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4 December, 2017 00:00 00 AM
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Unease prevails in CHT amid scattered efforts

SHAMSUDDIN ILLIUS back from CHT

After the signing of the Peace Accord in 1997, Ranjika Chakma, wife of Ettok Chakma of an ethnic minority community who returned from India in 1998, is now an affluent farmer in Voirafa Bridge of Diginala upazila in Khargachhari district. Her multi-tier orchard on five acres of hilly land (allocated by the government) is a steady source of income. Besides, she gets an allowance from the government. Her two sons study in Rangamati College. On a foggy winter morning, Ranjika spoke to this correspondent at her home, about half a kilometre from the main road, while smoking a traditional bamboo pipe.  “In 1986, we left country under extreme uncertainty. We took shelter in a refugee camp in Tripura, in India.We came back after the Peace Accord was signed. The government gave us the land and an allowance.”

Now, she leads a peaceful life with her husband and two sons. Those who could not go back to their land at that time can now travel freely and cultivate in these once forbidden hills. Ranjika said she there is now no scarcity of food, and they get health and educational facilities as per their demand. But despite all these facilities, they are still uneasy about the tension between the Bengalis and the tribals. Champa Rani, another rehabilitated refugee living in the same area, expressed similar views.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), which was a land of turmoil two decades ago, is now a place where one can move freely. But the rift between the Bengali people and various tribal communities has still remained. This has triggered in unease among the minds of members of these communities, resulting in lack of harmony, mutual understanding and faith in each other.

Khagrachari municipality mayor Rafiqul Alam said: “The rift between the tribal and Bengali residents is still quite pronounced. But people are beginning to realise that one will not be able to progress without the other. The socio-economic development of the CHT region will get accentuated with harmony among the Bengalis and the tribals."

According to the PCJSS, after the signing of the Peace Accord, the tribal and Bengali residents have clashed at least 20 times. Around 41 people have been killed in those clashes. The conflict between the two communities is still is a cause of worry for locals.

However, the conflict between the regional political parties—Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) and the United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF)—and the Bengali people in the hill areas has stopped for the last two years. There seems to a realisation that permanent peace in the CHT region can only be achieved through increased communal harmony among the hill people and the Bengali residents.

Many national and international NGOs have been working in the CHT to foster  goodwill. They stress that permanent peace in the region can only prevail if there is harmony among the hill people and the Bengalis.

Ananda, an NGO working in the region, has implemented many programmes with international NGOs. It is currently working on a programme with the European Union—'Promotion of Confidence Building in CHT through Empowering Communities and Intuitions'—to bridge the gulf between the tribals and the Bengali residents.

Bijoy Krishna Bala, regional manager of Ananda, told The Independent: “We are working towards developing the relation between the tribals and the Bengali residents. In the school, we select an equal number of students from the two communities and involve them in many programme. We do this to reduce the gulf between the two communities.”

“Earlier, the people of the two communities did not even drink tea at the same tea stall. That situation has changed for the better since then. But an overnight change is not possible. We are working to create harmony between the two communities from 2002. Recently, their relation has somewhat improved,” he said.

Sajib Chakma, spokesman of the PCJSS said: “We don’t have any conflict with the Bengalis living here permanently. To develop confidence in each other, the root of such problems must be eradicated. In some cases, relations have developed, while they have deteriorated in others.”

“A faction wants to keep the problems alive. But if the government implements the treaty, the problem would not persist,” he added.

“If the problems of the returned tribal refugees and internally displaced tribal people are not addressed permanently, the atmosphere of harmony will not sit easy in the hills,” he went on to say.

At present, 48 per cent of the CHT population comprises Bengalis and they are said to be opposing the treaty.

In keeping with the treaty, many Army camps have been withdrawn from several areas, but the activities of the tribal terrorists reached an alarming level in those places. Many Bengalis are said to have been abducted by the tribals; many have disappeared; some have been murdered in the absence of the Army in those areas.

Mosarof Hossain, general secretary of Sama Odhikar Andolon (Equal Rights Movement) in the CHT, said: “The purpose behind the killings and forced disappearance of the Bengali people by tribal terrorists is to eliminate the Bengalis from the hill areas.”

CAPTION: To build relations and strengthen harmony among tribal and Bengali children, a school programme was arranged among the students of the two communities at a local school in Khargachari city under the project "Promotion of Confidence Building in CHT through Empowering Communities and Intuitions."

 

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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.

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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