Bawm people in catastrophe under Army-KNF suppressive pressure

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Hill voice, 1 February 2024, Special Report: Available reports reveal that the Bawm people, one of the ethnic indigenous peoples, now find themselves to have already landed in a very catastrophic situation as a result of one after another reckless and terrorist actions being perpetrated by the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF), known as ‘Bawm Party’ and the ‘War-War Game’ being staged by the KNF and Bangladesh Army in southern part of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).

Initially, as though the Bawm Party was created by the Army, later on, the KNF-Islamic militant group relationship in exchanging of fund and arms with evidences of providing military training caused international pressure, which obliged the government to resort to taking military action against the Bawm party.

Thus, the armed conflict between the two ends got started. At this, as the Bawm Party compel the Bawm community people to provide various forms of co-operation, paying money, supplying domestic animals and food stuff, and on the other, multi-faceted harassment, oppression and intimidation by the army, the Bawm people are being obliged to pass their days in total uncertainty.

Photo: A part of a scene of Bawm people fleeing into Mizoram.

Under the given situational circumstances, towards the end of 2022, of the ever peace-loving and socially well-disciplined Bawm community, many villagers began to flee leaving their houses and villages under compulsion. This led some 2,000 men, women and children to taking refuge to the Mizoram state of India. On the other hand, several thousand souls after becoming internally displaced, obliged to find shelters under their relatives or known people while leaving their homes and homesteads.

One pro-Accord Bawm right activist in pseudonym said that it is due to absence of correct political thoughts and lack of far-sighted thought associated with wrong steps, the Bawm community is endangered, today. As the consequence, today the simple-minded Bawm community are to lead a sub-human life and distressed and helpless. They want relief from the grip of KNF.

Further he said that in one end, due to KNF’s reckless activities while on the other end, causing hostility with the army and administration, altogether 13 Bawm villages got turned into emptied of residents up till this day. Besides, 15 more villages are at the state of getting abandoned as two-third villagers have already left the villages. It is, therefore, if the situation gets worsened to further extend, then these 15 villages, too, will likely to become empty of residents.

Photo: A group of Bawm refugees in Mizoram

More than one sources of Bawm community affirm that the ordinary Bawm people, especially, those who are sheltered as refugees in Lawngtlai district of Mizoram, are not in a good shape at all. They, too, are obliged to lead their lives somehow under sub-human standard. At the beginning, the Bawm people who took refuge in Mizoram, the KNF leaders assured them of getting legal documents for them as Mizoram residents with free medical treatment services. Assurances of food and education of children for free were also given to them.

But by now, it is being seen that many are dying without medical treatment. Several months ago, 3-4 patients died of malaria and cholera in Parva-3 area. The Bawm refugees sheltered at Mongbu village, Bungthlang village and Fathwamphul village are not getting proper medical treatment. Due to unavailability of medical treatment, even they die of diseases like malaria and diarrhea. Till this day, among the refugees, 15-16 people including the children died.

The sources further informed that at first, each family used to be given 20 kg of rice. By now, in place, each family is being given 5 kg of rice. One can easily infer of what could be the suffering of refugees where one family is given 5 kg in place of 20 kg by which one family could hardly pull one month.

It can be said that, they are left with neither sort of reality nor opportunity with which they can go for production or earning. The reason is that the places where they have been sheltered are remote rural areas bared of accessibility. Consequently, there is no scope of opting for daily wages. On the other hand, the refugee children are also being deprived from education. They have no opportunity to get admission in any academic institution since they do not possess legal documents for the purpose.

It has been learnt that the Bawm people began entering in India as refugees since November 2022. At the beginning, the Mizoram Authority pushed them back for several times. Later on, the refugees were accepted at the demand of Young Mizo Association (YMA). At present, the population of the refugees is 1,200 as per the papers but there are still 700 to 800 refugees excluded of official counting. Hence, the refugee strength stands approximately 2,000 at the present time.

More than one sources of Bawm community residing in Bandarban informed that though the overall condition of Bawm people still living inside the country is not as sub-human as the Bawm refugees staying in Mizoram, yet their condition is also very pathetic since they have become internally displaced, and lived in a pitiful state.

The Bawm people who had to return upon facing push back at the border points or did not go to Mizoram for various realistic realities, had to take shelter in different adjacent Bawm villages or in the remote areas alongside the Mizoram border lines, their condition is also as worse as the refugees.

Many displaced Bawm families have found their shelters with their relatives or known persons who are residing in 9 Bawm villages close to the Bandarban Sadar Upazila. Many of them have also found their shelters in the Bawm villages in and around Ruma Sadar while some others found themselves in the Bawm villages of Rowangchari Sadar.

The sources affirm that the Bawm villages that are vulnerable to abandonment if the situation gets further deteriorated, are: Munnuam Para, Artha Para, Basetlang Para, Happyhill or Punarbasan Para, Ronin Para or Fiu=yangpudung Para, Mualpi Para, Sunsawng Para, Rumna Para, Darjiling Para, Thaikhiyong Para, Rowangchari’s Durnibar Para, Pankhiyong Para, Gilgal or Obicholita Para, Jurfarong Para and Ramthang Para. The remaining residents of these 15 villages are in uncertain state of existence.

On the other end, the two villages, which became empty of residents, namely, Saizam Para and Sippi Para are located at Bortholi Union – a locality on the border of Rangamati and Bandarban Hill districts. These two villages were abandoned in the face of military combing operations. Of them, many fled for the sake of their lives to Rowangchari while many others took refuge to Mizoram of India.

Following this, the Pankhiyong Para village of 120 families also became deserted due to military operation. Afterward, the village named Verstlang located between Munnuam Para and Artha Para is now empty of residents. Similarly, in Thanchi Upazila where the Border High Way is being constructed, there are the villages, namely, Baktlai Para, Parata Para, Shimtulangpi Para near the Tazing Dawng Para and the villages adjacent to the areas touching tri-junction border lines, namely, Painoum Para, Lungmual Para, Thingdawlte Para, Siloupi Para, Chaikhiyong Para, New Rumna Para near Mizoram border line, are now completely deserted localities.

One veteran of Bawm community in pseudonym made it known that many children of these villagers study in different academic institutions in Dhaka and Chittagong. Due to the prevailing situation and financial crisis, study of those children is now in total jeopardy. Consequently, the future of the young generation of the Bawm community is now overshadowed with darkness. If the growing generation gets deprived of education, the loss will be too heavy for the Bawm people to bear.

He continued, in fact, before the creation of KNF, the Bawm people were in well-off with social discipline and had the socio-economic base of their own produces. Almost all the Bawm people adopted fruit plantations, which had been a good earning that would cover all the family expenses. Apart from fruit plantations, they cultivated ginger and turmeric in the Jum – shifting cultivation in the hill slopes. The women folks used to weave traditional attire and earn by selling them. There were a very few people doing government jobs in the Bawm society.

He further said, due to the given situation, the social integrity that was prevalent in the Bawm society before, has been severely damaged. In the Bawm society, the social organizations, such as, Bawm Social Council (BSC) with the veterans, the Young Bawm Association (YBA) with the young people, the Bawm Students Association (BSA) with the students and Bawm Women Association with the Bawm women and young ladies – the well-defined social structure with strong social influence that was before, is now almost non-existent due to collapse of those organizations under KNF’s interruptions.

The KNF organized Division Committees in the villages and the KNF interferes in any social arbitration of undertaken issue. Consequently, that system and integrity have become dysfunctional, today. In this circumstance, the Bawm Social Council also is no more capable of doing any work at its own initiative. As a result, a kind of social disorder is prevailing in the Bawm society.

The Bawm veteran further said, under this circumstance, the local sources say that the army are imposing pressure upon the Bengali and Hill business persons preventing them from purchasing of any products from the Bawm people living in Ruma Upazila. For instance, recently, the Bawm fruit cultivators stocked heaves of bananas in the market for several times, but nobody came up to purchase their produces and even nobody came forward for bargaining.

The way the army has been acting is aimed at crippling the Bawm people financially. The army raise a plea saying that the Bawm people have a helping hand towards the KNF. The concept that the army have developed suggests that the KNF will fall into a ditch, if the financial embargo is exercised upon the Bawm people the result of which may be that the KNF will compel to vow down before the army.

Investigation furthermore affirms that the Bawm villagers of Munlai Para, Eden Para, Zaion Para, Hippy Hill Para, Artha Para, Munnuam Para, Verstlang Para, Bathel Para, etc. which are close by Ruma Sadar and basically, are dependent upon fruit plantations as livelihood earnings, are not being able to merchandize their agro-products in the market. During the last harvesting season, many business men came to the Bawm villagers and though they plucked mangoes in the groves, they could not transport these mangoes due to sanction imposed by the army.

At this, the Bawm villagers had to lift tremendous financial loss. Under this situation, the businessmen dealing in fruits and other agro-products are afraid of purchasing even agro-items from the Bawm people and abstain themselves from dealing in such items produced by the Bawm people.

This has had a negative impact in other areas of Bandarban Sadar, Rowangchari and Thanchi Upazilas where the Bawm people are facing the wide-scale problems in selling their agro-products. In addition, as the flow of tourist visit dropped down due to situational circumstances, the sector of Bawm handicrafts and traditional clothes suffers graphical dropping downs.

The report also indicates that the internally displaced Bawm people were though provided relief stuff by the administration for several days but they have not been being given any support from the administration since long ago.

One Bawm student leader said indeed, among the people of educated and conscious Bawm society, it is not only that none supports the KNF but also vehemently opposes them. Though they do not express their opinion overtly, they do not support their activities. Those who are entrusted with the religious institutions or the clergy, none of them also supports the activities of KNF.

In June 2022, the KNF members had beaten up a Pastor to sustain injuries. The Pastor had to be taken for medical treatment. Besides, the Kuki-Chin members raise various allegations against the Bawm Village Heads, called Karbaris and carried out physical torture. Many of them had to receive long-term medical treatment. If the situation with the Bawm people continues to exist, the Bawm community will sure to get abolished by some day.