Peaceful Blockade against Medical College Set-up turns Rangamati in Turmoil

An all-out dawn-to-dusk road and waterway blockade called on by Chittagong Hill Tracts Hill Students’ Council (popularly known as Pahari Chatra Parishad-PCP) on 10 January 2015 against government’s plan to set-up a medical college in Rangamati has turned this beautiful hill town in turmoil. Due to repeated communal attacks made by hundreds of members of pro-Awami League organizations and Bengali settlers on indigenous peoples, the district administration was compelled to impose section 144 and later curfew in the town.

The government’s plan to set up Rangamati Medical Collage and Rangamati University of Science and Technology has been opposed by indigenous peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) including PCP, a representative student organization of indigenous Jumma students of the CHT. PCP leaders argued that if the medical college and university were set up, thousands indigenous and non-indigenous residents of the region would fall victims of serious adverse impacts. Hence, they demanded postponement the Medical College and the University until the CHT Accord of 1997 is fully implemented by the government.

Yet, overriding this popular demand of CHT’s inhabitants, the government kicked off intake of students for MBBS first year course and planned to inaugurate Rangamati Medical College on 10 January. The decision of the government agitated the indigenous peoples and citizen groups across the country. To protest the initiative of the government, PCP called on all-out dawn-to-dusk road and waterway blockade program on 10 January throughout Rangamati district.

On the day while PCP along with support and participation of students en masse was observing its blockade program, hundreds of members of the Chhatra League, a pro government student organization, Samo Odhikar Andolan and Parbatya Juba Front carried out communal attacks upon the Jumma peoples in different parts of Rangamati town. It all began when the Awami League district committee President, Dipankar Talukder, aboard in his vehicle was passing through Court Building area ignoring the blockade at 9:30 am, instigated the Chatra League members to attack the PCP picketers. The Chhatra League members pelted stones and cocktails at PCP members. As a result, at least 15 persons including Jyotirmoy Chakma, 45; Ripon Chakma, 21; Suresh Chakma, 21; Durjoy Chakma, 25; Mohan Chan Dewan 26; Kanti Chakma, 42; Choto Chakma 28; Moni Chakma, 40; Surjya Chakma, 25; Shyamalendu Chakma, 30; Ankur Bikash Chakma et al sustained serious injuries.

Later on the same day, the miscreants of Chhatra League, Samo Odhikar Andolan and Parbatya Juba Front, spreading communal tension, attempted to attack Jummas in different places of Rangamati including Banarupa, Tribal Adam, Ananda Viahara (a Buddhist temple) and Siddhi Bhaban areas. They pelted brick chips upon Jumma-owned shops and Jumma people. In these attacks, Deborshi Chakma, 38; Probin Chakma, 17; Jibanta Tanchangya, 35; Biki Chakma, 25, son of Bimal Kanti Chakma sustained injuries. Among them, Biki Chakma was hacked by attackers leaving serious injuries in head, cheek and abdomen. He has been shifted to Chittagong Medical College in serious condition.

As the situation was deteriorating as the time was going by, district administration imposed Section 144 in Ragamati town on 10 January at 11:30 am for an indefinite period. However, this effort of the district administration went in vain as the pro-government organization and organizations of settler Bengalis continued to spread communal tension and make attempts to attack upon indigenous peoples in different parts of the town.

On 11 January at around 4:30 pm, Bengali settlers, led by the members of pro-government organizations, made attempts to attack upon indigenous peoples and their shops at Banarupa areas in Rangamati town. Later on the same day violence spread throughout the town and Bengali settlers, led by members of pro-government organizations cracked down on indigenous peoples of Vedvedi, Ananda Vihara, Tabalchari, Reserve Bazar, Public Health area and Kathaltali areas of the hill town. At least 7 indigenous persons namely Samarendu Chakma (25) (an MLSS staff of Deputy Commissioner’s office) at Public Health area; Tarun Bikash Chakma (30) s/o Hengotya Chakma at Vedvedi area; Monikko Dewan Happy (30) w/o Monghla Prue Marma at Tabalchari; Titu Marma (26) and Buddha Moni Chakma (32) s/o Manulal Chakma at Tabalchari were injured. Besides 4 houses including three belonging to indigenous peoples were torched and looted by the miscreants.

Considering the situation ‘out-of-control’ Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Rangamati town Shamsul Arefin, in consultation with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, declared curfew beginning from 7:30 pm on 11 January – 8:00 am on 12 January. In order to ‘pacify’ the situation, curfew was scheduled once again from 5:00 pm on 12 January-7:00 am on 13 January 2015. Later on, the Section 144 was withdrawn from 11:00 am on 13 January 2015. People are virtually locked at their homes and most of the shops, marketplaces, offices, banks etc. remained closed.

Meanwhile, at least 35 persons have held by police for ‘defying’ Section 144 and curfew. Hundreds of members of Army, RAB, BGB and Police have been deployed in the town since 10 January.