‘Ever since I was born, I have had to experience life as a refugee.’
In the recent clash between Bangalee settlers and indigenous people over land disputes, she has lost all her belongings as Bangalee settlers ser her house and shop on fire in front of the law enforcers.
She is roaming around the hill for past 28 years in search for a safe heaven. But still she failed to find a place that she could call home. Now Nirupa Chakma has decided to fight back she said “If I have to die, I should die here and if I have to survive, I should survive here”
The question of nationhood is still a matter of great debate among the social scientists. A common language, a common culture and heritage and a sense of belonging to a particular region at least in someway help to crystallize the idea of nation among the people living within that territory. The sense of nationhood also incorporates the economic issues and repression and oppressions. This sense of insecurity creates a national hero, either in the mythical form or forms a leader from those repressed. Under his mythical command or direct command, a nation is born.
When we try to comprehend the situation of the people of Chittagong Hill Tracks, we often forget that almost from the remarkably similar historical and political reality, our own liberation movement started against the Pakistani colinial oppression. We forget that our own sense of nationalism was the aftermath of our reaction against the politico-cultural aggression of Pakistan as regards to the question of our rights over language and culture. The fact that 21st February is recognized and celebrated as the International Language gives testimony to the struggle to keep the history and heritage of the culture of the people of a particular geography and particular language. Hence, United Nations celebrates this particular day to urge all to stand beside the people who fight to retain their culture, their own history and language.
Cultrual aggression or Institutional aggresion is not the essence of 21st February. The way we are treating the indigeneous people at the hills, almost in the similar fashion, almost throught the similar resistance, we had the great language and cultural movements.
We must bring about a resolution regarding this boorish aggression on the Hill Tracks based on economic consideration. Basically the conflict between the Bangalee Settlers and the Hill’s indigenous people is that of the economic control and dominance.
On December 2, 1997, the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord was signed between Jana Samhati Samity (JSS) and the Government of Bangladesh after years of peace talks and ended two decades of civil war. The Peace Accord recognizes CHT as a “tribal inhabited” region, its traditional governance system and the role of its chiefs, and it provides building blocks for indigenous autonomy.
On that peace accord, in Rehabilitation, general amnesty and other issues it was stated :
• An agreement was signed between the government and the tribal refugee leaders on March 9, 1997 at Agartala of Tripura State on bringing back the tribal refugees staying in the state of Tripura. Under this agreement, repatriation of tribal refugees began on March 28, 1997. This process will continue and the leaders of the PCJSS will extend all possible co-operation in this regard. The internal refugees of the three hill districts will be rehabilitated through their proper identification by a task force.
• The land record and right of possession of the tribal people will be ascertained after finalisation of the ownership of land of the tribal people. And to achieve this end, the government will start land survey in Chittagong Hill Tracts and resolve all disputes relating to land through proper scrutiny and verification in consultation with the regional councils to be formed under this agreement. These steps will be taken soon after signing and implementation of this agreement between the government and the PCJSS and rehabilitation of the tribal refugees and internal tribal refugees.
• The government will ensure leasing two acres of land in the respective locality subject to availability of land of the landless tribals or the tribals having less than two acres of land per family. However, grove-land can be allotted in case of non-availability of necessary lands.
Now nearly 13 years have passed since this peace accord was signed but yet government did not form any land commission to resolve land disputes between settlers and indigenous people. Any political movement in this area or any armed struggle in this locality is the struggle for economic independence and the fight is over the control of resources of the hills. Any long lasting peace plan should include these agendas in it.
Kaptai hydroelectric project once uprooted them (the indigenous people from their lands at the area where Kaptai hydroelectric was built) and they had to settle themselves in different portions in CHT, their traditional harmonious way of living was disrupted by the plain-landers.
Government and other agencies have set up development projects in this particular area to improve their quality of life. These development projects should have incorporate the affected people and also respect their cultural integrity and their traditions. Recent findings in rural development states any long lasting development is sustainable only if modern technological advancement is blended smoothly in the traditional life style of those people to whom it is actually meant for.
Listen to those voices, they are also son of our soil, they may live outside this alluvial plain but the fact is we all share the same nationality, we are the citizens of Bangladesh and our constitution gave them equal right of prosperity.
They have their own culture and heritage and presence of settlers adversely affected their life style, their traditional economic processes are interrupted by our settlers. Their traditional agriculture-based-society and norms are disrupted by us. Property right is one of the main sources of dissatisfaction in CHT and this discord can not be smothered by the presence of militaries in hill. For the sake of good governance we have to introduce new set of economic policies that suit them best.
It is true that over the past 39 years government had set up quotas for these indigenous people but even though State failed to recognize them as member of a particular society, in accordance with the spirit of 21st February we have to accept them and their heritage. We can set up regional educational system where they can teach their children in their mother tongue, the right for which we fought and gave lives in 1952’s 21st February.
We must recognize their culture, heritage, tradition if long-term peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracks is our objective. We must be ready to accept without any interference in their way of life and in their lives. If the spirit of 21st February means anything, we have to embrace the cultural divergence that exists between them and us.