Hill Voice, 8 April 2023, Dhaka: In a discussion meeting in Dhaka titled ‘Responsibilities and actions of the countrymen to implement the CHT Accord’, Chairman of Bangladesh Press Council Justice Md. Nizamul Haque Nasim said, ‘Bengali settlers have been taken to the hills for the evil purpose.’
Today, Saturday, April 8, at 10:30 am this exchange meeting was organized by the ‘CHT Accord Implementation Movement’ at the Tafazzal Hossain Manik Mia hall room of National Press Club in Dhaka.
The platform’s joint coordinator and human rights activist Zakir Hossain was present as moderator and Chairman of Bangladesh Press Council Justice Md. Nizamul Haque Nasim, Dhaka University Economics Department Professor Dr. MM Akash, Professor of the history department of the same university Mesbah Kamal, ALRD Executive Director Shamsul Huda, Poet and Journalist Sohrab Hasan, Former General Secretary of DUCSU Dr. Mushtaq Hossain and others spoke as discussant in the exchange meeting. Before the discussion, the joint coordinator of CHT Accord Implementation Movement and Dhaka University teacher Dr. Khairul Islam Chowdhury presented the main speech.
Chairman of Bangladesh Press Council, Justice Md. Nizamul Haque Nasim, said, ‘I think that the hill people are united with the CHT Accord. The hill people’s view regarding the CHT Accord is still the same. Although there is a political dispute between them about this Accord, there is no fundamental difference. All the people of the hills want to implement the agreement.’
He also said, ‘The Bengali settlers who have been taken to the hills since 1979, they have been settled in whose place? They have been settled in the land of hill people. That mean, those who were taken, there had evil intentions behind it. The purpose was to increase the number of Bengalis by reducing the number of hill people.
He also added, ‘I asked my friend Anwarul Huque (Chairman of CHT Land Dispute Settlement Commission), what is the news of the Commission? He said, I cannot go to the hills. Whenever I go there, strike and blockade are called. I advised him to at least hold the meetings in Dhaka. I don’t know if they can do it or not.’
Dr. Khairul Islam Chowdhury said in his key speech, ‘There are 4 sections and 72 clauses in the CHT Accord. There is a difference between the two sides in terms of how much it has been implemented in these 25 years. The government says that most of the clauses of the Accord have been implemented. On the other hand, the Jana Samhati Samiti says that out of 72 articles of the CHT Accord, only 25 articles have been fully implemented and 18 articles have been partially implemented. The remaining 29 clauses are completely unimplemented. So, there is a big difference between these two statements.’
He also said, ‘Clause 4 of part (a) of the CHT Accord states that ‘the Agreement shall come into force from the date of its signing and execution by both the parties. This Agreement shall remain valid from the date of its effect until all the steps are executed as per this Agreement.’ Therefore, since the fundamental issues of this Accord have not yet been implemented, this Accord is still in force.’
Professor of Economics Department of Dhaka University MM Akash said, ‘The fact that we have called it a peace treaty means that there was a disturbance before it. Why there was unrest was because then government took the initiative to marginalize the hill people by making Bengalis the majority in the hills and created a conflict between the two communities. The accord to end this conflict has not yet been implemented.’
Dhaka University History Department Professor Dr. Mesbah Kamal said, ‘The problem of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is not only a problem of hills. It is a national problem. This problem has to be solved politically. For that, the signed CHT Accord should be implemented. If the citizens cannot be sensitized for this, then there will be no pressure on the implementation of this Accord.’
He also said, ‘Before the signing of the Accord, there were big political parties like BNP, Jatiya Party and Awami League in the negotiation process. Later, the Awami League government signed this accord. But those who were in the negotiation process are the ones who are forming the government today or are in the role of the main opposition party. If we delay the implementation of this accord, it will create a disaster for the country. CHT is now steadily returning to pre-Accord’97 trends. It is very important for this to implement the CHT Accord and for that the countrymen have to be mobilized.’
He also said, ‘CHT is important for many reasons. One of these is the fundamental limitations of the 1972 Constitution. This country is a country of many cultures, the pluralism of the country, this ‘diversity’ has not been recognized in the constitution. In 2019, apart from Bengali, the government has recognized 50 ethnic groups of indigenous peoples. Why did it not happen in 1972? One of the limitations of the 1972 constitution is the establishment of a centralized state structure. If the administrative structure is not decentralized then it is also a problem for democratization. The Hill District Councils and CHT Regional Council mentioned in the CHT Accord can be a pioneer for the entire country in terms of decentralization. It has been 25 years today. But according to the accord, no rules have been made to empower the three Hill District Councils and Regional Council.’ In this case, bureaucratic reluctance is more prevalent than political will, this indigenous researcher believes.
ALRD executive director Shamsul Huda said, ‘The United Nations has a statistic that 5 percent of the world is indigenous. These 5 percent of the indigenous people are playing a role in protecting 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. So, to save the whole world these indigenous peoples must be saved. CHT is the hotspot of the destruction going on for development. Without these hills and forests, the indigenous peoples will not exist, we will also have no place to go.’
He also said, ‘The Regional Council has been formed as per the CHT Accord. It is the responsibility of the ministry to formulate the rules of this council. According to me, the CHT Regional Council has prepared these regulations in own initiative and submitted them to the CHT Affairs Ministry. But for some unknown reason the rules is not being passed. Moreover, the accord states that Regional Council will be consulted in making any law related to hills. But there are many laws that the Regional Council does not know.’
Claiming that the more army camps and cantonments are reduced in the hills, the more peace will return, he added that the civil administration cannot work in the hills. The military administration works in the hills. It is not just unfair, it is unconstitutional and undeclared rule. If there is an emergency, the government can declare martial law for a specified period. But in the hills it is going on unannounced. It is a big threat to our country’s democracy. Therefore, the more we stay away from the process of implementing the accord, these events will continue to happen freely.’
Poet and journalist Sohrab Hasan said, ‘The basic conditions of CHT Accord have not been implemented. It was said that the CHT will be a region inhabited by ‘tribals’. But the CHT have now become the majority of Bengalis. So, holding such a meeting against those who have violated the Accord will not do much good. Even today, seven people have been killed in the hill. It is said to have clashed with a ‘militant group’ called Kuki-Chin. But if we do not understand the involvement of a group of governments behind this conflict, then the limitations of the implementation of the Accord will not be identified.’
He also said, ‘The main problem of the CHT is land. A Land Commission has been constituted to solve this problem. But this commission cannot hold its meeting. If the meeting is called, strike, blockade is called. Therefore, it must be understood that the government has deviated from its vision to implement the Accord. Why blame only bureaucrats! It is important to list how many intellectuals, professionals, political leaders are occupying land by buying land in the hills.’ He also thinks that the situation will be more dire if the CHT Accord is not implemented. This journalist also called on the hill people to organize a united movement against the ‘lawlessness of the state’ of Bengalis.
Dr. Mushtaq Hossain, the former general secretary of DUCSU, said, ‘An accord has been reached on the hill. But why won’t the indigenous peoples who lost their land in the hills get their land back. Why will the hill people be evicted and replaced by Bengalis? How can I buy any land I want if I have money? If the people of Comilla buy all the land in Barisal, will the people of Barisal accept it? If more differences are created without implementing the CHT Accord, the crisis will intensify. In the current context, if the public opinion of the country cannot be involved in the implementation of the Accord, then it will be difficult to implement the Accord, said the former general secretary of DUCSU.
Dr. Dibalok Singh said, ‘Most of the people of the indigenous community are poor and hardworking. Moreover, most people in Bangladesh are hardworking and poor. On the other hand, just as there are oppressed indigenous peoples in the hills, there are many deprived indigenous peoples in the plains as well. A connection must be made between the struggle of all these hardworking and poor people. For that, in order to make the state system of Bangladesh more democratic, we need to strengthen the movement of hardworking people to get out of the autocratic rule that has been established in the country.’
Later, the discussion meeting ended with the closing speech of Zakir Hossain, joint coordinator of CHT Accord Implementation Movement and human rights activist.
It should be noted that immediately after the formation of this platform called ‘CHT Accord Implementation Movement’, consisting of prominent citizens of the country, on December 20, 2023, for the first time in Dhaka, a mass procession and solidarity gathering was organized to demand the full implementation of CHT Accord. Then on January 31, 2023, the first divisional gathering was held in Chittagong with the initiative of this platform on the same demand. After that, on March 20, 2023, a divisional solidarity gathering was held in Rangpur on the initiative of this platform to demand the implementation of the CHT Accord and to build a collective larger movement for the implementation of the CHT Accord.