CHT leaders push for ‘indigenous’ identity
Twenty years after the signing of the Parbattya Chattagram Peace Accord, a section of local political party leaders in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are busy trying to establish their identity as ‘indigenous people’ instead of devoting themselves to the full implementation of the peace treaty. To establish their rights as ‘indigenous people’, some of the local political parties—Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS), PCJSS (reformist) and the United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF)—want the government to sign the ILO Convention on Indigenous and Tribal peoples, 1989 (No.169), known as ILO C-169.
But the people and leaders of other ethnic minority communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, excluding the Chakmas, want development and full implementation of all the 72 points of the Parbattya Chattagram Peace Accord, signed by the government and the PCJSS in 1997.
UPDF spokesman Niran Chakma said the government should sign the ILO C-169 to honour the United Nations (UN) steps that would help establish the rights of the hill people.
UPDF leaders said they do not want development in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, but the rights of the indigenous people. “The government is trying to implement some development projects here (CHT), such as establishing educational institutions and creating tourism spots and gardens, by evicting the hill people. We don’t this type of development,” said Niran Chakma. He also said that the government has been continuing its repression of the hill people. When contacted, PCJSS spokesman Sajib Chakma told this correspondent that they only want to establish their rights as indigenous people. “It’s a wrong notion that the Chittagong Hill Tracts will become an ‘independent state’ if the government signs the ILO C-169,” he added.
But the secretary to the Ministry of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs, Naba Bikrom Kishore Tripura, told The Independent that ‘indigenous’ or ‘ethnic minority’ is not the issue.
According to him, local people want development, but a certain section are still clamouring for ‘indigenous identity’. “We have taken up many development projects in the hills to improve the lives of the locals,” he said.
“We are trying to implement the peace treaty fully. Forty-eight out of a total of 72 points contained in the peace treaty have already been implemented. Another 15 points have been partly implemented, while the remaining nine are undergoing implementation,” he added.
When asked about the government’s stand on the C-169, Naba Bikrom Kishore Tripura said it is a matter for the government to decide. “I don’t think ‘indigenous rights’ will be established by the signing of the ILO C-169,” he added.
A leader of the Murong community, Chin Aung Mru, said they do not believe in ‘indigenous rights’ and only want development, peace and harmony among the communities in the hills. “We want peace. It is possible only through the implementation of the peace accord and by resolving land disputes as soon as possible,” he added.
“We may belong to ethnic communities by birth, but we are Bangladeshi citizens,” he said.
“The three hill districts have huge potential for tourism and various plantation businesses. The government and local community leaders should welcome investors to establish various industries in these areas,” he noted.
Kang Jari Chowdhury, chairman of Khagrachari district, said: “It is not very important whether we are indigenous or not. We are Bangladeshis first and we want peace.”
“Some tribal leaders, especially from the Chakma community, who have hundreds acres of land, are trying to safeguard their assets and pursuing their personal agenda by raising inconsequential issues to derail the implementation of the peace accord,” added Kang Jari Chowdhury, who is also a leader of the Marma community.
Jatindra Lal Tripura, MP and chairman of the Task Force for Repatriation and Rehabilitation of Tribal Refugees Returned from India and Identification and Rehabilitation of Internally Displaced People, also asserted that they are Bangladeshis first but an ethnic minority by birth.
According to the CHT Rules Act, 1900, people who migrated from Burma, Arakan, Assam, Tibet and Tripura, as well as the Bengalis of adjacent districts who settled in the hills, are recognised as natives. The Chittagong Hill Tracts, spread over 5,093 square miles, covers Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban districts. The region is flanked by two international borders—on the southeast by Myanmar, and on the north by India. The region is heavily populated by Jumma and other tribes, including the Chakmas, Marmas, Garos, Mizos and Tripuras.
According to local residents, a group of Chakmas have taken the initiative to form ‘Chakma Land’ by forming regional parties like the Parbattya Janasamiti Samiti.
In 1973, the Shanti Bahini, the armed wing of Jana Shanghati Samiti, had hatched a plan to establish a ‘Chamatri’ state (Chakma, Marma, Tripura state). The plan to establish a ‘Chamatri’ state was later shelved in the face of extreme opposition in the 1980s.
Later, a movement was launched to establish ‘Jhumma Land’, which has still not been resolved. At present, people of the CHT constitute approximately 0.5 per cent of the country’s total population. The population density is about 113 persons per square kilometre, against 1,147 persons per square kilometre of the country. There are 13 ethnic minorities in the CHT with Chakmas, constituting 24.72 per cent of their total population.