Consciousness to be awakened in West Bengal about the struggle of CHT: says Tathagata Roy at Kolkata Seminar

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Hill Voice, 23 September 2023, International Desk: “You continue your struggle. If you want to involve India in this struggle, then West Bengal needs to be awakened in this regard.” Tathagata Roy, the former governor of Tripura and Meghalaya, expressed this opinion towards the representatives of the Jumma peoples of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) at the Kolkata conference.

Campaign Against Atrocities on Minorities in Bangladesh (CAAMB) and All India Refugee Front jointly organized an international conference on “Human Rights Violations and Implementation of CHT Accord” on Saturday (23 September) from 2 pm to 5 pm under the slogan ‘Stop Islamization in Chittagong Hill Tracts’. This international conference was held at the Fine Arts Academy of Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal. The conference was moderated by Dr. Mohit Roy of CAAMB and the closing speech was delivered by Sujit Sikder, Joint Convener of All India Refugee Front.

Tathagata Roy, the former governor of Tripura and Meghalaya, BARC’s famous scientist Dr. Jishnu Basu, Karunalangkar Bhikkhu of CHT Peace Campaign Group spoke in the conference while Vice-President of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) and former Member of Parliament Ushatan Talukdar, President of CHT Citizens Committee Goutam Dewan, President of CHT chapter of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum Prakriti Ranjan Chakma, Professor of History Department of Dhaka University Dr. Mesbah Kamal, Organizing Secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad Uttam Kumar Chakraborty from Bangladesh addressed the conference.

Former Governor Tathagata Roy said, Bengalis think about everything in the world. Vietnam, Cuba, Nicaragua, Gaza – what a variety of things we think about! However, we know less about only our closest relatives, that is, the minority community in Bangladesh, the majority of whom are Hindu Bengalis, and the others, for whom this seminar is organized today, that is, the Chakmas and other indigenous ethnic groups. The people of West Bengal have no sleep in thinking about the people of so many countries starting from Cuba, while about their closest relatives – they have no thought about them.

He further said, I have no deep knowledge about the problems of CHT. I have tried to study a little about East Pakistan, at present, Bangladesh in general and undivided Bengal, the line marks of undivided Bengal before the departure of the British, the minority communities, i.e. Hindus and Buddhists, Christians. The main point is that people of West Bengal need to be awakened about CHT. He said, don’t forget the past, if you forget the past then you will suffer that pain again.

Former MP Ushatan Talukder said that instead of preserving the features of Jumma-dominated areas of CHT, the government is using a very subtle strategy to settle the Muslim population from plain districts including Rohingyas. Instead of rehabilitating the Muslim settlers outside the CHT, the Muslim settlers are being helped to occupy the land of Jumma people by expanding the cluster villages. General administration, law and order, police, land and land management, forest and environment, development of communication system etc. have not yet been handed over to the CHT Regional Council and the three Hill District Councils. After the signing of the agreement, the elections of these councils were not held even in the last 26 years. As a result, the self-governance system of the permanent residents of CHT incorporating the Regional Council and the three Hill District Councils has not yet been properly established.

Mr. Talukdar also said that in accordance with the CHT Accord, to preserve the features of the CHT as Jumma-dominant region as well as to protect the non-Muslim inhabited CHT, it is very important to make Jumma people survive in the CHT. In this regard, it is considered essential to implement the CHT Accord properly and fully. He put recommendations that include to put political and diplomatic pressure to the Bangladesh government to implement the CHT Accord; to make public opinion by highlighting the CHT issue in the Indian media and to strengthen publicity and campaign throughout the globe, and to provide all-out assistance to strengthen the ongoing movement of Jumma people.

DU teacher Dr. Mesbah Kamal said that the current government signed the CHT Accord on December 2, 1997. Today they are in power, but in the last 25 years, the government has not implemented the agreement. 92,500 people could not return to their places of origin due to non-implementation of the Accord. I think the struggle of indigenous ethnic groups living in CHT is also a very fair struggle. Because if the struggle of Bengalis is justified, the struggle of CHT people is also justified. Bengalis fought for their just rights. The Jumma people of CHT also have the right to self-identity. But the government of Bangladesh called them separatists, which is a total lie.

He also said that the PCJSS never wanted to be separated from Bangladesh. They wanted to provide them some space in the constitution. They have not been given a place in the constitution of Bangladesh. It has been said that the people of the country are all Bengalis. Even more than 50 indigenous ethnic groups living within Bangladesh are named ethnic minorities. The Bangladesh government took 5 lakh Bengalis from the plains to the CHT and made them live there permanently under the shadow of the army. The Bengalis started attacking, torturing, oppressing and occupying the local hill people with those Bengalis. What will the Jumma people of CHT do, to save their lives that day they started resistance movement to save their lives, resistance to protect their identity is justified. If the liberation war of Bangladesh is justified, then the movement of CHT is also validated.

Dr. Jishnu Basu said, if CHT really loses its identity within Bangladesh, it means it will become an arena of Islamic fundamentalism. This would pose a threat to the security of the subcontinent. We should think about providing citizenship to those who came from CHT to Arunachal and other places in India. A man can never accept unfair and unjust behavior towards his nation. They protest and protest because they cannot accept it.

He also said that today when there is danger in the CHT, then fear works in the mind. So far Ushatan Babu in his speech has talked about brutal torture on their mothers and sisters is beyond words. As far as I know, the British regime tried to convert them to Christianity, but very few of them succeeded. It can be understood that how much one’s ethnic identity, religion, culture is deeply rooted in the mind. If the Bengali-speaking people of Bengal think that this CHT Accord must be implemented by the Bangladesh government, then the Indian government should express its support in that regard. We have to take to the streets to say this in an organized way, that day has come today.

Goutam Dewan of CHT Citizens Committee said that the Land Commission has been formed according to the CHT Accord. The Rules required for the functioning of the Land Commission have not been formulated yet. As a result, the settlement of land disputes according to the Accord remained at stuck. Task force for rehabilitation of India-returnee refugees and internally displaced persons was formed. There are 12,000 families of India-returnee refugees and 90,000 families of internally displaced persons. Of the 12,000 India- returnee families, 9,000 families have not been given their land back. None of the 90,000 families have been rehabilitated yet, nor are any rations being provided. But the Bengali Muslims who were brought to the CHT from outside to make us a minority through demographic engineering during the military regime are still being provided rations. He further said that the CHT Accord is not being implemented, rather problems are being created. In the name of tourism, the land of Jumma people is being taken away. Jumma people are being evicted through construction of border road.

At the end of the discussion by the scheduled speakers, many journalists and participants spoke in the open discussion. Goutam Dewan and Mesbah Kamal answered the questions of the journalists. About 150 people participated in the conference, according to the organizers.