CHITTAGONG HILL TRACTS: A VOICE THAT HAS BEEN SILENCED

CHITTAGONG HILL TRACTS: A VOICE THAT HAS BEEN SILENCED

The terminology of ‘Genocide’ was coined by Raphael Lemkin who defined this as the complete annihilation of a racial, ethnic or a national group. The ulterior motive in undertaking such a barbarous act has been highlighted in this terminology. The Chittagong Hill Tract, which borders India and Myanmar consists of three hill districts namely Rangamati, Khgrachari and Bandarban,  is inhabited by the Bawm, Sak, Chakma, Khyang, Marma, Mru, Lashai, Uchay, Tripara, Pankho and Tanchgya which are indigenous communities. These communities are followers of Buddhism and have a distinct language that differentiates them from the majority. Yet, the nationalist discourse has espoused a binary between Bengali majority and the ‘Pahari’ minority, the terminology by which these indigenous communities are known (Nasreen and Towaga, 2002, p: 97- 110).

The Chittagong Hill Tract: Acts Implemented by the British Empire

However, it must be remembered that the British Empire bore the colonized with the fruits of colonial forestry that altered India’s ecology. Nonetheless, it must be mentioned how the onus of responsibility has been placed on the Raj for deforestation. The dense forests of the Chittagong Hill Tracts were perceived to be a source of revenue for the British and declared it to be Government property under the guise of protection (Golam, 2005, p: 7-10). The practice of kumri was now denounced under the British Raj which had been known as shifting cultivation where trees had been burned and seeds were then sowed in the ashes, performing as a fertilizer (Rajan, 2006, p:1-112 ). It was argued that it had resulted in deforestation and soil depletion. The shifting cultivators had been engaged in competition with the colonial state for forest resources. This could be perceived as the beginning of intolerance against the indigenous consumer of the forests, as hunting for livelihood was now criminalized. However, the commoditization of forests was detrimental for the British Empire to pronounce its dominance. The Act XXII of 1860 brought the Chittagong Hill Tracts under the jurisdiction of the British Superintendent and was made a subdivision in the Bengal Region (Barua, 1971, p: 514-518). The Chittagong Hill Tract Regulation Act of 1900 put forth the trajectory of separation by reaffirming restrictions on immigration. By this law, it was the Deputy Commissioner under whom jhum cultivation could be regulated. The Government of India Act, 1935 designated the Chittagong Hill Tracts as a “Totally Excluded Area”.

It was in 1947 that the establishment of two nation states: India and Pakistan were established as sovereign. It was Cyril Radcliffe, the Head of the Bengal Boundary Commission who suggested the inclusion of CHT in Pakistan (Ashrafuzzaman, 2014, p: 39-53 ). The Chittagong Hill Tracts was incorporated by the Pakistan who she had directly governance over. By the constitution of Pakistan, proclaimed under the Dictatorship of Ayub Khan in 1962, the CHT was declared as a ”tribal area”. It was believed that the Kaptai Dam was to be established across the Karnaphulli river during 1959- 1963 which was a hydroelectric project and the stepping stone for industrialization. This led to the displacement of over 100,000 indigenous people and many were compelled to resettle in India. As a result of continuous economic exploitation, resistance was the only solution for East Pakistan.

The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971: Government Sponsored Violence in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

It was in 1971 that Pakistan withdrew, although the Liberation War brought to the fore violence by both East and West Pakistan. The Bengali freedom fighters declared the tribespeople as supporters of Pakistan and were tortured. However, it cannot be forgotten that the Bangladesh Liberation War was fought in 1971 by the indigenous communities who were a minority as well as by the majority population constituted by Bengali Muslims against West Pakistan, the former believing the claim that their rights would be restored to them after independence. The Bangladesh Liberation War must be analyzed as an imposition of the Urdu language in Bangladesh with a pursuit for Muslim rule (Wolfgang, 1984, p: 1-126).

In 1972, Manobendra Narayan Larma, the only representative in parliament of CHT led a delegation and placed demands to the Prime Minister, Majibur Rahman such as the establishment of a Legislative Assembly in the CHT, restricting the movement of outsiders in this region and lastly the continuation of the designation of Tribal Chief Offices which was outrightly rejected. A new political party was born known as Parboti Chottogram Janasanghati Samati or PCSS, coupled with its armed wing known as Santi Bahini. The indigenous communities were collectively termed as Jumma (Islam, 2003, p: 137-160). However, no special status was awarded to CHT by Bangladesh after it gained independence and its population was accorded the citizenship of Bengali which denied the separate identity that its indigenous community had. The Constitution of Bangladesh in 1988 declared Islam as the state religion, the victims of religious persecution has been the Jummas and the Hindus. Temples had been destroyed of both Hindus and the Jummas alike. There has been an influx of Bengali Muslim settlers with the support provided by the Bangladeshi Army which has resulted in the significant reduction of the Jumma population. The International Labor Organization has brought to the forefront the annihilation of the indigenous people.  

The Peace Accords: A Failure

It was in 1997 that the Peace Accords were signed between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the PCSS. The Accord stated that the Bangladesh Government would withdraw its troops from the Chittagong Hill Tracts, although human rights violations have continued to occur even after the treaty had been signed. Rabi Shankar Chakma, the Central General Secretary, in an exclusive interview with Hill Women’s Federation has commented on how CHT has still been under military occupation by the government. The Army’s influence plays a vital role in the failure of the implementation of the Peace Accords. Adding to that, the Bangladeshi National Party has espoused an attitude that can be termed as uncooperative. It violated the terms of the treaty by not appointing a minister belonging from the indigenous members of the parliament. Detentions of the Jumma have accentuated. Massacres have been occurring since 1976 and women have been victims of sexual violence as rape has been utilized as a tool. Not only that, but looting has also occurs predominantly. Many such incidents can be cited to propound the role of an authoritarian government that has repressed the voices of the Jummas. Hill’s Women Federation which represents the rights of Pahari Women in the Chittagong Hill Tracts has reported the rate of rapes at 67% during 2011- 2012.

Therefore, it is important to point out that the CHT is such a region that has been fraught by communalism which has been fueled by discrimination of the Government of Bangladesh, and their perception of the Jumma community. While this same government has spoken out for the displacement of the Rohingya Muslims, it has remained silent on the terrors it has engaged in. 

Samanneeta Chakraborty

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