Inevitability of Empowering the Bangalees in CHT

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Parvedge Haider:

The maximum Bangalee people living in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are undergoing difficult day to day life, specially the people staying in the cluster villages. Due to the scarcity of basic amenities and facilities in the cluster villages, the future of next Bangalee generation is really obscure. Though it appears that the Bangalees are controlling various business in CHT, the economic and living condition of mass people are very poor. The additional secretary of CHT ministry Mr. Sugoto Chakma said that the poverty rate in CHT is above 48%, whereas this rate for the whole country is below 22%. The extreme poverty level rate in CHT is around 24% but this rate for the whole country is below 12%. The Bangalees staying in various cluster villages are the worst sufferer within that counted poverty state.  In maximum cases it is happening due to lack of equal rights as a citizen and poor education facilities. The poverty and unemployment situation has compelled some of them to get involved in various unlawful activities. On the other hand, though a good number of tribal youths are involved with the armed groups of the tribal regional parties, there are huge numbers of tribal youths who are in the right tract. They are undergoing with quality education and highly demanding technical education which is ensuring their bright future. In one statistics, it has been learnt that there are already more than 25 tribal persons of different tribes have completed their PhD degree. A good number of tribal people are employed in various important appointments at the national and international level. There are many examples; some of those might be mentioned here. Amit Chakma is the 10th president of the University of Western Ontario, Canada; Mr. Kiriti Chakma, assistant high commissioner, Agartola; Ambassador of Mexico Mr. Supradip Chakma and many others. At the national level, this number is enormous. In case of Bangalees staying in CHT, this number is not comparable at all. Besides the day to day struggling life, Bangalees are facing immense difficulties on the authenticity of their Government allotted land. These people are getting helpless day by day. If the present situation prevails for a longer period, these people might become a big concern for the Government; situation might compel them to become unruly.

Recently, CHT ministry has issued a letter to the civil administration that all issues related to the Bangalees including various land related cases need to be looked after with due importance. The backward state of the Bangalees staying in CHT has not been created in one day. This long due issue has been generated basically due to lack of their equal rights in land and a quality education. Among many other reasons, the one sided quota privilege for the tribals might be the prime cause of backward state of the Bangalees. In CHT, the important appointments like the members of parliament, minister CHT ministry, CHTDB chairman, Regional Council chairman, Circle Chiefs, HDC chairmans- all belong to the tribal community. Though there is almost 50% population from the Bangalee community, none of the important appointment holders belong to them. So far the female special quota MP used to be selected from the Bangalee community but this time it has been taken over by Mrs. Bashonti Chakma. After taking over the responsibility as a MP, her controversial speech in the parliament badly disheartened the Bangalee community and they have become more frustrated, as if there is none to look after their interest. An endeavor has been taken through this article to identify the present state of the Bangalees staying in CHT; a well set objective to take care of their basic issues and finally there will be some proposition in the form of recommendations about the possible ways and means to address the matters related to those helpless Bangalee people.

Before setting the objectives of addressing the concerns related to the Bangalees staying in CHT, following factors might be considered:

  • There are two types of Bangalees staying in CHT. ‘Aadi Bangalees’ have started staying in CHT before the establishment of Kaptai Hydroelectric Project and to some extent before our war of liberation. In the late 70’s and early 80’s of the previous century, a huge number of Bangalees have been brought in CHT by the then Government from the other parts of Bangladesh and allotted five acres of land for each of the family.
  • As a whole the Bangalees had to undergo with the crucial experiences during the insurgency period. Their massive poverty enforced them to stay back tolerating the odds.
  • The social and educational background of the maximum Bangalees are highly poor. Maximum of the educational and community development projects during the pre and post peace accord period were biased to the tribal communities. Even the security forces were not impartial to some extent.
  • A good number of Bangalees had to shift to the cluster villages in the mid 80’s due to the fear of Santi Bahini atrocities but didn’t get back their maximum part of land once the situation became stable.
  • Bangalees are generally involved in timber and bamboo extraction business. There are a good number of fishermen as well. A good number of Bangalees are involved in various grocery and departmental store business. Maximum contractors in CHT are the Bangalees. Except the large number of people staying in different cluster villages, the Bangalees in general living in other places are not poor at present.

  • Bangalees are the large contributor of illegal taxes to the tribal regional parties.
  • In the recent years, those who all are taking education among the Bangalees, maximum of their priority is just to become a simple graduate. But the maximum tribal youths are smart enough to opt for the time demanding subjects and the different medium of technical studies. Tribal youths take interest in technical subjects and foreign organization demanding subjects that create vast job opportunities for them.
  • Due to backward family background and poor social practices, maximum of the Bangalees are not grew up as a strong personality human being.
  • A good number of Bangalees might have to lose their Government allotted lands due to the process of Land Commission Law.
  • CHTDB and UNDP projects are biased to the tribals.
  • Bangalees are not holding any of the important positions in CHT, like MP, Chairman CHTDB, HDC Chairman etc.
  • Bangalee issues were not well looked after by various organizations on the plea of likely Tribal-Bangalee communal clash.
  • There is hardly any economic infrastructure in CHT. However, in the recent years with the establishment of Sajek, Nilgiri and some tourism spots in Rangamati have created some new income generating sources for the local people. This endeavor has become beneficiary for both tribal and Bangalee community.

The Bangalee issues need to be addressed keeping some objectives in consideration. All the steps demand a very sincere move.

  • Creating opportunities of the higher education among the comparatively brilliant CHT based Bangalee students so that they become an asset of international standard at some day in future.
  • Generating some earning opportunities at the upazilla level by creating various cooperatives among the poor selected Bangalees. There should be proper check and balance of those projects at the same time.
  • Creating opportunities for some of the potential Bangalees to reach them at the decision making appointments of CHT.
  • Encouraging the potential Bangalees in politics so that they can work for the people at the district, upazilla and pourashova level with authority.
  • Creating opportunity for the Bangalees for getting technical education.
  • Ensuring neutral and impartial justice from the judiciary departments regarding the Bangalee community interest related cases.
  • Creating some economic infrastructures in CHT to address the unemployment state.

A comprehensive detail plan is needed to address the long due issues related to the Bangalees. The following steps might be the options to way forward:

  • Bangalees need to be encouraged to be confident enough to run various development projects related to community interest.
  • Renowned Bangalee families of each upazillas and districts in CHT might be selected and motivate them to neutrally oversee all the projects being undertaken. However each project must have a regulatory committee among the beneficiaries.
  • Some income generating projects like, goat project, fish project or any other projects suitable for the respective upazillas might be initiated with the financial support of various Government organizations and NGOs. Each project will be on the cooperative society basis among the selected poor Bangalees. These projects might be supervised by a pre-selected elite Bangalee family at the upazilla level. At the same time, the regulatory committee among the poor people might also remain.
  • Various human development projects need to be conducted in the multi-dimensional avenues. These all need to be objective based. Besides ongoing number of efforts, there should be a focus on reducing the social relation/communication gaps between the Bangalees and Tribals.
  • Considering education to be the less priority side so far among the Bangalees in CHT, some strong steps need to be taken so that none of the students leave their study due to poverty.
  • To create some quality Bangalees, some good students might be selected at the upazilla and union level for providing them opportunities to explore their potentials. This could be done by admitting them in the good schools at the upazilla and district level. These selected students might be financed by the concern government organizations or NGOs. There has to be a long term plan for providing those potential students so that they can participate for the interest of CHT in general and the Bangalee community in particular afterwards.
  • Besides education, there might be some endeavor to generate leadership qualities among the potential students. This effort might be done in many ways; some of those could be arranging debate competition or essay competition on the related national, regional and international subjects. This exertion will boost up their confidence level for reaching to national and international level.
  • Government might encourage some renowned businessmen to establish some economic infrastructures in CHT. Now a days the electricity problems have been solved and the security forces specially the army’s relentless effort ensured the overall situation stable. However, there are some scattered incidents sometimes happen in CHT, those types of incidents always happen in all over the country. The Chittagong port is also nearby. So, the CHT has got all potentialities to accommodate a good number of economic infrastructures.

Today’s dream might become the reality for the future. A big community with full of potentials must not be unexplored. A little attention of the government might create a miracle here. The expectation is not enormous. It is just an equal rights which a Bangladeshi citizen should enjoy. As inhabitants of a backward place, the way tribals are privileged with special quota; Bangalees staying in CHT are also undergoing the similar hardship, so they also should be allowed to enjoy that special quota. The present government is taking a lot of economic development projects all over the country. There will be hundred EPZs in the country. CHT is holding one tenth of Bangladesh considering the land territory. Can’t they expect at least three EPZs in CHT so that they can contribute to the economy of Bangladesh? However, if the Government of Bangladesh positively considers this aspect, then a big avenue will be opened for all the communities. Bangalees need to get themselves prepared to remain with the run. Besides the support backup of the concerns, the competitive world is always a factor.

Parvedge Haider
CHT Researcher

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