Religious Persecution in the CHT

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This monk was injured by the Bangladesh Army. The Bangladesh Army attacked his village and temple during the Matiranga, Panchari massacres on 30 April - 1 May 1986, they destroyed the temple, Buddha images and Buddhist texts. This monk like many others had to seek refuge in Tripura, India.  Buddhist Monk  

The destruction of Jumma peoples' religious and cultural life in the CHT have been a marked feature of the CHT conflict since the early 1970s. The Jumma peoples of the CHT are Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Animists. These religious groupings reflect ethnic differences. The Chakma, Tangchanya and Marma are mainly Buddhists, the Tripuras Hindus and some smaller groups such as the Bawm and Pankhua are Christians. Mru and Khumi practise what is known as Animism. Religious tolerance has been a long tradition of the Jumma people. One way of understanding this tolerance is to see it in terms of an underlying element common throughout the CHT which consists of different manifestations of an underlying stratum of animistic traits which coexists with Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity.  

The Jumma people consider themselves culturally very different from the Bangladeshis. Bangladesh has Islam as the state religion. The state education is oriented to 'mainstream' nationalism and in some cases, according to the pupils and teachers, has a strong Islamic influence. Bengali predominates over other languages and, apart from the few cases where the Jumma people have developed their own schools, the educational system in the CHT is designed to draw the Jumma people into the Islamic culture of Bangladesh.

The main Islamic missionary organization is Al Rabita, funded by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, this non governmental organization has been working since 1980 to convert the Jumma people. It has a main office in Dhaka and offices in Rangamati, Langadu where it also has a hospital, Barkal, Alikadam of the CHT. At Alikadam, in 1990 the Al Rabita missionary center converted 17 Marma people to Islam.

Throughout the CHT the mosque construction continues to take place. Loudly amplified calls to prayer frequently punctuates the lives of the Jumma people. The Bangladeshi authorities argue that their religious tolerance can be seen in Buddhist, Hindu and Christian Welfare Trust. One Chakma fellow said that he went to the Central Audit Bureau to seek support from the Welfare Fund and was told: "Why don't you become a Muslim and we'll all be brothers". The most disturbing aspects of religious persecution in the CHT are the destruction of temples, prevention of worship, violence motivated by religious hatred and forcible conversion to Islam.

There have been numerous incidents of forcible conversion in the CHT. Chakma women who marry Bangladeshis whether by choice or abducted by force, have to convert to Islam. The Jumma prisoners who are detained in Chittagong, Rangamati or Khagrachari jails are placed in cells with a majority of Muslims whose task it is to try and convert the Jumma persons. The Jummas who are captured by the Bangladeshi security forces are very often given the options of torture or conversion to Islam as a way to escape the suffering.

In recent years the Jamat-i-Islami (Islamic fundamentalist political party) has been very active in the CHT. It builds mosques, actively promotes Islam and it was responsible for destroying Buddhist and Hindu temples in the CHT.

An account by one of the monks now in Tripura described in detail an incident in 1986 which took place in Panchari where a group of hill people were attacked because they were not Muslims.

"Before this happened, one day 13 of us went to market. I was not a monk then. The Bangladesh Rifles (paramilitary force) and settlers caught us and out of 13, nine were killed and four of us escaped. The reason was that we were not Muslims; they wanted us to be Muslims to take Islam. It was in the market itself and some of the people were also caught up from around. Among the people whom they caught was my wife. They cut her with daos (machette) - some of the marks on her neck are still there. She is in Karbook (refugee camp in Tripura). This took place in the market itself on market day, Wednesday. The others ran away. They also tried to cut me with daos on the neck. Luckily my shirt collar was thick and I escaped from being killed. As they killed the others they shouted: 'Oh Chakmas, will you not become Muslims? If you refuse we will kill you now'."

A Buddhist monk from the temple at Kalanal described to the Amnesty International the persistent harassment of the Jumma villagers by the military personnel and the settlers:

"For many months now soldiers have been regularly visiting us and slaughtering cows in our shrine.... They always said that if we did not agree to this (conversion to Islam) they will come one day and kill us.""On the morning of 1 May they carried out their threat by escorting a group of two to three hundred settlers, some of whom were dressed in the uniform of home guards, to our village and began their depredations by attacking Buddha Vihar (the temple). Most of us were, however, able to flee but soldiers pounced on Purnananda Bhikku (one of the monks) and after beating him with rifle butts handed him over to the Muslims who threw him into the shrine which was by now on fire. He died. Later when I met more people from my village they said that two young girls of the village had been raped mercilessly by troops and Muslims and then killed with bayonets."

Another woman described her experience that happened in March/April 1989 to the CHT Commission as following:

"Some soldiers came to our house and woke us up and poured cold wate on our heads. I had two daughters. The soldiers tried to take my daughters, they were 9 and 11 years old. They hit me on the head with lathi (bamboo stick). My head was bleeding. My daughters were crying As my head was bleeding heavily, the soldiers gave me some medicine Then they asked me whether I would become a Muslim. I said: 'No, I'd rather die.' Then they said: Will you be able to stand naked before us and also 'If you give us your daughters, we will release you.' They beat me then and left."

Desecration is invariably accompanied by violent attacks against worshippers. The following case was told by a Marma monk describing an event in Pablakhali, Dighinala in 1985:

"On that day first the settlers and the army surrounded the temple. I was caught and my hands were tied with rope as were my legs. Water was poured through my nostrils. I was kicked with boots and my leg was cut. People came into the temple and caught all the girls. They took the girls a little way from the temple. I heard the cries of the girls - maybe they were raped but I did not see it with my own eyes. After a few days I met one of the girls but as a monk I have some restrictions and could not ask her what had happened. The army performed desecration in the temples. They go in with boots on and throw away food in the temple. Every day before 12 o'clock we offer food to Lord Buddha. The Muslims say: 'then why does not stone eat it'? The army uses guns to break plates. Once I was about to offer food to the Buddha and the Muslims entered and said 'let's see if stone can eat', then they said 'stone can't eat' and they took the plate from my hands and threw it on the floor. They bring animals into the temple and slaughter them: goats and cows. Buddhist people never kill animals so you cannot worship in the temple after that has happened. I have witnessed it. At Pablakhali in 1985, before the attack, about 35-50 army personnel entered the monastery with 100-150 settlers remaining outside. They cooked inside the temple and burnt wood on the dirt floor and brought wood in. They killed the animals outside the temple but within the boundary of the temple. They did this to crush Buddhism and establish Islam. There was no other reason for this."

The second incident took place in Mani Gram, Khagrachari in 1986 and was also described by a Marma monk:

"I was in Mani Gram Buddhist temple. On 12 June, 1986 we tried to celebrate a function in the temple. All of a sudden some troops came and said: 'Hey, what are you doing?' We replied: 'We are going to wash our God'. The soldiers said: 'You cannot wash God because this is a Muslim state. You cannot worship the Lord Buddha, you have to abandon this religion and become Muslim.' We refused to do so. Then the soldiers caught us and tied our hands and started to pour water on our heads. I was the only monk there, the others were villagers numbering around 20. All of us were tied in pairs and the soldiers starting pouring water and when they were not satisfied by pouring water they started kicking us with their boots. The water was not just water, but it was mixed with green chilies. When we were tied up they stood with bayonets over us so we would not struggle. My skin started burning and most of us were injured as I was. I had cuts and sores on my legs. We were tied up in afternoon and they started to burn the house of the village which we could see. We were tied up from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon, a total of eight hours. The soldiers untied us. At about 5 o'clock they set fire to the temple and we went into hiding in the jungles. The settlers were not with the soldiers when they tied us up, but were there when the village was burnt. There is a river called Chengi. After coming to the river we went hiding into the deep jungle. After four days trekking all through the jungle. I reached the border of Tripura (India) and Karbook camp. In that lot we were around 450 people. Before 12th June there was no other incident. The only reason for the attack was religion. If we became Muslim we could stay safe. I know one Marma who was my friend called Uchmang. He was threatened that if he did not become a Muslim he would be harmed with his relatives. He was forcibly converted. He came from a different village, Mahalchari in Khagrachari District."

A Marma monk in Tripura explained how the military authorities control religious ceremonies in the Chittagong Hill Tracts:

"Religious functions need a permit from the authorities, for example, the Purnima full moon celebrations and several Purnima functions numbering about six in a year. We need permits for other functions too. Many people come to these functions. For a funeral ceremony no permit is necessary, but seven days later, the seventh day ritual after cremation needs permission from the authorities. When someone becomes a monk you need such a permit. To celebrate functions you have to collect money and so permission is needed. The permit is for both money collection and the ceremony. The army officers give the permit. It was always army officers who give it. There is no cost for the permit. I used to go for the permit and was never refused but it was a lot of trouble, waiting to meet the officer etc."

Chitmarang is the most sacred shrine of Buddhism in the CHT. Although it is in an area which is predominantly Marma, thousands of Chakmas traditionally traveled there annually to pay their respect to the ancient image of the Buddha in the old temple. For several years because of constant checks by the military, it has been impossible for Buddhists to reach Chitmarang temple. Chitmarang no longer functions in this capacity. The army have to give permission which is granted only to the lucky few or to those who can afford to bribe the army.


  1. Destructions of Places of Worship
  2. Statement to UN on Religious Persecution by Chakma Rajguru


  1. Life is not ours: the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission
  2. Unlawful Killings in the CHT: Amnesty International, 1986

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