In response to Maliha Mohsin’s “A Bangali’s trip to the CHT”

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Parvedge Haider:

Reference: Maliha Mohsin’s Article “A Bangali’s Trip to the CHT” https://www.thedailystar.net/star-weekend/news/bangalis-trip-the-cht-1751053

The right of expression is definitely a basic need for the human being. In the present context of the world there are multiple options to express someone’s opinion. Social media is one of those. But with the inclusion of different options, the previous ones didn’t lose its importance specially the newspapers. Among all the newspapers some of those get attention of the people of different status; The Daily Star is one of those. Something has been published in The Daily Star, it is expected, that news or article is not biased. In the social media, many people are expressing their views, even sometimes without understanding much about the subject but it would happen in the case of Daily Star, which really hurts. Recently an article has been published on Chattogram Hill Tracts(CHT) issues by someone named Maliha Mohsin, “A Bengali’s trip to the CHT”. She has expressed on various issues of CHT from her point of view and she has got all the right to do that. However, if this article would be published in any of the social media blogs, then probably I would not write on this but as this has been published in Daily Star, I thought I should make some comment on this so that people start rethinking of taking advantage to the ‘right of expression’ without much of study on the subject.

At the very outset let me clear my stand in a broad head. Maliha Mohsin termed the ethnic communities living in CHT as “Their” but I consider each and every people wherever they stay in our country are “Ours”. CHT is an integral part of Bangladesh. The whole nation is known as Bangladeshi. The ethnic community people staying in CHT are also Bangladeshi; they use National ID cards and Bangladeshi passports. So, no way there should be any discrimination. Earlier the ethnic community people used to be termed as ‘Upajati’. There is no complicacy in it. Due to tough terrain, the ethnic community people living in CHT were away from the modern amenities. Government wanted development of all those ethnic community people. They are privileged with special quota. So to demarcate those ethnic community people for giving extra privilege, they used to be termed as ‘Upajati’ and this term was gladly acceptable to all ethnic community leaders. Later on, Government has decided to term those community people as ‘ Khudro O Nree Goshthi’ as the very word ‘Upajati’ started creating some misconception and unhealthy discussion among the intellectuals. But in no way, none of the ethnic community people should be termed as ‘Indigenous'(Aadibashi) without credible references. This issue is absolutely clear and well discussed. Government of Bangladesh (GOB) has clearly instructed for not to use the very word ‘Aadibashi’ (Indigenous) in any of the occasions or correspondence. It is an offense, if someone does so. Maliha Mohsin used this word, ‘Indigenous ‘ in many places of her article.

According to Maliha Mohsin, CHT has been militarized; Yes, there are presence of more military in CHT in comparison to other parts of Bangladesh and it is for the security of the general people staying in CHT. We need to remember that army was deployed in CHT in the mid 70’s of previous century to protect the general people from the atrocities of the then Santi Bahini (SB). Though a peace accord was signed between the GOB and Parbattya Chattogram Jano Shanghoti Samiti (PCJSS) in 1997, still there are presences of armed groups backed by the tribal regional parties. All four tribal regional parties are maintaining armed groups. The armed group members of different tribal regional parties use uniform and modern automatic weapons. There is hardly any popular support of these armed groups. The leaders of all four tribal regional parties are maintaining the armed groups for their personal gain only. The activists, who all somehow could escape, explained their terrible experience during their stay in those armed groups. There are many examples; I am just attaching two of those (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vryXO71JLCQ&t=2s),(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbxKBvL_Paw&t=329s). According to them, there is nothing called ideological move in last two decades. The leaders are busy with their personal interest only. Even to fulfill their evil desire, they got hold of the responsibilities of village level Karbaris. So the general tribal people and village level headman and Karbaris do not really like them but they are accepting them due to fear of life. The overall situation demands the presence if army otherwise the general people will be highly affected. Moreover, normally the cantonments and army camps have been established in the Government allotted ‘Khash’ lands. The general people’s land has never been grabbed.

There is huge tourism potentiality in CHT due to its natural beauty. In maximum cases, the army took initiative to explore the tourist spots in the remote places. To create example and attract the investors, army established one or two resorts as a pioneer in those remote places, then the general businessmen were encouraged to build up their own resorts. According to Maliha Mohsin, the ownership of those resorts belongs to army or the Bengalees; actually it is a fabricated information. She mentioned the example of Sajek. In Sajek, army established two resorts only as a pioneer, just to encourage the general people about the potentiality of it. Those resorts were established in the Government allotted lands; none of the general people are affected there. But following the path of army, the general tribal people established more than forty resorts and earning a lot of money. The life styles of those people have been changed. Well, there are few Bengalees in Sajek as a co-ownership of some of the resorts. These Bengalee people have been brought by their local tribal friends. In the connection of Sajek, there is enormous development in the other sectors like transportation, hotel business at Khagrachari and food supply business, etc. have been developed. The local people are enjoying all these developments.

The expression and opinion on certain issues demand a detailed study on the subject itself. By listening one sided opinion of some of the interested corner and writing article basing on that, creates the study a biased one. The general tribal people staying in the remote villages want the security forces specially the presence of army beside them. People are getting frustrated by paying huge amount of taxes to all four tribal regional parties. Once the reality is such, if some interested tribal leaders talk high about their so called ideology, people will not accept it from their heart. These leaders are making money by utilizing the banner of their party. The truth is getting clearer day by day. The activists who are working for a tribal regional party earns 300(less than four USD) taka for each month if he is a single; however, if he is married, he gets 2600 taka. The present situation is such that maximum of the activists are looking for the opportunities to escape and start leading a normal life in Dhaka or Chattogram.

The general tribal people find the government agencies specially the army beside them during their crisis; may it be a landslide or protecting them from the atrocities of armed groups or helicopter evacuation during emergency medical needs or addressing the epidemic situation in the remote places or ensuring basic education in the non-passable places.

The present development state in CHT has been criticized by Maliha Mohsin in her article. In the name of upholding ethnic cultural heritage, the tribal leaders also want the same. They talk against road infrastructure development, establishment of medical college and universities etc. But could the ethnic tribal leaders deprive them and their next generations away from the higher educations? The predecessors and the successors of Chakma circles studied in Chattogram, Dhaka, Kolkata, U.S. and different other European countries. The circle chiefs never wanted their people of similar ethnicities should get higher educations. The present circle chief’s father Mr. Tridiv Roy was against the establishment of Rangamati College in 1966 and in the recent years Mr. Santu Larma was against the establishment of the medical college in Rangamati, but the prudent action of Government in both the time, the evil desire of those tribal leaders were not achieved. Despite of enormous obstructions of the tribal leaders’ side, Government’s various actions in all the times made a good number of general tribal people of different ethnicity reasonably educated. Some of them did extremely good. At present there are as many as twenty to twenty five Ph.D. holders in the Chakma community.

CHT is sharing common border with Mizoram and Tripura of Northeast Indian states. In those states, there are presences of the people of different ethnicities. If someone compares with other side of the border with the infrastructural development of CHT, then he will understand the backward situation of CHT, specially the road communication and economic infrastructure state. Despite of various obstructions by the tribal leaders, Government could reach up to Sajek in Rangamati district. Still, at least thirty kilometers are left to reach up to the border towards the north. Government has utilized the army engineering corps to build up the roads in the tough terrain. While doing all the infrastructural developments the government utilized the ‘Khash’ lands. So the allegation of land grabbing while doing infrastructural development is baseless.

The well-discussed issue of upholding the cultural heritage of different ethnicity is a prime concern of GOB. The government as well as different national and international NGOs are working on this aspect. But we need look back to the history as well as current practices of the leaders of different ethnicity; how much serious they were and how much particular they are for upholding their ethnic heritage. Besides this aspect, in many instances some of these leaders created controversy by their various political actions. Few examples might be highlighted here.

  • Chakma Circle Chief Nalinaksha Roy got married with Benita Sen (later known as Benita Roy) not giving priority to their ethnic culture. Benita Roy was born in Calcutta to Barrister Saral Sen and Nirmala Devi Sen. Her father was a leading lawyer in the Bengal High Court in British India. The then Chakma Circle chief did this relation just to elevate their esteem. Probably they thought that getting married with the same community would not be prestigious.
  • Present Chakma Circle chief Barrister Debashish Roy got married an ethnic Rakhine woman, Yan Yan.
  • Former Chakma Circle Chief Mr. Tridiv Roy’s daughter Chandra Kalindi Roy got married to Norwegian lawyer John Bernard Henriksen.
  • The daughter of Nalinaksha Roy Amiti Roy and Moitri Roy, both of them got married with Lt Col Angus Humes, the then District Commissioner, Rangamati. The then Chakma Circle Chief wanted to keep good relation with the then District Commissioner to uphold his status of ‘Circle Chief ’.

Besides those above mentioned information there are many controversial political decisions made by the ethnic tribal leaders, which created misunderstanding and sufferings of the general people. Some of those in broad head are mentioned below:

  • During the time of partition in 1947, some of the Chakma regional political leaders, specially Mr. Sneho Kumar Chakma and his associates opted to remain with India and they physically tried a lot to materialize their stand but it was not acceptable by the then decision makers. But surprisingly it was identified that the then Chakma Circle Chief Mr. Tridiv Roy supported Pakistan Government with loyalty.
  • Tridiv Roy’s loyalty to the Pakistan Government was so much that he did not care about the overall interest of the ethnic tribal people of CHT. He was more concern about his personal interest and eminence. The special autonomy status of the region was changed by the Pakistani government during the 1950s, even though he continued cooperating with the Pakistani Government.
  • The root cause of all the unrest and suffering of the ethnic tribal people in CHT is the construction Kaptai dam. The then Pakistani government built a hydro-electric dam, at Kaptai in the early 1960s, which flooded about 40% of the Chakmas’ available arable land. Surprisingly the Chakmas under the leadership of Mr. Tridiv Roy chose to remain neutral.
  • Tridiv Roy sided with Pakistan in 1971 during the War of Liberation.
  • The conspiracy against Bangladesh was not ended even after the independence. Mr. Tridiv Roy headed a delegation from Pakistan to oppose Bangladesh’s application to join the United Nations.

The chronological development of CHT situation is based on various factors and historical standpoints. These factors are often contradictory to each other. Though the well-deserved words, ‘Ideology’, ‘Culture’, ‘Heritage’, ‘Ethnicity’ etc. should have been prioritized over the other issues, but in the case of CHT, it did not really happen. In maximum cases, the personal interest of the ethnic tribal leaders backed by local and foreign interested corners superseded all those words. To achieve their personal interest, sometimes these interested corners are fabricating the history. The newly raised demand of becoming ‘Adibashi’(indigenous) has come up as soon as these interested corners found some extra facilities granted to the indigenous people by UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) during the General Assembly on 13 September 2007. Out of all four tribal regional parties, Proshit Bikash Khisha’s UPDF demands for autonomy. Bangladeshi citizens with a minimum love for the country cannot accept such move. Sometimes a person gets biased by their associations. Who so ever writes or makes comment of CHT issues, need to study the history, analyze the chronological events and do some interview of different category people living on ground, otherwise people, specially the future generation will be misguided. We need to practice and instill patriotism among every citizen of Bangladesh. The writers, bloggers and the social workers might take initiative beside the Government machineries to uphold sovereignty and the continued development of our beloved motherland.

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