Joli No Udhim Kittei! (Why Shall I not Resist!)*

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Hana Shams Ahmed

[This article was first published on May 26, 2015 at Thotkata.net]

Kalpana Chakma was only two years older than me. We had a couple of things in common. We were born in the same country and we both kept personal diaries about our individual struggles in life. But that’s where the similarities in our lives ended. In the year 1996 as I was preparing for my A-level exams and arguing with my mother about my right to go out alone and wear the clothes of my choice, Kalpana was struggling against militarization, against a national suspicion of the ethnic ‘other’, against Government hypocrisy, against the militant-nationalism of the state of Bangladesh. In 12 June 1996 army officers abducted Kalpana Chakma in front of her two brothers, a sister-in-law and mother late at night from her home in Rangamati in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). 18 years on and many protests, meetings, roundtables, CID investigations and court appearances later, Kalpana Chakma still remains missing.

I was born into a Bengali, Muslim family in Bangladesh, the mainstream so to speak, the ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ identity to be. Kalpana was born into a Chakma family, in the hill tracts of Bangladesh, a person from a different ethnic origin, a non-Muslim, with identifiably different features from the normal, a suspicious indigenous ‘other’, and she was fighting for hill people’s right to self-determination. She was talking about rights, she was resisting assimilation attempts by nationalist forces, she was fearless, she spoke with fierce determination, she was young and she was a woman. The military in the hills saw her as a threat, the state saw her as a threat, and so she was vanished. The Bangladesh justice system has failed Kalpana Chakma and all other indigenous women who have been resisting these nationalist fascist forces. While Bangladesh prides itself on its independence from the repressive forces of Pakistan, it uses that same power on the ‘others’ of the country, the step-children of the country, the Jumma people of the country.

Why shall I not resist!

Can they do as they please –

Turn settlements into barren land

Dense forests to deserts

Mornings into evening

Fruition to barrenness.

Why shall I not resist

Can they do as they please –

Estrange us from the land of our birth

Enslave our women

Blind our vision

Put an end to creation.

Neglect and humiliation causes anger

the blood surges through my veins

breaking barriers at every stroke,

the fury of youth pierces the sea of consciousness.

I become my own whole self

Why shall I not resist!

Poem by Kabita Chakma (written in Chakma and Bangla in 1992)

Translated by Meghna Guhathakurta

Kabita Chakma’s poem does not talk about Kalpana or about the hundred thousand Jumma people were left homeless and helpless virtually overnight when a dam was built in the valleys of Rangamati and inundated the homes of these people. It does not give details of the overwhelming presence of the military in the CHT. It does not talk about the ways and means the military uses to manipulate media and Government policy in the CHT. It does not talk about how 400,000 homeless Bengali people were brought into the hills to act as human shields for the military to carry out their operation of ethnic cleansing. It does not talk about how greedy corporations are raping and castrating the hills and forests of the CHT, by grabbing land of the indigenous people, carrying out harmful monoculture, building meditation centers, mosques and madrasahs, cutting down trees, building tourist spots for careless, selfish tourists who leave but leave their trash behind. It does not talk about the state’s demographic engineering – from 98 percent Jumma people in 1872 to 50 percent in 2011. It does not talk about the ‘trade’ in Tripura children, children taken away from their helpless parents in the hills and sold off to madrasahs in the cities – how a Sumola Tripura becomes a Mohammad Abdul Halim.

Kabita Chakma’s poem ‘Joli No Udhim Kittei!’ (Why Shall I not Resist!) does not talk about all this, yet it talks about all of this and more. It talks about estrangement and enslavement. It mentions the humiliation and anger that was felt by her and by Kalpana and the many other Jumma women activists who were affected in one way or another by the conflict of the Jumma people with the state and continues to threaten the functioning of the society in the CHT. During the insurgency, the Bangladesh military used mass rape and forced marriages as a tool of war. Both Kabita and Kalpana were witnesses of that period of horror. The insurgency is over but the horror remains, and this poem by Kabita is an expression of the resistance of Jumma women of more than three decades of militarization in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

*”Joli No Udhim Kittei!” is a Chakma poem written, and translated in Bengali as ‘Rukhe Darabo Na Keno?’, by Kabita Chakma and published by Narigrantha Prabartana Dhaka in 1992.

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