Chittagong Hill Tracts Issue and Post-Accord Situation
International Conferencd on Civil Society, Human
Rights and Minorities in Bangladesh
Organised by Campaign Against Atrocities on Minorities in
In association with Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC, International Chapters)
22 – 23 January 2005, Kolkata
Secretary for Political Affairs, Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS)
Honourable Chairperson, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I, on behalf of the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti,
the only political party of indigenous Jumma people in the CHT struggling for
rights to self-determination and a signatory of the CHT Accord of 1997 with
the government of Bangladesh, take this opportunity to extend my sincere thanks
for inviting me in this international conference.
I hope you all are aware that the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), southeastern part of Bangladesh, comprises a total area of 5,093 sq. miles with around one and half million populations including Bengali Muslim settlers. Among them indigenous people are 700 thousands. From time immemorial, the CHT had been the home to eleven indigenous ethnic peoples. They collectively identify themselves as the Jumma people (High Landers), the first people of the CHT. They are the Bawm, Chak, Chakma, Khumi, Khyang, Lushai, Marma, Mro, Pangkhua, Tanchangya and Tripura. The Jumma people are distinct and different from the majority Bengali people of Bangladesh in respect of race, language, culture and religion.
Like indigenous peoples in other parts of the world, the indigenous
Jumma people of the CHT have been suppressed for centuries. Before the British
annexed the region to Bengal, we were independent. Even during the British colonial
period, the CHT was regarded as an “Excluded Area”, in order to
protect the indigenous Jumma people from economic exploitation by non-indigenous
people and to preserve the indigenous peoples’ socio-cultural and political
institutions based on customary laws, community ownership of land and so on.
In fact, several provisions of the CHT Regulation of 1900 functioned as a safeguard
for the Jumma people and it prohibited immigration into the region and land
ownership by non-indigenous people.
However, during the Pakistani period and even after Bangladesh
became independent in 1971, the entire CHT region was thrown open for unrestricted
migration and acquisition of land titles by non-indigenous people, in violation
of the letter and spirit of the 1900 Regulation. Although general Bangladeshi
and CHT laws acknowledge the CHT peoples as “indigenous”, this was
not formally acknowledged in the national Constitution of Bangladesh, which
was adopted in 1972.
The Constituent Assembly members were so cruel they even adopted
an Article which made all the citizens of the country to be known as Bengalis.
So there had been no provision for the CHT and its Jumma people in the Bangladesh
Constitution passed in November 1972. When all democratic avenues had been failed
and the Jumma people had nothing left they opted for armed struggle.
The PCJSS always kept the door open for dialogue for resolving
the CHT problem through political and peaceful means. For this purpose, the
PCJSS held 6 and 13 rounds of formal dialogues with the government of General
Ershad and Khaleda Zia respectively. At the last, after holding 7 rounds of
dialogue with Sheikh Hasina government, 'CHT Accord' was signed between the
government of Bangladesh and PCJSS on 2nd December 1997.
Implementation Status of the CHT Accord:
The CHT Accord had ended the decades long fierce armed conflict
between the Jumma people and government of Bangladesh. This Accord was hailed
and welcomed by not only the Jumma people of CHT and democratic and progressive
political parties of Bangladesh but also by the United Nations, European Union
and many democratic governments of the world and many national and international
organizations and agencies and personalities as well.
It is very painful that though the government of Bangladesh,
in particular the then Awami League government, signed the Accord, but she has
no sincerity to implement the Accord. The BNP led present coalition government
is also following the same policy. As a result, though more than seven years
have been passed after signing of the Accord, most of the provisions, especially
the main issues of the Accord remains unimplemented. There are not only lack
of government sincerity in implementing the Accord, but a vested group of the
government, military and civil administration in CHT, Islamic fundamentalist
groups have been trying to make impediments to it from the very beginning.
Present human rights situation in the CHT
The CHT still finds its difficult situation with regard to
human rights violations. The BNP and Jatiya Party (Manju) with two hard-core
(Jamat–E-Islam and Islamic Oikya Jote) Islamic fundamentalist parties,
from the very first day of their formation of the sitting government have been
violating basic clauses of the Accord. So nothing is expected from this government
except gradual violation of the clauses of the Accord. Moreover, after the arrival
of this new government, minority and indigenous peoples, particularly the Hindu
community in Bangladesh has been suffering enormously.
From the very beginning the governments have been trying to
solve the political problems in CHT with military might. Though it has been
stated in the CHT Accord that all the temporary camps of the army, Ansars, APB
and the VDP shall be taken back from CHT to permanent cantonments. But after
the long seven years of the signing of the Accord no time limit was fixed. Only
31 temporary military camps out of more than 500 have been withdrawn so far.
The army still holds the supreme authority and control over the general administration
entrusted through an administrative order “Operation Uttoron”. The
army still commits human rights violations on Jumma people through killing,
torture, rape and etc. Nowadays, in some areas the Army has re-opened their
check-posts to control the movements of the Jumma people.
For instance, in August 2003, more than 350 houses of indigenous Jummas of 14 villages within Mahalchari sub-district were burnt, Buddhist temples and statues of Lord Buddha were destroyed, and two people, including one eight-month old child were killed and 10 Jumma women were raped. All this happened within a few hours by the Bengali settlers led by uniformed and armed soldiers of the Bangladesh military (21 East Bengal Regiment). This is very ironic, as Bangladesh now is the biggest contributor to the international UN Peacekeeping force. Moreover, we have been told that Lt. Col. Abdul Awal, the concerned Zone Commander, had only recently returned to Bangladesh after completing UN peace-keeping duties abroad.
2. Land Grabbing:
Our lands, forests and territories have been and are still
being taken away without our free, prior and informed consent, to build so-called
“Reserve Forests”, “Protected Areas”, “National
Parks”, “Eco-parks”, Tourism, and even for establishing military
bases and training centres. In 1960, the Kaptai Dam flooded our lands and homes
and even today many of our people remain un-rehabilitated.
In 1979 the Government of Bangladesh undertook drastic programme
to settle Bengali Muslim population from other plain districts of Bangladesh
to CHT for outnumbering the Jummas and evicting them from their ancestral land.
Consequently thousands of indigenous people were displaced from their ancestral
lands. The government-sponsored Bengali settlers have been occupying the settled
and possessed lands of the Jummas and committing series of ethnocides upon the
Jummas with the direct help of government machineries. This is one of the tactics
adopted by successive Governments to drive out the Jumma peoples from their
ancestral land for expansion of Islamisation in the region. Even after the signing
of the Accord, land grabbing process is continuing throughout the CHT.
For instance, the military authority and the government have
taken initiative to acquire 9,560 acres of land for the expansion of Ruma Cantonment,
183 acres of land for the expansion of Bandarban Brigade Headquarters, 56,000
acres of land to establish a new Artillery Training Center and a new Air Force
Training Center and 50 acres of land for the expansion of Longadu Military Zone
without any prior consent either from the Hill District Councils or from the
CHT Regional Council.
Very recently on 1 January 2005 the Bengali Muslim settlers from Maischari cluster village in Khagrachari district, with the help of army, constructed houses on the recorded lands of indigenous Jummas at Gamaridhala area under Khagrachari upazila. Moreover since the CHT Accord was signed, the Bengali Muslim settlers with the help of security forces committed at least 6 large-scale communal attacks on the Jumma peoples with an aim to occupy the land, where 1056 houses were burnt down and damaged and 12 women were raped.
3. Islamisation Policy:
The CHT region once a pre-dominant non-Bengali Muslim area
is fast becoming a Bengali Muslim area by Islamisation policies of the governments.
The influx of outsider Bengali Muslim settlers into the CHT region had been
started since the creation of Pakistan. Later on, Bangladesh government’s
vigorous Islamisation policies had made the situation worse than ever before.
The following statistics proves the facts.
Year Ethnic Jumma people Bengali Muslim/Hindu
1941 98.5% 1.5%
1951 91% 9%
1961 88% 12%
1974 77% 33%
1981 58.6% 41.4%
1991 60.32% 39.68%
The Bengali Muslim population, which was only 1.5% of the total
population of the CHT in 1947, has swung to a high 49% by now; whereas the Jumma
population during the same period constituted 98.5% of the total population
has now dwindled to a low 51%. It is crystal clear that the Jumma people are
going to be a minority in their own homeland very soon, because of successive
Islamic governments’ prolonged and sustained Islamization policy. All
these were done so that the Jumma people cannot have any political clout either
in a vast sea of Islamic Bangladesh. If it continues without any remedy, the
Jumma people will soon find themselves in a situation in which they will have
no option but to either flee from the CHT or to embrace Islam or to go for unconstitutional
Due to the non-implementation of the Accord, it is observed
that the situation in CHT is becoming more and more worse, and the common people
are becoming gradually violent against the government policies. So if the CHT
Accord is not implemented properly, the situation of CHT may turn into new directions
in future. Needless to say that it will harm the greater interest of Bangladesh
and South-East Asia as well. For the solution of the CHT problem, the following
recommendations can be undertaken:
(1) Immediate implementation of the CHT Accord in letter and spirit;
(2) Supports and influence from national and international communities is a must;
(3) Demilitarization of the CHT region;
(4) Stopping of Bengali Muslim infiltration into the CHT and immediate withdrawal of the Bengali Muslim settlers from the CHT region to their original homeland (plains of Bangladesh) with proper rehabilitation and dignity;
(5) Constitutional recognition of the indigenous peoples and their rights.
(6) Stop violence against religious and ethnic minorities and return their vested property.
I thank you all for kind attention.