Rage in Rangamati

At least 20 people including a union parishad chairman and a sub-inspector were injured in a clash between indigenous people and Bangalee settlers in Rangamati town yesterday.

The administration in Rangamati town called in troops and imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, banning any kind of gathering for an indefinite period after a violent clash spread across the hill-town between hill people and Bengali settlers that left at least 60 persons injured, dozens of vehicles and households damaged and torched on Saturday.

The violence was caused by a trifling altercation between Bengali and hill students at Rangamati Government College and soon turned into a violent clash as outsiders from both the sides joined the melee.

The clash immediately spread across the town and almost became a sectarian riot after rumours were floated that people had been killed. Both the Bengalis and hill people attacked each other in all the major neighbourhoods in the small town, prompting the administration to call in troops to restore order.

The major business establishments, offices, and even private hospitals and chambers of physicians on both sides of the main road of the town were damaged. Violence was most intense in business hub Banarupa, College Gate, Kalindipur and Majherpara of Tabalchhari.

The authorities closed down the Rangamati Government College for an indefinite period following the violence in which some teachers were injured and the principal’s office totally damaged.

Several hundred Bengali settlers attempted to attack Banarupa marketplace and an adjacent village and some leaders of the Awami League and BNP tried to stop them. As they were paying no heed, the patrolling troops threatened to shoot anyone moving.

The administration announced enforcement of Section 144 throughout the town through megaphones at around 1:00pm as violence was continuing to intensify.

Teams of military, Border Guard Bangladesh and police personnel were patrolling the city and not allowing more than two persons to gather. All vehicular movement stopped on the local and inter-district roads.

Panic gripped the entire town and students trapped in schools went home by special arrangements.

Rangamati’s police superintendent, Masud ul Hassan, said the situation calmed down somewhat after Section 144 was imposed. He said the clash ensued from a trifling dispute in the college and later spread throughout the town.

The principal of Rangamati Government College, Banchita Chakma, said he could not understand exactly what caused the sectarian violence among his students that spread outside the college. He said a huge number of outsiders joined the clash from both sides and did not pay any heed to their request to calm down.

‘They even attacked my students and colleagues who were in classrooms,’ he said, adding at least a dozen students and two teachers, Samir Kanti Nath and Dhiman Barua, sustained severe injuries.

The local people said the embryo of the clash started on Wednesday as two students locked in an altercation over sitting in a college bus. There occurred a turmoil in the college over the issue on Thursday, they said.

But the principal said she knew nothing about this altercation.

The situation deteriorated as the clash spread outside the college periphery to nearby Banarupa, Kanthaltoli and Rajbari areas of the town. The district administration then deployed additional police in the area.

As they failed to calm the situation, the district administration called for army and BGB around 10:30 am. But because of their failure to contain the clashes, the district administration clamped Section 144 around at 11:00am, said sources.

Meanwhile, to find ways to resolve the issue, an urgent meeting of high-ups was held at the Rangamati Circuit House from 4:00pm to 6:00pm when the district administration was asked to form an enquiry committee to investigate the matter.

State Minister for CHT Affairs Dipankar Talukder, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Chittagong Brig Gen Sarwar Hossain, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) Sector Commander Col Nurul Huda, officials of police and district administrations, Chairman of Rangamati District Council Nikhil Kumar Chakma, Rangamati SP, principal of Rangamati Government College, and leaders from different political parties attended the meeting.

The decisions taken at the meeting include continuation of imposition of Section 144, closure of the college and deployment of additional law enforcers until the situation calmed. It also decided to increase interaction between the indigenous and Bangalee communities.

The Rangamati College principal alleged that the clash was “pre-planned” as it spread all over the town rapidly. Three teachers and two staff of the college were also injured, she added.

Musa Matubbar, chairman of Rangamati Sadar Upazila, said the unruly people beat up the chairman of Atarokchharha Union while they were at a meeting of all union parishad chairmen at the Sadar Upazila hall room.

Dipankar Talukder expressed his resentment over the role of intelligence agencies as they failed to contain the clash and hence, failed to help the administration in taking precautionary steps.

Representatives of political parties in the district demanded a judicial inquiry into the clash.

Of the injured, eight were sent to Chittagong Medical College Hospital (CMCH) while others took primary treatment at local clinics and hospitals.

The injured who were admitted to CMCH include Sub-Inspector Mahfuzur Rahman, 35, Mangal Kanti Chakma, 35, chairman of Atarokchharha Union under Longdu Upazila; Shubhas Chakma, 42; Mohammad Rana, 18; and Rangamati Government College students Shahadat Hossain, 17, SM Saifuddin, 17, and Priyotosh Barua, 17, reports our staff correspondent from Chittagong.

Ashutosh Barua, father of Priyotosh who claimed himself to be a senior vice-president of Rangamati Upazila Awami League, told that his son was on the second floor of the college when the clash started.

But as he came out some indigenous students of the college attacked him. He was seriously injured in his head and left eye, added Ashutosh.

Shahinoor Akhter, mother of Shahadat, told that her son was injured in his head and also in different limbs. She said some of his friends rescued him from the college compound and informed her over the phone.