ROMEL CHAKMA II: Is custodial killing heroic?

by rahnuma ahmed

Official versions conflict about why Romel Chakma – a 20-year old HSC examinee and student leader of the Pahari Chatra Parishad – was picked up by the army, whether he was transferred from army to police custody while in Naniachar, whether his admission to, and 2-weeklong treatment at, the Chittagong Medical College and Hospital (CMCH), occurred under police custody, and lastly, whether the Naniachar police station’s officer-in-charge (OC) was physically present when Romel’s body was burnt (not cremated, for his body was not handed over to his family), a few hundred yards away from his home in Purba Hatimara village, Naniachar.

Romel was not ill, nor was he suffering from any kind of injury when he was picked up. I have not come across any such media reports, nor does Romel’s father Kanti Chakma, in his letter to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC, dated April 6, 2017), make any such mention. One can therefore assume that he was reasonably fit and healthy (beside the stresses and strains of appearing for his exams), when he was picked up.
Continue reading “ROMEL CHAKMA II: Is custodial killing heroic?”

Reply to Arundhati: Yes, We Will Rise

Dearest Arundhati,

It was a letter I read and reread long before it appeared before my eyes. It was through layers of metal bars that I strained to listen to Rahnuma’s words. At over 130 decibels, the noise made by us screaming prisoners, straining to hear and be heard, was akin to a crowded stadium or a fire siren. As she repeated her words over and over again, I faintly heard, Arundhati. Letter. It was just over a hundred days that I had been incarcerated. A hundred days since I’d slept on my own bed, fed my fish, cycled down the streets of Dhaka. A hundred days since I’d pressed my shutter as I searched for that elusive light.

Arundhati Roy with Maati Ke Laal in her flat in Delhi. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Those words, screamed out but barely heard was the nourishment I needed. Did you write it by hand? What was the paper like? In this digital age, you probably used a keyboard. What font had you used? What point size? And the words. Words that you so gracefully string together. I relished the imagined words. Your words. I missed words as I missed my bed, my fish and Rahnuma’s touch. When they asked me what I needed in jail, books were on top of my list. The first lot of books came in. Mujib’s prison diaries, Schendel’s History of Bangladesh, and the book you’d given me when we last met, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. I’d been meaning to read it ever since we said goodbye in Delhi, but our lives had been taken over by the immediacy of our struggles. Now I had the time. Continue reading “Reply to Arundhati: Yes, We Will Rise”

Of weddings: royal, bombed & droned

rahnuma ahmed


Millions watched the wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry and former American actress Meghan Markle on television the world over. While many heralded it for demonstrating ‘how Britain has become more egalitarian and racially mixed‘ and lauded the ”Meghan effect‘ on black Britons,’ others rejoiced at the wedding ceremony for having been ‘a rousing celebration of blackness,’ and still others hoped that the ‘spirit of Harry and Meghan… [would] revitalise our divided nation,’ that prince Harry’s choice of spouse would ‘[initiate] real change in UK race relations.’

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip with newly-wed grandson Prince Harry and grand daughter-in-law Meghan Markle, and other family members including Ms. Markle’s mother Doria Ragland, and bridal party. ©AFP

Meghan Markle – now Duchess of Sussex, with her own Royal Coat of Arms – is the daughter of a white American father and an African-American mother, her parents divorced when Meghan was 6, and she was raised singly by her mother.
Continue reading “Of weddings: royal, bombed & droned”

Propaganda, and the suppression of dissent

rahnuma ahmed

I have not acquired any fortune but I have my paternal estate and the pension of a Subedar. This is enough for me. The people in my village seem to respect me, and are now fully satisfied with the ease and benefits they enjoy under British rule.

Thus wrote Sita Ram in From Sepoy to Subedar, first published in 1873, sixteen years after the first war of independence (the British still refer to it as the Indian Rebellion, or the Indian Mutiny).

Sita Ram wrote the manuscript at the bidding of his commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Norgate in 1861, his son passed it on to the Englishman; the manuscript is supposed to have been written in Awadhi, Norgate translated it into English. An Urdu translation is also heard to have surfaced the same year. Few copies are known to have been sold, until 1911 that is, when a Colonel Phillott created a new syllabus for Hindustani exams, taken by colonial officers to test their knowledge of the language. Phillott himself translated the book into Urdu, and from then onwards, the autobiography of Sita Ram, who worked in the Bengal Native Army of the East India Company for forty-eight years (1812 to 1860)—became a ‘key text’ for British officers. The book was still part of the curriculum in the 1940s, it was translated into Devanagari in the same decade; a new and illustrated edition of the book (Norgate’s English translation), was brought out by James Lunt, as late as 1970. Continue reading “Propaganda, and the suppression of dissent”

ROMEL CHAKMA. PART-I: Is custodial killing heroic?

by rahnuma ahmed

Romel Chakma, 20 year-old HSC examinee and student leader of Pahari Chatra Parishad,
was picked up by army personnel on April 5, 2017. Allegedly tortured, he died in hospital two weeks later.

Romel Chakma ? Photographer not known.

How does one restore dignity to the memory of a youth who was picked up and tortured, who died of torture, whose body was not handed over to family members for cremation, but burnt after pouring petrol and kerosene? Continue reading “ROMEL CHAKMA. PART-I: Is custodial killing heroic?”

DEATH OF ROMEL CHAKMA: NHRC seeks Army?s explanation


NHRC seeks Army?s explanation

Muktadir Rashid | Published: 00:23, Jun 24,2017 | Updated: 00:38, Jun 24,2017

The National Human Rights Commission has written to the defence ministry asking for a Bangladesh Army
explanation for the death of Romel Chakma as a commission investigation has observed that army personnel concerned cannot avoid the responsibility for the death.
Commission chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque told New Age on Friday that a full commission meeting analysed the investigation report and sent a copy of the report to the defence ministry asking for the explanation from the army in the past week.
?We did not get any version from army, so we wrote a letter to the defence ministry based on the recommendation made by the commission probe committee on the issue,? he said.
He said the commission found circumstantial evidences against perpetrators and wanted to know the army?s explanation.
Commission officials said that the commission received the copy of a letter of the defence ministry to the army headquarters seeking their explanation.
The three-member probe body headed by commission member Banchita Chakma, also former Rangamati College principal, submitted the report to the commission on June 11.
Banchita Chakma said that they submitted the report without any version from the army.
She said that the witness accounts suggested that the visually challenged ethnic minority youth was in the custody of the army when he died at Chittagong Medical College Hospital on April 20.
Physicians at the hospital in the medical report observed that Romel Chakma died from kidney infection.
Probe committee members said there were two reasons for kidney infections ? severe internal injuries caused by either torture or major accident.
?We believed Romel was tortured,? said a commission member.
The probe body recorded statements of 15 people including Romel?s family, local police and physicians to examine what happened to the youth but no version from army was available.
The probe concluded that the army in no way could avoid the responsibility for the death of Romel Chakma.
The committee included commission?s deputy director in Rangamati Gazi Md Salahuddin and executive magistrate Tapos Shil from Rangamati district administration.
Committee members said that had approached army zone commander at Nannerchar on May 24 during the inquiry but could got no response.
The field office of army told the probe committee that they would speak if their high ups allowed them to talk.
The probe committee recorded the statement from five police officials who narrated that Romel Chakma was brought to them in a critical condition and that was why the police did not receive him.
The police officials told the committee that Romel did not carry major mark of injuries but he was vomiting and the army personnel carrying him informed police that Romel met an accident.
It takes hardly 10 minutes from the police station to the nearby health complex.
The inquiry found that it took one hour and a half to take Romel Chakma from police station to the health complex. Romel was moved to Chittagong Medical College Hospital where he was admitted under security protection by army personnel.
?We have collected the documents from police station and the hospital,? said a probe body member.
Formed on April 24, the three-member probe body met with Romel?s family and local people at his village Purba Hatimara under Burighat union of Nannerchar on May 1.
On April 6, Romel?s father Binoy Kanti Chakma wrote to the commission chairman demanding justice for the ?inhuman torture? on his son by army personnel.
In a statement issued on April 24, commission Reazul termed it a serious violation of human rights to kill an innocent person in torture.
HSC examinee Romel, 20, was the general secretary of United Peoples? Democratic Front-backed Pahari Chhatra Parishad?s Nannerchar upazila unit.
He was allegedly picked up by local army personnel on April 5 and taken to police station in the evening.
The next morning, police and army personnel admitted him to the Chittagong Medical College Hospital, where he died on April 20.
Romel?s father alleged that they were barred from meeting him at the camp as well as at the hospital.
According to media reports, the Inter Services Public Relations alleged that Romel had masterminded the attack in which two buses were robbed and a truck was set on fire in the area on January 23.
Different rights groups, student bodies and UPDF demanded a judicial inquiry into the death terming the detention and torture unjust. 

U.S. MILITARY BASES: Resisting 'sexual terrorists' in Okinawa

Protester at a rally against an alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl by an American serviceman in Okinawa islands, southwestern Japan. March 23, 2008. AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye
Protester at a rally against an alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl
by an American serviceman in Okinawa islands, southwestern Japan.
March 23, 2008. AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye

By Rahnuma Ahmed
For the military-industrial complex named the United States, Okinawa is a ‘hub’ for conducting strategic operations throughout the Pacific, but for its residents, US military bases seem to be a hub which harbours ‘sexual terrorists.’
As Okinawan resistance to the US bases lengthens, as our knowledge of the workings of the ‘garrisoning of the globe’ (Chalmers Johnson) deepens, it is not surprising that several authors have likened the US military to the ISIS (or ISIL, Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant).
Matt Pepe writes, ‘One of the strongest condemnations of terrorist groups like ISIS?rightly so?is that they exploit women for sex. Examination of the U.S. military’s history abroad reveals a track record of similar sexual abuse of local women and girls.’ US soldiers had told David Vine, author of Base Nation, that their coworkers had bought women as ‘sex slaves.’
Such information, of course, is hard to come by in the Western mainstream media.
Women’s bodies cemented military alliances
The United States has a global network of 800 military installations around the world; the emergence of the bases were accompanied by the development of ‘commercial sex zones.’ Most of theses bases resemble each other, writes Vine, ‘filled with liquor stores, fast-food outlets, tattoo parlors, bars and clubs, and prostitution in one form or another. The evidence is just outside the gates in places such as Baumholder and Kaiserslautern in Germany, and Kadena and Kin Town in Okinawa.’
When the Second World War came to an end, the behaviour of American troops became a matter of concern. They were behaving ‘as though Koreans were a conquered nation rather than a liberated people.’ Although this eventually led to a ‘hands off Korean women’ policy, it excluded women in brothels, dance halls and those working in the streets. The Japanese had forced hundreds of thousands of women from Korea, China, Okinawa, rural Japan, and other parts of Asia into sexual slavery, known as the ‘comfort stations’ system. After the US occupied present-day South Korea (1945-1948), American military authorities took over some of the ‘comfort stations’ with the assistance of Korean officials (paradoxically, the issue of ‘comfort women’ is still a contentious issue between the Koreans and the Japanese).
According to a 1965 survey, 85% of GIs either had ‘been with’ or had ‘been out with’ a prostitute. Although the formal system of sexual slavery came to an end after the Second World War, Vine cites an American military chaplain who had commented, ‘Many men have their steadies. Some of them own their girls, complete with hooch [small house] and furniture. Before leaving Korea, they sell the package to a man who is just coming in’ (emphasis in original).
After US military bases were installed in South Korea in the 1950s, settlements known as ‘camptowns’ emerged close by; more than 150,000 Korean women, lacking any other economic alternative, took up sex work. Many of them were later subjected to severe social stigmatisation, and forced into destitution. While some would argue that the ‘supply emerged to meet a market demand’, Pepe caustically notes, military bases are not a product of the free market, they are ‘imposed without consent on communities where they dominate the local economies’ thwarting the ‘possibilities of independent development.’
Camptowns and prostitution were foreign currency-earners for Korea’s cash-strapped, war-ravaged economy, writes Vine; government documents reveal South Korean officials strategising on how to ‘encourage GIs to spend their money on women in Korea rather than Japan’ during their official leave, on offering classes in basic English and etiquette to women. Aeran Kim, a former sex worker recalls, ‘They urged us to sell as much as possible to the GI’s, praising us as ‘dollar-earning patriots.’ Our government was one big pimp for the U.S. military.’
Another sex-worker, who refused to be identified, said, ‘Women like me were the biggest sacrifice for my country’s alliance with the Americans. Looking back, I think my body was not mine, but the government’s and the U.S. military’s.’
Okinawa as America’s ‘strategic frontier’
Okinawa Island (part of the larger Ryukyu Islands group) was described by Douglas Mac Arthur, the famous five-star general of the US Army, as the ‘island-bastion’ of America’s ‘strategic frontier‘ on the eastern coast of the Asian continent.
The presence of hundreds of military bases had marked the American occupation of Japan (1945-1952) after its defeat in the Second World War. These were closed down after the normalisation of relations on the condition that their functions would be transferred to Okinawa. Mainland Japan had agreed; since then, Okinawa has borne the brunt of serving American and Japanese strategic interests.
Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul, Manila, Tokyo?all lie within a 1500 kilometre radius, ‘If there is a trouble spot in the Pacific and the Department of Defense needs to move forces quickly, Okinawa [has] the facilities to support that response’ (
Okinawa, which is only 0.6% of the land mass of Japan, hosts 75% of all US bases in the country. Of the 32 military bases located on the Ryukyu Islands, 20 are on the main island of Okinawa, occupying 20% of the island; there are also 48 restricted air and ocean training sites on the island. Almost half of US forces, nearly 26,000 military personnel, are stationed in Okinawa.
The Kadena Air Base was used for B-29 bombing missions during the Korean War (1950-1953); it was a major staging area throughout the Vietnam War (1955-1975); troops stationed in Okinawa were deployed to the Persian Gulf in the 1990s; weapons used in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq were stored and transported from Okinawa’s military bases.
One thousand nuclear warheads were deployed in Okinawa; this was acknowledged (and removed) only before the US returned Okinawa to Japan, after a 22-year long US occupation (1950-1972). But since US military presence remained intact, the occupation of Okinawa continues. As Richard Falk puts it, it is a colony in a post-colonial era, subjugated to ‘pursuing the Asian strategic interests of the United States.’
A ‘sordid history’ and ‘deepest regrets’
It was September 4, 1995, about 8:00 pm. A 12-year-old Okinawan schoolgirl was abducted by two Marines (Pfc. Rodrico Harp, 21, and Pfc. Kendrick M. Ledet, 20) and a Navy Seaman (Marcus D. Gill, 22).
According to Harp’s attorney, Mitsonobu Matsunaga, the three men went out to buy sex but decided on rape instead ‘because one of them did not have enough money’ (, October 28, 1995).
Gill had rented a car, he picked up Harp, Ledet and another servicemen, after having lunch, they drove around all afternoon, but when Gill spoke of rape, the fourth man declined and left the group. Harp and Ledet had nearly $30, but Gill said he was broke, and anyway, paid sex was ‘no fun.’ He proposed rape. He had come prepared with duct tape and condoms.
When the three servicemen saw a Japanese girl wearing a school uniform with a bag of books, they stopped the car, pulled her inside, put her in the back seat, taped her mouth and eyes, and bound her hands and legs. They drove to a secluded field, parked the car, Gill, who was described as a ‘tank’?6 feet tall, weighing 260-270 pounds?got out, and went into the back seat. He ”violently’ beat the struggling schoolgirl, telling her to ‘let me do what I want to do.”
The victim insisted on reporting it to the police, she didn’t want it to happen to another girl. The incident provoked the largest demonstration against US military bases in the history of Okinawa, drawing nearly 100,000 protestors.
The US invoked Article 17 of the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) regarding jurisdiction over US military personnel, and refused to surrender the three suspects to the Japanese authorities. It led protestors to demand that the two governments revise the security treaty, and the SOFA; some argued for their cancellation.
The commander of US forces in the Pacific Admiral Richard C. Macke told defence writers, ‘For the price they paid to rent the car they could have had a girl.’
More recently, the Associated Press (AP) obtained more than 1,000 internal Department of Defense documents, through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents, detailing investigations of sex crimes from 2005 to early 2013, involving U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan, reveal a ‘sordid history.’ ‘[M]ost offendors were not incarcerated, suspects received light punishments after being accused of serious violations, and victims increasingly were wary of cooperating with investigators’ (, February 9, 2014).
Light punishments were ‘non-judicial penalties’, ranging from offendors being ‘fined, demoted, restricted to their bases or [being] removed from the military.’ In 30 cases, only a letter of reprimand was issued. In 46 Marine, and 22 Navy, cases, personnel who had initially been accused of a ‘violent sex crime’  were punished for nonviolent or nonsexual offenses, such as, assault, failure to obey, adultery, having sex in barracks and fraternization. In two rape cases, the charges were dropped after the commanders overruled recommendations for courts martial. In sum, allegations were handled chaotically, and judgments were ‘random.’
The documents also show a pattern found in US bases elsewhere, US troops who ‘commit sexual assaults are most likely to abuse their fellow troops.’
US president Barack Obama’s official visit to Japan in May 2016 was overshadowed by the slaying of an Okinawan woman, Rina Shimabukuro, by a former US marine and current civilian worker, Kenneth Franklin Shinzato. Obama offered his ‘sincere condolences and deepest regrets.’
Media reports of the AP investigation led USA’s elected representatives to insist on the need for ‘further changes in the military’s legal system.’ It caused military officials to reiterate that ‘numerous changes [were being made to] military law and policy’ to ensure that allegations would be taken ‘seriously’, that the perpetrators would be ‘punished’.
‘Sensitivity training’ or structural violence?
A women’s movement demanding peace, human rights, and demilitarisation was formed in September 1995 after the rape of the 12-year-old scholgirl. The Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence (OWAAMV) has concentrated on analysing the consequences of ‘long-term active foreign military occupation.’
Kozue Akibayashi and Suzuyo Takazato write, the mainland Japanese media regularly ask OWAAMV, what are the statistics of sexual crimes committed by US soldiers in Okinawa. To which they say, no official statistics of sex crimes by US soldiers are available of the period of US occupation. Social stigma generally prevents victimised women from speaking up, hence, official statistics ‘reflect only the tip of the iceberg.’
The US military’s history of sexual violence in Okinawa has been pieced together by the OWAAMV from hospital records, police reports, newspaper articles and oral histories of victims and survivors. The seventh revision of their ongoing research documents ‘around 300 cases of different sorts of assaults against women and girls, including cases of gang rape, attempted rape, abduction, and murder.’
Their research reveals that preparation for war intensifies gender-based military violence. During World War II and the Korean War, ‘women experienced rampant and indiscriminate military violence’, for instance, a group of 2-6 soldiers would abduct a woman at gun- or knifepoint; they would gangrape her, and often give her to other groups of soldiers for more gangrape; soldiers would not hesitate to kill or severely injure those who tried to help the victims.
During the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s, violence was aimed at women working in the sex industry, rape cases were ‘rampant’, 3-4 women were strangled to death each year.
Military violence against women in various forms increased in intensity when troops stationed in Okinawa were deployed to the Persian Gulf in the 1990s. The September 11 attacks in 2001 also ‘brought direct changes to the military violence against women in Okinawa.’ As did the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, ‘crimes committed by US soldiers have increased or become more brutal.’
Akibayashi and Takazato emphasise, the military is a violence-producing institution, it is inextricably linked to sexual and gender violence. Soldiers, especially marines, are prepared to engage in life and death combat, they are trained ‘to maximize their capacity to attack and destroy an ‘enemy’, a dehumanized other.’ Denigrating women is intrinsic to much military training. ‘Pent-up feelings of frustration, anger, and aggression that soldiers acquire from combat training and experiences are often vented against women in their base locality, a reflection of misogyny and racial discrimination.’
Is a change in military culture possible? Takazato doesn’t think so, ‘Military violence is not random.’ Gwyn Kirk of the International Women’s Network Against Militarism agrees, it is not a workplace issue, nor is it about the abuse of power by higher-ups. ‘Soldiers are trained to kill. This means seeing ‘others’ as foreign or less-than-human, even those from allied nations like Japan.’
Gender, masculinity, national chauvinism and racism intersect, violently so. As Okinawan women say of US trooops abusing their coworkers, ‘If they do this to their own colleagues no wonder they do it to us.’ And therefore, US military women seeking justice for sexual violence committed against them, must remember that they are ‘part of a superpower with 1,000 bases overseas.’ If they seek gains, they must include women who are outside those bases, they too, ‘must be part of this conversation.’
Military violence is structural. Legal reforms, or talk of changing military culture, of imparting gender sensitivity training to troops, will not do.
Another definition of ‘security’
The question is, whose security does the military provide? ‘We have the US-Japan Security Treaty, but it doesn’t protect us. We demand another definition of security,’ says Takazato.
A re-definiton of security involves the dismantling of American military bases, and the end of the US occupation of Okinawa.