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

July 30, 2015

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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.

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Rumanas, and Why they Stay

July 6, 2011

Rumana Monzur Hema, Photo credit: UBC

Hana Shams Ahmed

[This article was published in the July 2011 issue of The Forum magazine, The Daily Star]

When Zobaida Nasreen called me up to tell me what had happened to Rumana, I was on a busy street in Dhanmondi and I thought I had heard her wrong. I kept asking her to repeat. She must be talking about someone else, I thought.
But she wasn’t.

It was Rumana Monzur Hema, one of my childhood friends with whom I had intermittent interactions after we grew up and finally reunited last year when her daughter was admitted to the same school as my son.

When I heard about what her husband did to her I was in disbelief and shock.

We had looked up to her as the girl who always came out either first or second in her class. She had come out First in her Masters finals from the International Relations department of Dhaka University and had started teaching right away. Last year she was elated when she won a scholarship to the University of British Columbia. She had been unsure whether to take her four-year-old daughter Anushe with her. In the end she decided to leave her daughter with her mother.

She never discussed what was going on between Sumon and her. He was a graduate engineer who was involved in some business, that’s all we knew.

And that’s why the brutality of the story along with the identity of the victim seemed overwhelmingly unbelievable.

Eyes gouged out. Nose bitten off. Lip bitten off. Dragged by the hair and attempted to be strangled. Saved by maids with an extra key to the room. Of course we presume that if a so-called ’emancipated’ woman is threatened with abuse, she would have the support mechanism to walk out of that marriage, that she would not care what her family and relatives or those meddlesome people in our society say, that if she is financially independent she did not have to worry about her and her children’s future.

All those assumptions and presumptions fell apart when we heard the sadistic brutality of what happened in Rumana’s room on June 5, 2011. Read the rest of this entry »


Fighting sexual harassment head-on

April 4, 2011

Photo: Amirul Rajiv

Hana Shams Ahmed
[This article was published in the 20th Anniversary special issue of The Daily Star in March 2011]

Sometimes a comment from a perfect stranger can have a profound effect on a person’s life. When I was about 13 years old one such comment was made over the phone to my parents. The caller was anonymous and told my father that if I continued to wear ‘western’ clothes in public I would be stripped of my clothes and paraded naked in public. When my mother told me about this caller, her tone never indicated that this was a wrong being done to me, that I should not let something like this bother me, and that they would protect me from such harassment. My father’s complete silence on the matter spoke louder than words. I remember having felt that I had brought shame to my family and my mother followed up by becoming more vigilant about the way I dressed outside. As part of the bhodro middle class, I was powerless to resist at that age. That was almost two decades ago.
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Multiple forms of discrimination experienced by indigenous women from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) within the nationalist framework

April 4, 2011

Hana Shams Ahmed
[This paper was presented at a consultation with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women Ms. Rashida Manjoo. The consultation was arranged by the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) and Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) in Kuala Lumpur in January, 2011.]

Introduction

To understand the discrimination faced by indigenous women in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), it is very important to understand the geopolitical background of the CHT in the larger context of the Bangali Muslim majority of Bangladesh. Pahari women are among the most marginalized and vulnerable groups of people in Bangladeshi society. They live as quadruple minorities under present social and political institutions. In a patriarchal and male-dominated society, they are a gender minority. In a Muslim-dominated country they are a religious minority. In a nationalist, Bangali-dominated society they are an ethnic minority. Within their own patriarchal community they face marginalization, exploitation, and increasingly, violence. A strong political movement exists to resist these multiple marginalization, but it has not been able to create enough resonance within the wider political structure.

This paper looks at the various sources of discrimination and violence faced by the indigenous women living in the CHT and looks at how and why the indifference from the state and the majority civil society further detaches them from the mainstream women’s movement in Bangladesh. Society and the infusion of religion into societal norms already play a huge role in the discrimination and marginalization of the majority Bangali women. In a Muslim majority Bangali society, indigenous women have a further factor of violence against them. Discriminatory family laws, along with discriminatory national laws, add a new dimension and further marginalize women within their own communities. Militarization and the presence of Bangali settlers have been terrorizing Pahari women since the beginning of the insurgency. The insurgency is over but CHT still remains fully militarized and the politically motivated violence against women still continues.

The information for the paper was collected through secondary documents and a series of interviews with grass-roots level women activists in the CHT, activists involved with NGOs and Pahari political groups and Pahari men and women lawyers.

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