Courage is contagious, killing Mithun cowardice

Reaz Ahmad
Thursday, January 11th, 2018


Throughout his life, cut short by a cowardly attack, Mithun Chakma stood firm by his beliefs. If what man believes is reflected in his social media profile then Mithun is a case whose Facebook cover proclaimed it loud and clear what he used to stand for. For one of his Facebook cover images, Mithun lent to famous Billy Graham quote – “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” Through his most unfortunate demise, in the hands of a gang of ‘masked’ assailants, Mithun proved it for one last time that he was courageous and the cowards are up for halting ‘spine-stiffening’.


Mithun Chakma, a central leader of the United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF), who championed the causes of Jumma people all along his life, was forcefully picked up from near his Khagrachhari home by masked assailants on January 3. They killed him in most cowardly manner by riddling his body with multiple gunshots on a day, Mithun was supposed to celebrate his baby boy’s turning two years of age.


His assailants must have been familiar with the Billy Graham saying – “Courage is contagious”- otherwise, why should they take the trouble of making sure a proper mass is not arranged to say adieu to the Jumma right activist? People in the hills complained that many of them were deterred from attending a mass prior to the last ritual of Mithun’s body. Elderly politician Badruddin Umar, Dhaka University Emeritus Professor Serajul Islam Chowdhury, Prof Anu Muhammad, Dr. C R Abrar, and writer Omar Tarek Chowdhury joined a long list of conscientious citizens in issuing joint statement seeking to know why state’s forces drove people away from joining Mithun’s funeral. They expressed angst at the killing of such an amiable, soft-spoken indigenous rights leader and demanded arrest and trial of Mithun’s killers. At the same time they demanded a probe to ascertain motive behind not allowing people to pay their last tributes to the slain leader.


Thirteenth century philosopher Thomas Aquinas famousely said, “Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.” Mithun Chakma, who was taught at two of the best educational institutions this country can boast – University of Dhaka and Notre Dame College – knew it well that he believed in collective happiness of the people of this country, he had the desire to see his Jumma people thrive and didn’t lag behind and he had the resolve to do some tasks that he had to do. With brilliant results he could, and in fact he was offered too on numerous occasions, fit him well in academic positions or corporate jobs. But Mithun knew his path was a different one. He had chosen the tough one but the right one, surely. In death, Mithun showed, once again, it takes courage to fight for causes.


Just a year prior to the 1997 signing of peace accord between the government and the former Shanti Bahini men, a fiery hill woman right activist – Kalpana Chakma – got abducted in a suspicious circumstances, people like Mithuns were in their late teens and fumed by injustices towards indigenous people. Mithun, a former head of Pahari Chhatra Parishad (Hill Students’ Council), had to endure tortures for raising his voice against state’s perceived indifference over Kalpana Chakma abduction case. In August, 2015, then head of the National Human Rights Commission, Mizanur Rahman, said that justice is yet to be served in the Kalpana Chakma case even after 19 years (now 22 years) of her disappearance, and the culture of impunity in the society is to be blamed for it.


Mithun, an avid book reader, writer and strong believer of social equality and justice, was involved with UPDF from its very inception back in 1998, a year after PCJSS struck peace deal with the government formally ending two decades of war in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. UPDF, perceived as a forum of PCJSS renegades, has been seeking to establish full autonomy in the CHT, and it bagged a considerable amount of votes though couldn’t win any seat in CHT partaking the eighth parliamentary polls in 2011. Many may differ with Mithun’s political ideology but can’t question his sincerity towards his vision and mission. Being son of an ex-Shanti Bahini man, Mithun’s philosophy of realizing demands was rather surprisingly different. He didn’t withstand idea of conflicts or violence as a means. Yet, till the last day of his life this youth in his late-30s, had to carry a baggage of cases, which his friends and admirers claimed as ‘false’ and filed with ‘malicious’ intention of hushing up an Adivasi voice. Media reports quoted a development activist, also a former classmate of Mithun, as saying, “Mithun never did politics of fighting and murder. He was a follower of idealism and never compromised with any wrongdoing.”


After Mithun’s barbaric killing, Amnesty International called on the Bangladesh authorities to hold a rigorous investigation, without delay, into the murder of the indigenous human rights defender, and ensure that any persons against whom credible evidence exists are prosecuted in accordance with international standards of due process. It said Mithun was detained without charge on 12 July 2016, where he remained for three months until he was released on bail on 18 October 2016. Following his release, Mithun was informed of 10 other criminal cases against him. Some of these cases were brought under the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act 2006, a law which allows for undue restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, for example by limiting discussion on social media of human rights violations by government agencies. Evidence presented included screenshots of his online activism, such as published articles and tweets. Due to the volume of cases, Mithun was appearing before the court on a regular basis, which restricted his ability to carry out his indigenous rights campaigning, stated Amnesty. It further expressed its concerns that such cases contribute to a climate in which human rights defenders are afraid to speak out about human rights abuses in Bangladesh. “Mithun’s murder reinforces concerns about the serious threat that human rights defenders face when exercising their right to freedom of expression in Bangladesh,” Amnesty International concluded.

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