Hill Voice, 2 March 2021, Dhaka: A solidarity gathering has been held at Shahbagh in Dhaka and a memorandum has been submitted to the Prime Minister in protest of grabbing the abode of Mro people in the name of building a five-star hotel and amusement park at Naitang Hill in Chimbuk under Bandarban Hill District.
Goutam Dewan, President of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Citizens Committee, presided over the solidarity gathering organized by the Chimbuk Pahar Mro Bhumi Raksha Andolan at the premises of the National Museum in Shahbag on March 2, 2021. The solidarity gathering began with the traditional plung flute tune of the indigenous Mro people who came to Dhaka from the Chimbuk hills of Bandarban.
Convener of the Parliamentary Caucus on Indigenous Affairs and MP Fazle Hossain Badsha, eminent playwright Mamunur Rashid, former member of the National Human Rights Commission Nirupa Dewan, Dhaka University teacher Prof. Dr. Robayet Ferdous, BELA’s executive director Syeda Rizwana Hossain, Communist Party leader Ruhin Hossain Prince, DU teacher Dr. Jobaida Nasreen Kona, Executive Director of Manusher Jonno Foundation Shaheen Anam and Reng Young Mro, a student leader, among others, delivered solidarity speech while Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum moderated at the gathering.
Expressing solidarity with demand of Mro people, MP Fazle Hossain Badsha said, ‘Now our question is, who owns the state?’ He questioned whether the looters like the Sikder group had become the owners of Bangladesh which was acquired through the war of liberation.
He added that it is not just a matter of the Mro community. Chimbuk Hill is a natural heritage of Bangladesh. Therefore, it is the responsibility of all of us to protect this heritage. In the month of independence, we want to say that we have not fought the war of liberation for this and we cannot leave Bangladesh in the hands of these looters. The MP also warned that no looting group and corporate group would be allowed to implement the project by destroying hills, forests and indigenous peoples.
Speaking in solidarity at the gathering, playwright Mamunur Rashid said, ‘I believe that no matter how much they conspire, five-star hotels will not be able to be there.’ Environmentalists around the world will wake up. The rulers must hear the wailing of Mros’ plung flute. He also questioned why development should be done there by evicting the Mro people of Chimbuk.
He further said that why all the biodiversity should be destroyed by constructing hotel. The prominent playwright also urged the Prime Minister to stop the construction of five-star hotel immediately.
Nirupa Dewan, a former member of the National Human Rights Commission, said, ‘We have gathered here because the sound of the Mros’ flute was not reaching anyone’s ears.’ So they have been compelled to come here for protection of their existence. Not only the Mro people of Bandarban, but also all the indigenous peoples in the hills and plains today are worried whether we will be gradually wiped out in the name of development.
‘Where our existence is endangered, where human rights are endangered, it is unacceptable that there will be five-star hotels in the name of development next to our homes,’ she added. This is a clear violation of human rights.
Dhaka University Professor Robayet Ferdous at the rally said those who are building hotels in Mros’ land should know their ‘character’. Sikdar Group is one of the actors who are building this hotel. There will be a five star hotel by evicting indigenous Mro people and rich people will have fun there, it cannot be acceptable. That cannot happen that the hill people will remain uneducated and will be shown to tourists as part of tourism. He also demanded the establishment of schools and colleges in the hills instead of hotels.
He added that Pakistanis have exploited Bengalis for 24 years. And after independence, the Bengalis are exploiting the hill people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The people of the hills are suffering from racial discrimination and language discrimination. The DU teacher also alleged that Islamization is going on by changing the name of the place in the hills. He also opined that the war of liberation was not fought for this in 71.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, executive director of the environmental organization ‘BELA’, said indigenous people have some choices about their own lives. In no way did they agree to build this five-star hotel. Therefore, the implementation of this project against the public opinion is not acceptable at all. He also demanded that the Sikdar group and the army cancel all contracts involved in the project and return their land to the Mro people.
Communist Party leader Ruhin Hossain Prince said it may seem like a beautiful sight to many. But to me it’s a horrible sight. We know who are involved in this horrific scene. Our patriotic army accompanied by the Sikder Group. The government must be vigilant against this occupation of the hills.
Jobaida Nasreen, in her solidarity speech, shared her experience of visiting the spot in Chimbuk a few days ago and said that the plan is being made in this way and not just with 20 acres of land. What is being done there is to occupy the whole of Chimbuk.
She added that the billboard at the tourist spot in Chimbuk also has a picture of the Prime Minister. So the presence of that picture frightens us that the Prime Minister is also involved in this devastating project! Therefore, if the Hon’ble Prime Minister does not want this project and there is no involvement with it, then it must be made clear through his own statement.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of the Manusher Jonno Foundation, said the main demand of the Mro people is that they live in silence where they have lived for hundreds of years. This is not a big demand. Therefore, no decent person can accept the plan to build a hotel there by destroying their life, livelihood, art and culture. Our war of liberation was fought for not letting us live like ourselves. Therefore, the construction of this hotel is also against the spirit of the liberation war and the CHT Accord.
Menchin Mro, an Indigenous Mro person from Chimbuk spoke in his own language and was translated into Bengali by Reng Young Mro, a student leader of Jahangirnagar University. ‘The Nilgiri was our Jum land’, Menchin Mro said in his speech. These have been done in various ways, saying that during the Nilgiri tourism, we will have the opportunity for self-employment, we will be given shops. Besides, the Nilgiri authorities are collecting water from the dam where our water source is. As a result, we have to suffer from water shortage for six months in a year.
He also said, ‘I have never come to this Dhaka city. I didn’t even think to come.’ But if we are not allowed to live like ourselves in our hills, even if we have to die, we will protest for a hundred years.
Student leader Reng Young Mro said, ‘We have done everything to raise our demand before the government.’ We have seen that this project of Chimbuk will destroy our existence. So we protested. But those who are protesting against this injustice without any remedy are being harassed. If the project is not canceled by March 26, the government will have to take responsibility for the situation in the hills.
The gathering ended with the concluding speech of Goutam Dewan, President of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Citizens Committee. At the end of the gathering, a procession was started from Shahbagh through parading TSC of Dhaka University. Later, a delegation went to the Prime Minister’s Office to hand over the memorandum to the Prime Minister.
Besides, former professor of Jahangirnagar University Rehnuma Ahmed, Chittagong Hill Tracts Forest and Land Rights Movement leader Juamlian Amlai Bawm, President of Joyenshahi Indigenous Development Council Eugin Nokrek, President of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad Rabindranath Soren spoke in solidarity.
Besides, Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, ALRD, BLAST, Kapeeng Foundation, Jatiya Adivasi Parishad, BELA, CPB, BSD, Jasad, Jono Udyog, Bangladesh Workers Party, Oikya NAP, Bangladesh Nari Pragati Sangha, CHT Citizen Committee, Bangladesh Indigenous Women Network, BAPA, Manusher Jonno Foundation, CHT Social Student Organization, Ain O Salish Kedra, Joyenshahi Adivasi Unnayan Parishad, Sammilita Samajik Andolan, Madal, Indigenous Youth Forum, Adivasi Chhatra Sangram Parishad, CHT Hill Students Council expressed solidarity with the gathering.
From the meeting, the following demands were made to the Prime Minister:
1. Immediate cancellation of the Marriott Hotel and Amusement Park in the Mro inhabited area in full support of the demands of the Mro people for their livelihood, traditional access to natural resources, heritage, culture and security;
2. The lease agreement of Bandarban Hill District Council with 69 Infantry Brigade executed on 2 February 2014 has to be canceled;
3. Immediate closure of all other administrative and economic activities in the name of development, including tourism, without free, prior and informed consent, which poses a threat to the environment and the ecosystem, and the eviction of occupiers from all occupied lands in a similar process.