international focus. At that time, the NGOs and feminists of Bangladesh helped us a lot and, as result, the issue got international attention. We worked very hard, we had to face many threats whilst doing that work, but we never backed down.

After Kalpana’s abduction, her family was completely devastated. I was in constant contact with her mother, taking her to Dhaka and back during the investigations. She stayed at my house. I will never forget the tears in Kalpana’s mother’s eyes. Kalindi and her other brother were eventually forced by the military to leave their village and move somewhere else.

The Hill Women’s Federation at that time became very strong and active in their work, especially in Dhaka. We published a book – Kalpana Chakma’s Diary around 2001. We worked with all the human rights organizations and NGOs in Bangladesh regarding Kalpana’s case. Because of the activism of the Hill Women’s Federation, NGOs and the women’s rights organizations, the government was forced to form a three-member committee to investigate the abduction, but it was only an investigation in name.

We still want justice and we will never say that she is dead. We have not seen her dead body. She has been abducted and we want to know what happened to her. There is so much evidence and her two brothers were witnesses, why won’t there be justice? No matter what happens, no matter how long it takes we will still want justice.

There has been no justice for Kalpana Chakma because we are Paharis. Because Kalpana was a Pahari woman.

I think international advocacy of the kind that Amnesty International is doing is of enormous help. We are hopeful, whatever happens. We want to see the investigation completed. Kalpana didn’t just disappear. If there is even more international advocacy about this it will be very good. No matter which government is in power we should continue to put pressure on them. They will be forced to do something when there is enough pressure on them.

Take action

Help us push for justice for Kalpana: sign here to support the investigation into her disappearance.