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“I would like to say categorically and unequivocally that, our country will be a democratic, secular and socialist country. In this country the labourers, peasants, Hindus and Muslim all will be living in peace and harmony”.
(The first public address at Suhrawardy Uddan upon returning to the independent Bangladesh after 9 months in prison in Miyanwala, Pakistan, 10 January 1972)
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the pioneer for the development of deprived people in Chittagong Hill Tracts. He visited the CHT three times during his only three and a half years tenure. Bangabandhu had taken a number of steps for over all development of the hill tract regions. The steps include a separate development board for the region, honorarium for the head man and circle chief, quota system in jobs for deprived children, education stipend and priority to the talented students in the region for going abroad for higher education. He would have done much more if he was alive till today.
After the bloody war of Liberation in 1971, the people of CHT were within the short and long term development plan of Bangabandhu. He wanted to bring every tribe and community of newly liberated Bangladesh under a common platform. He never wanted to create any discrepancy among his country people. Possibly, this aspect was fully felt by the then Chief of Parbattya Chattogram Janoshanghoti Samity (PCJSS) and member of the parliament M N Larma. Despite the continued political move of PCJSS and a covert preparation of underground movement, M N Larma acknowledged the spirit of Bangabandhu’s words and joined ‘BAKSAL’. At the same time the armed movement of M N Larma and Santu Larma led Santi Bahini was not popped up till the time Bangabandhu was alive. All the people of CHT and the surrounding areas were not against the independence of Bangladesh like then Chakma Circle Chief Tridiv Roy and Bomang Circle Chief Aung Sue Prue Chowdhury. There was a good number of wholehearted participation of tribal people in the war of Liberation in 1971. These tribal people responded passionately to the call of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1971. Out of three visits of Bangabandhu in CHT, the first one was on 16 February 1973 prior to first parliamentary election; second visit was on 12 February 1975 after the formation of BAKSAL (Bangladesh Krishak- Sramik Awami League) and finally he visted on 14 June 1975 in connection with the inauguration of the first Earth Satellite Station, Betbunia Rangamati.
There were hundreds of tribal people specially from Tripura and Marma community who were ready to do supreme sacrifice for the independence of Bangladesh. The participation from different tribal communities could be more, but some of tribal leaders from Chakma and Bomang circles created a strong barrier to it. The stand of those interested tribal leaders was widely known throughout East Pakistan that became a cause of mistrust among the freedom fighters towards the people of Chakma tribe. However, the extraordinary support and participation of Mong Circle Chief Mong Prue Sain and many other tribal people from Tripura and Marma communities had enormous contribution for the war of liberation.
Bangabandhu and the People of CHT
The adoration and support between Bangabandhu and the tribal people was a matter of mutual respect. Bangabandhu had undeniable confidence on some of his known tribal associates. In 1958, Bangabandhu had to take an undisclosed shelter in one of the local party supporters Fellowrum Chakma’s house at Inani, Cox’s Bazar where he stayed for few days. He was well looked after by Fellowrum Chakma. This history demanding memorable place was neglected so far. In the recent years, the district administration of Cox’s Bazar has taken initiative to turn that place into a museum.
Tribal Participation in Different Movements before the War of Liberation
The participation of various tribal communities was seen in different anti-military regime movements. The whole nation was on the protest of attaining their basic rights; people were ready to act on the call of Bangabandhu. Despite the egocentric act of Tridiv Roy and Aungshu Prue Chowdhury, a good number of tribal people were always active in different movements and events during 1947 to 1971. These active participations were observed during the ‘Language Movement’ in 1952 and ‘Six Points’ demand movement in 1966. During the movement of ‘Six Points’ demand of Bangabandhu, there were strikes and blockades in each and every places of East Pakistan; the young tribal leaders responded to the call of Bangabandhu and carried out processions, strikes and other activities in different parts of CHT. There were also processions and strikes almost everywhere in CHT during ‘1969 Mass Uprising’. The movement initiated at the school level and those were transmitted among the youths. The students of Panchari, Logang area displayed black flag in front of Logang Police Camp.
After the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, the moment Bangalee community was neglected by the West Pakistani autocratic government, Bangabandhu took the leading role of protesting for attaining the basic rights. In CHT, the situation was almost similar. Moreover, General Aiyub Khan led military government took an effort to build ‘Kaptai Dam’ in 1958 where almost hundred thousand of tribal people became sufferer. Though it was not that significant, M N Larma led some of the tribal youths, protested against the establishment of ‘Kaptai Dam’. Unfortunately, Tridiv Roy assisted General Aiyub Khan to materialize the project of ‘Kaptai Dam’ despite a big loss of his own community. Tridiv Roy’s stand on ‘Kaptai Dam’ issue appears that he was more conscious about his kingship by pleasing the Pakistani government.
The movement of Bangabandhu was getting popular day by day in the remote places of CHT, but it could not upsurge as expected due to various social and community based barrier that didn’t allow more active participation of the tribal people. This situation was continued even during the parliamentary election in 1970. Tridiv Roy and Aungshu Prue’s adamant stand did not allow projecting the general people’s opinion. However, one of the relatives of Tridiv Roy, Kumar Kokonakhkho participated as a candidate of Bangabandhu’s Awami League.
Normally, the conscious tribal youths of CHT were more inclined to the leftist ideology. Many of them were the followers or activists of Student Union (Chatro Union) and National Awami Party (NAP) at that time. Despite their direct involvement of leftist parties, many of them used to find the similar message through the words of Bangabandhu. During the great famous speech at Ramna Racecourse (Suhrawardy Uddan) on 7th March 1971 Bangabandhu said,
“Hindus, Muslims, Bangalees and non-Bangalees, all those who live in this Bangla are our brothers. The responsibility of protecting them is upon you. Ensure that our reputation is not smeared in any way”.
What happened during the 70’s Parliamentary Election in CHT ?
During the election in 1970, people of the then East Pakistan supported the great leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and brought landslide victory almost in all the constituencies. Like the other part of the then East Pakistan, Bangabandhu had similar appeal to the people of CHT also. There are supposed to be representatives from CHT in two regional constituencies and one national constituency of the parliament. In Rangamati constituency, neutral candidate M N Larma defeated the other two candidates, Kholaram Chakma and Khokonakhkho Chakma; in the national council constituency Tridiv Roy defeated Charu Bikash Chakma and Aungshu Prue Chowdhury. Despite the landslide victory in all over East Pakistan, losing both the seats in CHT was a discredit for Awami League. This result only happened due to discreet influence of Tridiv Roy and Aungsho prue Chowdhury through their headmans.
Tribal Participation in the War of Liberation
During the war of Liberation, Tridiv Roy performed all out to materialize the evil desire of the then West Pakistan. The freedom fighters who had to take shelter in different places of CHT, Tridiv Roy and his associates got them arrested and many of them were killed. When Tridiv Roy felt the confirm defeat of West Pakistan, he fled away to Pakistan through Myanmar. But there were many responses on the call of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from the tribal community during the war of liberation, specially from Mong circle. A good number of tribal people from Tripura and Marma community joined the war of liberation. Mong Circle Chief Mong Prue Sain handed over 42 of his personal weapons to the freedom fighters. He expended maximum of his wealth to support the freedom fighters. Mong Prue Sain physically participated in the war at Ramgarh area; later on he crossed the border and went to India. After getting necessary training, he joined the war again and actively participated as an organizer of the freedom fighters. The freedom fighters from the tribal communities joined the war of Liberation due to strong adoration and affection for Bangabandhu. The courageous actions of Ramoni Ranjon Chakma, U Kaw Ching Marma, BP and Hemranjon Chakma were well discussed at that time.
During the war of liberation, there were Chakma Circle Chief Tridiv Roy backed Razakars conducted atrocities towards the general tribal people. These Razakars were augmented by the ‘Mizo National Front (MNF)’. Before the war of liberation the armed activists of MNF used to stay in the bordering areas near Sajek, but during the war of liberation these armed activists acquired shelter in all the important places of CHT and took part in various atrocities. The torture and outrages of MNF and Razakars not only caused suffering for the freedom fighters, but also the general people. Pakistan government used to provide military and administrative support to MNF insurgents for creating tension in India since its inception. In 1971, the overall communication facilities in CHT were not good. During that time Pakistan army took direct support of MNF and Razakars for reaching various remote places of CHT. At the end of liberation war, after the day of victory, freedom fighters started coming back to their respective places of CHT and they also took a little bit of revenge against the Razakars. However, Bangabandhu’s strict instruction of maintenance of humanity kept the overall revenge process within a tolerance limit; on the other hand, MNF had to flee away from CHT right after the confirmation of ‘Independent Bangladesh’.
Bangabondhu’s Esteem and Compassion for the People of CHT
Bangabondhu- the recognized best Bangalee in thousand years had shown his great forgiveness even after Tridiv Roy’s controversial anonymity against all the communities of Bangladesh. After the birth of Bangladesh, Tridiv Roy tried all out to reach the influential countries so that none of the countries recognize Bangladesh. Bangabandhu was very tactful to address this issue. He utilized the mother of Tridiv Roy, Mrs. Binita Roy to convince him for not doing such act that might leave Bangladesh unrecognized. Binita Roy was sent to USA as a special representative of Bangabandhu. However, though Tridiv Roy didn’t listen to his mother and continued his effort of convincing all the important countries against the recognition of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu ensured due honor and respect to the other family members of Chakma Circle Chief. Bangabandhu very well could ignore this family for the controversial contribution during the war of liberation, he didn’t do it. Tridiv Roy’s son Debashish Roy was given responsibility of Chakma Circle Chief. Not only that, Bangabandhu gave nomination to Tridiv Roy’s brother, Samiti Roy as a candidate of Awami League during the parliamentary election in 1973 as a symbol of good gesture, but he was defeated by M N Larma with a big margin. This election result reflected the general tribal peoples’ abhorring of so called kingship.
Bangabandhu had such a big heart that he wanted to concentrate for the development of Bangladesh by taking everyone on board. During the first public address at Suhrawardy Uddan upon returning to the independent Bangladesh after 9 months prison in Miyanwala, Pakistan, 10 January 1972, Bangabandhu said,
“Those of you, who can’t speak in Bengali, should be integrated in this country. Brothers, do not touch them. They are our brothers too. We would like to show the world that the Bengalis are not only able to make sacrifices for the independent but they can also live in peace”
After the independence of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu’s Government ratified ILO Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Populations (No. 107) in 1972. The focus of convention 107 is to recognize and protect the cultural, religious, civil and social rights of indigenous and tribal populations within an independent country and to provide a standard framework for addressing the economic issues that many of these groups face.
Bangabandhu’s CHT Visit
Bangabandhu’s adoration for the people of CHT was echoed by his words. He wanted to see everyone living in Bangladesh with a similar note. The long practiced term ‘Upojati’ for the tribal people as the minorities was not liked by Bangabandhu. He had a big heart with broad mind. He was very serious to ensure equal justice to all. Addressing the nation before the general election in Pakistan via Radio and Television, November 1970, Bangabandhu said,
“We do not believe in Islam of labeling/show off. We believe in Islam of Insaaf-justice. Our Islam is the Islam of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)-Islam that taught the world the mystical formula of reasoning and justice”
He wanted to accommodate every individual staying in Bangladesh under a single platform. He wanted to bring everyone to the mainstream and involve everyone for the development of the country, Bangladesh. In 1973, Bangabandhu visited Rangamati and addressed a big tribal audience. It was just before the parliamentary election under the newly formed constitution in Bangladesh. Bangabandhu was warm-heartedly welcomed by all classes of tribal people. Local tribal youths formed a new organization, ‘Pahari Jubo Sangho’ led by Nirmol Chakma out of adoration for Bangabandhu. In his great speech Bangabandhu said,
“From today onwards, all the tribal people of CHT will be upgraded from Upajati to Bangalee”
These affectionate words Bangabandhu with a heavy emotion have been misquoted and fabricated by the interested corner many a times. Renowned CHT researcher Dr. A k Dewan narrated in his book, ‘Parbatta Chattagram o Bangabandhu’, that “Bangabandhu wanted mean, there will be no difference among the communities in Bangladesh, every community will enjoy their equal rights, there will be similar rights for both Bangalee and Tribal”. Possibly Parbattya Chattogram Jano Shanghoti Samiti (PCJSS) leader M N Larma understood the spirit of the words of Bangabandhu, he (M N Larma) cooperated with him (Bangabandhu) till his tragic death.
Besides the comment mentioned above Bangabandhu also said, ‘All possible measures will be taken for the development of the people of tribal region’.
Bangabandhu had his second visit in CHT on 12 February 1975. While addressing the general people, Bangabandhu said, ‘The rights of the national minorities will definitely be protected’.
Bangabandhu had third and final visit in CHT on 14 June 1975 to inaugurate the first Earth Satellite Station of the country at Betbunia Rangamati.
CHT Tribal Leaderships’ Demand to Bangabandhu
M N Larma and four other tribal leaders of CHT met Bangabandhu with the following four points demand on 15 February 1972.
- Autonomy of CHT with its own legislature.
- Retention of Regulation 1900 in the constitution of Bangladesh.
- Continuation of circle chiefs’ offices.
- A constitutional provision restricting the amendment of Regulation.
Here point to note that none of the tribal leaders in CHT demanded autonomy during the period of Pakistan. Bangabandhu was aware about all the development of events in CHT. After a nine months bloody war, the whole country became like debris, lot of thing to do for the development, the four point demands generated by the tribal leaders on 15 February 1972, was not at all acceptable to him. Moreover, the illogical demand of autonomy was never asked during the Pakistani regime; if there were any sufferings of the tribal people due to ‘Kaptai Dam’, the responsibility goes to the then Pakistani military regime and their tribal associates; why such new idea should come up to the a newly born liberated country. Bangabandhu rejected all their illogical demands and asked them to work for the development of the country.
Self-contradictory Attitude among the Tribal Leaderships in CHT
There were always distinct self-contradictory attitude among the tribal leaders of CHT. During the partition in 1947, Sneho Kumar Chakma, Kamini Mohon Dewan and some other tribal leaders were in favor of joining India; they hoisted Indian flag on 15 August 1947 at Rangamati. The Chakma Circle Chief’s stand was not clear at that time. The then leaders of Congress and union of India were not in favor of independent kingship, which was a dream of Chakma Circle Chiefs. So, Radcliff’s plan of keeping CHT with the then East Pakistan could continue without much of obstructions. Chakma Circle Chief Tridiv Roy started cooperating the Pakistani military regime strappingly; even there was no strong protest during the establishment of ‘Kaptai Dam’. The then student leader M N Larma made an effort of protesting against ‘Kaptai Dam’, it was not at all significant. So, there were two distinct group of understanding among the tribal leaderships; one group wanted to enjoy some kind of traditional authority and another group had been protesting for their basic rights. During the period between 1947 to 1970, the tribal leaders who all did some movement against the Pakistani autocrat regime, some of them were involved with leftist politics and some of them worked for Awami League. But the interested corner like Chakma Circle Chief and Bomang Circle Chief were in favor of Pakistani government. These two opposite thinking created confusion and mistrust during the war of liberation in 1971. The people of East Pakistan received a clear message from the Bangabandu’s historical speech on 07 March 1971 that the nation needs to get ready to fight against the Pakistanis whatever they have in their hand. On the late night 25 March 1971, the time Bangabandhu’s clear announcement of Independence was circulated all over East Pakistan, people started taking preparation as per the guidance of local Awami League leaders, different Bangalee officials of the administration and the members of different security forces.
‘I have given you independence, now go and preserve it’.
While speaking to Awami League leaders a few hours before his arrest on the night of 25th March, 1971.
In Rangamati, the then District Commissioner Mr. H T Imam started organizing the freedom fighters. At the same time, M N Larma also formed a new group, ‘Tribal Mukti Force’ with the presence of local tribal youths. M N Larma arranged a little bit of training for them with dummy weapons in some of the open fields at Rangamati. Though this group later on claimed that they wanted to join in the war of liberation, their intention of creating such different group with the presence of only the tribal community generated a suspicion. Moreover, Tridiv Roy’s stand for the Pakistanis was well known to all. So, the freedom fighter leaders did not take risks of including the activists of ‘Tribal Mukti Force’ with them while proceeding towards India for necessary training.
Bangabandhu’s Development Ideas and Projects for CHT
After the war of liberation, Bangabandhu took multi-dimensional development steps to ensure the basic needs of general people. CHT was comparatively a backward region due to long ignorance of Pakistan and British regime. There was no economic venture where people can work and earn their day to day livelihood. During the Pakistan period there was presence of burglars in the remote places of CHT. General tribal people used to suffer a lot due to regular atrocities of Shombhugulo Chakma and many other burglar groups. Neither Pakistan government nor the Circle chiefs ever thought of creating job opportunities for the general tribal people. Bangabandhu felt the necessity of establishing a separate board for the development of CHT. He understood that CHT needs special care for the overall development. That means, the present day’s CHT Development Board was the brain child of Bangabandhu. He sent Awami League leader Zillur Rahman, Kamruzzaman and some other leaders to Rangamati for discussing local important personalities about the development plan of CHT. On behalf of Bangabandhu, Abdur Rab Serniabat, Minister of Land Administration and Land Reforms declared to create a separate board for the development of Chittagong Hill Tracts on 09 August 1973.
In February 12, 1975, Bangabandhu visited CHT again and discussed with the local elites of different communities for the development of CHT. He understood with his farsightedness that Bangladesh needs a special type of government system for its fast development. Like other places, Bangabandhu discussed about his new idea of ‘BAKSAL’ with the local leaders of CHT. He had a plan to establish community based cooperative systems at the village level. As per his plan, all the physically capable youths would work and produce agricultural products. There would be District, Thana and Village level committee to look after all the development works. In this system, there would be equal share of agricultural products also.
Bangabandhu always wanted to stand beside the sufferers. He planned to establish special tribunal at the Thana level to ensure an early settlement of pending cases. Besides that, three governors were appointed in three important places of CHT to get every issue well looked after; Mong Prue Sain for Khagrachari, Aung Sue Prue Chowdhury for Bandarban and the then district commissioner Rangamati A M Abdul Qader was appointed as the Governors. At the same time, there were three secretaries; Aunonto Bihari Khisha for Khagrachari, Bomang prince K S Prue for Bandarban and Awami League leader Charu Bikash Chakma got appointed as the secretaries.
Among all the visionary steps of Bangabandhu to develop CHT, education got the highest priority. The kings of the tribal communities used to discourage the higher studies of the general tribal people. Tridiv Roy was strongly against the establishment of Rangamati College in 1966. Possibly these kings used think that higher educated people will not listen to them. But Bangabandhu planned to bring all the tribal youths in a similar platform. He clearly understood that a special quota system is highly required to bring the backward community of CHT at the similar standard to other parts of Bangladesh. With the prudent effort of Bangabandhu, there were special quota for the admission in various colleges and universities; there were three vacancies in Dhaka Medical College, two in Chittagong Medical College, three in Mymensingh Agricultural University, two in Agricultural College and five vacancies each for all the Polytechnic Institute. Bangabandhu did not end his responsibility by announcing the special quota only; he arranged hostel accommodation for the tribal students in Dhaka and Chittagong, so that the students can continue their higher studies by staying there.
Bangabandhu wanted full utilization of potentialities of CHT originated students. He arranged scholarships for the quality tribal students. At that time, a good number of tribal students got opportunity of higher studies in Poland, USSR, Hungary, East Germany, India, Cuba and many other countries. He preferred that quality students will participate for the development of CHT in particular and country as a whole in future.
The progress of events in CHT designates that possibly the insurgency problem of CHT would never be initiated, if there would not be the tragic killing of Bangabandhu. There are logics behind this statement. The founder of PCJSS, M N Larma who demanded autonomy of CHT in February 1972, participated against Awami League candidate in the parliamentary election in 1973, gradually had been preparing for armed movements, the same person joined BAKSAL with the call of Bangabandhu. M N Larma accompanied Bangabandhu in the Commonwealth Conference in 1973. During the conference, M N Larma talked about whole Bangladesh, not specially anything about CHT.
In 1997, CHT accord was signed between the Government of Bangladesh and PCJSS that ended the insurgency of long two decades. The daughter of Bangabandhu Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is working hard to implement her father’s unimplemented works. This accord was only possible by the charismatic leadership Sheikh Hasina. In 1996, Sheikh Hasina led Awami League came to the power after 20 years and CHT accord was signed after one year of Awami League Government’s resumption of power. However, people often say that the insurgency would never be prolonged for two decades, if Bangabandhu would be alive. The way Bangabandhu started with his visionary plan of developing CHT, if those could be continued; there would be different scenario of CHT. The people of CHT are hopeful and dreaming of a better CHT as Bangabandhu’s daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is in a supreme leadership.
Bangabandhu’s development plan definitely would take CHT in a different height. Bangabandhu’s appearance in CHT was just like a divine blessing. Failing to value of his contributions for CHT is really devastating. The new generation should carry forward all his development plans and add more for CHT. Bangabandhu was a real epitome of courage, both in the physical and moral sense. He was gifted with extraordinary organizational acumen and had the inkling of the brutality of the Pakistani military junta. His greatness and personality as a man must be honored by all irrespective of caste, creed and religion. If we carry forward the ideals and dreams of Bangabandhu, we could be able to achieve a real nation with its dignity to other world.
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Dr A K Dewan, Parbattya Chattogram o Bangabanghu.