Earth Touch No. 10 April 2007. SEHD, Bangladesh .
Local Garo Leader in Modhupur —CHALESH
RITCHIL—Tortured to Death!
By Philip Gain and Debashish Majumder
Chalesh Ritchil (41), a local Garo
leader in Modhupur sal forest, was
allegedly tortured to death on 18
March (2007). The army-led joint
forces in plain clothes picked up
Ritchil and three other Garos at
about 1:30 PM from a place called
Kalibari bus stand in Muktagachha
Thana of Mymensingh district. They
were returning after attending a
marriage in court. Chalesh Ritchil, a
healthy man, was reportedly dead
by around 10:00 PM.
The security agencies led by the
Relatives and villagers mourn and pray around the dead
army took the four Garos to Kakraid
body of Chalesh Ritchil on 20 April in his village home.
army camp. Two of them—Tuhin
Hadima (son) and Piren Simsang (father)—were allowed to leave the army camp at about 6:00
PM after some alleged physical abuses. But Ritchil and his relative Protap Jambil were held at
the army camp. Jambil was dropped at Beribaid Boiragi Bazar by an army van in serious
condition at about 11:00 PM. He was admitted to Mymensingh Medical College hospital on 19
Jambil who survived torture by a group of some six security men is a witness to torture on
Ritchil. He reported from his hospital bed that both of them were tied and severely beaten
together for about two hours. Ritchil was then separated from him.
Ritchil’s second wife, Sharpina Nokrek, rushed to the army camp soon after she came to
know that her husband was picked up by the army. She managed to speak to Major Toufiq
Elahi, in-charge of joint forces in Modhupur, Gopalpur and Dhanbari and wanted to see her
husband. But according to her, Major Elahi verbally abused her and said, “Go away; you
cannot see Chalesh. He is a terrorist. Come back tomorrow morning to collect his dead body.”
Terrified Sharpina and their relatives waited on the street only to learn that her husband was
Sources in the police administration and Major Toufiq Elahi reportedly denied any torture
on Chalesh. The autopsy report was not available till writing this report. High officials in the
police administration have claimed that Ritchil died a normal death. “This is a barefaced lie,”
said Protap Jambil. Those who cleaned Chalesh Ritchil’s dead body after it was handed down
to his relatives found torture wounds all over his body. His toes and fingers bore clear marks
of torture. Wounds from beatings were found all over his body, particularly on his back, thighs
and arms. They also report that his anal area bore signs of torture and his testicles were taken
When Ritchil’s body was taken from Kakraid army camp to nearby Modhupur Thana
Health Complex at about 11:00 PM he was already dead, said sources. Performing an autopsy
on Ritchil in Tangail town remains fishy. Nobody saw his body in Tangail. No death certificate
CHALESH RITCHIL—Tortured to Death! /SEHD/Philip Gain & Debashish Majumder 1
has reached Ritchil’s family yet. His relatives believe that
the autopsy was not done right. So his family and
different organizations demanded a fresh autopsy and
proper investigation into the unnatural death of Ritchil.
Police handed Ritchil’s dead body to Jalchhatra
Catholic Mission by midday on 19 March. As Ritchil’s
dead body was kept in the Church building, thousands of
people—Garos, Bengalis, Muslim women in Burkha—
filled the huge Church premises. Ritchil was a loved one
to them. When someone ran into difficulty Ritchil was the
first one to stand by them, said the wailing villagers in
However, the Forest Department (FD) disliked Ritchil.
To this government agency, he was a forest bandit. There
were indeed a number of forest cases against him and he
had to report to the court on regular basis.
Ritchil’s wailing wife was naming and blaming some
FD officials and Bengalis for her husband’s death. She
complained that they colored Ritchil to be a terrorist. A
memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner (DC) signed Chalesh Ritchil in 2000.
by ten Garos of Modhupur says, “He is not a terrorist or
he was not involved in any anti-state activity. He was only a defendant in forest cases. There
was no case for act of terrorism and extortion against him.”
The memorandum further states, “We believe that Chalesh Ritchil has been brutally
tortured to death with ill intention, and his killing reflects repression on indigenous people of
Modhupur Garh area.”
Ritchil’s homestead is sandwiched between two villages—Magontinagar and Beribaid. His
large banana plantation surrounds his house. It is indeed a great disappointment that a big
portion of the Modhupur sal forest is now covered by banana plantation. The invasion of
banana in this unique sal forest is a recent phenomena and much detrimental to forest ecology.
It is mainly the outsiders who control and benefit most from banana cultivation. The critics of
massive scale banana cultivation assert that plantation (woodlot and agroforestry) funded by
Asian Development Bank (ADB) and sugarcoated as social forestry, interest of the politically
influential quarters and corruption in the Forest Department (FD) are the major factors behind
the destruction of forest and invasion of banana in Modhupur. The Garos, forest people in the
true sense, have been trapped in this process of forest destruction. With no other option left
they have also converted most of their high land into commercial banana gardens.
The Garo villages including that of Ritchil became prime targets of FD raids against banana
on the forestland in February this year. In FD’s raids against “illegal” banana cultivation, the
joint forces provided security against any resistance attempt from the locals. The banana plot of
Chalesh Ritchil was thoroughly cut on 22 February. During action against banana in Ritchil’s
village his son and brother- in-law (Protap Jambil) were beaten.
The Garos complained that the FD, instead of cutting banana plots that were established by
outsiders by cutting forest or replacing woodlot and agroforestry, first raided banana plots of
the Garo villages. Chalesh Ritchil was one of the prime victims of the raid against banana
cultivation. In the face of protest against “arbitrary” raid against banana plots in the Garo
villages, the FD postponed such raid upon order from a high level of the caretaker
government. The FD also stopped its wall construction plan afresh in January this year (2007)
after it was postponed in 2004 following the killing of a Garo youth Piren Snal.
The Garos strongly oppose wall construction for establishing eco-park. They fear walls in
the forest will surely curtail their traditional rights. Chalesh was in the forefront of the
CHALESH RITCHIL—Tortured to Death! /SEHD/Philip Gain & Debashish Majumder 2
movement against establishment of the so-called eco-park with concrete walls around 3,000
acres in the Modhupur National Park area. This made the FD angry against Ritchil.
Ritchil’s wife Sharpina and many Garos and Bengalis complain that the FD together with
Ritchil’s political foes must have misled the joint forces against Ritchil. Ritchil was an active
Awami League worker on the ground and he contested in the Union Parishad election once in
his union, Aronkhola.
In a press conference some leading human rights and environmental organizations of the
country stated that killing of Ritchil is extrajudicial. They have requested the caretaker
government for neutral inquiry into the unnatural death of Chalesh, autopsy again, surathal
(appearance upon death) report, punishment of the perpetrators and appropriate
compensation to the family of Ritchil.
The enraged Garos and Bengalis of the forest villages in Modhupur stay fearful and quiet
for now because the country is in a state of emergency. They are terrified as they see the
military patrol in their villages. However, thousands of them did not hesitate to come to
Ritchil’s funeral on 21 March and show their respect to his departed soul.
Follow-up: As of mid-April 2007 an UD (unnatural death) case (No.02/07) was filed in
Modhupur Thana. The attempt of the family of Chalesh for a lawsuit has proved to be very
difficult. A complaint filed on 20 March 2007 by the first wife of Chalesh—Shandha Simsang—
was not recorded as a criminal case. Sandha holds Zahirul Haque (ACF of Modhupur National
Park), Kamrul Mozahid (deputy ranger of Rasulpur Sadar Range) and Major Toufiq Elahi to be
primarily responsible for her husband's unnatural death. Of these three Zahirul Haque and
Major Toufiq Elahi were reportedly moved out of Modhupur soon after the killing of Chalesh.
Earth Touch No. 10 April 2007. Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD), Bangladesh.
CHALESH RITCHIL—Tortured to Death! /SEHD/Philip Gain & Debashish Majumder 3