Written by Aenon Shalom
Buddhists Drive Bangladeshi Christian from Home
In same district, Muslim land-grabbers murder defender of tribal villagers.
By Aenon Shalom
DHAKA, Bangladesh, December 26 (Compass Direct News) - Buddhist villagers in southeastern Bangladesh's Rangamati district last week beat a young father and drove him from his house for converting to Christianity.
The Buddhists in Asambosti, in the Tabalchari area some 300 kilometers (186 miles) southeast of Dhaka, warned Sujan Chakma, 27, not to return to his home after beating him on Dec. 18. Chakma, who converted to Christianity about four months ago, has come back to his home but some nights the likelihood of attacks forces him to remain outside.
He is often unable to provide for his 26-year-old wife, Shefali Chakma, and their 6-year-old son, as area residents opposed to his faith refuse to give him work as a day laborer. Chakma, his wife and son do not eat on days he does not work, he said.
"I am ostracized by my neighbors since I became Christian," Chakma said. "They put pressure on me to give up my faith, saying otherwise I cannot live in this society. Nothing daunted me, I held firm to my faith in Jesus. On Dec. 18, four of my neighbors came to my home and beat me. They slapped and punched on me. Later they forced me to leave my house. They threatened me that if I come back to my home, I will be in great trouble."
Neighbors have threatened to beat him again and to send him to jail, he said, and they have pressured him to divorce to his wife.
"At first she did not like my conversion, but she liked my change after accepting Jesus," he said. "My wife told openly to those neighbors, ‘My husband is a Christian, so I will be a Christian along with my son.'"
A spokesman for Chakma's church, Parbatta Adivasi Christian Church, said church leaders met with some of the new convert's neighbors and urged them to accept him.
"We told them that our constitution supports that anyone can accept any religion," the church spokesman said. "Hindering their practice is unlawful."
Church leaders said they fear that taking the case to local officials and police would only further anger local Buddhists and harm evangelical activities.
"We do not want to enrage anyone over this incident," said the spokesman. "But Chakma does not feel secure to stay here. He does not spend the night in his house for security reasons."
Rights Advocate Murdered
Earlier this year in Rangamati district, Bengali Muslim settlers killed a tribal Christian for defending indigenous peoples from illegal land-grabs.
On Aug. 19 Ladu Moni Chakma, 55, was stabbed repeatedly and his throat was cut at Sajek in Baghaichuri sub-district in Rangamati district after he reported to the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission how a military commander helped settle Bengali Muslims on area lands.
A pastor of the Bangladesh Baptist Church in the district told Compass that Chakma was killed because he was a Christian who was an outspoken defender of minorities in the area.
"They do not want any Christian to live here," the pastor said. "They hate Christians more than any other minority religions - it is one of the main reasons to evict and kill Ladu Moni. If people become Christian, many NGOs [Non-Governmental Organizations] will be set up here, and various local and international missionaries will look after them, so that Bengali settlers cannot grab lands illegally."
Chakma often interceded with the Chittagong Hill Tract Commission on behalf of the indigenous people about their rights and the cruel manner in which Bengali settlers illegally took lands from indigenous people, the pastor added.
Chakma's widow, Cikonpudi Chakma, also known as Minti Chakma, told reporters in Dhaka on Aug. 28 how the Bengali settlers attacked her family around 10:30 p.m. in Aug. 19.
"Some people were shouting, ‘Open the door! Open the door!'" she said. "Without realizing anything what was going on, three Bengali people broke in our shanty hut."
She saw knives in their hand and recognized a local man named Mohammed Ali, who earlier in the year had helped settlers seize lands from villagers.
The attackers blindfolded her and dragged her husband out of their home into the rain. They also tried to take her 13-year old daughter, Minu, she said.
"I resisted them taking out my daughter, and I was injured during the tussle with them," she said. "They hit my forehead with a knife."
She and her children fled through a backdoor and escaped certain rape and death by jumping down a ravine and rolling to the bottom. Drenched, they took shelter at a nearby home.
"I could not contact my husband that night," she said. "The next morning, we were returning [to] our home. On the way near Baghaihat, we saw a blood-stained, stock-still body. It was my husband. His body was mutilated and stabbed with sharp knife and machete."
Police sub-inspector Azizur Rahman Aziz of Baghaichari police station told Compass that his department had arrested three persons in connection with the killing of Chakma.
"We are investigating the case, and after the national election [to be] held on Jan. 29, we will submit the charge sheet," he said.
Chakma's widow urged the army-backed interim caretaker government to withdraw settlers from Sajek in Baghaichari and punish the murderers of her husband.
In April, mainly Muslim Bengali settlers aided by the army and a local businessman burned 77 homes in four villages of the tribal people in Sajek, Cikonpudi Chakma told reporters in August.
"In that arson attack, all of our wealth and assets were destroyed," she said. "Just a week after, we again built a new house. At that time, Mohammad Ali tried to stop us making a new house and demanded that our land was his. The problem started when the Baghaihat zone army commander brought settlers from different areas and took initiative to settle them on our lands."
Survival International director Stephen Corry said in a statement that the attacks were a "criminal human rights violation." According to the Survival International, abuses have escalated since the army-backed emergency government came to power in January 2007.
In the Baghaichari area, at least 13 Christian families lived among 77 tribal Buddhist families until the Christians' homes were burned down in April.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts region comprises three districts: Bandarban, Khagrachuri and Rangamati. The region is surrounded by the Indian states of Tripura on the north and Mizoram on the east, Myanmar on the south and east.
Copyright 2008 Compass Direct News
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