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The Chittagong Hill Tracts Of Bangladesh

By A. K. Zaman

16 October, 2007

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

Leadership 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. Besides an organization of the tribals named United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF) was constituted in 1997 opposing the peace treaty.

By signing treaty Shantu Larma alongwith 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 ffected 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.

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