Hill Voice, 2 December 2021, Special Correspondent:The government is not sincere in implementing the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord. Rather, the ruling party has now chosen the path of repression in the hills. The CHT region has become a big prison today. There is no right to speak, no right to live. The people of the hills are doing the same thing as the prison inmates do today. Today, the people of the hills survive their lives the way the prisons live.
These words were said by Jyotirindra Bodhpriya Larma, one of the signatories of CHT Accord, on Thursday (December 2) at a discussion jointly organized by the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) and the Bangladesh Indigenous peoples Forum (BIPF) at the Liberation War Museum auditorium in Agargaon. Central member of BIPF Meinthein Pramila delivered welcome speech at the beginning of the discussion while Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary of BIPF conducted the event.
Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma (Santu Larma), President of PCJSS and BIPF spoke on the overall situation in the CHT region. Besides, Pankaj Bhattacharya, President of Oikya NAP, Rashed Khan Menon MP, President of Walkers Party of Bangladesh, Advocate Sultana Kamal, Co-Chair of CHT Commission, Professor Dr. Mesbah Kamal, Professor Dr. Sadeka Halim, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences of University of Dhaka, poet and journalist Sohrab Hasan, eminent lawyer Barrister Sara Hossain and presidium member of Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Oikya Parishad, Kajal Debnath.
Informing the overall situation in the CHT was not good, Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, president of PCJSS, said that today, after 24 years, the implementation of the Accord is very disappointing. The government that signed the agreement 24 years ago has been in power most of the time till today. But the process of implementing the Accord has come to a complete halt. The CHT problem is a political and national problem. Since this is a political issue, it needs to be resolved politically. The Accord was made for that, he stressed.
He added that although the CHT problem had been identified by signing the Accord, but it could not be resolved due to non-implementation of the Accord. Today the question is, why did the government make the Accord? Is it to solve the CHT problem, or to speed up the process of destroying the existence of the Jumma people? The Jumma people were forced to join the movement for the protection of their land rights, existence of national and homeland. He also claimed that if the people of the hills had any ulterior motives, then the Jumma people of the CHT would not have come to the dialogue with the government.
Mentioning that there is no language to describe the way Jumma people are being exploited, deprived and oppressed in the hilly areas today, he said, “CHT region has become a big prison today.” There are two sides in the CHT today. A party that is the innocent people of the hills who want the implementation of the Accord. The other party is the government and the various parties associated with it. There is the dominance and repression of the military and paramilitary forces of the government. That dominance and repression is indescribable. Nothing can be understood from the outside. But if anybody goes to the hills, he/she will understand the suffering of the hill people.
Claiming that the PCJSS wants the implementation of the Accord today, he added that the PCJSS wants the implementation of the laws that have been made in the light of the Accord. But today the government has identified PCJSS as a terrorist group and is suppressing its leaders and activists in charge at various levels. Many leaders and activists are being persecuted today with fabricated cases, arbitrary arrests, and attacks. PCJSS workers are being implicated in one after another case. He also claimed that there have been 300 cases filed against the PCJSS members and supporters in recent times. These reports of repression have been blocked from the media today. Hence, the news could not be reported in the media, he expressed the view.
The process of rehabilitation of the poor Bengali people who were brought to the CHT by Ziaur Rahman is still going on. They are established in different areas of the hills today. The process of implementation of the CHT Accord is being hampered by the creation of various groups of vested brokers. A reign of anarchism, such as, conflict, violence, murder, kidnapping, ransom etc. has been established through unleashing the UPDF, JSS (MN Larma) known as Reformist gang, UPDF (Democratic) and Mog Party armed terrorist groups created by the army and the local ruling party leadership, by inciting them in killings, extortions and other terrorist activities. If the hill region is turbulent, the development of Bangladesh will not be accelerated. It is not good to keep someone in trouble.
Mr. Larma further added that the Jumma people of the hills have been forced to abide by the so-called discipline, rules and regulations and the hill people have been kept as a kind of large prison. The people of the hills are doing the same thing as the prisons do today. He also criticized the recent letter issued by the Armed Forces Division of the Prime Minister’s Office banning the indigenous peoples from cultivating traditional Jum and ginger and turmeric in the hills. A kind of military rule that is going on in the hills is not witnessed anywhere else in Bangladesh. The peace-loving people of the hills are still waiting for peace, hoping that the government will establish peace in the hills by implementing the Accord. If the agreement is not implemented, he thinks, the students and youths of the hills will surely stand up. He also questioned whether the Accord was made by the government with faith, sincerity and love. Finally, he called upon the democratic, non-communal and progressive individuals and organizations of the country to visit the hills to see the situation on the spot.
Pankaj Bhattacharya, President of Oikya NAP, said that the fulfillment of two eras of the CHT Accord has to be observed today with a heavy load of grief and sorrow. The Bengali people have gained independence. Side by side the Bengali people, there were more than 50 indigenous peoples who fought for independence of the country. I may not live long, I may not live long, but out of conscience I say today that I see the CHT as a colony of Bangladesh. The hills are being used as a colony. The CHT Accord recognized the CHT as “tribal-inhabited area”, not colony. But even in 24 years it could not happen. He also said that the heads of state should be ashamed of keeping non-Bengalis as non-citizens without recognizing them. I am at a time when those citizens cannot trust any political party. No one can say, this is my administration. As a political activist, I am ashamed.
Rashed Khan Menon, MP and President of the Workers Party of Bangladesh, said, “I don’t think there is any excitement about the CHT Accord after 24 years. When Ziaur Rahman took the initiative to take the poor Bengalis, the victims of river erosion, to the CHT, we as young MPs opposed it. As we reached the CHT Accord, we highlighted two aspects. One is to stop militarization in the hills and relocate the rehabilitated Bengalis outside CHT. There was smiling face at the signing of the Accord. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also received the UNESCO Peace Prize for this. But today, other strategies may have taken the place of political and peaceful solutions. Even, at least 20 camps had been set up during the Corona pandemic, he also alleged.
Sultana Kamal, co-chair of the CHT Commission and a prominent human rights activist, said: “We made the CHT Accord because we wanted peace. But till date peace has not been established in the CHT region which proves itself. I can’t say that there has been a minimal effort to establish peace. On the contrary, we have seen that decisions have been made unilaterally. Indigenous people’s livelihoods are also being interfered with. Their society, culture, profession, economy have all been interfered with. The regime is being exploited in the same way as the colonial ruling class does. The CHT Accord is not government agreements. This agreement is signed on basis of state and constitutional responsibilities. Therefore, this prominent human rights activist also thinks that implementing this agreement is not against the state.
Kajal Debnath, a presidium member of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, said on the one hand, it would be said that no one could be left behind in the SDGs. But why the number of indigenous peoples in the hills today has come down from 98 percent to 48 percent. The constitution has also made it clear that no one can be left behind. It would not be unconstitutional for a special law to be enacted for a backward section of people. He also said that if unrest is imposed or projected in the name of peace agreement, it will never be good. We have not given to anyone the right to call a nation only as son of land depriving the real son of land.
Dhaka University teacher Professor Dr. Mesbah Kamal said that in the way the liberation war is being taken to the museum, the CHT Accord have already been taken to the museum. For which the process of implementation of the CHT Accord has come to a complete halt. The government did not mention in the supplement this year how many clauses of the agreement have been implemented. The government did not go to the point of mentioning the number, because it has created an embarrassment to the government. The hill people never demanded to be isolated. But various attempts had been made to isolate them, he claimed.
Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences of Dhaka University Professor Dr. Sadeka Halim said the CHT Accord is a great example of the right to self-determination. The Accord has different sides. But there is no third party in entering to the Accord except the government side and the indigenous people side of the hills. One of the major points of the Accord is that if any development is to be done in the hills under the coordination and supervision of the CHT Regional Council. But to this day we see that it is not happening at all. On the other hand, we are still not able to recognize the indigenous peoples. The CHT Land Commission has been formed to solve the land problem of the hills and the law of the Commission has also been amended. But the meetings of that Commission are not being held regularly. Moreover, if anybody goes to the hills, he/she will not be able to remember now that it is an area of indigenous people of the hills. The Bengalis are now controlling all the market and business there, the sociologist claimed.
Barrister Sara Hossain, taking part in the discussion, said the Accord was a political decision to resolve the political issue. The CHT Accord is not being implemented and even the laws that were made for the rights of the hill people before the agreement are not being implemented. Rather, the question is whether these laws are alive. Attempts are being made to create a kind of controversy by even referring to the institutions that have been set up through the Accord as unconstitutional. How the Accord reached by the political leaders would be unconstitutional, she threw question.
She further added that one after another case was being filed in the hills against the persons demanding the implementation of the Accord. The case is still good as we know the cases despite the fact that no matter how many false allegations are made. But there are so many incidents happening in the hills that there is no case. People voices are being stopped by showing fear so that the people of the hills cannot talk about the implementation of the CHT Accord, the right to self-determination.
Poet and journalist Sohrab Hasan said that the statement of PCJSS that we see today has more pain and frustration than anger. It is not the PCJSS that is responsible for this, but the government side who is not implementing the Accord. He thinks the government has to be held accountable for this. The idea of establishing a humane progressive state was conceived in ’71, but it does not exist today. At present the attitude of the state is hegemonic thinking. He also thinks that the mentality of the state has to be changed, otherwise the Accord will not be implemented.
Meanwhile, Meinthein Premila, a central member of the BIPF, said in her welcome speech that the dream that we have seen by signing the CHT Accord 24 years ago, that dream still stands in the same place. We only dream once. Those who made the deal are still in power. While this may give us hope, reality also discourages us. But did the ruling party make this Accord to deceive the indigenous peoples?
Participating in the discussion, Nipon Tripura, General Secretary of Pahari Chhatra Parishad, said that the Jumma people of the CHT have been persecuted due to their ethnic differences since the historical times. The ruling party signed the CHT Accord on 2 December 1997, correcting their mistakes. But today, 24 years later, the position of the Jumma people in the hills has not changed. If the government thinks that the military will trample on the rights of the Jumma people then they will be done wrong. This student leader also warned that we Jumma student society can never allow that to happen.