Chittagong Hill Tracts: Human Rights Activist Chakma MK Discusses Plight of Indigenous Communities
In an interview with blogger and activist Vidya Bhushan Rawat, distinguished human rights activists Chakma MK elaborates on the current crises faced by communities of the Chittagong Hill Tracts region and on the urgent steps which must be taken to defend them and to guarantee their livelihoods and survival. Being a local advocate for the population of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Chakma MK outlines the many obstacles the community faces and highlights that current actions and policies by Bangladeshi authorities could further deteriorate the situation of the region’s indigenous peoples.
The article below is courtesy of Counter Currents:
Vidya Bhushan Rawat In Conversation with Chakma MK from CHT, Bangladesh
Chakma MK is a Human Rights activist working with indigenous people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh since 1980s. He has been working with Human Rights organizations on the issue of Indigenous People. He has spoken at various national and international forums on the issue of Chakma people. In a conversation with Vidya Bhushan Rawat, he explains the current crisis of the Chakma people in Bangladesh, their problems and how government deals with them. Equally important to understand the issues of indigenous people as far as partition of India was concern. It is difficult for human rights defenders, political activists in South Asia to speak candidly and boldly due to various security concerns of our friends. We are not providing much details of our friend due the security concerns but sure that this interaction will give you enough idea of the issue of indigenous people in Bangladesh and how they have been treated.
VB: Mr. Chakma what are the main issues of Chakma community in Bangladesh?
CMK: There are not only Chakma in Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT). It is a land of 11 multilingual indigenous peoples consisting of Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Mro, Bawm, Pangkhu, Khyang, Khumi, Chak, Lushai and Tanchangya. They all are collectively known as Jumma (High Landers). Besides, a very small number of descendents of Assames, Gorkha and Santals also live in there. They are distinct and different from the majority Bengali people of Bangladesh in respects of race, language, culture, heritage and religion.
The CHT is divided into three hill districts, namely, Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban. The legal and administrative system in the CHT is nevertheless separate and distinct from those in other parts of the country. The general administrative setup does equally exist in CHT i.e. elected bodies of people’s representatives at two levels – Union and National level – along with the implementing line agencies at Upazila, District and National level. Alongside there are decentralised government institutions in CHT i.e. CHT Regional Council at regional level and Hill District Councils at district level. In addition to the above institutions, the CHT has a three tier traditional structure based on the customs of the local indigenous Jumma people with Circle Chiefs, and Headmen at Mouza and Karbaries at village levels. The Chiefs are the heads of their respective revenue and administrative circles. There are three Circles in the CHT, the Chakma Circle, the Bohmong Circle and the Mong Circle. All of these institutions are supervised by a new ministry, the Ministry of CHT Affairs. These are reflective of the distinct socio-political, cultural and historical background of the region.
Main issues of Jumma peoples are:
Government’s policy of Islamisation of CHT region and ethnic cleansing as well Infiltration of Bengali Muslim population to CHT Non-implementation of CHT Accord that was signed between the Government of Bangladesh and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) on 2 December 1997 for peaceful and political solution of CHT problem Systematic land grabbing by government authorities including forest department and military forces, Bengali Muslim settlers, business companies, influential political leaders and military-civil bureaucrats etc.
VB: How much is the population of the community in Bangladesh and what is their representation in government services and political parties?
CMK: The CHT comprises a total area of 5,093 sq. miles with around 1.6 million populations (as per census 2011). Among them, the indigenous Jumma peoples are around 845 thousands and Bengali Muslim settlers are around 752 thousands.
CHT Accord provides, against all the posts of officers of all ranks and employees of different classes in government, semi-government, local government and autonomous bodies of the CHT, the permanent dwellers of the CHT shall be appointed, subject to priority being given to the tribals.”
The CHT Regional Council gave its recommendation to the CHT Affairs Ministry along with the Ministry of Establishment to take necessary measures for inclusion of the said provision in the concerned appointment/service rules and regulations. But this provision has not yet been included in the concerned appointment/service rules and regulations applicable in the CHT region by the Ministries concerned. As a consequence, the outsider Bengali settlers are encroaching upon all employment facilities created for the Jumma peoples and permanent Bengali residents. Thus the Indigenousisation process of the administration of three hill districts of CHT is going to be blocked. The proper implementation of the CHT Accord cannot be possible by the outsider Bengali Muslim functionaries. As such the current trend of appointment and transfer of non-Jumma ethnic Bengali officers and staff to the CHT region is to be stopped right now in the greater interest of the Jumma peoples of the region and permanent residents of Bengalis.
VB: How much rights have been given to the people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts? Do you have any political, administrative autonomy there?
CMK: Before the British annexed the region to Bengal, Jumma people of CHT were independent. Even during the British colonial period (1860-1947), 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.
The Pakistan government, however as per the provision of the Independence Act, recognised CHT as a fully Excluded Area and retained it even in the first constitution of Pakistan, which was passed in 1956, along with the CHT Regulation of 1900. It destroyed the economical backbone of the indigenous Jumma people completely. In the second constitution of Pakistan, the Excluded Area Status was changed to “Tribal Area” in 1962. But it was abolished in 1963 by constitutional amendment. The entire administration including the police was manned by Bengali Muslims from plain districts.
Bangladesh became independent in 1971, indigenous Jumma people hoped that the new rulers of Bangladesh would realize their hopes and aspirations as Bangladesh rulers also struggled against the oppression and suppression of Pakistani ruler and the Jumma people would be free from oppression and discrimination. So the Jumma people demanded to the then government for autonomy in a democratic way. Unfortunately the government of freshly independence Bangladesh did not respect their fundamental rights and did not write even a single word in the constitution regarding the entity and safeguard of the Jumma people. Rather immediately following the independence of Bangladesh in early 1972 the CHT underwent militarization. Three cantonments were established in Dighinala, Ruma and Alikadam during Sheikh Mujib period. Wide range discontent to unrest that resulted from terror throughout CHT let loose by the Mukti Bahini, forced the people to assemble into a common political platform with the formation of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) on 15 February 1972 under the leadership of M. N. Larma.
Hence, Jumma people started democratic movement for rights to self-determination. But the democratic movement of Jumma people turned into armed struggle when all democratic avenues are closed following assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 1975. After holding decade-long dialogues with the successive governments of General Ershad government (1985-1989), Begum Khleda Zia-led BNP government (1991-1995) and lastly Sheikh Hasian-led Awami League government (1996-1997), the ‘CHT Accord’ was finally signed between the PCJSS and Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government in Dhaka on 2 December 1997. The CHT Accord could conclude the decades-long fierce internal conflicts and paves the way for the peace, development, demilitarization of the region and opportunities to meaningful engagement and representation of the Jumma peoples.
The main objectives of the CHT Accord was to restore and protect rights of the indigenous Jumma people of CHT i.e. to restitute lands of the indigenous people, to have self-rule (proper representation of the Jumma people in the CHT administrative institutions) and to enhance fiscal decentralization for equitable economic development of CHT and also to accommodate rights of the permanent Bengali residents and thereby replace the previous policy of assimilation of the indigenous Jumma people with the policy of integration. The CHT Accord of 1997 provides-
for recognition of the CHT region as “tribal-inhabited region”; strengthens the special governance system (a kind of self-rule) in CHT with the establishment of the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils; demilitarisation of the region (withdrawal of more than 500 temporary camps); resolution of land disputes which were arisen due to forcible land grabbing by Bengali Muslim settlers; rehabilitation of returnee Jumma refugees and internally displaced indigenous persons; establishment of a CHT Affairs Ministry at national level; rehabilitation of Bengali Muslim settlers outside CHT with dignity, and so on.
The Government of Bangladesh implemented some provisions of the Accord, such as, enactment of CHT Regional Council Act 1998, amendment of three Hill District Council Acts in 1998; formation of interim CHTRC and Ministry of CHT Affairs; repatriation of Jumma refugees from India; withdrawal of around 66 temporary camps (where the government claims withdrawal of 172 camps); formation of CHT Accord Implementation Committee, CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission and Task Force on Rehabilitation of Returnee Refugees and IDPs, etc.
However, no effective initiative for implementation of the unimplemented provisions of the Accord has been taken even after 18 years. The main issues, such as preservation of tribes-inhabited characteristics of the region, devolution of effective authority to the CHTRC and three HDCs, resolution of land disputes, demilitarization, rehabilitation of returnee Jumma refugees and internally Jumma displaced families, rehabilitation of Bengali settlers outside CHT with dignity etc. Substantial progress is yet to be achieved due to non-implementation of the main issues of the Accord.
Provision for more strengthening of power and functions of three Hill District Councils with 33 transferable subjects, such as, law and order, general administration, district police, land and land management, forest (except reserved forest), primary and secondary education, youth welfare, environmental protection and development, local tourism, agriculture etc.
Provision for formation CHT Regional Council with the aim of making CHT a unique political and administrative unit. This Regional Council was bestowed upon the power of supervising and coordinating to the subjects transferred to three Hill District Councils (HDCs), law and order, general administrations, development, CHT Development Board, traditional and social justice etc and the power of giving license for heavy industries. In making any law in connection with CHT, the Government shall enact such law in consultation with the Regional Council.
Provision for establishment of Ministry for CHT Affairs where a cabinet minister would be appointed from among Jumma people and an Advisory Committee shall be constituted to lend support to this Ministry.
VB: Do Chakma [CHT] people enjoy any particular benefit in the government services like in India where 7% seats are reserved for Scheduled Tribes? Do you have any affirmative action programme for your community?
CMK: The government of Bangladesh undertakes some affirmative actions in favour of indigenous peoples living in CHT and plain land of the country. Notable among these are:
setting up of a Special Affairs Division under the Prime Minister’s Office particularly for plain lands indigenous peoples; signing of the CHT Peace Accord with the PCJSS as a solution of the CHT problem through political and peaceful means and accordingly establishment of CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils as special administrative arrangements for the CHT; providing quota reservation in the government jobs (5%) and educational institutions for ‘tribal’ people; setting up of 7 small ethnic cultural institutes throughout the country for preservation and development of small ethnic unique cultures.
In fact, the number of recruitment is much lower than the number of available posts allocated for indigenous candidates as per 5% reserved for tribal quota. After breaking down the figure on year basis, for example, it is found that only 22 indigenous candidates were appointed against 261 posts in the 24th BCS.
VB: While the government in Dhaka is secular, the Islamist forces have been raising their ugly head in Bangladesh and the minorities are the biggest target. Does this Islamisation has impacted lives of Chakmas [people of CHT]? If yes, then in what way?
CMK: Islamic militant groups in Bangladesh, under sponsorship of various vested quarters, have built up their well fortified positions in CHT in the recent years taking advantage of the existent fanatic atmospheres. As the communal mood is existent under state patronization in CHT, the terrorist and fanatic organizations had to have no trouble in getting the hilly CHT as a field quite fertile and favorable to them. These terrorist groups, with direct or indirect support of the communal and ultra nationalist groups including some officials of the local administration and local leadership of national political parties, are utilizing the CHT as their safe hinterland. These elements have been obstructing the implementation process of CHT Accord under various forms and guises.
It is learnt that there are base camps of armed terrorist group named “Rohingya Solidarity Organization” (RSO) in Naikhyongchari of Bandarban hill district. A bulk amount of money is being spent in organizing the Rohingya-camp-based terrorist outfits through several NGOs functioning in Bangladesh. It is also learnt that the terrorist groups active in the country are recruiting their members from among the Rohingyas who are unregistered and living outside the refugee camps, such as from Chittagong, Cox’s Bazaar and Bandarban. It is further known that noxious ideal of terrorism is being spread among the Rohingyas deliberately. Many extremist Islamic outfits including Jamat-E-Islam by providing arms training to the Rohingyas are getting them involved in armed ‘Jihad’. It is through discoursing religious messages ‘extremism’ is being spread by various means. News of preparation of the terrorists for sabotage activities in the three hill districts of CHT has come to lime light in the mass media.
It has been learnt that the Rohingya outfits were involved in killing a Buddhist monk in Naikyongchari Upazila of Bandarban hill district on 14 May 2016. In investigation reports of various entities, the Rohingyas were shown with evidences to have attacked and plundered the Anser camp at Teknaf under Cox’s Bazar district on 13 May 2016. The Rohingyas, mostly of unregistered and illegal categories are dispersing in the three hill districts of CHT and getting involved in various criminal activities, arms & drug smuggling, and killings and robberies. But utterly surprising enough that these terrorist activities of national and foreign terrorist groups including that of Rohingyas are not brought to light in the anti-terrorism program of local administration and local Awami League in the three hill districts. Contrarily, the Rohingya terrorist leaders have been provided seats in the Anti-terrorism Committees in some cases. For instance, Shafi Ullah, the Rohingya leader has been made President of Upazila Anti-Terrorism and Extremism Committee in Naikhyongchari Upazila of Bandarban hill districts.
It is learnt that in these days, many national and foreign terrorist groups are reported to be active in the Rohingya-inhabited areas including Bandarban and Cox’s Bazaar district. Islamic radical groups want to destabilize CHT to open a new front against Myanmar and north-east India.
VB: You mentioned that Bangladesh authorities tried to influence the demography of the CHT and a number of Muslim families were planted there to make a population balance. Can you tell us about what kind of process it was? Did you oppose it? Since when has this been being done?
CMK: During the partition of India and Pakistan, the total population of CHT was only 247,053 out of that only 2.5 percent Bengali including 1.5 percent Bengali Muslims. But after 20 years of Pakistan Period and 31 years of the Bangladesh period, the picture of the demography of CHT has significantly changed specially after the systematic illegal settlement of Bengali Muslims by the successive governments.
Noted the more than 500,000 Bengali Muslims from the plain districts of the Bangladesh has illegally been given settlement in CHT by the government of Bangladesh in 1980s. Fresh political migration of Bengali Muslims from different districts of the country to the CHT still continues alarmingly. So, presently according the Bangladesh census report 2011 the total population of the CHT is around 1.6 million populations comprising Jumma peoples are around 845 thousands and Bengali Muslim settlers are around 752 thousands.
During the partition of Indian sub-continent in 1947, the indigenous Jumma and Bengali Muslim population were 98.5% and 1.5% respectively. By now the ratio has been further aggravated with 51% Jumma people and 49% Bengali Muslim settlers. It is crystal clear that the Jumma people are going to be a minority in their own homeland very soon, because of successive governments’ prolonged and sustained Islamization policy.
VB: You mentioned that on 14th August 1947 Indian flag was hoisted at CHT and not the Pakistani flag. The entire CHT wanted to be part of India but was merged with Pakistan against the wishes of your people. Could you please explain it further as who were the leaders and what were your demands during independence and why were they not acceded.
CMK: Indian subcontinent was partitioned on the basis of two-nation theory under the provisions of Indian Independence Act, 1947. The Muslim dominated regions were to constitute Pakistan and the non-Muslim dominated regions were to constitute the Indian Union. It was quite natural for the Jumma people who constituted 98.5% of the total population of the then CHT to express desire to be included in the Indian Union. But the result was quite opposite, Sir Cyrill Radcliffe, Chairman of the Bengal Boundary Commission with a stroke of pen trampled down the aspiration of the people of CHT. The Bengal Boundary Commission recommended CHT to be part of Pakistan and on 17 August 1947 two days after the declaration of Pakistan independence the CHT was declared as part of Pakistan.
In fact, according to the primary survey reports of the Boundary Commission, CHT was to form a part of India. The mystery lies in the fact that the district of Zira and Ferozpur sub-division of Punjab, predominantly a Sikh populated area fell into Pakistan as envisaged in the early reports of Punjab Boundary Commission. As the Sikh are a brave and worrier nation they might not abide by the decision of the Punjab Boundary Commission if a part of Sikh dominated area would fall into Pakistan. Lord Mount Batten, Governor of the then India that the plan for Indian division might go futile; so he took it with serious concern. Therefore, Lord Mount Batten cancelled his primary plan and awarded CHT to Pakistan two days later after the declaration of Pakistan independence in exchange of Zira district and Ferozpur sub-division with India. It was incompatible with the Indian independence Act of 1947 by the British government.
The indigenous Jumma people of CHT could not abide by the decision of the Bengal Boundary Commission. The CHT Peoples’ Association, a socio-political organisation of CHT under the leadership of Sneh Kumar Chakma, unfurled the Indian national flag on 15 August 1947 at Rangamati, capital of the CHT, as a mark of protest against this injustice. The leaders of the Peoples’ Association formed resistance squads to defy the decision of the Bengal Boundary Commission. It was really an injustice to the CHT people meted out by the British at the fag end of their rule. The Jummas vehemently protested against the decision but to no avail. All their efforts were thwarted when the Baluch Regiment of Pakistan army entered into CHT and proclaimed control over the area. They lowered the Indian flag at Rangamati six days later at gunpoint and raised the flag of Pakistan on the 21 August 1947.
VB: In the common parlance we heard that Bangladesh government always looked towards Chakmas [people of CHT] as suspect? Why? Did you not support the Bangladesh war of liberation? If not, why?
CMK: From the very outset, the Pakistani government looked upon the Jummas with an eye of suspicion as anti-Pakistani as well as anti-Islamic. It considered the indigenous people as hostile elements and pro-Indian. Therefore, the Pakistan governments’ ultimate aim was to exterminate the people of CHT through its socio-political-economic policy. Even in 1950s, in implementing her brazen designs violating the principles and spirit of the CHT Regulation of 1900 the government of Pakistan started Bengali Muslim settlement in various areas of CHT in 1950s. The Section 51 of the CHT Regulation, which put a restriction on the outsider Bengali Muslim migration into the CHT, was repealed in 1965 to facilitate migration as well as infiltration of outsider Bengali Muslim settlers.
In 1960, in order to materialise its evil design and breaking down the economic backbone of the people of CHT, in the name of so-called industrial development the Pakistan government built the Kaptai hydroelectric project on the Karnafuli river in the heartland of the indigenous Jumma people which flooded 1,036 sq. km. of lands and submerged 54% (54,000 acre) of the best arable land and also displaced about 100,000 Jumma people from their ancestral hearth and homes for good. Rehabilitation Program was a cruel farce. By Karnafuli project people became panicky and because of insecurity, finding no alternative among these some 40,000 Chakma were forced to migrate into India and about 20,000 other Jumma people had to take refuge in Myanmar. The people who are living in Indian State of Arunachal are yet to be given citizenship.
After nine months of war of independence against Pakistan, Bangladesh emerged as an independent state on 16 December 1971. The victorious ‘Mukti Bahini’ (Freedom Fighter) entered into CHT with vengeance and communal hatred, creating a reign of terror situation throughout CHT. The Mukti Bahini fell upon the innocent Jumma people, killing, looting, arsoning and raping women, burning houses and villages, victimizing and terrorizing the inhabitants who was were forced to take refuge in the jungles. Soon after the Pakistani army had withdrawn, the Mukti Bahini went on a systematic rampage against the Jummas in the CHT. On 5 December 1971, 16 Jumma people were massacred by the Mukti Bahini at Panchari. Another 18 were killed at Dighinala. On 14 December 1971, the Mukti Bahini killed 22 Jumma people at Kukichara. Moreover, a huge amount of paddy land belonging to the indigenous Jumma people in Matiranga, Ramgarh and Manikchari under Khagrachari district was forcibly grabbed by the horde of Bengali Muslim from Feni district. They put lame excuse that Chakma Raja Tridiv Roy took with Pakistan side during Liberation War and Jumma youths joined to the Rajakar Bahini.
In fact, hundreds of Jumma people participated in the Liberation War. Mong Chief of Mong Circle played active role for Liberation War. He gave shelter hundreds of Bengali people who were on way to Tripura to take refuge there. He personally joined Mukti Bahini and fought against Pakistani army. There were hundreds of Jumma youths in the East Pakistan Rifle (EPR) who all joined Mukti Bahini. Many sacrificed their life in the war front. After independence, one rifleman Ukhya Shing Marma of EPR was awarded as Bir Bikrom award for his brave fighting against Pak army. Many Jumma service holders also joined Freedom Fighter. Some of them were Bimaleshwar Dewan, Tripura Kanti Chakma, Boren tripura, Kripasukh Chakma, Ananda Banshi Chakma et al.
Then Major and turned later into President, Ziaur Rahman with his forces went to Indian State of Tripura through Naniarchar, Mahalchari, Khagrachari and Ramgarh in CHT during Liberation War in 1971. At that time, Jumma people helped him in supplying food and ration and in crossing border guiding safe land road. Even a Chakma villager of Kamalchari village under Khagrachari district named Mriganga Chakma helped Major Ziaur Rahman to cross Chengi River taking Ziaur Rahman on his shoulder. As Jumma villagers helped Ziaur Rahman, Pakistan army later arrested many Jumma villagers including Mriganga Chakma, Sabhya Mohajan, Gouranga Dewan and Chitta Ranjan Karbari who were brutally killed later. Many Jumma women and girls were subjected to victims of rape by the Pakistani army for helping the Mukti Bahini.
However, a vested groups of Bengali Muslims spread propaganda with political motivation that Jumma people are anti-Liberation, they are pro-Pakistan, they helped Pak army etc. This way, soon after formation of Pakistan in 1947, Pakistan government termed Jumma people as pro-Indian and soon after independence of Bangladesh in 1971, Jumma peoples were identified as pro-Pakistan. The main objective of this vis-versa terming is to make lame excuse for oppression and suppression upon Jumma people.
Did Indian government ever try to speak to their Bangladeshi counterpart about your issues and rights?
I did not see any instance in any open forum in speaking by the government of India to their Bangladeshi counterpart about our issues and rights. On the other, I am not sure whether Indian government ever try to speak in the bi-lateral meetings.
VB: What is United People’s Party plan to achieve? Is it the only party in your region or there are other parties too? Do you have any MNA in the National Assembly?
CMK: The Jumma peoples have established an unprecedented illustration in the history of struggle of the world’s freedom-loving peoples in ascertaining their just rights, by waging heroic struggle for 45 years under the leadership of PCJSS. All through its glorious movement, the PCJSS, as the result of its flawless strategy and tactics has been able to-
Inspire and unite the Jumma peoples, who were in slumber and wary under constant exploitation, oppression, atrocities and suppressive measures meted out by the rotting feudal leadership, in the political spirit; Motivate and amalgamate the nearly abolishing Jumma peoples in the struggle for ascertaining their rights to self-determination; Inspire the multi-lingual Jumma peoples, who were absolutely confined in narrow nationalism, in the spirit of Jumma nationalism; Compel the government or rather the ruling class to sign the CHT Accord – the Charter of the Rights of the Jumma peoples and Bengali permanent residents – through waging steel-hard struggle against relatively very imbalanced power – the power of an established State.
PCJSS is in the movement for full, speedy and proper implementation of CHT Accord. Indeed, there is no alternative of the implementation of the CHT Accord to ensure the right to self-determination for the Jumma peoples. Insurance of establishment of Jumma peoples’ political, economic, administrative, social, cultural and land rights is laid in the implementation of the Accord. Hence, the 41st founding anniversary of the PCJSS calls on:
■ Compel the government to implement the CHT Accord aiming at the establishment of right to self-determination of permanent residents, both Jumma and Bengalis;
■ unite and stand against the anti-Accord elements including all the conspiracies designed to ethnic attrition being meted out upon the Jumma peoples;
■ take part of the democratic, non-communal and progressive movement at national level aiming to establish a democratic and progressive government.
In last parliamentary election held in January 2014, PCJSS candidate for Member of Parliament from Rangamati parliamentary constituency won the election. 22-member Interim CHT Regional Council was also formed by PCJSS.
VB: Was any Chakma made minister in Dhaka? If yes, did he do anything for the community?
CMK: Generally ruling party appointed a minister/state minister/deputy minister for CHT Affairs Ministry among from Jumma community. Awami League-led Current government appointed Bir Bahadur Ushwe Shing (who won election as MP from Bandarban parliamentary constituency) as State Minister for CHT Affairs Minister. As they appointed from ruling party, so they cannot do anything for the community beyond the party policy. Even, they do not have courage to raise voice for implementation of unimplemented core issues of CHT Accord.
VB: Have Chakmas faced violence in Bangladesh from the Islamic fundamentalists? If yes, please give us details.
CMK: The failure to fully implement the CHT Accord has led to widespread human rights violations. Bengali settlers, often with the help of a section of the civil administration and military forces, continue large scale attacks upon Jumma people with the primary aim of grabbing their land. Gross human rights violations against the indigenous peoples continue unabated. The violations include arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings, harassment of rights activists and sexual harassment. In most cases the violations happen with impunity. The failure to thoroughly investigate human rights violations by Bengali settlers with the support of the law enforcement agencies in the CHT remained a matter of serious concern. As a result, the indigenous Jumma people are leading a very unsecured life.
Expansion of settlements and forcible land grabbing continue unabated in all the three districts including on the roadsides in particular. Communal attack on indigenous Jumma villagers continue even during the period of present grand alliance government with an aim to uproot indigenous Jumma peoples from their ancestral lands and occupy their lands by Bengali settlers. As part of this planning, so far, apart from frequent incidents of sporadic arson on Jumma dwellings, at least 18 massive communal attacks were perpetrated during the post-Accord period in different parts of the three hill districts of CHT, obviously, to uproot indigenous Jumma peoples from their ancestral land and to settle down Bengali settlers over there. Moreover, activities to incite communal frenzy in the CHT are being intensified. After signing of CHT Accord, the following communal attacks were committed by Bengali settlers with the help security forces and fundamentalist militant groups-
VB: Does administration take your issues with sympathy or cases are never resolved?
CMK: Civil and political rights of indigenous peoples are often intimidated in many cases. Right activists engaged in their legitimate actions to protect and promote their rights to self-government, land and resources, are frequently criminalized resulting in their arrests, detention, enforced disappearances and even sometimes become victims to political killings. In 2015, at least 74 members of indigenous communities including women and school girls were arrested. They were charged with criminal offences. However, most of them were released later on bail. On the other hand, fabricated cases were framed against at least 117 indigenous souls. Over the past few years, apparently, the most appalling issue facing indigenous women and girls in Bangladesh is the alarming rate of violence against them and the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators. Due to the absence or weak enforcement of existing legal and non-legal measures by the State, indigenous women and girls continue to encounter different forms of violence. According to Kapaeeng Foundation’s statistics, from January 2007 to September 2016, there have been at least 466 reported incidents of violence against indigenous women and girls in Bangladesh.
In comparison to 50 indigenous women and girls who were victims of rape, attempted rape and gang rape as reported by Kapaeeng Foundation, there were 615 victims of mainstream Bengali women and girls reported by Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) in 2014. It is worth mentioning that 7.52% of the victims/survivors in 2014 were from indigenous communities, who are merely 1.8% of country’s total population, while the remaining 92.48% victims were from the Bengali community, who are the majority in the country with 98.2% of the total population. From the statistical data given earlier, it is clear that the propensity of committing sexual and physical violence against indigenous women is higher than the violence faced by mainstream Bengali women. While indigenous women have a possibility to fall victim by the men from own community, they face a high rate of violence and discrimination from the men from outside of the community. Over past three years (2013-2015), on an average above 90% of the alleged perpetrators of violence were from non-indigenous background. Such incidents occur massively due to ethnic and cultural differences. Violence against indigenous women and girls is one of the weapons used widely to evict them from their ancestral lands. Hegemonic chauvinism to dominate over and subdue minorities also acts as an inducement to exploit indigenous women sexually and physically.
VB: As a minority group, how much you associate with other minorities in Bangladesh like Hindus and Christians?
CMK: PCJSS leadership is involved with Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Unity Council, national platform of minorities in Bangladesh and also Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, national platform of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh. PCJSS also has closed relationship with different civil society organizations of Bengali community.
VB: Chakma practice Buddhism. What are your main traits. Which kind of Buddhism do you practice?
CMK:The Chakma, Marma Tangchanya and Chak are mainly Buddhists, the Tripuras are Hindus and some smaller groups such as the Bawm, Khiyang, Lushai and Pangkhua are Christians. Mro and Khumi practise what is known as Animism, though some of them also follow Buddhism. Religious tolerance has been a long tradition of the Jumma people. CHT Buddhists follow Theravada Buddhism.
VB: Do you have any association, support, solidarity with the Dalits in Bangladesh. If yes then what kind of association or commonality of issues do you have?
CMK: We have loose relationship with the Dalits in Bangladesh. Many organisations are networking with organisations working for Dalits.
VB: Do you face discrimination in day today life due to your Chakma [CHT] identity. If yes, please let us know as what kind of discrimination?
CMK: The first constitution of Bangladesh adopted in 1972 did not mention a single word about Jumma people and separate administrative arrangement for CHT. Rather, the constitution says, the citizen of Bangladesh will be regarded as Bengalees. Manabendra Narayan Larma, then member of Constituent Assembly and founder of PCJSS protested against this constitutional provision and walked assembly protesting the adoption of this racial Article. Even, he did not sign Constitutional Bill in 1972.
In the Fifteenth Constitution (Amendment) Bill passed in the parliament on 30 June 2011, the government ignored the demand of indigenous peoples for recognition of their fundamental rights including recognition as indigenous peoples. However, the government recognised the culture of indigenous peoples in the fifteenth amendment stating that “the State shall take steps to protect and develop the unique local culture and tradition of the tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities”. It is mentionable that the terminologies of “tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities” are not accepted by the indigenous peoples.
Further, fifteenth amendment provides that “the People of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangalees as a nation and the citizens of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangladeshies”. Indigenous peoples rejected this provision arguing that they are Bangladeshi as citizens, but they are not “Bangalee” as a nation. They all are a separate nation possessing separate identity, culture, customs, language and society apart from Bengalis. Indigenous peoples rejected the Fifteenth Amendment of Constitution saying that it undermined the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples.
Indigenous peoples demanded to review the 15th amendment to the constitution, which did not recognise them as ‘indigenous people and their fundamental rights. They urged the government to ensure indigenous peoples’ right to land along with their political, economic, cultural and social rights in the constitution.
Photo Courtesy of Counter Currents