Friday, April 29, 2011

Quest For Peace In Chittagong Hill Tracts

In the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) violent clashes resulting in deaths occur not too infrequently. News report of 20 April says, tribal hill people launched attack and killed three Bengalis on 17 April at Barapilak area in Khagrachari hill district. Land remains the bone of contention in such incidents, and both sides consider these intermittent clashes as the number one problem of the CHT. A Bengali leader of the Sama-adhikar Andolon, Moniruzzaman, observed that much of the problem could be solved if the lands could be given to respective people adding that the government and the local administration are not doing justice to the Bengalis. In reality, numerous foreign and local advocacy campaigns -- a la agitprop -- through online YouTube video and articles are available but the plights of the mostly destitute Bengali settlers are seldom reported.    It is alarming to learn, as the report quotes a letter dated 28 January 2010 , of a Ministry of CHT Affairs official, expressing concern that some NGOs, foreign news media and some Christian countries behind the shield of the United Nations are trying to form a separate Christian state there with the help of some persons. The letter noted that the UNDP, DANIDA, ADB and other international organizations have been investing crores of dollars and running programmes to empower the tribal people, adding that they are trying to establish the tribal people as indigenous people. Surprisingly, the government did not disclose anything on this disquieting matter.    Bengalis were not unknown in the CHT; historically speaking, the movement of a small number of Bengalis from the plain areas to the hilly terrain began way back in the 17 th century on invitation of the Chakma chief. During the pre- 1971 period certain mainstreaming and modernisation effort made positive impact on their life. Education benefited all in general and the Chakmas in particular; the latter's literacy rate rose to 50 per cent-- more than the national average then.    The seed of the CHT problem was sown in the 1960 s (the idea was conceived in 1906) when the Kaptai hydel project was commissioned devastating the homesteads of thousands of the ethnic people. They received another blow in 1973 from no other person than Sheikh Mujibur Rahman himself asked obviously in good faith the CHT leaders to assimilate themselves with the mainstream polity which was straightaway rejected. Precisely two months after the Victory of Bangladesh as a sovereign nation on the world map from the brutal domination of Pakistan, the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS) was formed with Manabendra Narayan Larma as its chief on February 15 , 1972. Next year the Shanti Bahini (SB) was formed as its armed wing, whose insurgents ambushed a police patrol at Subalong in Rangamati in early 1975 when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was alive. A few months later Larma went underground and crossed over to India. Between 1975 and 1977 the SB developed its military organisation and weaponry. The SB began its low-intensity guerrilla war operations allegedly from bases in Tripura in India. In 1977 , they ambushed a Bangladesh military convoy after which defence system increased in the CHT.    There is no gainsaying that the present government, which had signed the CHT Peace Accord, 1997 , did not implement it though it was in power until 2000 ; it is hoped that in its current term the Awami League government will put the accord into operation sooner than later. However, in May 22 , 2009 , the parliamentary standing committee on CHT Affairs at its first meeting in Bandarban signalled a change in approach to the carrying out of CHT peace accord.    Together with the Chakma, Marma, Murong, Tanchangya, Bhowm, Tripura, Lushai, Khumi, Kukis, Mizos etc. there are some 14 ethnic people in Bangladesh who add colour to the demographic mosaic of this country. In many respects the ethnic people need the cooperation of the mainstream Bengalis for their socio-economic advancement. And to realise that golden dream the stepping stone shall have to be peace and harmony among all the citizens on the basis of equitable dispensation of justice. Let humane consideration, and above all, non- violence be the guiding star of the hill people - both ethnic and Bengali settlers.