Feb 23, 2011

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Fresh Attacks "A Problem of Land, Not Religion"

Overpopulation in Bangladesh leads to conflicts in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, as Bangladeshi settlers move into tribal homelands to claim territory. Missing government support, the tribal groups often lose out in this scramble for survival. 

Below is an article published by AsiaNews: 

Two villagers of the Jumma tribal people - majority animist, Christian and Buddhist - were injured and at least 23 houses destroyed in an attack by Muslim Bangladeshi settlers in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the border area of South East Bangladesh with India and Myanmar. The attack, only reported today [22 February 2011], dates back to February 17 and followed the death of a settler in the area. The circumstances of his death are still unknown, but local sources say that the signs of a struggle or injury were not found on the body, and that the man suffered from attacks of epilepsy.

Episodes like this are common in Bangladesh. A year ago, Jan. 22, [2010] three Jummas were killed and at least 450 homes destroyed. A source for AsiaNews, anonymous for security reasons, confirms the recurrence of similar attacks and denounces the complicity of police and security forces and the silence of the government. 

"I can say that this is a frequent occurrence. Bangladesh is experiencing a strong period of overpopulation and the tribal lands are increasingly attractive to so-called Bangladeshis settlers, who live in other parts of the country. The system they use is always the same: through friends and acquaintances, mostly members of military or police forces, they locate areas with a view to moving there. Once there, they find some excuse to give rise to a conflict with the tribals: they go to collect wood or fruit, for example, in the tribal areas for cultivation. These in turn react and chase them away, and this is when the settlers return with a larger group and devastate villages, burning houses, beating people and, in some tragic cases, killing them. The tribals - continues the source - try to defend themselves, but then the police or army arrive stopping everything, without proceeding with investigations of any kind. Thus the situation never changes, you can never figure out who's right and who is wrong. Which means, in practice, the whole situation remains at an impasse and the land is handed over to the Bangladeshis".

The authorities make no attempt to stop the settler attacks, nor to resolve the situation. The tribals, says our source, are really "abandoned to themselves, often when they try to make a complaint, the police do not accept it. Because it's convenient to see the tribal disappear, or at least take up less Bangladeshi land so that there is an outlet for the overpopulation. Moreover, since the people are in some way favoured by the army, the government does not want to go against the military. There are moments in which it operates, when it tries to do something, but in essence the problem is never resolved”.

The issue therefore, is not religious, even though the perpetrators are Muslim and tribal communities, however, mostly animist (the majority), Buddhist and Christian. "The question - in fact, specifies the source for AsiaNews - it's only land. It becomes religious in consequence, because the tribal are not Muslims and are more vulnerable, considered inferior, but in any case these are not attacks of a religious or national background,. Although the tribals say, 'Muslims have done this', it is only because - he concludes - in everyday language, as they see say it, Bangladeshi is synonymous with Muslim".