Background of Chittagong Hill Tracts
The Chittagong Hill Tracts (hereafter CHT), an area of
13,295 square kilometers, is the south eastern part of
Bangladesh, bordering the Arakan and Chin States of
Burma, and Tripura and Mizoram States of India. From the
time immemorial the CHT have been the home of thirteen
indigenous ethnic groups. They collectively identify
themselves as the Jumma people, the first peoples of the
CHT. They are Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Tanchangya, Mro,
Murung, Lushai, Khumi, Chak, Khyang, Bawm, Pankhua, and
Reang. The Jumma people are distinct and different from
the majority Bengali population of Bangladesh in respect
of race, language, culture, religion and ethnicity.
1. British Period(1787-1947):
Similar to other indigenous peoples of the world, the indigenous people were also independent before the British colonial period. The British annexed the CHT area in 1860 and created an autonomous administrative district known as "The Chittagong Hill Tracts" within the undivided British Bengal. In 1900, the British enacted the Regulation 1 of the 1900 CHT Act in order to protect the indigenous people from economic exploitation of Bengali Muslims and to preserve their traditional, social, cultural and political institutions based on customary laws, common ownership of land and so on. Throughout the British colonial period the 1900 CHT Act functioned as a safeguard for the indigenous people, prohibited land ownership and migrations of Bengali Muslimss in the CHT.
In 1947, Indian subcontinent was partitioned on the basis of
religion, Pakistan for Muslims and secular India for non
Muslims and Muslims alike. Despite 98.5% of the
population of the CHT were indigenous Jummas and thus non Muslims,
the Pakistani leadership conspired with the British Boundary Commission.
The British Boundary Commission ceded the CHT to East
Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in violation of the principles
of partition and against the wishes of the indigenous people.
The indigenous vehemently protested against the decision, but
to no avail. On 15 August, 1947 the indigenous youths under
the leadership of Sneha Kumar Chakma hoisted tricolor
Indian flag in Rangamati and Burmese flag in Bandarban. Six days later
the Indian flag in Rangamati was lowered by the Pakistani
Army at gun point
2. Pakistan Period(1947-1971):
From the very outset the Pakistani Government looked
at the indigenous people with an eye of suspicion for being anti
Pakistani during the partition. Indigenous people were discriminated
in jobs, business and education. During the Pakistani
rule, the Government of Pakistan amended the 1900 CHT Act
several times against the wishes of the indigenous people in
order to find a legal excuse for migration of Bengali Muslims
into the CHT. It deliberately ignored
the fact that the 1900 CHT Act was an indispensable legal
instrument for ensuring the safeguard of the indigenous people, and
that it could not be amended without mutual agreement. On
contrary, Pakistani Government interpreted the 1900 CHT Act
as a legacy of British colonial administration which
helped separating the CHT from the rest of the country.
The predicament of the indigenous people began with the
building of a hydroelectric dam in the early sixties
which flooded 1,036 Square Kilometers of land, submerged
40% of the best arable land and displaced 100,000 indigenous people
from their ancestral homes.
3. Bangladesh Period(1971- Present):
After nine months of war of independence with Pakistan, Bangladesh emerged as an independent state on 16 December 1971. During the war of independence it was alleged that indigenous people in general remained indifferent to the cause of war against Pakistan. Soon after the Pakistani army withdrew, the Mukti Bahini (liberation forces of Bangladesh) went on rampage against the indigenous people in the CHT. On 15 February 1972, a delegation of the indigenous people led by M.N. Larma, called on Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and submitted a written memorandum with 4 point charter of demands consisting of-
Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman categorically rejected these demands. In March 1972, Mr. Manabendra N. Larma formed Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS, CHT United People Party). Later a military wing Shanti Bahini was added to it.
4. Arrests, Tortures and Kidnapping:
In the name of counter-insurgency the indigenous people have often been detained and tortured by the Bangladesh army. Thousands have perished in the armed encounters, extra-judicial executions, tortures, rapes and so on. Bangladesh security forces often resorted to mass detention and torture of the helpless villagers and left many of them crippled for life. For further consolidating their authority over the villagers, security forces have uprooted villages and forcibly kept them in so called "cluster villages"; (known as concentration camps), where they live under constant supervision of the Bangladesh army.
5. Bengali Muslim Settlers:
In the late 1970s President Zia sponsored migration of Muslim settlers into the CHT, providing land grants, cash and rations. This program was not made public at the time, and its existence was denied by the representative of the government. Now the government acknowledges that there was a program of sponsored migration. Muslim settlers, with the connivance of the almost totally Bengali Muslim administration, have been able to take over land and even whole villages from the indigenous people. By 1981 the Muslim settlers made up nearly one third of the total population of the CHT.
6. Forcible Conversion and Religious Persecution:
Forcible conversion is considered as a state sponsored method of assimilation. Al-Rabita, a Saudi government funded NGO, is the main Islamic missionary organisation active in the region, backed by the Bangladesh army, it is entrusted with the Islamisation of the region. The Jammat-i-Islam, an Islamic fundamentalist party works actively with the Bangladesh army in the CHT. The number of mosques and madrashas(Islamic schools) are rapidly increasing in the area. Apart from proselytisation, there have been religious persecution in the form of violation and destruction of religious places of the indigenous people by the Bangladesh army. In 1986, within a period of eight months 54 Buddhist temples have been destroyed and 22 Hindu temples were burnt down by the Bangladesh army.
Since 1980 there have been 13 major instances of massacre of the indigenous people by the Muslim settlers and the Bangladesh military personnel. These are:
8. The CHT Treaty:
The Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS), the political platform of the indigenous people signed a treaty with the Bangladesh government on 2 December, 1997. The treaty failed to safeguard the survival of the indigenous Jumma people. The Bangladesh government did not have the sincere desire to solve the problem of the CHT. The treaty had rather been used by the Bangladesh government as a facade to impress the donor countries. The treaty does not address the fundamental problem of illegal Muslim settlers and militarisation of the CHT, it rather legalizes the settlers in the CHT.
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