Few places in Chittagong can claim the fame, and infamy, of Rangamati. The district is home to some half-a-million people, mostly Bengalis, but also Chakma tribals, Marma tribals, Tangchanga tribals, Tripuran tribals, Pankho tribals, Bohm tribals and several other smaller tribal groups living deeper in the Hill Tracts.
Following the inundation of most of the old Rangamati town, including it’s royal palace, with the construction of the Kaptai Dam in 1963, Rangamati district has been a centre of conflict and dispute in the Hill Tracts. The PCJSS political organization, and it’s offshoot, Shanti Bahini were active and vocal in the district over the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. In more recent times, SB’s splinter group, the UPDF, has been involved in politically motivated murders, assaults and kidnappings in more isolated pockets of the Rangamati district. Aside from insurgent groups, several organized criminal groups, small and large, have also tapped into the lucrative kidnapping industry in the Hill Tracts, targeting foreign workers, local politicians and occasionally unarmed and uninvolved civilians. More isolated pockets of Rangamati district continue to host Bengali-tribal and inter-tribal conflicts, with violent sexual assaults against tribal women a common occurrence.
The kidnapping of thirteen banana traders in Chilekdak area in Suvalong on June 17, and the kidnapping of nine Chakma villagers, from Lorichharamukh area in Sadar upazila, on July 25, are just two examples of the continued insecurity situation in Rangamati district.
Traveling through Rangamati, up the Kaptai Lake and into Suvalong town this July, I was lucky not to witness such fearful acts. The local police constable, Rafique, happily lent me a three-police guard for the trip, and even a boat-breakdown on the lake attracted only local help and assistance. Despite the continuing insecurity situation in Rangamati district, one also finds a very approachable, and very welcoming cross – section of Bengali and tribal societies at Rangamati.