Background of Chittagong Hill Tracts

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Land of CHT

Typical landscape of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The CHT is south eastern part of the Himalayas, thus in stark contrast to mainland Bangladesh it is very mountainous. In 1962 the Pakistan Government built a Dam at Kaptai, which inundated 45% of the fertile land of the CHT. Rangamati, the capital of the CHT is surrounded with water and mountains.

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-

  1. Autonomy for the CHT
  2. Retention of the CHT Regulation 1900
  3. Recognition of the three kings of the indigenous people
  4. Ban on the influx of the non indigenous people into the CHT

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.

7. Massacres:

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:

  1. Kaukhali-Kalampati Massacre, 25 March 1980 - Bangladesh Army and Muslim settlers gunned down 300 indigenous people.
  2. Banraibari-Beltali-Belchari Massacre, 26 June 1981: - Muslim settlers under the protection of Bangladesh Army, murdered hundreds of indigenous people.
  3. Telafang-Ashalong-Tabalchari Massacre, 19 September 1981: - Bangladesh Army and Muslim settlers invaded the indigenous villages of Feni valley and murdered hundreds of indigenous people.
  4. Golakpatimachara-Machyachara-Tarabanchari Massacre, June-August 1983: - Bangladesh Army and Muslim settlers executed months long campaign against the indigenous villages and murdered 800 indigenous people.
  5. Bhusanchara Massacre, 31 May 1984 - the massacre was carried out jointly by the 26 Bengal Regiment of Bangladesh Army and Muslim settlers. At least 400 indigenous people were killed. Many women were gang raped and later shot dead.
  6. Panchari Massacre, 1 May 1986 - Bangladesh army slaughtered hundreds of indigenous people (actual number not known). More than 80,000 indigenous people fled across the border to India.
  7. Matiranga Massacre, May 1986 - Bangladesh Army gunned down at least 70 indigenous people in reprisal to fighting with the Shanti Bahini.
  8. Comillatilla, Taindong Massacre, 18-19 May 1986 -the Bangladesh Rifles (a paramilitary force) intercepted 200 indigenous people while fleeing across the border to India and opened fired on them.
  9. Hirarchar, Sarbotali, Khagrachari, Pablakhali Massacres, 8,9,10 August, 1988 - Bangladesh Army and Muslim settlers killed hundreds of indigenous people and gang raped indigenous women.
  10. Langadu Massacre, 4 May 1989 - Muslim settlers murdered 40 indigenous people, dead bodies never recovered.
  11. Malya Massacre, 2 February 1992 - Muslim settlers murdered another 30 indigenous people.
  12. Logang Massacre, 10 April 1992 - Bangladesh army and Muslim settlers massacred 400 indigenous people
  13. Naniachar Massacre, 17 November 1993 - Bangladesh army and Muslim settlers massacred about 100 indigenous people

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.


More:

  1. People of the CHT
  2. Genesis of Jumma Nationalism
  3. Early History of the CHT
  4. British Rule in the CHT (1860-1947)
  5. Incorporation of CHT into Pakistan (1947)
  6. CHT Opposed Pakistan: by Sneha Kumar Chakma
  7. Greatest Blunder of Partition: An excerpt from All that Gilsters
  8. Pakistani Rule in the CHT (1947-1971)
  9. Emergence of Bangladesh and the CHT
  10. Undeclared War in the CHT (1972-1997)

Sources:

  1. Life is not ours: the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commiission
  2. Unlawful Killings and Torture in the CHT: Amnesty International, 1986
  3. The Charge of Genocide: Organizing Committee for the CHT Campaign, 1986
  4. Survival International Report: London

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