Conversion of Jumma people to Islam in CHT–1

Photo: Upajatiyo Muslim Kallyan Sangstha’ (Tribal Muslim Welfare Organization) in Lama

 Hill Voice, 11 June 2020, Special Report:  The program that is designed to convert the indigenous Jumma people of having faith in Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity to Islam has got a momentum in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in recent times. Especially, in Bandarban district, conversion to Islam is being carried out by alluring the ‘no-where-to-go’ peoples of indigenous origin to embrace Islam in turns of financial facilities, education, healthcare, house building, domestication of livestock, interest-free loan, etc. Meanwhile, new localities have been raised under the banners, namely, ‘Upajatiyo Muslim Adarsha Sangha’ (Tribal Muslim Ideal Congregation), ‘Upajatiyo Muslim Kallyan Sangstha’ (Tribal Muslim Welfare Organization), Upajatiyo Adarsha Sangha Bangladesh’ (Tribal Ideal Congregation Bangladesh), etc. and the process of converting the Jumma people to Islam is being conducted through these organizations.

Alongside, news stating collection of small children from their parents and getting them admitted in Madrasas in Dhaka, Gazipur and in various places without knowledge of their parents and converting them to Islam has appeared in various media on different occasions. On the other hand, the events of marrying the indigenous girls by way of enticing or pretending love and then converting to Islam have already gone viral in various social media in recent days. In some cases, several days after the marriage, occurrences of meting out physical torture upon the indigenous women and driving them out on various pleas, have also taken place. Even it has come to notice that the recorded videos involving sexual acts with the Jumma women are unleashed in the social media.

Needless to say, CHT has been a Non-Muslim inhabited region since the time immemorial. The indigenous people namely, Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Tanchangya, Mro, Bawm, Khyang, Lushai, Pungkho, Khumi, Chak, etc. have been dwelling in CHT since the time immemorial and they practice Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity and love to introduce themselves as ‘Jumma’ (High Landers) collectively.

During India-Pakistan partition in 1947, the population of these indigenous races believing in Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity was 97.5% in totality while the Muslim Bengali and Hindu Bengali population would comprise 1.5% and 1.0% respectively. The then British authority, having the India Partition Act 1947 completely violated, annexed the non-Muslim inhabited CHT to Islamic state of Pakistan. At this, the Jumma people protested vehemently and demanded for annexation to India. But the demand had raised by the Jumma people remained ignored due to indifference attitude of the then Indian national leaders including the Indian National Congress.

Photo from Facebook

The Pakistan government undertook a conspiring program to turn the non-Muslim inhabited CHT region into a Muslim-inhabited area soon after its annexation to Pakistan. Among other objectives that may be cited here, are: to cancel the existing British-introduced law, regulation and legal provisions, which would comprise a safeguard to the Jumma people; to settle the Muslim population in CHT violating the existent law; to break the economic backbone of the Jumma people through adoption of ‘Development Engineering’; to evict the Jumma people from their ancestral land; and over all, to convert the indigenous people having faith in Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity to Islam gradually.

After independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the successive governments kept implementing the Pakistani plan of turning the non-Muslim inhabited CHT into a Muslim dominated region continued unabatedly. The illustration of the genre is: rehabilitation of more than 4 lakhs Muslim Bengali population in CHT from plains under government financial support from 1979 to 1985. Alongside went on, the program of converting the Jumma people to Islam by entrapping them in various allurements or posing threats. Consequently, the Jumma and Muslim ratio, which would comprise 98:2 in 1947, now it is getting reverse after 73 years. At present, the ratio of Muslim Bengali and Jumma people stands 55:45 and it is very likely that there will be a   reverse picture meant the Muslim Bengali and Jumma people ratio will stand 98:2 in the coming 2047 – such will be the population pattern of the region named CHT in Bangladesh.

The program of conversion to Islam took an ebb tide after signing of the CHT Accord between Bangladesh government and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) in 1997. But owing to not having the Accord implemented even all through the 23 years, especially, the Accord for not being implemented even the Awami League – the signatory counter-part of the Accord, after being in the state power at a stretch for long 12 years, at present, under the shade of administration, the program converting the Jumma people to Islam by the fundamentalist groups has become rejuvenated. Some of the illustrations are furnished herein under:

Education as a Trap: Admission to Madrasas and Conversion to Islam

In some hard-to-reach areas of the country, the indigenous children living therein, are being forced to detract from their respective faiths and to get converted to Islam. The indigenous children hailing from poor and illiterate families are falling prey to such conversion because of extreme poverty of their families, inability in sending the children to schools for inaccessible terrain and sheer distance. Taking the advantage, with a view to converting the indigenous communities to Islam, the Islamic fundamentalist groups, as part of their plan to Islamize the whole country, are engaged in working secretly. In this mission, they are using the EDUCATION as a bid to allure the Jumma people.

Many indigenous people cherish a longing to put their children to education but they do not have ability to do so and this aspect is chosen by the Islamic fundamentalist clique as a golden opportunity and possible sneaking hole for conversion to Islam. The children of poor and illiterate indigenous families comprise the primary vulnerable prey to such conversion.

Photo: Screenshot from Eusul Ali’s Facebook, Madrassa student of Tripura, Marma, Mro and Bengalis

Since, most of the ethnic indigenous races live in the remote rural areas and it is for this reason they lack the opportunity of studying comparatively in good school, even though, if at all there is any school. The indigenous children have to walk to school crossing several kilometers. Besides, the Jumma peoples, for being belonged to one of the poorest sections of the national society, many indigenous families remain incapable of sending their children to good schools due to financial constraints. Consequently, their vulnerability appears when they seek any opportunity that can ascertain good education for their children.

It is learnt that the Islamic fundamentalists, showing allurement with a claim that they will arrange education in good schools and assuring of various facilities, they attract the insolvent indigenous families. But in reality, the religious fundamentalists of the sort never take the indigenous children to good schools; rather take them to the Madrasas, the Islamic educational institutions, with an ill intention to convert them to Islam. Right therein, gradually, they isolate the children from their families, society and culture and make them learn and accept Islamic religion and culture.

On 1 January 2017, the police rescued four indigenous children from ‘Athiti Abasik Hotel’ in Bandarban town during being tracked to a Madrasa in Dhaka. Abu Bakar Siddique (45), the converted Muslim, earlier known as Mong Swe Prue Chowdhury and Mohammad Hasan (25), have been learnt as the key men behind the trafficking. They were caught red-handed and arrested. On the other end, Suman Khyang, their associate could escape the arrest. After arrest, a case of human trafficking was filed with the Bandarban police station. All of the four children rescued from the hotel are inhabitants of Tarachha Union of Rowangchhari Upazila under Bandarban hill district. The families of the children were allured of providing educational opportunities in Dhaka at free of cost.

The children who were rescued are from Tarachha Union of Rowangchhari Upazila under Bandarban hill district and they are: Ms Maching Soi Marma (12), daughter of Uhla Aung Marma of Headman Para; Thuaihla Marma (8), son of U Pachinu Marma; Ms Nuchhing U Marma (12), daughter of Sau Prue Marma of Betchharamukh Para and Ms Meching Prue Marma (13), daughter of Aung Thuai Ching Marma of Boidya Para. The families of the children were allured of free education arrangement of their children in Dhaka by the traffickers’ clique.

Many indigenous families hailing from deprived and illiterate environment in remote areas easily step into the trap in the false hope of better future of their children. But this does not always go without expense; the families concerned have to spend some amount of money from several thousands and onward. Since, no hint is given on religious conversion, the simple-minded parents easily accede to the proposal for better future of their children.

Kapeeng Foundation, in its publication prior to the Annual Human Rights Report-2017, brought forth several occurrences of this kind. During 7 years before those incidents, the police rescued at least 70 indigenous children mostly belonged to the faiths of Hinduism and Christianity, from different parts of the country. All those children were poached from Bandarban hill district.

Earlier on 2 January 2013, the police rescued 16 indigenous children from a Madrasa named Abujor Jifari Masjid Complex under Sobujbag police station in Dhaka. The children were forcibly converted to Islam. These children ethnically belonged to Tripura and Chakma communities from various areas of Rangamati hill district had been trafficked to Dhaka by way of cheating. Besides, on 4 February 2013, another group of indigenous children were rescued by the leaders of Hill Students Council and Tripura Students Forum from Dhaka. The children were being taken away from Chimbuk area of Bandarban hill district to a Madrasa in Firojpur district. They were assured of getting admitted to a Missionary School.

Earlier in July 2012, 11 Tripura indigenous children were rescued from various madrasas of Gazipur and Dhaka city. Of them, 8 children were rescued from Dar-Ul-Huda Islami Madrasa and 1 female child from a madrasa of Mohammadpur while 2 other children were rescued from Dar-ul-Huda Madrasa of Gulshan area.

In January 2010, the police rescued 33 children from a motel named: ‘Athiti Boarding’ in Bandarban town. These children, after having collected from Thanchi Upazila of Bandarban, were being taken to Dhaka on assurance and allurement that they would be admitted in Dhanmondi Adarsha Madina School. This time, the police arrested 3 child traffickers namely, Gordon Tripura alias Rubel, Abu Horaira, a student of Dhaka Dar-ul-Ehshan Madrasa and Abdul Gani, a resident of Shyamoli in Dhaka.

On the other hand, Muhammadia Jamia Sharifa, known as ‘Laden Group’ captured 7,000 acres of hill lands in Lama Upazila of Bandarban hill district. Among other activities of Laden Group, significant programs are: forcible occupation of lands and homesteads of indigenous people, to convert the indigenous Buddhist and Christian people to Islam by showing various allurements including money and with temptation of providing developed and higher education to take away the indigenous children to Dhaka by tricking means. This group has already occupied 25 acres of lands from Mong Thui Marma, Headman of Fasyakhali Mouza and hundreds of acres of lands from Mro, Tripura and Marma indigenous community people of Fasyakhali and Sangu Mouza. The Laden Group is alleged of forcible occupation of lands from indigenous people and raise commercial plantations and conduct radical terrorist activities in this area.

On the other hand, in Lama Upazila of Bandarban, many Jumma students were lured and admitted to Quantum School and College established in 2001 by a national NGO named ‘Quantum Foundation’. In Quantum School Boarding, restriction on talking in mother tongue is imposed upon the boarders. As a result, the indigenous Jumma children happen to forget own mother tongue due to lack of liberty to speak in own mother tongue. Especially, there has arisen allegation of building the Jumma children in light of the Islamic culture, as the Quantum is inclined to Islam. In the college, though there is no direct encouragement for conversion to Islam, the students are shaped in Islamic mannerism and code of conduct. The students are made to wish by saying: ‘Assalamu Alikum’, ‘Oaalaikum salaam’, etc. in the classroom. It is also taught how to do the Namaaz.

The Quantum organization, since its very inception, with an objective to woo the Jumma people used to slaughter hundreds of cows on Qurban-Eid days and would distribute away the beef by calling at the Jumma people living in nearby areas. The objective behind the treatment was to manipulate the easy-and-simple-minded Jumma people, the Mro people in particular, and to snatch away their lands and at the same time, to let them getting habituated with the culture of Islamic food habit. On 6-7 May 2017, while a team of civic society representatives from Dhaka came to investigate the allegations of snatching away 2,000 acres of lands by Quantum from the Jumma people and the Jumma students forgetting their mother tongue due to restriction imposed upon them in Lama, the army intercepted and prevented the team. Consequently, the team of civic society representatives had to return back to Dhaka without investigation.

Photo: Screenshot from Eusuf Ali’s Facebook

The constitution of Bangladesh prohibits coercive imparting of education on religion. Article-41(2) of the constitution states: ‘No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, or to take part in or to attend any religious ceremony or worship, if that instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own.’ Yet, the indigenous children and their parents, for stepping upon the education trap, forcible conversion of indigenous children to Islam is going on unabatedly. The state, in one hand, is getting failed in establishing the indigenous children’s right to education while it is violating the constitution, on the other.

Despite being so, as to this day, no initiative is noticed to have taken to save the indigenous children from getting converted from their own religion to another religion – a process being carried out by the government and non-government institutions. So far, no precise data and information from the government and non-government institution is available on how many indigenous children were made undergo conversion to Islam. If any measure is not undertaken with immediate effect to prevent such religious conversion, many indigenous children will bound to lose their faith, culture and livelihood.

Conversion by Upajatiyo Muslim Adarsha Sangha and Tableague Jamat in Lama and Alikadam

On 1 January 2018, it was through the Upajatiyo Muslim Adarsha Sangha (Tribal Muslim Ideal Congregation) and Dawat-E-Tableague secret religious conversion of the poor Jumma people began with 14 poor and helpless indigenous families at 11 Kilometer-point area of Alikadam-Thanchi Road of Bandarban hill district in the name of providing financial assistance in the form of interest-free loan, giving domestic cattle and education facilities to their children, etc. thus luring the poor Jumma families in various ways to get them converted to Islam.

Confidential source reveals that Dr. Mohammad Yusuf Ali, Managing Director of Idgaon Model Hospital and Diabetes Center had developed a relationship with the local poor Jumma people through dispensation of humanitarian services including free medical treatment to the helpless, poor and distressed people. He happened to meet the converted tribal Muslims who went to his hospital for treatment. Upon knowing about their problems, he took good arrangement for education of their children. At present, 19 Jumma children are studying in various madrasas. Many are studying in various madrasa educational institutions in Idgaon.

On talking to the tribal Muslims, it is learnt that subject to acceptance of Islam, one will be given various financial assistance and opportunities, such as, cattle for domestication, hard cash, interest-free loan and living house, etc. allurements. Abu Bakar Siddique (earlier Atiram Tripura by name), who was converted from Christianity to Islam said that for becoming a Muslim, one needs to go to the court and bring a change to the name and religion through signing an Affidavit. He also informed that his son Saiful Islam (earlier name Raphael Tripura) is now serving as a staff in the Dr. Yusuf’s hospital.

Further he said that it is mentioned in the Bible: ‘Search for the truth and the truth will set you free.’ He added that while searching for the truth he accepted Islam. His parents including his brothers – all have become Muslims. On the other hand, Jasmine Akhter (earlier Jharna Tripura) of Alikadam, Sadekul Islam (earlier name Joykhorn Tripura) of Rowangchhari and Nurul Islam (earlier name Prashanta Tripura) of Gayalmara – all have informed that they underwent Affidavit process to accept Islam. They also mentioned that after their conversion to Islam, while communicated, Dr. Yusuf Ali extends helping hand with humanitarian outlook.

On the other end, 45 indigenous families living in Gayalmara of Lama Upazila under Bandarban hill districts have been converted to Islam on assurance of giving financial assistance and other facilities, led by Tribal Muslim Welfare Organization, Upayatiyo Adarsha Sangha Bangladesh and from Tubleague and Jamat are: Alem Hafez Mohammad Jahirul Islam, Hafez Mohammad Kamal, Mohammad Mohammadulah, Hafez Mohammad Slamatullah, Maulavi Hela Uddin (Tripura) and Saiful Islam (Tripura), President of Upajatiyo Nuo Muslim Adarsha Sangha.

Thus, Jasmine Akhter earlier name Jharna Tripura of Alikadam, Sadekul Islam, earlier name Joykhron Tripura of Rowangchhari, Nurul Islam, earlier name Prashanta Tripura – all have fallen victim to religious conversion to Islam. Along with, 45 indigenous families residing at 11 km-point of Alikadam-Thanchi Highway area have been converted to Islam.

It is learnt through investigation in person that more than 30 families belonging to Khyang and Tripura indigenous people living at Bus Station of Bandarban town were converted to Islam in 1999 and more than 15 families of Nuo Tripura Muslim living in Tanki Para were converted to Islam in 2001.

In Linejhiri village of Lama Upazila under Bandarban, more than 17 families belonging to Tripura indigenous community were converted to Islam in 1995. During the last Upazilla Election, Sareban Tahura (Tripura) wife of Mohammad Rasel Tripura (earlier Ramendra Tripura) was elected Woman Vice-Chairman. Since 2000, some 16 indigenous Tripura families who were converted to Islam have been living in Kraudong (Dim Pahar) by side of Alikadam-Thanchi road, under Rupsi Union of Bandarban hill district.

Conversion by the Region Commander of Dighinala

Colonel Mahabub Hasan, Region Commander of Dighinala forcibly converted 8 Chakma people to Islam with financial allurement in 1992. They were: (1) Boli Ranjan Chakma renamed Mohammad Sajed Ali, (2) Ms Swarna Chakma renamed Fatema Khatun, (3) Ms Rasik Guri Chakma renamed Mosammat Roushan Ara Begum, (4) Ms Milabo Chakma renamed   Mosammat Taslila Khatun, (5) Dighi Kumar Chakma renamed Mohammad Abdullah, (6) Ms Sukhi Chakma renamed Mosammat Sakhina Khatun and (7) Shankar Chakma renamed Abdul Shahid Mohammmad Saiful Islam. Maulavi Hafez Mohammad Abul Basar got them initiated to Islam and made them take oath Mohammad Masud Rana, Thana Nirbahi Officer of Dighinala upazila. The persons converted to Islam are all residents of Banchhara under Dighinal Upazila (Source: Sneha Kumar Chakma Jibonalekkhya, Page-208)

Continued… (Conversion of Jumma people to Islam in CHT2)