The Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), the most beloved organization of the Jumma mass people, once had been better known as ‘Shanti Bahini’, was formed on 15 February 1972. The organization came into being under the leadership of Manabendra Narayan Larma, the irrefutable leader of the Jumma people. The movement of Jumma people for their right to self-determination has been being led by the organization since 1972 and as the primary success of the movement, Bangladesh government had obliged to concede to self-governance of the Jumma people through entering upon the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord on 2 December 1997.
PCJSS is the first ever organization to have formed with the support and participation of people belonging to all Jumma ethnic groups of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). Since the very birth of the organization, active participation of all Jumma ethnic races has been first in the democratic movement, then in the armed struggle and again in the democratic struggle after the CHT Accord of 1997. Of course, before formation of PCJSS, various organizations were existent but all those were based on ethnic races. It was the only leader, M N Larma who for the first to have thought of forming up an organization involving all the Jumma ethnic races and could succeed to do so. Before M N Larma, no leader in CHT had undertaken initiative or given a thought over forming up a political organization with all the Jumma ethnic communities.
Story of raising Shanti Bahini:
PCJSS was mostly known as “Shanti Bahini” to the ordinary Jumma people. PCJSS, the most popular organization, has a background of getting named as Shanti Bahini. Following the independence in 1971, the CHT was overwhelmed with anti-social activities like robbery, theft and other mischievous actions, which basically started with the arms left behind by the then Pakistan army and the unauthorized weapons of the Liberation Forces. Consequently, the law & order situation got collapsed in CHT. Every night was a formidable night to the people of CHT. The villagers would always pass their night in fear of falling under attack of the robbers. The PCJSS subjugated the robbers and established peace and normalcy in the region. Since then on, the Jumma people began to refer to PCJSS as the Shanti Bahini (Peace Force) and soon the name went viral among the people. Thus how the name “Shanti Bahini” got established.
Education, Social Movement and the PCJSS:
Education and Social movements had been components of the movement for right to self-determination since its debut. That the realization of spreading education in the society had been a pre-requisite for advancement of the movement for right to self-determination was lying with the PCJSS since the very outset. It is for that reason, it had happened that most of the PCJSS members including the founder leader of the organization late M N Larma and present leader Jyotirindra Bodhiptiya Larma were involved in teaching profession. For this, many had referred the PCJSS movement as to be the ‘Teachers’ Movement.’ In fact, since the beginning, the PCJSS had various programs directed to reform the then worsened feudalist society of Jumma people. Hence, the Education Movement of PCJSS was one of the initiatives to bring in a change in the worst feudalist society. The realization that the feudalist structure, thought and concept of the society could become an obstruction on the way to movement of right to self-determination, led PCJSS to adopt such programs to bring in changes in the feudalist system of Jumma society since the very birth.
CHT Hill Women Association and Right to Self-determination:
In 1975, the PCJSS formed the ‘Parbatya Chattagram Mahila Samity’ (CHT Women Association) with an intention to make the women society conscious of rights and to get them involved in the movement. Leaders of this organization, as they had contributed to both democratic movement and armed struggle for the right to self-determination, so has been exerting significant role in arousing right consciousness and building up unity among the Jumma women.
The PCJSS leadership could realize that if women folk, the half of the society, had not been made conscious of their rights, the people’s movement for self-determination would not have not been possible to forge ahead. To that end, the Mahila Samity was formed in 1975. It is worthy to be mentioned that PCJSS had also adopted programs to arouse consciousness on women rights among the male members in the society. During the post-Accord era, the Mahila Samity has also played significant role in the movement for implementation of the Accord. On some occasions, in conducting programs for implementation of the Accord, the Mahila Samity also had joint venture with the Hill Women’s Federation, which was also formed by Jumma girl students in 1988 at one stage of the movement.
PCJSS Leadership and Movement for Right to Self-determination:
The PCJSS leadership has always been bold and strong and the organization has kept it up as to this day. As the PCJSS stewardship has been strong, the leadership has always been able to conclude with correct and realistic decisions. In 1972, when the Constitution of independent Bangladesh was framed, M N Larma could clearly realize that the Awami League government would never establish rights of the Jumma people without movement. During framing up the draft Constitution, he had made up his mind that right to self-determination of the Jumma people would have to be established through the struggle and for waging the movement, a political organization would have to be built up. However, before forming up the organization, he had consultation with the national-level leaders and intellectuals of the country and the socio-political leaders of the CHT.
When the political circumstances of the country got changed in 1975 and martial law was promulgated, right at that point of time, PCJSS had to decide to opt for armed struggle. This decision of PCJSS was correct and corresponded to the reality, especially, in view of then existing local, national and international context. Again, as the global environment for armed struggle got declined, PCJSS did not hesitate to switch back to democratic norms through signing an Accord based on right to self-rule while putting an end to the armed struggle. As to this day, it is due to being with right decision at right hour, PCJSS is yet being able to continue the people’s movement for right to self-determination with support and assistance of the Jumma people of all walk of life.
When we talk about PCJSS, naturally, words on M N Larma happen to be spoken of. Because, PCJSS and the life & struggle of M N Larma have got thematically mingled away. Leaving one, discussion on the other one aspect does get completed – certainly cannot be. M N Larma was born and grown up in an enlightened family. He passed his education life in the city wherein many revolutionaries including the personalities like Surjya Sen and Priti Lata were born.
It is worthy to be mentioned that Shree Larma was a student of Chittagong College. By then, he had happened to get initiated in two-way revolutionary ideals. This had happened in the years of 1960–1965. As this period had witnessed world-wide revolutionary movement so the revolutionary ebb tide had surged the Chittagong city. He had come quite close to many revolutionary souls in Chittagong.
On the other hand, various revolutionary books were available in the Chittagong. He had the opportunity to learn about revolutionary ideology and get influenced through reading books of various philosophers and authors. Being imbibed with revolutionary ideological spirit, he earned courage to stand alone against the military junta of Pakistan. When the military dictatorial government of Pakistan had started building the ‘Kaptai Dam’, the deadly trap of CHT Jumma people, it was alone he who stood against the construction of the dam. None among the social and political leaders of the time in CHT had dared to protest against construction of the dam. He was put behind the bar for protesting and propagating against construction of the dam. While being in the jail, he had completed his graduation.
For having been thrown into imprisonment, Shree Larma had the opportunity to see and know the oppression and suppression upon the Jumma people by Pakistan ruling class from the point-blank distance. The political thought of revolutionary M N Larma began to develop more and more. The blossom formed of his political thought was formation of PCJSS, and movement for right to self-determination of the Jumma people led by the organization. He had directly witnessed the plight of Jumma people evicted from their ancestral lands, their displaced life and pitiful wailing. Later on, also he had the opportunity to see various repressive measures and deprivation drives of the ruling class, by himself. All this had led him to opt for revolutionary political life as profession aiming at achieving freedom of Jumma people from multi-way oppression and exclusion of the ruling class. In 1970, he had participated in the Provincial Assembly Election of East Pakistan and won with land-slide victory.
A flash back reveals that when the Pakistan government declared ‘Urdu’ as the only state language, the student-masses of East Pakistan had taken to street demanding recognition to Bengali as the state language of East Pakistan. Thus, while undergoing through the Language Movement in 1952, Education Movement in 1962, Mass Insurrection in 1969 and lastly, the Liberation War, East Pakistan had emerged as an independent Bangladesh on 16 December 1991. Following independence, decision was taken to constitute the law of the land – national constitution for the independent Bangladesh. For being a member of the Constituent Assembly, M N Larma had the opportunity to participate in formulating the Constitution.
When the Constitution Drafting Committee placed the draft Constitution before the parliament, it was seen that though the Bengali Freedom Fighters had been recognized, recognition had not been awarded to the Indigenous Freedom Fighters vis-à-vis the right to the time-immemorial self-rule of the Jumma people and in the constitution, it was mentioned: “The citizens of Bangladesh shall be identified as the Bengalis.’ This prompted M N Larma to raise protestation saying: “There are many other indigenous ethnic races including the Chakmas who are not Bengali by ethnicity.” It is for this reason, he insisted for replacing the term “Bengali” by the term “Bangladeshi” and with a view to preserving national entity and development of the Jumma people, submitted a proposal to secure a provision for autonomy of CHT region in the Constitution.
But the ultra-nationalist Awami League leadership and alongside the gravity of national chauvinism and pride was at its terrible summit and so much so, they did not feel necessity to signify or reckon the proposal of a marginalized person like M N Larma. Whereas, tens of thousands indigenous people of Bangladesh had direct or indirect participation in the war of independence. Many liberation soldiers of indigenous origin had sacrificed their lives in the liberation. Being so, those indigenous liberation war heroes were not awarded recognition in the constitution. Constitutional recognition also was not provided to more than 50 indigenous races living in the country. It is for this obvious reason, the constitution that had been put to effect in 1972 could not have been established as a democratic and secular constitution, in true sense of the term. In the house, by majoritarian voting might of the members, the ideal soldiers of the ultra-Bengali nationalism, the Constitution was passed while retaining the communal and undemocratic sections in the constitution. However, M N Larma raised strong protest against those undemocratic and communal sections and staged a walkout. Even as the sign of vehement protest, also he did not sign in the constitution.
The ultra-communal thought of the Awami League leadership has not got created in a day. If we take a look back in the history, we find, there is a historical background behind growth of such ultra-communal thought of the Awami League leadership. In 1949, the Awami League was established by name: Awami Muslim League. Later on, under the given political context existent by then, the word ‘Muslim’ was though abandoned to rename the organization as Awami League, the leadership could not erase out the word ‘Muslim’ from their mind. Actually, in context of reality, the Awami Muslim League leaders dropped the word owing to strategic reason. In 1972, when the constitution of the independent Bangladesh was framed, the Muslim-communal thought and ultra-Bengali nationalism of the Awami League leaders opened out with crystal and vivid form.
However, M N Larma who had grown up in light of democratic and progressive line of thought since his student hood, had an effort to play a role in formulating a non-communal, democratic and a real pro-people constitution for the freshly independent country. To formulate such type of constitution, he placed a set of proposals. In the proposals, he urged to leave provisions of opportunities and facilities for ordinary masses including those who had significant contribution in liberation war, such as the freedom fighters hailing from peasantry, boatmanship, blacksmith and other people at grass-root level. But as though painful, it was fact that their rights and interest had not been addressed in the constitution for which no change has taken place in their fortune even though it has passed a half of the century since independence.
For not being the rights of the ordinary masses properly dealt with the constitution, the democratic system could not have strengthened in the country. It was due to feeble democratic system and structure in independent Bangladesh afresh, the army could easily avail the loop wholes to assassinate Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. Indeed, seeds of undemocratic and communal line of thoughts had been sown in the constitution in 1972. It was by stepping along the undemocratic path, the military coup had been made possible in 1975. In view of the tragic aspect, framing up an ideally undemocratic and communal constitution in 1972 by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and thereby treachery with the contribution of the mass people to the constitution and spirit of liberation war and finally, death of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, it appears that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in reality, got his own grave dug, himself.
Many say that the death of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had been a loss to the Jumma people of CHT. As it is said that in later days, he was heard saying that he would undo the wrong and would fulfill the demand of Jumma people. However, it would have been a matter to see as to whether he would have comply to his commitment given to the Jumma leaders, if he had been alive. But his death in 1975 had dismissed the opportunity. But sighting of traditional political attitude of Awami League, it is rather hard to make the mind believe the talked-about possibility.
The analytical view on ideals and activities of Awami League leadership in 1940’s or in 1970’s or the present leadership, it stands that substantially, no difference is noticed in the leadership. Though the Awami League pronounces the words of democracy and secularism but in practice, undemocratic and communal outlook get clearly embodied in their every single action. The analytical review right from methodological formation of central committee and other structural party committees to style of state governance, formulation of laws and regulations, behavioral attitude towards the linguistic, nationalistic and religious minorities and son on – in all aspects, undemocratic, communal, ultra-Bengali nationalism and plundering character open out acutely.
However, it was the undemocratic and communal behavioral attitude that had driven M N Larma towards the movement. The thought of making believe that rights of the Jumma people would not be established without movement had begun to get shaped from deep to deeper. Even being so, M N Larma had sought counselling from intellectuals and political leaders at national level. Of them, many had opined that the Jumma people had been left with no other option but to wage movement. Some of them had prescribed armed struggle and said, establishment of rights for the minority races would not be possible without armed struggle. M N Larma had consultation with the veteran leaders and various other leaders of the society. Also he had discussions with his colleagues and workers. Afterward, with an aim at establishing Jumma people’s right to self-determination, he organized PCJSS on 15 February 1972. Here is the concise-birth history of PCJSS.
PCJSS had continued its democratic movement from 1972 to 1975. But the abrupt changes in the political scenario and promulgation of military rule had obliged M N Larma to call for hard line. Keeping the people by side, PCJSS led meaningful armed struggle for 25 years and ultimately, could make possible to enter upon a historic CHT Accord with Bangladesh government on 2 December 1997. The Accord drew admiration from among the Jumma people and at home and in abroad as well. The Accord earned recognition to self-rule governance of the Jumma people. But following the Accord, the ill-spirit in the name of ‘Islam’ aroused in Sheikh Hasina, too. Thus, the Awami League revived its earlier character of Muslim League, again. As the Awami League had dropped the word ‘Muslim’ as a tactic, so it has been a tactic matter while entering upon the Accord with PCJSS. Through the actions on part of the Awami League government throughout the post-Accord period, it has clarified that the Hasina-led government, in fact, had not signed the Accord to establish rights of the Jumma people. Their principle aim has been a move to snatch away the arms from Shanti Bahini and to null the movement of PCJSS.
After signing of the CHT Accord, the first step was to turn the norms of the Accord into legal provisions. Initiative was undertaken for formulation of three Hill District Council Act(s) and CHT Regional Council Act. While it was all set to frame those laws, the Awami League Parliamentary Members were the first to violate the Accord. This was the event that had happened in 1998. The laws framed on three Hill District Councils and CHT Regional Council had not been in consistence with the spirit of the Accord. Today, the Awami League leaders are heard blaming PCJSS to have been violating the Accord – an allegation based on flat lie hood. The military officers are also quite often seen claiming violation of the Accord by PCJSS – even they say so in media. But their abject failure is that they have not yet been able to establish their claim by clearly pointing out specific sections of the Accord violated by PCJSS. But those who are conscious citizens of the country, they know that it was the Awami League-led government and the Awami League Parliamentary members had framed three Hill District Council Acts and the CHT Regional Council Act violating the Accord in 1998. Later on, it was much effort of deputation, lobbying and struggle on part of PCJSS, the laws of three Hill District Council Act(s) and CHT Regional Council Act were rectified in light with the Accord.
Similarly, the same was done during formulation of CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2001, which was one-sidedly framed by the Awami League law makers violating the Accord. The case with this law also took long 15 years to get rectified. At every step of implementation of the Accord, the Awami League government has violated and is violating the Accord at its every initiative including the case with framing of laws and in putting them into effect. The core issues of the Accord, as part of establishing self-rule governance, such as, land & land management, law & order, police (local), general administration and all powers and functions relating to development have not yet been transferred to the Regional Council and the Hill District Councils. However, the subjects that had been transferred so far, had been done mostly violating the Accord. Civil administration has not been implemented to establish democracy and good governance in CHT as like as civil administration is in force in other parts of the country. The military authority is dominant in all sectors in CHT as to this day. In fact, no leaf moves or can move without permission of the military authority in CHT.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, herself, has given CHT in lease to the army. Without approval of the army, the government cannot undertake any initiative to implement the provisions of the Accord. It is for the said reason, introduction of civil administration in CHT has not been made possible as per the Accord. Holding elections in CHT Regional Council and Hill District Councils could not have been held as per the Accord. It is there that for holding elections in the councils, electoral roll with the permanent residents has to be enumerated as per the Accord. Now, if the electoral roll is to be prepared accordingly, especially, the Bengali settlers will be excluded, which the army does not agree with, since they maintain the view that if the settlers get excluded from enumeration, the whole affairs will be treated as a kind of their defeat. The narrow line of thought that exists in the army (may also be viewed as an undue ego), has blocked the preparation of electoral roll and holding elections in the Regional Council and Hill District Councils. It is for this reason, the government is incapable of holding elections in CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils after having the electoral roll prepared.
Similarly, as though according to the Accord, more than 500 temporary camps including the ‘Operation Uttoran’ (based on which the army has retained their authority) were to be withdrawn, the Awami League government withdrew only 101 temporary camps after the Accord in three phases. It was due to prevention on part of the army, the Hasina-led government could withdraw no more temporary camps in later period; rather, the army authority has established new camps in CHT. Alongside army atrocities have also increased further more. The narrow thought, ego and interest of the army have got associated with the ultra-nationalist Awami League leadership, corporate groups and bureaucrats. In one end, all these elements are offering obstructions together to the Accord-implementation process while employing die-hard effort to turn CHT into a Muslim-Bengali-dominated region and transfer administrative, political and economic power to them, on the other. Unfortunately, the traitors and disintegrating groups from among the Jumma people have found themselves in reciprocation with this reactionary process.
It is fact that even after much effort, the ruling class has not been able to destroy the effective strength of PCJSS by employing the army in association with settler force, Parbatya Chattgram Nagorik Parishad (settlers’ organization), Kuki-Chin Party, Mog Party, Prasit group (UPDF), Reformist group, collaborators and traitor forces, while spelling failure in splitting away the people from the organization; for which, PCJSS is still strong by strength of the people. Despite of all such odds, the PCJSS leadership and the activists in their tens of thousands are forging ahead the movement for right to self-determination of the Jumma people with boldness.
The ruling class is to keep it in the mind that the PCJSS is skillful in the art of both democratic and armed struggle. The Army Chief and GoC of Chittagong Infantry Division are also to keep this aspect in the mind. The army could do nothing to the Shanti Bahini in the war that had lasted for 25 years for which the then Army Chief had to pronounce: “We are tired; so, the CHT problem should be resolved through amicable discussion.” Thereafter, the CHT Accord was signed in 1997 through holding dialogue.
The ruling class or the Army Chief or the GoC of 24th Infantry Division of Chittagong, if they think that they will destroy PCJSS within a wink of an eye then it is sure that they are abiding in the heaven of the fool. The time has not yet been over, ‘You should establish the self-rule of the Jumma people and ascertain civil administration, democracy and good governance in CHT by implementing the CHT Accord properly. Otherwise, the PCJSS will roar again. Once again, with brazen face, it will have to urge: ‘We are tired of fighting.” Therefore, you must learn lesson from the history of the past.
In the end, I would say: Long live the struggle of Jumma people!