Jan 25, 2017

Chittagong Hill Tracts: New Book on Indigenous People Highlights Jumma People’s Distinct Identity

Photo courtesy of Jankie @flickr.com

Ms Tamina M Chowdhury, academic and consultant for the World Bank’s Dhaka branch, presented her newly published book, entitled “Indigenous Identity in South Asia: Making Claims in the Colonial Chittagong Hill Tracts”, in which she proves the long-standing indigenous identification of the Chittagong Hill Tracts as an ethnically and religiously distinct group from the lowland Bengali population, dating back to early colonial times. Today, the people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, or Jumma people, are threatened by marginalisation and even extinction through forced conversions of women and girls to Islam, government-steered Bengali mass migration to the Hill Districts and non-implementation of the 1997 Peace Accord on the part of the Bangladeshi Government.

Below is an article published by bdnews24.com:

Tamina M Chowdhury used unexplored archival sources in her ‘Indigenous Identity in South Asia’ to explore how the concepts of ‘territory’, and of a ‘people indigenous to it’ have come to be forged and politicised.

She challenges the general perception that indigenous claims coming from the Chittagong Hill Tracts are a recent and contemporary phenomenon, which emerged with the founding of Bangladesh.

She argues in the book, by analysing the processes of colonisation in the CHT, that identities of distinct ethnicity and tradition “predate the creation of Bangladesh, and first began to evolve under British patronage".

British publisher Routledge published the book that adds a new dimension to the existing studies on Bangladesh’s borders and its history by showing “a far deeper” historical lineage of claims being made in the hill tracts.

It was released in a ceremony at the BRAC University on Tuesday [24 January 2017].

Professor of history Shapon Adnan, professor of international relations Amena Mohsin, professor of anthropology Prashanto Tripura and journalist and teacher of history Afsan Chowdhury took part in the discussion on the book, among others.

They appreciated the effort to bring a new insight to the issue, but were also critical of the use of some words, terminology and references in the book.

The hills people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, more commonly referred to as Paharhis, demanded official recognition, and autonomy, as the indigenous people, soon after the birth of Bangladesh.

This demand for autonomy was primarily based on the claim that they were ethnically distinct from the majority Bengali population of Bangladesh, and thereby needed to protect their unique identity.

Tamina in the book asserted that “claims to indigeneity must be understood as an outcome of prolonged and complex processes of interaction between hill peoples – largely the Hill Tracts elites – and the Raj.”

Afsan Chowdhury said the book was “very important because it shows the parallel nature of identity formation and parallel nature of politics".

“It helps us to understand our history, their history and together the history of the region,” he said.

Prof Adnan appreciated it and said “we may or may not agree but we must appreciate the effort. It gives a new insight”.

Tamina said she tried “to produce an administrative history to bring to light their interaction with the state".

"I am not using tribal arguments. I am not going to anthropological and social way of the things.”

“I am not saying those are facts or those were just it happened. I just collected them and I am trying to make a picture.”

She had her PhD from Cambridge University on the political history of the Chiitang Hill Tracts and claims of indigenous identity that emerged from the region.

Tamina is currently a fellow of Georgetown University in Washington and also works as a consultant for the World Bank office in Dhaka.

Earlier she worked at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development.