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3 August, 2017 00:00 00 AM

The Chittagong Hill Tracts issue

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Therefore, the government may take a decision for the rehabilitation of the poor, landless destitute people anywhere suitable in Bangladesh
Professor Dr. Khurshida Begum
The Chittagong Hill Tracts issue
Sheikh Hasina and Santu Larma - File photo

Bangladesh is inhabited by 160+ million people. There are not less than 70 ethnic peoples of whom  near about 99% is the Bengali. As an ethnic entity the Bengalis including those of West Bengal of India form the second largest ethnic people of the world.  

Bangla language of the Bengalis, is fourth in position among hundreds of languages of the world and the second largest spoken language of the subcontinent.   
The small ethnic peoples mostly live in tribes and are scattered throughout the country. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh live about 14 and in the plain land and other hilly areas (Sylhet region) live more than 55 small ethnic peoples
It is to be noted that chaos, conflict, unrest, terrorism are the regular features of the CHT. In fact, peace and stability of the CHT have been severely disturbed for the last 44 years since 1972, at the very inception of the state of Bangladesh.
Unfortunately, the hilly Bengalis and also the hilly tribals of the CHT have been thrown in a burning chaos by some tribal leaders and activists which negates human security as well as national security. What is most important to be taken into account, the Tribal Freedom Fighters of 1971, whatever the number, are found inactive while the tribals who were not dedicated to the cause of the Liberation War, 1971 have got the upper hand. Today there is no option left for the 160+ million patriot citizens of Bangladesh to confirm the nature of their ill motives and tackle the situation with the Spirit of Liberation War and help the government with necessary research, findings, experiences and suggestions.    
As for the claim of the small ethnic people’s leaders for their indigenous status, it must be clear that primitive and indigenous are not the same . Tribals of CHT may be premitive but not indigenous in Bangladesh.  Some primitive people may get permission today to live in Bangladesh. But they can not be taken as indigenous.
As per English Dictionary,  Indigenous means “belonging to a particular place rather than coming to it from somewhere else”. The small ethnic peoples of the the Chittagong Hill Tracts migrated from Arakan, Burma, Mizoram, Tripura for their defeat to other tribes, (like the Rohingas today), natural calamities or as agricultural labourers or for tea-planting,  railway construction etc. Professor Pierre Basainte wrote that the  Chakmas and Mughs came in CHT in recent time compared to other small ethnic peoples. Historian Professor Sayed Anwar Hossain writes, “ Most of the tribal people moves into this land from areas now Myanmar (former Burma) during the period from the 15th to the mid-nineteenth century . The tribes belonging to the Kuki group were the earliest to settle, and the Chakmas came much later”. Mr. Debashish Roy writes in Prothom Alo on 29 July, 2011 There is no evidence that the indigenous people drove away the Bengalis and began to live in any part of Bengal. So, Mr. Roy himself admits that they are the Migrants, not Indigenous.
As for the Bengalis, in the holy scripit of the Rigveda, near about 3000 years ago there is mentioned about a nationality called Banga. Historian Haraprasad  Shastri  wrote in his Bengal, Bengalis, their Manners, Customs and Literature that when the Aryans came to India and reached near to Allahabad became jealous about the civilization of Bengal and remarked about the Bengalis as ‘Birds’ without religious sense.
On April 5, 1971 Newsweek published a brief study by Lauren Jenkins which read “ the name Bengal is derived from the ancient kingdom of Banga which goes back at least to the 3rd century B.C. One of the oldest literary streams in Asia also flows in Bengal, whose Indo-Ariyan language and recorded history date back at least a thousand years.
For the migrant Chakma citizens in Bangladesh  M.N Larma said, “we want to live with our separate identity”. But in course of time their food, dress, religion, culture, behavioural pattern every thing has been swept over by changes willingly which is, in fact, inevitable in this age of globalization.  
In 1972 Bangabandhu appealed to them to join the mainstream of the political system with the Bengalis. His appeal was mistaken and misinterpreted by several interests groups of Bangladesh including the tribal leaders of CHT. M.N Larma declared, “ A Marma can never be a Chakma, a Chakma can never be a Bengali…”. Here it is to be noted that there are regular intermarriages. Kalindi Rani Chakma married Dharam Baks Khan of Mughal Army origin. As it is known, through this love marriage one of the wandering Chakma family in the CHT, for the first time, in the mid-19th Century got a legal land ownership there. Mother of Tridiv Roy was a Bengali, daughter of Tridiv Roy, Chardra Roy has married a Norweian. Devashish Roy married recently a Marma woman. In Jahangirnagar University a female teacher has married a Tripura. What would be the identity of their children?
With thousands of these sorts of examples, we may refer to a theory of Race and Ethnic relations. “...the gene interchange between human population has caused racial boundaries to become more or less blurred”.
One of their ridicules demands is Bengali citizens’ withdrawal from the CHT. In 1971, Chittagong Hill Tracts was sector 1 of the war field and all the Sector Commanders and most of the freedom fighters were the Bengalis. They sacrificed their lives, underwent severe torture and oppression and liberated the area neither to make it a Bengali free zone of Bangladesh nor to allocate the land exclusively to those who migrated here in recent history. Besides the tribals are exempted to pay taxes. Therefore, whatever public facilities for education, health, infrastructural development, electricity, communication and other services they enjoy are provided by the Bengali tax payers.  
This very demand also denies the fundamental right of the citizens as determined by the Article 38 of the Constitution of Bangladesh: “every citizen shall have the right to move freely throughout Bangladesh, to reside and settle in any place therein and to leave and re enter Bangladesh”.
Bangladesh is a densely populated area in the world. 964.42 persons or more live here per square miles. Therefore, Government may take decisions for the rehabilitation of the poor, landless destitutes anywhere suitable in Bangladesh.
As per English Dictionary, the term “settler” means, “colonist” – “Person who has settled in a newly developed country, i.e., white settlers in Kenya”. Therefore, the Bengalis are not settlers in their own country. Some quarters of the foreign blocks prefer to use the word Settler for the Bengalis. The government should take care of it. This is a conspiracy to make a scope to use the term “indigenous” irrationally for the migrant ethnic peoples of the CHT.
Peace Treaty, 1997
The peace treaty, 1997 was signed by the government of Sheikh Hasina for peace and development of the region. Her sincere gesture and utmost efforts are not properly interpreted by the vested interest groups of CHT. Shantu Larma and others often threaten the government openly to move again against the state.
Two decades have passed now, so the post Peace Treaty situation is needed to be evaluated by the government particularly to accommodate the demands of the hilly Bengali citizen for democratization of the political system of Bangladesh in the true sense of the term. Presently, they are denied of equal rights with the tribals. It is an irony that the hilly Bengali citizens have to organize a ‘ Shomo Odhikar Andolon’ in CHT.    
We, the people want to develop a Bangladesh free from racial-ethnic-religious conservatism. All the citizens whether tribal on non-tribal, big or small ethnicities should enjoy equal rights, liberty, dignity in Bangladesh.
To that direction the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs should be turned into a Ministry of Ethnic Amity and Development. This would help develop the Citizens’ Value for mutual responsibility. As per the clarion call of the Father of the Nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. “The Hindus and Muslims, Bengalis and non-Bengalis of this Bengal, all are brothers. It is the mutual responsibility of all to protect each other. This is the political direction and universal political education too.  

The writer is Information Commissioner, Information Commission Bangladesh


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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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