Construction of border road by army: Conspiracy to evict Jumma villages for tourism

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Hill Voice, 26 December 2024, Special Report: By evicting the indigenous Jumma villages, destroying houses and plantations of Jumma people, obstructing Jum cultivation and construction of houses at adjacent area of roads, the Bangladesh army are constructing border road and connecting roads in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). One of the latest examples of that is the conspiracy of eviction of 23 families and obstructing Jum cultivation of two Gachbagan Para and Thum Para on the boundary of Jurachari and Bilaichari in Rangamati district by the 26 Engineer Construction Battalion under the 34 Engineer Construction Brigade of the Army.

On March 9, 2024, a group of army led by the Commander of Chaichal Project Camp Captain Kabir and Subedar Priya Ranjan Chakma informed the Jumma villagers that they will set up a tourist center at Pilar Chug and Langel Tila between Thum Para and Gachbagan Para. Therefore, The villagers of these two villages will have to leave the village and go elsewhere and Jum farming cannot be done there and in the surrounding areas and Jums that are preliminarily prepared cannot be set on fire for final preparation. The Army threatened to face dire consequences otherwise.

Then, on March 11, 2024, the army started cutting the hills in Pilar Chug and Langel Tila with excavators and razed the Jum-farm of Buddhalila Chakma. Earlier, on March 6, the army destroyed the Jum-farm of Birasen Tanchangya with the excavator. On March 12, 2024 Chaichal army camp commander Captain Kabir and Subedar Priya Ranjan Chakma asked Karbari (village head) Thudo Chakma of Gachbagan Para village to provide list of Jums. Captain Kabir Karbari also told Thudo Chakma, “You have to leave the village whether you provide the list of Jums or not. No one has ever benefited from going against the government’s decision. So, instead of going against the government, you leave the village and go elsewhere.” These villagers who have been ordered to leave the village are now in deep anxiety and panic.

On March 19, 2024, a human chain was organized by the villagers of two villages at the south gate of the Rangamati Deputy Commissioner’s office and a memorandum was submitted to the Prime Minister through the Deputy Commission of Rangamati district demanding that the 26 Engineering Construction Brigade of the Army should stop the eviction of villagers of Gachbagan Para and Thum Para on the border of Jurachhari-Bilaichhari.

The villagers mentioned in the memorandum that their main livelihood is Jum cultivation. In the last 24/25 years, many of them have developed banana plantations, mango-jackfruit plantations, tiger grass plantations. Along with paddy cultivation, many people also cultivated ginger, turmeric, sesame, pepper etc. It is also said that if the tourist center is established and the said two villages are evicted, along with it, the Jumma villages of Shukkarchari, Changrachari, Dulubagan, Mandirachara of Bilaichari and Mandirachara of Jurachhari will also be forced to be evicted.

The villagers put four-point demand including to withdraw the order to evict the villagers of Gachbagan Para and Thum Para, to stop the establishment of tourist centers nearby indigenous villages, to stop any type of obstruction during Jum cultivation and to provide compensation to the affected indigenous families. It is hopeful that after the protest, the army allowed villagers to cultivate Jum and set fire to preliminary prepared Jum. However, the army have not yet withdrawn the order to leave the village.

On March 8, 2024 at approximately 3 pm, a high-ranking officer of the army visited the Chaichal army camp. The very next day (March 9) army personnel from Chaichal camp went to the village and informed the Jumma villagers of Gachbagan Para and Thum Para that the army chief ordered to stop Jum farming and 12 families of Gachbagan Para had to leave the village, the memorandum says.

It is to be noted that the construction project of 317 km long border road (Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban hill districts) is being implemented by the Bangladesh Army on the border with India and Myanmar. Besides, there are many connecting roads with it. Among them, the connecting roads are- Alikadam-Kurukpata-Poamuhuri link road; Rajasthali-Bilaichari-Jurachari-Barkal-Thegamukh link road; Sijakchara to Sajek-Shilda-Betling link road; and Link road from Ugalchari village to Majhipara under Baghaichari upazila.

The indigenous Jumma people living in three hill districts of CHT have been and continue to suffer massive deprivation, eviction from their ancestral land and massive loss of fruit plantations, forests and land-property due to the border road construction project constructing under the leadership of the Bangladesh Army. Prior to the adoption and implementation of the said project, the opinions of the local leadership and people, including the CHT Regional Council and the three Hill District Councils, were ignored, and the human rights and compensation of the local residents who suffered losses were trampled upon.

It is reported that at least 776 Jumma families in three hill districts (Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban) have suffered severe damage and at least 78 families have been evicted from their homesteads and villages due to this border road and link road project. Even, the number of affected families could be more. The latest one of such evictions is conspiracy of eviction of 23 Jumma families from Gachbagan Para and Thum Para in Jurachari and Bilaichari Upazila. Out of 776 affected families, only 56 families of Baghaichari area have received partial compensation as a result of massive protests. The rest received no compensation. When the affected families approach the military for compensation, they say with their mighty power, “Country is ours, land is ours, why should we give compensation?”

At present, one of the tools of land dispossession in the CHT is the establishment of camps and tourist centers. Just as army and BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) camps are set up everywhere in the name of security, while they also occupy land and hills and set up luxurious tourist centers in the name of development taking the advantage of the border road construction project. For examples, a BGB camp was constructed by expropriating the land of 6 families in Kamalak area of Sajek Union of Baghaichari. An army camp was set up at a place called Sijakachara Mukha and another army camp in the Udaipur area after confiscating the land of Jumma villagers.

Besides, there are plans to set up 5 army camps from Sijakchara to Udaipur under Baghaichari upazila. A BGB camp has been set up in Ghilatuli village of Logang union of Panchari upazila in Khagrachari district by occupying the fruit plantations of Jumma villagers. Chaichal army camp of Dumdumya Union of Jurachari was also established during the construction of the border road.

Warrant Officer of Chaichal army camp Saiful is forcibly trying to collect signatures from the headman of the local Gandachara Mouza Sangur Pangkhua and the headman of Rengkhyong Chongrachari Mouza Balabhadra Chakma for the purpose of expropriation of the land adjacent to border road and surrounding areas, stating that these lands and hills are Khas land (Government land). However, according to the traditional land management in CHT, there is no Khas land in CHT. The lands and hills identified by the army as Khas lands are regarded as community-owned Mouza land and Jum land of indigenous Jumma people.

Besides, during the construction of the border road and the link road, the army and BGB authorities selected many attractive places adjacent to the road and occupied them putting signboard as ‘protected areas’ for the purpose of setting up tourist centers. The border road and link roads not only evicted the Jumma villagers, destroyed their houses and plantations, and obstructing of building houses at adjacent areas of roads, but also destroyed the forests, environment and biodiversity in the area. Water sources are being destroyed due to indiscriminate quarrying of stones from streams for road construction. As a result, there is a crisis of drinking water in many areas.

There are also allegations that the army have put up signboards with Muslim names at various places along the border road and link roads against the indigenous names of Jumma people. Some examples are – ‘Shaheen Tila’ in place of Bhije Hijing in Sarbowatli union of Baghaichari, ‘Mahmud Tila’ in place of Kingar Para area in Sajek union, ‘Enamul Tila’ in place of Durbachara area in Sajek union, ‘Sajib Tila’ in place of Battala in Sajek union, ‘Shamim Tila’ at Kingkar Para, ‘Saidur Tila’ at Bhuyochara in Sajek union, ‘Ismail Tila (BOP Post)’ at Kingkar Para in Sajek union, ‘Al-Amin Tila’ at Bhuyochara in Sajek union etc.

This can be considered as a part of extreme Islamic expansionist aggression on the Jumma people and a deeper conspiracy to wipe out the tradition and indigenous name of Jumma people. It can also be considered that despite the commitment and provisions of the CHT Accord to preserve the characteristics of Jumma (tribal) inhabited areas in CHT region, the government and the army are completely disregarding it and undermining the characteristics of the Jumma inhabited region, through the indiscriminate implementation of this border road and link road project.

Local Jumma people fear that the border road construction project will cause far-reaching damage to the indigenous Jumma people in addition to the current crisis due to non-implementation of the CHT Accord that includes unresolved land disputes and non-implementation of the special governance system to be introduced in light of the CHT Accord. Above all, due to the anti-Accord and anti-interest of Jumma people role of the army and government, it will increase the process of outsider infiltration, cultural invasion, dominance of outsider capital, land dispossession and alienation of the natives, making it very difficult for Jumma people to survive with their culture, tradition and self-governance.