Islamization Policy in CHT and Solution of CHT Problem

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                             Udayan Tanchangya                       

The indigenous Jumma dominated Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region was unjustly annexed to Islamic state of Pakistan during the partition of India in 1947. By then, the Jumma people promptly went on protestation against such unjust decision of the British authority. They hoisted Indian National Flag in Rangamati intending to be annexed to India on 15 August 1947 and they sent a delegation to the then Indian National Congress leadership for the purpose. But the then Indian leadership did not pay that much importance to the demand of CHT people.

Consequently, the non-Muslim inhabited CHT was annexed to the Muslim State Pakistan on 17 August 1947. Immediately after annexation, formulation of blue-print for turning the non-Muslim area into a Muslim-dominated region began and crippling of the British-introduced Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation 1900 started. The local Tribal Police Force established in 1881 was disbanded; the Inner-Line Permit System was cancelled; and having the opportunity for infiltration, the illegal settlement program of sheltered India-left Muslim refugees in CHT began violating the CHT Regulation1900. Consequently, all this led to creation of abnormal and formidable situation in CHT.

Though the British-introduced CHT Regulation 1900 was recognized in the first Constitution of Pakistan in 1956, yet in 1954, the Pakistan government, with a mean objective to realize Islamization, undertook the conspiracy to construct a dam across the Karnaphuli River at Kaptai without justifying opinion of the Jumma people. As a result of this dam, the most fertile and developing lands measuring 250 square miles got inundated and one lac Jumma people became displaced. As a result of the prevalent situation, 40 thousand people obliged to migrate India while 20 thousand people to Myanmar.

Pakistani plan to turn non-Muslim CHT into Muslim-inhabited region continued unabated even after independence of Bangladesh. Soon after liberation movement in 1971, thousands of Muslim families infiltrated in CHT, particularly in Feni valley of Khagrachari district. The government began to adopt suppressive policy one after another. To that end, 3 army cantonments at Dighinala, Alikadam and Ruma were established in 1973. Multi-faceted atrocities, oppression and suppression came upon the innocent Jumma people in the name of subduing Razakars and Mujahidins.

Despite strong protest, the Jumma people were defined as Bengali in the Constitution of 1972. Though this controversial and racial provision was changed in 1978, yet the Awami League-led present grand-alliance government re-introduced the said provision stating that “the People of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangalees as a nation” by bringing the 15th Amendment to the constitution in 2011, which, once again, has led to acceleration of Bengalization of the non-Bengali ethnic groups including the Jumma peoples. Furthermore, in 1979, the Fifth Amendment incorporated Bismillah-ar-Rahman-ar-Rahim (In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful) as the beginning phrase and finally, in 1988, the Eighth Amendment declared “Islam” to be the state religion. Violating the directive of the High Court, the present Awami League government, through the Fifteenth Amendment, has retained the phrasal beginning ‘Bismillah-ar-Rahman-ar-Rahim’ and ‘Islam’ as the state religion. These retentions in the constitution has not only crippled the secular character, but have also strengthened further the vow to Islamization of the state policy.

In continuation to the Islamization conspiracy hatched by Pakistan during partition of the country, with active assistance of the army, more than 500 thousand Muslim population from plains were settled down on the homesteads and lands of the Jumma people under government plan and financial support within the span of time from 1979 to 1985. In 1980, a guised military rule was introduced by promulgation of ‘Operation Dabanol’ (Operation Wildfire) in CHT. Thus the CHT crisis got escalated from complex to more complex under the then ruling class due to adoption of wrong and motivated policies prompting military suppression and atrocities, getting the Jumma people minority by illegal settlement of outsiders, illegal land occupation and forcible eviction of Jumma people from their ancestral lands and homesteads, causing communal attacks, carrying out massacres, so-called development under military control, arbitrary arrest, violence against women etc. Consequently, to get rid of such suppression, atrocities and injustice and in the hope for security, more than hundred thousand people were compelled to take refuge to India and Myanmar since 1978.

Even after signing of the CHT Accord between the government of Bangladesh and PCJSS in 1997, Islamization in CHT was not stopped. Infiltration of Muslim population in CHT from plain lands and Rohingyas came from Myanmar continues unabated. After signing the Accord, though passing of 22 years, the government has left the core and significant issues unimplemented as to this day. At present it is that Awami League-led grand alliance government even though seating in the power consecutively for 11 years, has not yet undertaken any effective initiative and step to implement the unimplemented issues to this day. On the contrary, the government has been pursuing uninterrupted conspiracies to realize Islamization policy and contrarily to abolish the national entity of Jumma people for once and all. The guised military rule has been kept on-going by replacing ‘Operation Dabanol’ (Operation Wildfire) with ‘Operation Uttoron’ (Operation Upliftment) since the year 2001.

Indeed, with a mean objective to abolish the Jumma nations forever, the government is executing its conspiracy of Islamization. During post-Accord period, cluster villages of Muslim settlers in various parts of Khagrachari district have been expanded with the support of military and government administration and many victims of Cyclone Sidr in 2007 and Aila in 2009 were settled down in three hill districts, violating the provisions of CHT Accord. To that end, all in a vested group comprising of ruling party, government and certain quarter of the government-controlled executive, judiciary, legislative and defence are discharging all round ill-attempts to null the Accord implementation process, to ruin the PCJSS leadership and to resist all programs directing to implementation of the Accord.

The post-Accord period witnessed 20 massive communal attacks upon the indigenous Jumma peoples under covert or overt patronization of the ruling party and state forces to the ultra-communal & fundamentalist and ultra-nationalist forces to occupy the lands of Jumma peoples and to evict them from their ancestral homesteads. Whenever communal and arson attacks upon indigenous Jumma people and illegal occupation of their lands take place, a concerted and organized effort of national political parties irrespective of political stand and outlook gets involved in the perpetrations under the banner of military-backed Muslim settler organizations. Though there exists rivalry of animosity among the national political parties at national level yet, all of them are discharging their roles keeping their hands in hands in implementing the Islamization programs in CHT.

The present Hasina-led-grand-alliance government is using all the forces ranging from civil bureaucrats, army, law & order forces, intelligence agencies and justice system to all levels of state machineries at wide-scale in execution of ethnic cleansing program so as to make the non-Muslim inhabited CHT into an absolute Muslim-dominated region. Having organized the Muslim settlers throughout the CHT, communal activities have been being conducted through the ultra-communal and ultra-national organizations, namely, Parbatya Gano Parishad, Parbatya Bangali Chatra Parishad, Parbatya Gano Parishad, Parbatya Chattagram Sama Odhikar Andolon, Bangali Chatra Oikya Parishad, etc. who, with the facilitation of military and intelligence agency, jointly formed an umbrella organization named Parbatya Chattagram Nagorik Parishad (CHT Citizen Council) in December 2019. Soon after its inception, the Muslim settlers under the banner of this ultra-communal and ultra-nationalist organization blocked the convoys of CHT Land Commission chairman-members by putting a barricade in Rangamati on 23 December 2019 aiming at foiling the resolution process of land disputes by the Land Commission.

On the other side, the fundamentalist and communal forces in collaboration with the Muslim settlers under government patronization while uttering ultra-communal and ultra-national slogans have been executing the Muslim-dominating program by way of perpetrating organized attacks upon the Jumma peoples, arson attack, forcible occupation of lands, eviction from lands, religious persecution, violence against women, etc. misdeeds of anti-humanity unabatedly. In CHT, the militant and communal parties namely, Islami Andolon Bangladesh, Bangladesh Islamic Front, Juba Sena and Chatra Sena are found to be very active in all the three hill districts. These Islamic organizations are conducting their fundamentalist programs under indulgence of the local administration and security forces.

Huge number of Rohingyas infiltrated in Naikhyongchari, Lama, Alikadam and Bandarban sadar upazilas under Bandarban district and Rajasthali and Rangamati sadar upazilas under Rangamati district. They were included in the electoral enrolment and issued fake Permanent Resident Certificate and provided employment opportunities, which ultimately results in the eviction of the indigenous Jumma peoples. The infiltration of Rohingya Muslims into different districts of the CHT again intensified following ethnic violence erupted in May 2012 and August 2017 in Rakhine state. They entered Naikhyongchari, Alikadam, Lama and Thanchi of Bandarban district through the land borders. Approximately more than 30,000 Rohingyas have been settled in Bandarban district alone. On the other, a total of 120 families of Rohingya Muslims have been found in 7 upazilas under Rangamati district and 56 families of Rohingyas have been found in Khagrachari district in 2017.

On the other, various Islamic militant groups are found to be active in Bangladesh aimed at turning the country into an Islamic State as per the Pan Islamic Plan. With the help and assistance of the international Islamic militant groups, the Bangladeshi Islamic militant groups are tactfully conducting their activities in collecting the members, providing training and spreading ideals of Islamic fundamentalism among the people. It appears that as the communal tension reigns in CHT situation, these militant groups continue their activities in CHT without any hindrance. While taking the geo-political importance of CHT into account, the militant groups have chosen the hills and inaccessible terrains as their haven. As the infiltration in CHT is open round the clock and the Islamic militant groups while making use of the opportunity, are establishing their camps in the remote rural areas.

Recently, it is learnt that by taking the advantage of prevailing communal sentiment and comparatively safer site of hilly region, the JMB set up training camp taking land in lease in the Hill Tracts, which was confessed by three JMB members arrested by police from Dhaka on 24 November 2019 (somoyekhon.net, 25 November 2019). Furthermore, four active members of the banned militant group Ansar Al-Islam who were detained on 3 October 2019 from Dhaka also admitted that they took one-month training at Alikadam area in Bandarban district. Upon completion of training in the hilly areas, the arrested persons came to Dhaka on the spot to carry out the organizational plans (The Independent, 12 October 2019).

In fact, there is no alternative to implementation of the CHT Accord of 1997 in regard to resist the conspiracy of turning the non-Muslim CHT into a Muslim-dominated region. It is of great urgency to undertake initiative for proper implementation of the CHT Accord including preservation of the Jumma-dominating feature of CHT; introduction of self-rule governance incorporating the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils; withdrawal of all the temporary camps including de facto military rule ‘Operation Uttoran; making the laws effective to prevent settlement of outsiders in CHT and obtaining ownership of lands; proper relocation of the Muslim settlers outside CHT with due honor; appointment of permanent residents with special preference to the Jumma people in all jobs available in CHT, etc. It is to be worth mentioning that withdrawal of all temporary camps and de facto military rule ‘Operation Uttoron’ is a must. Withdrawal of Operation Uttoron is only way to create a favorable atmosphere in CHT for implementation of the CHT Accord.

It is also real fact that the government of Bangladesh did not come forward to implement the Accord in last 22 years. This has proved that the government would not take any initiative for implementation of CHT Accord. Rather, it is the reality that the final phase of turning the CHT into an absolute Muslim-populated region is being executed under the on-going tenure of Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government by way of abolishing the indigenous Jumma peoples forever from CHT. In this case, there is no alternative to wage all-out resistant movement for survival of very existence of indigenous Jumma peoples.