Conflicts & People of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Of Bangladesh

Chakma houses“A study of Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights (BSEHR) revealed that some 61.44 percent of indigenous people still face discrimination, 41.86 percent are victims of corruption and 18.67 percent have been evicted from their ancestors´ land.”

People who live in CHT are culturally distinctive indigenous communities like the Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Tanchangya, Mro, Lushai, Khumi, Chak, Khyang, Bawm and Pankhua, who often have kin-communities on the other side of the international border. They are Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or animist for the most part. Since 1971, state-run projects as well as the crush of population in other parts of Bangladesh have brought Bengalis to settle in this area.

by A. K. Zaman

CHTs is the integral part of Bangladesh. Its total area is 5 thousand and 93 square miles. The three hill districts Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachari cover the one-tenth area of the country. CHTs was under the rule of Bengal during Mughal dynasty. It was included with East Bengal during British era and was within East Bengal during Pakistan period. And now naturally CHTs is the inseparable part of Bangladesh. CHTs was considered as barren hilly region. Its administrative authority was also under control of Chittagong during British period though it was upgraded as a district in 1860.

Once this mountainous land was a sparsely populated area. Some minority communities like the Lushai or the Reang temporarily resided in CHTs. Such hunting-loving communities settled here by means of hunting to earn their livelihood. Occassional clash took place between these tribals and the British forces as the dominance of British government was expanding. The British government brought the Nepalese Gurkhas and the warriors of Assam Rifles to curb these disturbing tribal elements. Later the Gurkha-originated Ahomias stayed and settled in the hilly region.

Some of them came from the footstep of the Himalayas via Arakan, somebody came from hilly Tripura, Lushai and, Chin hill and Arakan region of Myanmar. They took legality of settlement here by providing cotton as tax. The British government gave them opportunity to reside and subsequently the tribals of different communities including Chakma, Marma, Tripura and Lushai those who migrated from Myanmar, Arakan, Tripura , Lushai hills etc settled there. Later gradually tribal people of different countries led by their leaders started to infiltrate in groups in the hilly region.

In 1860, the area was given the status of a separate district which was under the control of superintendent of Chittagong. It was done so that the Bengalis and the tribal communities live in peaceful co-existence in. In order to maintain dominance, leadership and to gain control as protectorate, the British government enacted the CHTs Rules Act (Hill Tracts Manual 1900) in 1900, identifying CHTs as excluded area. Britain introduced the system of king/circle chief for their own interest. The post of headman/karbari was created to establish mass communication and to realize tax from the tribal villages. Basically the nominated representatives were in charge of their respective communities. According to CHTs Rules Act-1900, people who migrated from Burma, Arakan, Assam, Tibet and Tripura, and the Bengalis of adjacent districts those who settled in the hills were recognized as native.

The Hill Tracts Manual which is hundred years old can not be applicable for a democratic state. Besides, legal contradiction developed frequently as different unequal laws were formulated in different times. Different small tribal communities and Bengalis in large number lived in co-existence in CHTs. None but the Bengalis are majority community. Such diversified life-style, culture, harmony, co-existence have created unique atmosphere in our national arena. Conspiracy has been continuing for a long time to strike on harmony and peace prevailing in CHTs.

Separatist activities

kalponachakma_rally_6wLeadership of some hard-liner tribal leaders were opposed during partition of India in 1947. Those so-called leaders continued activities to alienate CHT from the then East Pakistan. They demanded to merge CHTs with India. The secessionist activities started from that very period.

The rebels took initiative to form ‘Chakma Land’ by establishing Parbattya Janasamiti. In 1973, Shanti Bahini, the armed wing of Jana Shanghati Shamiti, activated their efforts to establish ‘Chamatri’ state ( I.e , Chakma, Marma, Tripura state). Conspiracy to establish ‘Chamatri’ state was omitted in the face of extreme opposition in the eighties. Later conspiracy was hatched to establish ‘Jhumma Land’ which is still continuing.

Government took initiative to quell rebellion as the armed insurgency flared-up in CHT to establish a separate Jumma Land in the name of right of self-determination. Since 1974, every government took steps to face jungle war to protect common people from terrorism. About thirty thousand innocent Bengalis and security forces and more than twelve thousand tribal villagers ware brutally killed by the armed insurgents of Janashanghati Samiti since 1974 to 2005. The tribal terrorists of Janashanghati Samiti led by Shantu Larma are involved in criminal activities which include murder, rape, arson, abduction, realization of ransom, massive toll collection and arms deal. The tribal terrorists often attack and loot Bengali-inhabited areas. Even they create anarchy by attacking government installations also.

They are continuing such activities to compel the Bangalis to the leave the area. Extreme tension and uncertainties gripped CHTs. Law and order situation deteriorated further due to exposure of fanatic communal attitude for a long time. Thousands of unarmed tribal families have been victim of atrocities committed by tribal terrorists.

This trend is still continuing. Human rights have been violated to a great extent including spread of communalism in the CHTs area masterminded by Shantu Larma and his JSS.

President Ziaur Rhaman initiated a new chapter in the hill area by establishing Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board in 1976. He formed tribal convention in 1978 to start dialogue with tribal insurgent leaders. Regimes in different times continued meeting and dialogue with tribal leaders.

The previous government took efforts to bring the rebels back to normal life since 1980 to 1989. During the tenure of Ershad regime in 1989, Local Government Council Act-1989 was pmulgated in three hill districts to ensure the return of the rebels back to normal life and to establish a terror-free CHTs. Extensive administrative power of the hill districts were handed-over to tribals in district level which is similar to limited autonomy. Yet the rebels did not shun the path of terror. On the other hand the Bangalis have been turned into second class citizen by enacting this Act.

Fresh dialogue restarted in 1992. This talk continued upto 1995 to solve the problem. On 02 December, 1997 the then Awami League government signed a treaty bypassing the opinions of Parliament and the minority communities including the Bengalis. Extreme opposition was observed against this discriminatory accord. The Bengalis and all the tribal communities except the Chakmas demanded the repeal the black treaty. They forged a intense movement against it.

The then opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia went to Khagrachari leading a long march expressing solidarity with the movement. She declared to amend the anti-constitutional clauses of the treaty if voted to power. But she did nothing when she was in office. Besides an organization of the tribals’ named United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF) was formed in 1997 opposing the peace treaty.

By signing treaty Shantu Larma along with the activists of Janashanghati Samity pledged to establish peace They surrendered arms and took over the responsibility of Regional Council. In 1998, government nominated Shantu Larma as the chairman of Regional Council. The post is equivalent to the status of state minister. It is a grim reality that he and his associates being the part of the government and enjoying all facilities provided by state have been instigating anti-treaty activities. They are hatching conspiracy by disseminating confusing information at home and abroad in order to create embarrassing situation for the country. Armed groups have been reorganized with the help of remaining terrorists.

From time immemorial, the majority Bengalis living in CHTs including a number of small tribal communities are facing serious problem in terms of right of franchise, human rights, land rights and economic rights due to discriminatory peace treaty which is contradictory to constitution. The hill Bengalis and minority tribal communities are badly affected due to the treaty. The present government is keeping mum conveniently forgetting their previous election pledge that if voted to power they would scrap or amend the treaty.

In order to implement the discriminatory peace treaty, Shantu Larma is creating anarchy in the pretext of movement. He is tarnishing the image of Bangladesh by disseminating confusing and false information to different countries and donor communities. He is demanding the withdrawal of the army with a view to establish Jummaland by seceding CHTs from Bangladesh. But the common tribals are not in favour of this trend. They can not raise their voice due to intimidation of the armed tribals.

Contradiction between Treaty and Constitution

The peace treaty is formulated by changing, amending, linking and deleting different clauses of Hill District Local Government Council Act-1989. Terming the Bengalis as non-tribals in the treaty i mentioned that the person who has a piece of valid land and live in a specific address will be considered as non-tribal dweller of CHTs. If any Bengali fails to meet the criteria, he will not be considered as permanent resident of CHTs. If it is so, the person who has been living successively for years together, he will not be able to be a permanent resident of CHT. Is CHT a constitutionally-excluded area or any other country? The constitutional rights of the hill Bengalis have been lessened and opportunity has been created for illegal migration of the tribals from neighbouring countries.

According to constitutional Law, the terms of eligibility of being a voter: If he is a citizen of Bangladesh, age not below 18 years, declared not abnormal by any court, deserves the right to be a voter. Additional terms and conditions have been incorporated besides the existing clauses of the constitution to be the voter of the CHTs area according to clause 17 of peace treaty. A Bengali will have to be a permanent dweller if he intends to be a voter. Such clauses are not applicable for remaining districts of the country.

By amending clause 64 of Parbattya Districts Local Government Council Act, it has been incorporated in the peace treaty of 1997 under clause 26.-“Without prior approval of District Council, any piece of land including land held in demesne (Khas Land) under Jurisdiction of settlement of CHTs area, will not be allowed for leasing, settlement, purchasing, selling or handing over land will not be allowed . Any land, hill and forest area which is under control and purview of Hill District Council, will not be handed over by the government without discussion and consent. Now the question arises, is the land management of CHTs beyond the control of the state? Constitution does not support this.

Common people have been deprived of purchasing and sale of personal property, mutation, right of having settling of land misusing the clause of the treaty.

To rehabilitate the activists of JSS and those who took shelter as refugees in India due to volatile situation of CHTs, to ensure the land-ownership of the landless or land-owner tribal people those who possess less than two acres of land, to write off the debts of the tribal refugees to those who have taken loans from government organizations but failed to repay or utilized the borrowed money due to confronting situation. To continue quota system in government service and educational institutions for tribals, to exempt the bank loans of the indebted JSS activists, to appoint the tribals for the post of officers at all levels and different classes of employees in various govt, semi-govt and autonomous establishments on priority basis to give priority for the activists of JSS or their dependents.

It has been enunciated in the preface of peace treaty – “To uphold political, social, cultural, educational and economic rights and to expedite the socio-economic upliftment process for all citizens of CHTs area in maintaining total and unflinching loyalty of the territorial sovereignty and integrity of Bangladesh under purview of the constitution of peoples’ republic of Bangladesh. And in order to preserve and promote equal rights for all citizens of Bangladesh, national committee on behalf of Bangladesh government and Parbattya Chattagram Janashanghati Shamity on behalf of the inhabitants of CHTs area reached to formulate a treaty containing four volumes which is mentioned below”.

Though it is enunciated in the preface of peace treaty for providing all facilities and protection of right for the citizens of CHTs, which is enshrined in the jurisdiction of constitution, but the sub-clauses of peace treaty is totally contradictory. It is natural to raise question regarding peoples’ confidence of the treaty. Parbattya Chattagram Janashanghati Samity does not represent the people of CHTs. They did not have any mandate to preserve the right of all the people. Besides, JSS leader Shantu Larma does not represent all the tribal communities and hill Bengalis. He is not an elected peoples’ representative. That is why no community gave him mandate in signing the treaty. No provision was maintained for the presence of peoples’ representative and the representative of hill Bengalis during signing of the treaty.

Peace treaty is contrary to uni-centric spirit of state which is enshrined in the constitution. The deprivation of the Bengalis has been increased intolerably due to signing of the peace treaty.

Dissenting opinions were observed among tribal communities immediately after signing the peace accord in 1997. Proshit Bikash Khisa emerged as UPDF leader challenging the leadership of Shantu Larma, the JSS leader. JSS started its destructive activities to uproot the very existence of UPDF. As a result, both the tribal organizations are now engaged in armed clash. Dominance of the concerned groups are noticed in different areas of the three hill districts. Incidents related to attack, counter-attack, abduction, toll-collection, murder are going on. Common people have become hostage to their mercy.

The aim of JSS and UPDF is similar though different outlook in organizational and leadership perspective. Both the outfits are making negative propaganda at home and abroad. They are publicizing false information in the websites. But the truth is that massive development activities have been executed for the improvement of the hilly people. Different overseas organizations are also continuing development works.

We opine that government and the conscious citizens of the country, intellectuals, journalists, politicians irrespective of all concerned need to play an active role from their respective position in order to stand against all sorts of conspiracies. The people of CHT want to get rid of all discriminatory laws. They want guarantee for execution of constitutional rights, human rights, suffrage and equal right. Growing up in the light and air of same environment, the hill Bengalis want balanced development, equal recognition and right too.


6 thoughts on “Conflicts & People of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Of Bangladesh

  1. Sheikh Mujib and the Unrest in Chittagong Hill Tracts
    Abid Bahar

    Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was an ultra nationalist Bengali leader. After the independence, in his capacity as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, addressing the People of Chittagong Hill Tracts Mujib said: “Tomra Bangalee hoyea Jao.” You better become Bengalis. Hill tracts people were full of anguish and an untold fear the next morning. Manabendra Narayan Larma, the elected leader of the Chittagong Hill Tracts said “Under no definition or logic can a Chakma be a Bengali or a Bengali be a Chakma… As citizens of Bangladesh we are all Bangladeshis, but we also have a separate ethnic identity, which unfortunately the Awami League leaders (the then) do not want to understand.” (T.K. Oommen, Nation, Civil Society and Social Movements, 2004).” Mujib’s creating unrest in CTG is one of the legacies of Mujib’s misrule in Bangladesh.
    One Pahari said” Since 1971, we have been absorbed in building a nation-state exclusively for Bengalis. Our circle of grief reflects that. It excludes all others. We are unable to inhale the fragrance of any flowers but Shapla, Shaluk or Kathal chapa.” Mujib was a Bengali Chauvanist leader who for his carelessness ignited the unrest in Chittagong Hill Tracts and taking it as a weakness India, the great friend of Awami League nurishes it by supplying the Paharis by trainning them and providing them arms and the victims are the Bengali and Paharis, the common people of Bangladesh. Mujib was an authoritarian leader. Surprisingly, Mujib is continued to be called, as the father of Bangladesh

  2. The analysis by AL Zaman is not only ridiculous but also deserved to be put in a dustbin.He did not even remember how ten millions bengali people were compelled to take shelter in India after the barbarous attack of pakistan on the innocent people during liberation war.After 1978 how 1 lakh jumma people fled to India and stayed there as refugees?Why has millitary rule been existing in CHT , not other parts of the country? why did Longodu,Mallay,Panchari,Logang,Naniarchar massacre happen?Who did it? who collaborated it?why govt was compelled to sign CHT accord?
    Before analyzing conflict of CHT You need to find out the above question first.Otherwise , your analysis will be questionable.
    Such a biased, self created and distorted analysis reveals one’s dirty and narrow mindset.

  3. Issues of Dispute and Contemporary Problems in Chittagong Hill Tracts
    Abid Bahar
    Chittagong Hills Tracts is located in the South Eastern part of
    Bangladesh. The population of the land in 1991 census account was 50%
    Bengalis (45% Muslims) and 50% the various other 11 tribal groups of
    racially Mongoloid origin. The population size of the tribals and
    Bengalis combined together is close to a million. The tribal groups
    are Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Tanchangya, Mro, Lushai, Khumi, Chak,
    Khyang, Bawm and Pankhua. According to the Census of 1991, the total
    population of Chakma was 239,417, it is the largest, the most
    privileged among the tribal groups.

    “Bangladesh has a hundred gates open for entrance but not one for
    departure” -Bernier.

    Starting from the 60’s, among the tribals, influenced by the radical
    Marxist ideology, some Chakma leadership began to aspire to separate
    the Hill Tracts from Bangladesh and some other relatively moderate
    leadership among them demanded autonomy. While the goal of creating
    an independent tribal country out of the geographically small
    Bangladesh, the tribals of half a million heterogeneous population
    remained an unrealistic ambition, however, some other external
    factors such as the NGO connections, missionary activists, and Indian
    RAW trained Shanti Bahini made some leadership to its romancing with
    revolution. Some of these developments were also possible mainly
    through the fundamentalist Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Porished of
    Bangladesh aligned with the BJP of India.

    The post 9/11 developments in Islamphobia in outside Bangladesh
    worked in the tribal’s favour that the tribals mostly as Buddhists
    show theoir fight is against the perceived “Bangladesh’s Islamic
    fundamentalist government.” The tribal’s international lobbying and
    sucessful identification as an indigenous group also brought positive
    results from world’s indigenous movements in different countries.
    There is also the Arakanese Mogh (Rakhine) xenophobic organization
    the ANC’s Theraveda Buddhist leadership whose head quarter is in New
    Delhi but works from Bangladesh are also active in Kiangs in tribal
    areas training the tribals with arms. These contemporary developments
    made great changes in the radicalization of the tribal populace.
    Despite these advantages in the tribal’s favor, the tribal leadership
    remained ignorant of a major issue; the rule of the game in politics
    that is based on the population size, which is lacking in the
    tribal’s favor.

    Historical background

    It is a known fact that the genuine Chakma discontent began with the
    Kaptai dam by the government of Pakistan. The effect of the dam was
    the displacement of mainly the Chakma population from the affected
    area. However, during the 70’s when Bengali people united together
    against Pakistani rule in East Bengal, surprisingly the relatively
    then the backward Chakma leadership inspired the Chakma population
    and the other tribes to support Pakistan. This is as if one step
    backward thinking for them.

    In 1970, Manobendro Larma formed the Rangamati Communist Party. It
    was so unfortunate that under his leadership he even formed anti
    Bengali Shanti Bahini and some tribes even helped the Pakistan army
    to locate Bengali liberation forces hiding in the hills and massacred
    them. Shanti bahini ever since killed many innocent Bengalis during
    the 70’s and early 80’s anarchy in Bangladesh.To show his loyalty to
    Pakistan, Tridiv Roy, the supreme Chakma leader even remained in
    Pakistan, later on to help the tribals, he even became the Pakistani
    ambassador to Burma. However, for their collaboration with the enemy,
    unlike the Biharis, the liberal Bengali leadership didn’t brand the
    tribals as Pakistani collaborators or war criminals and on record
    didn’t take any revenge against them but accepted them as their
    fellow citizens.

    In 1974 Supported India: Two Steps Backward

    The radical anti-Bangladesh tribal leadership appears to be primarily
    a result of the small Marxist Chakma tribal leadership’s romancing
    with revolution. It is true, after the liberation, the first Prime
    Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s declaration of
    Bengali nationalism as one of the pillars of Bangladesh’s ideology
    annoyed the Chakma Marxist leadership. Sheikh Mujib pumped up in his
    Bengali prejudice said, “Forget your ethnicity, be Bengali.” Larma
    genuinely declared that they could be Bangladeshis not Bengalis.
    Manobendra Larma, a radical and romantic Chakma himself (later on
    killed by a fellow Chakma,) reacting to Mujib’s comment quickly
    changed the side of Mujib, formed Parbotto Chattgram Jnohanhiti
    Samity and its armed wing Gono Mukto Fouz (popularly known as Shanti
    Bahini.) He also sought Indian help and fought against Bangladesh to
    liberate Chittagong Hill Tracts. However, after Mujib’s fall,
    President Zia’s declaration of Bangladeshi’s nationalism and the
    equal citizenship privileges to the tribals didn’t satisfy the
    radical leadeship to come to terms with Bengalis. The Chakma Marxist
    leadership’s romancing with revolution continued.

    Radicalized by the RAW: More Steps Backward

    In 1975, after Mujib’ death encouraged by the Indian RAW, the Chakma
    leadership radicalized themselves further and the other tribes so
    much so that extremist elements among them with Indian military
    trainning and reinforcements often crossed the Bangladesh border to
    attack the Bangladesh army and the civilian population. In 1982,
    Priti Kumar Chakma formed Juma Sanghati Samity and as a quick fix
    even asked the tribals to join Chittagong Hill Tracts with the Indian
    union. He crossed the border into India. India fighting its own war
    against its own rebels in the North West first gave him and his
    followers’ assilum. Indian help in material and manpower, propaganda
    suuport is one of the main sources of their ongoing activities. This
    became evident in 1991 when Animesh Dewan, an armed Chakma captured
    by Bangladesh army confessed that India had given 300 G.3 rifles to
    the insurgents during 1989.

    Hindu- Buddhist Connection

    The romanticization of the tribes went a long way through through the
    religious connections. The tribals except the Tripurans follow
    Theraveda Buddhissm; a more Burmese Sri Lankan and Cambodian type
    fundamentalist Buddhist version.The Bikkus see Chittagong Hill Tracts
    as part of Arakan and the Asian Burma. These seemingly nonviolent
    Buddhist temple’s Chakma Bikkus are now in the fore front of Chakma
    leadership. They identify Bengalis as the followers of the
    socalled “violent Islam.” Islamphobia against their fellow Bengali
    citizens became a new ideology of hate among the temple worshipers.
    In the name of “Peace campaign Group”, “Purvanchal Buddhist Bhikkhu
    Sangha,” a good number of these leaders took their shelter in India
    and involved in the incitement of the tribals for anti Bengali

    The daily report of hundreds of murder, rape and destruction of
    property by Bangladesh army is regularly reported to the press by
    these groups surprisingly not from Chittaging Hill Tracts but from
    New Delhi and often without mentioning the source of their
    information. The common themes of these reports indicate that Hill
    Tract’s problem is mainly due to the “Islamic fundamentalist backed
    government of Bangladesh.” It is not that there have not been human
    rights violations in Chittagong Hill Tracts, but these radical Chakma
    intellectuals and Bikku radical elements when lobby on the
    international donor agencies and foreign governments against
    Bangladesh are exaggerated and politically motivated.

    To facilate the tribals lobbying, India helped the PCJSS activists to
    travel to different countries with travel documents. The lobbyists
    contacted Amnesty International, the anti Slavery society, and the
    International Working group on Indigenous Affairs. India helped the
    lobbyists to be present their case at the UN but nothing happened.

    The Tribal Marxist lobbysts have another side to their story.
    Romancing with revolution, the Chakma intellectuals make
    revolutionary statements in international seminars and conferences
    about the great “Chakma” sufferings, sometimes mention the existance
    of a mythical Chakma kingdom that ruled the entire Chittagong Hill
    Tracts and that the tribes are an indigenous people. On some other
    occasions, the lobbyists were seen to face Bangladeshi experts on
    Hill Tracts, when question the authenticity of their indigenous
    claims and the sources of their information they fail to produce. In
    this type of propaganda at home and abroad, these tribals’ leaders
    appear to make their own career out of such exploitation. However,
    the negative effects of such activities are of two fold: (a) they
    radicalize the tribals against the Bengali population; (b) they help
    to cover up the reality of the situation in the Hill Tracts. In this
    direction, the real victims of the process seem to be the
    Bangladeshis; both tribal and the nontribals who should see
    themselves only as Bangladeshi citizens.

    In a parallel situation in Burma, in 1947 the Rohingyas for their
    support to join Pakistan, eversince were seen as suspect and have
    been exterminated and finally in Burma’s 1982 constitution were even
    declared by the Burmese military government as being the non citizens
    of Burma. Fortunately in the democratic and forward looking
    Bangladesh, situations like that didn’t take place. However, it seems
    clear that the largely “opportunist” Chakma leadership who also form
    the majority of the militant Shanti Bahini, in their present pro-
    Indian radical activities take advantage of the liberal democratic
    process in Bangladesh.

    Contemporary Developments in Identity Formation

    (a) As mentioned above, tribals are divided into many groups, with
    differences in religion, culture, and historical backgrounds. They
    are also located in seperate regions of the Hill Tracts. For the
    differences among themselves, in the past it was difficult for them
    to come up with a united front. However, things have changed lately,
    to give a common name to the region, during the 80’s and the 90’s the
    Chakma leadership enthuasiastically named the Chittagong Hill Tracts
    in short as the “CHT.” It seems that that didn’t go far enough.

    Lately, they have been working on another concept and wanted to call
    themselves as the “Jummas” of the “Jummaland.” This new name and
    replacing the “Chittagong Hill Tracts” for “Jumaland” doesn’t seem to
    make sense to the people of Chittagong Hill Tracts as a whole because
    firstly, most Chittagonians and Bengalis of Chittagong Hill Tracts
    that comprise more than 50% of the population are not the Hill
    cultivators or the Jumas. In this endeavour, this initiative tends to
    deny the human rights of the Bengali people of Chittagong Hill
    Tracts. In addition to this, even a large number of the Tribal
    intellectuals now live neither in hill cultivation nor live in the
    hills to be called with this new name. For Chakmas themselves call
    this latter group as the “babus”meaning they live in the urban
    centre’s of Rangamati, Khagrachari, Ramgor, Bandorban, Cox’s Bazarar
    and in Chittagong and Dhaka. Considering these difficulties, the
    traditional name Chittagong Hill Tracts is back again as the only
    acceptable name for most of its people.

    (b) In their drive to to receive international sympathy, the Chakmas
    leadership also identified the tribals in general as
    Bangladesh’s “indigenous people” and aligned themselves in movements
    with the world’s indigenous population. Contrary to the claims
    however, historical records show that none of the tribes of
    Chittagong Hill Tracts are indigenous to the land. Even Chakma
    intellectual’ works like Aditya Dewan, Sugata Chakma’s and works done
    by Western scholars show that most the tribes of Chittagong Hill
    Tracts migrated from Burma through Arakan. Only the Monipuri tribe
    arrived from the Tripura state of India. This is also recorded in
    Chittagong and Chittagong Hill Tracts Gazettiers even with historic
    dates of arrival recorded even by the British.

    The Moghul record shows that the Chakmas had migrated from Arakan
    during the late Sultani period in the 15th century. They first
    settled in southern Chittagong, lived among Chittagonian people and
    learned Chittagonian and slowly migrated northword. Not long ago they
    lived in the plain land of Rangunia of northern Chittagong before
    they finally settled in their present location. Chakma historian’s
    works show that Mogh pirates from Arakan pushed the Chakmas to the
    hills where they are presently settled. There is a Chakma proverb
    that says, “Ghore thakle Moghe Pai, Baire gaele Bagae Khai.” If we
    staye home, Moghs would enslave us, if we go out, tigres will eat us.
    Marmas ( Baare Ma, the great Burma) that live in Banderbon and Feni
    and in Barisal are the decendents of the Arakani Moghs. The other
    wave of Moghs, driven out of Arakan by the Burmese during the British
    period in 1784 settled mainly in Cox’s Bazar area and in Barishal
    district are now known as the Rakines (Rakhine is a newly coined name
    for the Moghs of Arakan, Bangladeshi Moghs also adapted the name).
    Denying the existing historical facts, the radical Chakma leadership
    make claim that the tribes are indigenous people of the Hill Tracts.
    In order to prove their point propaganda materials such as books,
    flyers, with titles as, “Horrors in the Chittagong Hill
    Tracts,” “Indigenous people’s plight,” “Juma Suffering” etc. were
    being distributed internationally. It seems that in their successful
    propaganda, internationally they could project themselves as the
    victims of Bangladesh’s “genocide on the indigenous people.”

    Adoption of Alphabets

    Historically speaking, none of the tribes had any written language
    and didn’t have alphabets. However, their romancing with revolution,
    there has been the other interesting recent developments quietly
    taking place in Chittagong Hill Tracts. To show their growing
    assertiveness as a distinctive people, lately they have adopted new
    alphabets and introduced the letters to their children. In imitation
    of the Indian Tripura alphabets, recently, Tripura alphabets were
    introduced to the Tipura tribal children of Chittagong Hill Tracts.
    The ceremony was conducted in Khagrachari. In addition to this, the
    Chakmas adopted Khamer (Cambodian script) and the Moghs adopted
    Arakani script (Marma alphabet). These are new developments quietly
    initiated mainly by the radical leadership among the tribes.

    Lately, some Chakmas in imitation of the Burmese pronunciation even
    seem to style themselves as “Changma,” not the traditional name
    Chakma. A small tribe of the Hill Tracts known as the Tanchingyas
    about 2000 in number is not behind these developments. Lately, its
    leaders have changed their name from the official Tanchingya (a
    Bengali given name to this tribe when arrived from Arakan, the
    Tanchingyas to now “Tanga.” They generally live in houses built
    on “tall stilts” (Chungs). The name “Tong-Chang-Gya, is similar to
    the Ro-hin- Gya, (Mro-haung-gya) meaning refugees from Mrohaung of
    Arakan. The name Tanchingya, now “Tang- ya,” are the new letters
    borrowed from the Burmese language dictionary.

    The other developments are in the direction of changing the ancient
    Chittagonian Bengali Hill Tracts names into Burmese sounding names;
    Khagrachari is now called by the tribals as “Chengmi,” Rangamati
    for “Gongkabor” and Bandarban for “Arvumi.” These changes have been
    done in imitation of Thai and Burmese names and in the pretext of
    practicing their right to a “limited autonomy.”

    The name of places in remote Chittagong Hill Tracts such as Bor kol =
    Borkol, Ghagra Chori =Khagrachori, Ranga mati= Rangamati, Bandor
    bon=Bandarbon, Ram gor= Ramgor, Theker (difficult) Pahar (mountain),
    Dum Dummia Bazar etc in the remote areas of Chittagong Hill Tracts
    are neither Arakani, nor Burmese nor even Cambodian names. These are
    Bengali names given by Bengali people that lived in the Hill Tracts
    before the tribes arrived. Historical records show that Bengali
    people have been in Chittagong Hill Tracts for over 4,000 years.

    In their outward looking identity formation, the above trend of
    Changing Bengali names shows that the tribals are depriving its
    native Chittagonians their rights and they are neither integrating
    nor assimilating as Bangladeshis. They seem to be imitating the
    culture of the countries from where their ancestors were driven out
    centuries ago. Analysts claim that this trend could be a result of
    extremists among the tribals who detaste anything “Bengali”
    or “Muslim.”

    While the above analysis shows the Chakma leadership’s with its less
    than 250 thousand Chakma population keeps romancing with revolution,
    several questions in the academia as well as in the media surface

    (1) Questions abound about how the tribals could be indigenous when
    at the same time their own history shows that they had migrated from
    Arakan of Burma through southern Chittagong as late as during the
    British period. Historical facts show that Bengalis lived in
    Chittagong Hill Tracts long before the tribals settled in the
    region. “The evidence of paleolithic civilization in Bangladesh
    region (shows)… stone implement in Rangamati and a hand axe in the
    hilly tip of Feni district. They are likely to be 10,000 to 15,000
    years old. New stone age in the region lasted from 3,000 B C to 1,500
    B C. Neolithic tools comparable to Assam group were found at
    Sitakunda in Chittagong.

    The Bengali population generally question, historically, if their
    ancestors of the tribals were the settlers then why do they have to
    mislead the uninformed people both locally and internationally? It is
    true; in the absence of enough research works on the tribal’s
    international agencies are accepting the tribal’s fictious indigenous
    claim as being true. The misrepresentation in the process helps
    deprive the human rights of the Chittagonian Bengalis in their rights
    to own land.

    (2) There are also the questions that the tribes are only less than
    half a million in number, presently live among another more than half
    a million Bengalis in Chittagong Hill Tracts. The total Bengali
    population is150 million in the low lands. With such a small tribal
    population size of less than 1% of Bangladesh’s total population
    size, how could they realisticallt become independent. In that
    scenerio, some estimate that if it is not a pure case of Chakm
    leader’s old fashioned Marxist romance of class struggle between the
    Benglis vs. the tribals, and India playing its own geopolitical card
    against Bangladesh for its own interest, and the Arakani xenophobic
    Moghs fraternity with the tribals in the kiangs to misled tribals, it
    got to be surely a game the leadership is playing to help develop
    mistrust among the tribal and Bengali Bangladeshis.

    (3) The other questions asked are about the adoption of alphabets
    that, when the population size of different tribal groups are as low
    as even few thousands, if it is not a matter of romancing for
    independence, why the tribal leadership have to introduce the
    racially origin outside Bangladesh alphabets and introduce it to
    their children by some NGO called the Zabarang Kalayan Samit etc.
    Bangladesh government is aware of these changes. Realistically
    speaking; children of tribes of such small numbers should be learning
    the important languages of the country to get better jobs for
    survival, than fight a revolution with a people of 144 million
    strong. Contrary to this trend in Bangladesh, in Burma, minorities
    not only learn the main language Burmese to get jobs, and to blend
    in, they keep a Burmese names as well. In Burma, the Rohingya Muslims
    for example are required to carry ID cards and voluntarily keep a
    Burmese Buddhist name. In Mizooram of the “democratic” India, Mizoos
    require to carry permit to move from one place to another.
    Fortunately, that is not required as a norm in the democratic
    Bangladesh. Under the circumstances, in comparison, the democratic
    government of Bangladesh shows its reasonable tradition of tolerance.

    (4) The other questions asked repeatedly are that realistically how
    is it possible for the Chakmas leadership with an insignificant
    tribal population size of half a million, vastly different from each
    other calling Chittagong Hill Tracts as the Jummaland to become
    independent when in contrast, the huge geographical areas across the
    border in India such as Assam, Tripura, Mizooram, and in the Western
    India, Punjab and Kashmir etc, and in Burma, Shan territory, Chin,
    Kachine etc. where vast number of homogeneous people live failed to
    become independent. Compared to those, it seems Chakma’s case shows a
    case of pure romanticism by its opportunist leadership and a self
    defeatist movement that can only create suffering through mutual

    (5) The net outcome of Chakma leadership and its impact seems to have
    helped develop mistrust among Bangladeshis. Under the circumstances,
    people wonder how even the arrangement of a complete tribal autonomy
    would work. This is because, both Bengalis and the tribals live in
    mutually exclusive areas, autonomy for tribals only will be unjust
    for the Bengali population. To solve similar problems of unrest, in
    Indian Kashmir and in Assam, and also in Mizooram, Indian government
    built cantonments near each tribal settlement called “ideal village”
    where movement of people are tightly controlled. To deal with the
    radical elements in those provinces, India resort to population
    resettlement in troubled areas. It seems that the present trend in
    Chakma leadership’s excessive romanticization and armed struggle and
    anti Bangladesh campaign at home and abroad only complicated the

    Sucessive Bangladesh governments have been trying to accommodate the
    tribal leadership by giving them limited tribal autonomy. The recent
    goodwill gesture from the care-taker government in its withdrawl of
    24 temporary army camps are also steps in right direction. However,
    such gestures should have reciprocal in removing the armed Buddhist
    monks from kiangs, places of religious devotion.

    Bernier once said “Bangladesh has a hundred gates open for entrance
    but not one for departure” In this land, historically “Chakmas and
    others have been given shelter as refugees by Bengalis out of
    humanitarian concern over the generations.” The above trend of Chakma
    leadership’s anti Bangladesh campaign, seeking foreign help in
    terrorism and creating trouble in the internal matters of Bangladesh,
    shows strong signs of tribal leadership crisis.

    While many Chakma leaders still remained disillusioned, but lately
    many Chakma and other tribal leaders began to come to senses and
    question whether the tribal groups should follow the “romancing with
    revolution” approach by certain Chakma leadership when it has proven
    itself “unrealistic,” “backward looking,” and “violent.” These
    extremist Chakmas with Indian guns even didn’t dare to “kill their
    own leaders,” and failed to bring a lasting compromise among
    themselves as well with Bengalis.

    The common indicator for the crisis in tribal leadership seems to
    indicate the state of the backward-looking Chakma leadership at home
    and in abroad as well as mentioned above the presence of an
    unrealistic Marxist leadership that remained far behind reality with
    the pace of Bangladesh’s overall development. It is imperative that
    Chakma leadership should come to its senses and instead of working as
    the tool of anti- Bangladesh foreign forces and creating a divide
    between the Bengalis and the tribals; should make efforts to receive
    the benefits of the equal citizenship of Bangladesh that they
    rightfully deserve.

    It is true that the integrity of Bangladesh is vital for Bangladesh’s
    survival. History tells us that, in the past a lapse during the late
    Sultani period and early Sher Shah Sur dynasty led Chittagong and the
    lower Bengal to be occupied by Mogh and Portuguese pirates resulting
    in enslavement of the masses. The suffering continued until the
    Moghul conquest of Chittagong.

    Realistically then, for Bangladesh’s prosperity and for the common
    good, it is important and beneficial for all Bangladeshis (tribal and
    the nontribal alike) should work together than the extremist Chakma’s
    Islamophobic and xenophobic incitement against the Bengalis in
    Chittagong Hill Tracts.

    For the sake of establishing the rule of law, Bangladesh government
    had the record of hanging the IslamicBangla Bhai terrorists. For the
    sake of Bangladesh’s integrity, Bangladesh army and the police should
    be present in every corner of Bangladesh including in the Hill
    Tracts. Considering the mistrust already created by the Chakma
    leadership, some settlements in remote border areas of the Hill
    Tracts especially with Bangladesh’s border with Burma and India
    should be done to check both the armed militacy on the part of the
    terrorists of all kinds that make profits from transborder traffiking.

    The Chakma leadership believe that historically they are a martial
    race.(8) But in a democratic society where the state demands its
    citizens to follow the rule of law, the old fashioned Chakma
    leadership’s romantic method of solving problems through violence
    shouldn’t be the norm. For mutual benefit of the tribal and nontribal
    Bangladeshis, it is important that the Chakma tribal leaders should
    be realistic in its goals and help the other tribal and non tribal
    citizens to enjoy their equal citizenship rights. Buddha Ratana
    Bhikkhu from Hill Tracts says, in the Hill Tracts, presently “local
    NGOs, about 40 in number have been working in the field of education,
    capacity building, health & nutrition, water and sanitation,
    community empowerment, advocacy and lobby, micro-credit and
    indigenous rights etc. through partnerships with international,
    national and regional donors, and UN bodies.” The above initiatives
    seem to be encouraging. But external led initiatives especially by
    NGOs should be carefully regulated by the government of Bangladesh.

    Aditya Kumar Dewan, Class and Ethnicity in the Hills of Bangladesh
    (Montreal, Canada: An Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, McGill
    University, 1990).

    Sugata Chakma: The Tribes and Culture of Chittagong Hill Tracts:
    (Rangamati: 1993.)

    Joinal Abedin, Tribal Settlers of Chittagong Hill Tracts. NFB,
    December 08 2006; For a definition of aboriginal see OXFORD Advanced
    Learner’s Dictionary’ ‘aboriginal’ refers to “a member of race of
    people who are the original people living in a country, especially in
    Australia/Canada.” (Sixth Edition, Edited by Salley Wehmeier: OXFORD
    University Press: 2001-2003).

    ROOTS: BANGLADESH TOWARDS 21ST CENTURY, published by the Ministry of
    Information, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

    During the late 70’s I worked in a project initiated by R. I.
    Chowdhury, Tribal Leadership and Political Integration: A Case
    Study of Chakma and Mong of Chittagong Hill Tracts (Chittagong:
    University of Chittagong, 1979). During the liberation war, on my way
    to the Mizooram of India, I had walked on foot with my fellow
    travellers and lived among the tribals of Chittagong Hill Tracts.

    Buddha Ratana Bhikkhu.Indigenous people are struggling for
    recognition and development activities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts
    (CHT) region,
    Bangladesh. NFB, December 06 2006 Prajnalankar Bhikkhu writes from
    India from the following address:

    Peace Campaign Group (PCG)
    RZ-I-91/211, West Sagarpur, New Delhi-110046, India
    Tel: + 91-11-2 539 8383
    Telefax: + 91-11-2 539 4277
    E-mail: pcgoffice@…, pcgonline@…

    The News Today; also in the NFB, “Bid to fuel fresh unrest in CHT:
    The terrorists have chosen religious sentiment as the latest weapon,”
    May 15 2008

    S.P. Talukder. The Chakmas: Life and Struggle. (New Delhi: Gian
    Publishers, 1988) p. 11-16.
    Abid Bahar

  4. ”The British government brought the Nepalese Gurkhas and the warriors of Assam Rifles to curb these disturbing tribal elements. Later the Gurkha-originated Ahomias stayed and settled in the hilly region”
    The writer did not mentioned about the Gurkhas. But it is true that 2nd Gurkha Rifle under the command of Col.Mc pherson came in this area first. Is there is any record about the Assam Rifle as mentioned by the writer? So far I know the Assamees and other ethnic soldiers were also recruited in gurkha regiment by the British.The assamees soldiers came here as soldiers of gurkha regiment. Ref.A fly on the T.H.Lewin and Gurkha wikipedia,History,4th para.

  5. Several things contributed to the Chittagong Hill Tribes’s problems:
    (1) The prominant one is about the Kaptai dam, built during Pakistan period. Reacting to this the tribals legitimately showed concerns but enthusiast foreign inspiration especially from Juric Univesity, Swizerland and some sympathizers from UK helped the Chakma tribal leadership to hijak the issue in favor of the more marxist elements of the Chakma groups to its present histaria
    The Chakma leadership romantacized the problem and took the issue as a matter of class struggle and recommended to its tribal followers (a)to fight for the independence of Chittagong Hill Tracts (b) The Hill Tracts lived by 50% tribals and 45%Bengalis and others. Awami League by Hasina is going against the Bengalis in favor of her tribal voting constituency. On top of this lack of reality check, surprisingly written records show (c)the tribes are not the aboriginals of Chittagong Hill Tracts. Their ancestors repeatedly took shelter in Chittagong Hill Tracts to escape Burmease invasion of Arakan. The last one, the Rakhines took shelter in 1784. (d)The total Tribal population is even less than a million.
    (2)Rmanticizing with the independence idea created fear among Bangladeshi people.
    Further romanticizing continues today by almost every tribal groups, even small tribes as the Tanchangyas (2000 families) to change their name to Tanga (Burmese), and adapt Burmese script as their written language.
    (3)India took advantage of the alienation and helped arming the tribals.
    (4) To its effect now there is the loss of trust between Bengalis and the Tribals.

    Tribals instead of romancing with the wrong idea of Marxism, should learn the majority language and compete with Bengalis and enjoy the freedom given to everybody as being Bangladeshis. Such freedom is missing in the military ruled Burma and in the so-called secular Indian north East where groups like Mizoos, Asamese demanding independence are being massacred by droping bombs from the sky.
    It is too bad that the Chakma marxist leadership made more steps backward for all the tribes to now make the tribals in general suffer.

    See my detail article:
    Abid Bahar, Issues of Dispute and Contemporary Problems in Chittagong Hill Tracts,

  6. Book Review : ‘The Chittagong Hill Tracts: A Victim of Indian Intervention’

    A K Zaman

    Zainal Abedin in his informative and research-based book has reflected the problem of insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh from multi-dimensional points of view. A number of books on CHT issue are available in the realm of publication, but this book makes a distinctive and analytical approach to rethink about the long-term desire and interest of some vested quarters at home and abroad.

    The writer has highlighted all the issues relating to CHT, geo-political importance and economic potentials of CHT in this region, the origin of migrated tribals and settlers in CHT. The premise narrated in the book are :

    # CHT is a part and parcel of Bangladesh from time immemorial and the tribal people migrated to CHT from adjoining areas of India and Myanmar .

    # The Bengalis have been the original inhabitants in CHT even before British rule in this region .

    # India plotted conspiracy to destabilize and hinder economic upliftment of Bangladesh by floating guerrilla war in CHT instigating the tribal secessionists.

    # Only a section of Chakma tribals is involved with the insurgency and majority of resident tribals are against this secessionist group.

    # During Pakistan rule tribal community never claimed regional autonomy of CHT.

    # The peace treaty is suicidal and detrimental to the interest of the country.

    # The withdrawal of army from CHT area will give the secessionists a opportunity for strengthening their position.

    The writer has elaborately ventilated root causes of the crisis of CHT, but he exerted little on the measures to resolve the problem. However, this book is undoubtedly a research-oriented document which contain valuable information about CHT. It may be mentioned that even the educated section of our country is quite ignorant of prolonged crisis of CHT and sinister design of India behind it. This book will be a great help to create awareness of the people in home and abroad about the deep conspiracy of India and its stooges against Bangladesh. The writer has categorically illustrated that the tribals of different communities living in CHT area are neither original dwellers nor aborigines as they try to claim. From historical and anthropological perspective he proved that they migrated from adjoining areas of China, Myanmar and India , particularly from her North-Eastern region. Their physical stature, dialect, life-style and cultural identity indicate that they are outsiders who settled in CHT. History also reflects that the Chakma headmen were under the control of the Muslim rulers. But the tribals particularly the Chakmas intentionally try to misinterpret the concept ‘aborigines’ to draw sympathetic attention from native and overseas communities to achieve their ill interest. It may be mentioned here that a section of electronic and print media, intellectuals, journalists and politicians also echo the same sentiment and express solidarity with the tribal leaders to gain narrow political advantage.

    The writer has rightly pointed out the common interest and malicious anti-army propaganda made by Jana Sanghati Samity (JSS) and India. Both the parties are also in favour of total implementation of so-called peace accord. They demand withdrawal of army from CHT region to ensure their hidden agenda. Besides, Indian newsmen, media and intellectuals also share identical views in this regard. But it is very mysterious that India herself has not yet signed similar agreements with the insurgent groups of North-East or Kashmir. India is unabatedly committing large-scale atrocities and violence and enacted various draconian laws like TADA, Armed Forces Special Power Act, POTA etc to validate their heinous activities in insurgency-ridden areas for a long time. Besides, India has not withdrawn its troops and other security agencies from the concerned troubled areas. But India prescribes totally opposite formula for Bangladesh.

    The writer has indicated that Indian North-East region bordering CHT is geo-politically and strategically very important and volatile. Besides, this region is also rich in natural and mineral resources. In fact, CHT area is also considered as sensitive and strategically significant from Indian defence and security point of view. The writer truly reflected the intervention and involvement of India in order to destabilize the CHT region to help her to subdue insurgency in one hand and to get direct access to North-East region. On the other hand this will also enable her to contain China.

    The writer has pin-pointed that India uses the Chakma insurgents to keep constant pressure on Bangladesh and weaken it slowly and swallow it finally. He has precisely asserted that by doing this India will be able to intrude its own citizens through ‘push-in’ in CHT area from its North-East region. The writer has cautioned about the pernicious tendency of India. He showed arguments that where India herself has been ruthlessly suppressing and torturing the innocent tribal people of North-East and Kashmir with a view to occupying their lands. The writer has also proved that the implicit presence of India trained insurgents in CHT area will simultaneously jeopardize the interest of the Bengalis as well as the tribals of CHT.

    As a result, India will be able to project Bangladesh as a violator of human rights and international pressure will increase which will help India to dominate over Bangladesh. The writer in his book projected India ‘s presence of army in different insurgency-prone areas where human rights violation is rampant and atrocities committed by India go beyond description. India makes tall talks and shed crocodiles’ tears about human rights, democracy of other countries but such type of norms are not followed by India herself. It may be mentioned that military crackdown on unarmed minority and civilians in North-East India and Kashmir is not properly reflected in Indian media.

    The writer has also clearly reflected the impracticability, non-transparency, and duplicity of various clauses of the peace treaty which needs to be reviewed and amended for greater national interest. Some clauses incorporated in the treaties are directly against the majority people of the land and contradicts the basic premise of the constitution.

    ‘The Chittagong Hill Tracts: A Victim of Indian Intervention’
    By Mohammad Zainal Abedin
    Published by Eastern Publications
    16 Silvester House,
    London EI 2JD
    February 2003
    ISBN 984-32-0513-2
    Pages: 238

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