The crisis of human rights violations involving sequential killing, persecution, exploitation, eviction and deprivation upon 13 indigenous minority nationalities of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is multi-faceted. Apart from political and economic reasons, the crisis also owns historical, administrative, military, social, cultural, diplomatic and psychological aspects and each one is so inter-weaved with the other that none of them is possible to be viewed separately. The problem has been created at various chronological phases of the history by the state, civil-military bureaucracy, fundamental-communal political parties and groups, foreign intelligence agencies and the infiltrated Bengali community people endowed with amenities.
Ever since the emergence of Pakistan state partitioning India based on two-nation theory in 1947, the principle of internal colonization came to exist according to which snatching away the lands of indigenous people, persecution and killing by the military and para-military forces and deprivation in education, health, settlement, business and employment; and discrimination in development of infrastructure, obstruction in practicing their believes and culture, etc. have become a regular course of action in the hills (CHT).
The Constitution of Bangladesh 1972 is regarded as one of the greatest constitutions of the world. Despite being 85% Muslim population, secularism has been adopted as one of the state fundamental principles, which is though relief-generating to the religious minorities and indigenous ethnic communities, yet the constitution does not contain any such provisions that recognize the distinct national entity of the indigenous people and special status with categorical references. What is most unfortunate is that during regimes of the two generals in uniform, the word secularism has been repelled from the constitution and in place, by adding “Bismillah-ar-Rahman-ar-Rahim” to the preamble and ‘having full faith in Allah, the Almighty’, the law of the land has been transformed into a communal constitution through the 5th and 8th amendment. Indeed, when the phrase ‘Islam as the state religion’ was incorporated through the 8th amendment to the constitution, the non-Muslim religious and indigenous communities have been turned into 2nd class citizens thereby.
The oppression, exclusion and aggression on part of the state, the entities of indigenous peoples living in both the hills (CHT) and plains have got endangered gradually. We come to know from the source of Census 1971, in Bangladesh, there are 45 indigenous communities having their settlements in the hills and plains and the number of languages they speak is 32. During the last 38 years, at least 10 ethnic indigenous groups have disappeared in the country – their languages, culture, knowledge and history also have got died out. If the hostile attitude of the state towards the indigenous peoples does not get changed, as such, there will be existence of no human species to be identified as indigenous people after 100 years.
There is none who can decline to recognize the contribution of indigenous people in building of a civilization in the Gangatic basin. The indigenous peoples of hills and plains had also exerted a significant contribution to the Liberation War of Bangladesh. Even contribution of the indigenous peoples had been not less during independence movement of India during British-India era. Whereas, when the state snatches away the rights and status of the indigenous peoples, the majority Bengalis do not protest against the injustice. The Bengalis who had to wage struggle against the colonial rule, governance and deprivation and could establish Bangladesh at the cost of blood of 3.0 million martyrs but it is the same Bengalis who are behaving as colonial lord towards the indigenous people of own country like what the Punjabis did towards them.
The indigenous people of the CHT had the conjecture that their territory would be ceded to India or Burma during partition. It was for the reason of which even though the Pakistan flag was hoisted elsewhere in East and West Pakistan yet in Rangamati the Indian flag was hoisted while in Bandarban the Burma flag was hoisted on 15 August 1947. When the Radcliffe Royedad Bengal Boundary Commission report was made public on 17 August, it came to knowledge that the CHT had been annexed to Pakistan. The Pakistan army hoisted Pakistan flag after pulling down the Indian and Burma flags in Rangamati and Bandarban on 21 August 1947.
As reprisalry measure, the Pakistani rulers started the settlement process with rehabilitation of the Bengali people by alluring them of lands in CHT. In 1947, where the population of the indigenous people was 97%, it came down to 85% in 1961. In 1997, the indigenous population was 52% during signing of the CHT Accord in 1997.
During Pakistan period, 100,000 indigenous people had been dislocated from their lands while constructing the Kaptai Hydro-Electric Dam in the CHT without making compensation or providing alternative measure for dwelling. Some 40% arable lands of the valley went under the water. The Royal Palace of Chakma Raja got disappeared under the Kaptai Lake. Of the evicted Chakmas, many took refuge Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh where they could not attain citizenship of the country even after passing more than four decades. As finding no other way to stop deprivation and oppression, the CHT indigenous people had to revolt and pick up arms.
The atrocities including genocides that have been perpetrated by the army and outsider Bengalis upon the indigenous community peoples, have disfigured the image of Bangladesh in the international domain. The revolt came to an end with signing of Peace Accord by Hasina government with the aggrieved indigenous people of the CHT in 1997 and thereby the blemished image of Bangladesh got brighter to a large extent globally.
The way that the BNP-Jamat alliance offered tough opposition before and after signing the CHT Accord, with it, the anti-national position of this evil forces has become more embodied. In this regard, in the preface of one book of mine, I wrote: ‘The Peace Accord of CHT has earned vast admiration of peace-loving and democratic-conscious people at home and in abroad. Many of the specialists and observers have opined to the effect that the countries that have likewise ethnic problems, which have been continuing as yet through undergoing conflicts and bloodshed for many years, the CHT Peace Accord will be considered as an imitable illustration to the countries concerned.
The CHT crisis, as it is old so its complicacy is. The Sheikh Hasina government had to enter upon the CHT Accord through turning the hostile situation into a conducive one as to ensure the return of peace in the hill districts, human rights, democracy and economic advancement.
The factor that enabled the Hasina government to sign in the CHT Accord were the three elected Members of the Parliament of three hill district constituencies representing the ruling party. It is only the Awami League that has position in people of both indigenous Jumma people and Bengali communities. On the contrary, the BNP, Jamat and other communal and fundamental parties which opposed the Accord do not have commendable popularity in the region. Though there is support of a small portion among the outsider Bengalis, a great number of indigenous hillmen and Bengalis do not support BNP. Because, they know that the BNP and its associate parties have taken their position directly against the Hill community people. BNP, Jamat and their communal associate parties do not want to let the non-Muslims live nowhere in Bangladesh.
BNP, the main opposition party in league with the Jamat-e-Islam, the ever enemy of Bangladesh sovereignty and in alliance of other communal and fundamental parties opposed to it since long before signing the Accord. Their opposition of the kind and the various detrimental actions they did, are vested in a pervading political intrigue. The BNP and its communal fundamental associates, while acting against the Peace Accord, while standing at their last position have resorted to calling on Jihad. Professor Dr. Hasanuzzaman Chowdhury of Dhaka University who is known as pro-Jamat intellectual, has authored a book titled: Parbattya Shanti Chukti: Ekti Agagora Pramanyo Bislashon (CHT Peace Accord: A Holistic Evidential Analysis). On 16 February, the publication ceremony of the book was graced by the top leaders of BNP, Jamat and other ultra-communal parties. On 17 February 1998, in a report published in the Janakantho Daily: Hasanuzzaman Chowdhury, the Jamat-e-Islami author says: ‘The reason for which we perform our Namaaz, it is exactly for the same reason, we will have to oppose the Peace Accord. As Islam and Peace Accord are now face-to-face.’
In the discussion meeting, Shayekul Hadis Maouana Azizul Haque said: “It is of foolishness to cry over the CHT Accord that has already been done. We will have to go for Jihad. The time of war like the time of Prophet Karim has arrived on the CHT Accord issue.” This Moulana, after razing down the Babri Mosque in India in 1992, said: “At the bottom of the tree Islam, it is not water but blood has to be poured in.” Consequently, unprecedented and brutal attacks were conducted upon the Hindu community people.
In the meeting, Abbas Ali Khan, the Jamat leader, War Criminal and the Chief Associate of the Pak Attacker Army said: “If the CHT Accord gets implemented, it will be a Lanat (an Anathema or curse or dispelling from the bounty of Allah) upon people of the country.” Another War Criminal and Jamat leader Moulana Delwar Hossain Sayedi said: “At the front, when the issue bigger than this will come for us! Let us plunge into the Jihad. The time for Jihad has come. We have set for the Jihad.” Likewise speeches were delivered by Anowar Jahid, BNP leader and collaborator of Pak army, Kamruzzaman, Jamat leader, Abdul Qader Moulla, among others.
In 1971, the way the Liberation War was made stand face-to-face with Islam by the Jamat and their associates, similarly, they want to make the CHT Peace Accord stand face-to-face with Islam. On plea of Islam, it was they who killed 3.0 million Bengalis and raped 269,000 women during the Liberation War in 1971. Any program relating to consciousness of Liberation War, in their words, is: Enemy of Islam and conspiracy of India.
The actual reality is that they had been shouting Jihad since beginning of the peace dialogue. But the CHT Peace Accord came to existence and also its implementation has begun ignoring all sorts of their growling and obstructions. They could not nullify the arms-deposition program by calling strike against it. On 10 February 1998, an enormous gathering of indigenous hillmen and Bengalis filled the Khagrachhari stadium amid indomitable enthusiasm and keen interest. A galaxy of ambassadors, international representatives and journalists from abroad attended the occasion and they welcomed the peace initiative in the same words of expression.
The commoner Bengalis in the CHT also have realized that with the words that BNP-Jamat leaders tend to incite them does not have basis in reality. Every conscious Bengali knows by repelling the Bangali Nationalism from the constitution, how the BNP-Jamat want and have been trying to destroy all the achievements of Bengalis, since the Zia period. In ’71, they killed the Bengalis by terming ‘Kafers’ and apprehended the Bengali women as the ‘Goods of Gonimat (war booties accrued out of Jihadi war) to the Pakistani solders – the sort of Jamat-brand love of Bengali is also not unknown to the educated Bengalis in the CHT.
Each and every Hillman and Bengali of the CHT does have the exact awareness, if the war-situation continues, how the life becomes unbearable; how every moment goes passed through panic; and how traumatic pain has to be endured for bereavement of losing dear ones. Today, this realization in every peace-loving human has aroused at the cost of 20,000 lives of hillmen and Bengalis – crisis of the kind can never be solved by application of might. Various national entities of the CHT, whatever be less in number, it is not possible to abolish them by any force whatsoever.
Rather, we have seen that the way the world opinion got organized; the way the international community stood by their side; it is impossible on part of the foreign-aid-dependent-poor country like Bangladesh to combat with it. This reality, for having been realized, the Ershad government had to begin peace dialogue, formulate ‘Hill District Council Act’ and Khaleda Zia government also had to continue the process.
Internationally, Bangladesh has been severely condemned for perpetration of merciless repression, killings, woman violations, arson, etc. upon the indigenous Jumma communities of the CHT over the last two decades. Criticism has stormed the discourse sessions of various international organizations including the UN and EU Parliament over the issues of extreme human rights violations in the CHT. The donor countries have been asked to stop giving aid to Bangladesh. The CHT Peace Accord will help Bangladesh get back its lost status in the international domain. [Shantir Pathe Ashanta Parbattya Chattagram: Shahriar Kabir, Anupom Prakashani, Boi Mela, 1998, Pristha, 7-9 (Instable CHT towards Peace: Shahriar Kabir, Pages 7-9)]
Before signing the CHT Accord, the BNP supremo Khaleda Zia said: “If the CHT Accord gets signed, the CHT will become a part of India.” Whereas, when she was in the power from 1991 to 1996, she had to sit in dialogue with the aggrieved Jumma people due to the international pressure and she had to accede to the demand for withdraw of the army. Today, the post-Accord period passes more than two decades but the CHT has remained as an integral part of Bangladesh throwing ashes on the face of Khaleda Zia.
All the countries of the world having ethnic problems like Bangladesh, have preserved provisions elsewhere in their constitutions and it is internationally a legal recognition as per the declaration of the UN. It requires no far off distance to travel, the Koram, Khyber, Malakand in Pakistan and Jammu & Kashmir, Arunachal, Mizoram, etc. in India, there are legal provisions by merit of which the national entity, land ownership and basic rights of the peoples living therein have been ensured.
Partial provision for the deprived and neglected indigenous hill communities has been accommodated within the framework of our constitution. The meaning of preservation does not imply that the citizens of Bangladesh will not be allowed to get in and get out of the CHT. Subject to legal permission of the competent authority, any citizen of Bangladesh from any part of the country, will be also allowed to run business in the CHT. Provision of preservation has been laid only for the case that involves purchasing of lands. This has also been ensured in the law entitled: Rangamati Hill District Local Government Council Act 1989 formulated during General Ershad’s period. The provision under Section-64 of the act states: “Notwithstanding whatever stated in the laws existent, no land under jurisdiction of Rangamati Hill District shall be given for settlement without prior permission of the Council and without permission of similar kind, ownership of the land and space as aforesaid shall not be transferred to the individual who is not a permanent resident of Rangamati Hill district.”
During dialogue with the PCJSS leaders, the BNP, expressing their support in favour of the provision said that it has been done as ‘safeguard’ to the indigenous hillmen.
In consequence to reducing the CHT indigenous peoples to a minority population, due to migration of Muslim Bengalis in the region, the scope of setting camps and training centers of the extremists and fundamentalists has got extended. In 1979, during General Ziaur Rahman’s tenure, flocking of Rohingya Muslims from Burma into this region occurred widely. In the name of aid to the Rohingyas, some fundamentalist and communal outfits built up hundreds of Madrasas in CHT with the help from Middle-east and OIC. In the process involving Islamization and Pakistanization, Jamat-e-Islam and their international guardians, namely, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan provided support to Ziaur Rahman. In 1961, there were 40 mosques and 2 madrasas in the CHT. But in 1981, General Zia’s tenure witnessed 592 mosques and 35 madrasas. At present the number of mosques has gone up 3,000 and the number of government and non-government madrasas has stood as many as 800.
Centering these madrasas, with direct support of military intelligence ISI of Pakistan, sanctuaries for recruitment of extremists, their training and sheltering the terrorists from outside have grown up. In the three hill districts, Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar, there are two dozens of domestic and Rohingya extremist fundamentalist organizations. The BNP and Jamat-e-Islami, though consider the Bengali nationalism as anti-Islamic and pro-Indian yet for the case with the CHT, they are not for identity of nationality as Bangladeshi but of Ultra-Bengali nationalism. Basically, it is for the Jamat-e-Islam, the CHT has been turned into a safe sanctuary to the terrorists of Islamic extremist and fundamentalist outfits. These terrorists are a giant threat to not only the non-Muslim indigenous people but also to our national security.
At present, the grand-alliance government led by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is in the power in Bangladesh. Performing the CHT Accord had been possible due to profound political wisdom and statesmanly far-sightedness of Sheikh Hasina. Implementation of the CHT Accord and prevention of conspiracy hatched by the anti-Accord elements and fundamentalist camps, both are possible only by the present government. The grand-alliance government is talking about re-introduction of Constitution 1972. We would hope, the distinct national entity of indigenous people, their rights and status will be ensured in the constitution. By extending support to the Rohingya terrorists, those who are engaged in the intrigue to establish an independent Muslim state incorporating the Arakan state of Myanmar and the CHT of Bangladesh will be abolished from the soil of Bangladesh.
The international human rights organizations including the UN are more anxious of safe-guarding the entities and human rights of the indigenous peoples than any day of the past. Apart from the ‘Universal Human Rights Charter’ of the UN, Bangladesh has ratified 12 international Conventions and Protocols wherein the human rights have been mentioned. In order to gain a seat in the map of civilized nations, alongside recognition of the special rights and status of the indigenous peoples that is a must, Bangladesh will have to undertake initiative to protect their language, culture and development. Dignified status of the indigenous people who are enriched in distinct language, culture, history and tradition, will brighten our image in the international forum, the image, which got stained again and again in the past.
Translated from Bangla by Hill Voice