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Part Two


The History of the Conflict

The historical origin of the CHT problem may be traced back to the Mogul period. The Mogul influence in the CHT became visible in the second half of the seventeenth century. The Chakma chiefs invited Bengalis to trade certain daily necessities such as dried fish, chicken, salt, tobacco, molasses, and black cloth, which were not available in the hills. [5] The Chakma chief promised to pay the Mogul administrator in Chittagong for permission to trade these items. In 1724, however, Jalal Khan, the Chakma chief (the chiefs gave themselves Muslim names to appease the Mogul [6] ), refused to pay the tribute. Consequently he was attacked by the Mogul dewan, or state minister, Kishan Chand, and fled to Arakan, where he died afterwards. By 1737, Chief Shermust Khan yielded to the Mogul authority. Under the influence of the Moguls a new administrative post designated as dewan was introduced in the Chakma tribal administration, and continued up to 1900.

Commercial relations paved the way for political power and soon the Moguls gained ascendancy. The payment of annual tribute, although originally agreed to voluntarily, was subsequently rejected by the Chakma chiefs. However, the tribal chiefs could do nothing to undo the damage done by the military defeat. In all likelihood, the humiliating experiences of these times became entrenched in their collective psyche, and were transmitted through generations.

In 1760, Mir Qasim Ali Khan, the nawab, or deputy governor, of Bengal, ceded the area to the British East India Company. Troubles ensued in 1777, when Chief Sherdaulat Khan (1765-82) stopped payment of taxes to the East India Company. In retaliation the company sent troops to occupy the area. During the subsequent period intermittent war took place between the two sides. Eventually, Jan Baksh Khan, Sherdaulat's son and successor, submitted to Warren Hastings in 1785. It may be pointed out here that Jan Baksh had precipitated the crisis by prohibiting the entry of plains people into the area; and he had to submit to the English only when supplies of necessaries from the plains were stopped.

British Period

Mogul rule lasted from 1666 until 1760, when the region was ceded to the East India Company. The Chakma domination was not interfered with until the Hill Tracts Manual was introduced in the year 1901.

Under the CHT Regulation of 1900, the hill tracts were divided into three revenue circles, each headed by a rajah. The three circles, known as the Chakma, the Mong, and the Bohmang, together were constituted with representatives from all tribes. A hierarchical system of authority was created, with each circle divided into mouzas (369 mouzas, each headed by a headman), and each mouza comprising a number of villages (each headed by their own karbaris). The headmen of the mouzas had the power to collect revenue, settle disputes, and allocate land for shifting cultivation. [7]

However, though the system introduced by the British provided for the tribals to administer the district, the ultimate authority rested with the British-appointed deputy commissioner. Basically, the Regulation was an imperialistic tool used to rule and exploit the tribals by raising revenues and taxes without impediment. [8] The CHT Regulation of 1900 designated the CHT as "excluded area" and left the tribal people to themselves to help preserve minority tribal culture and heritage.

Pakistan Period

The constitution of Pakistan changed the status of the CHT from excluded area to tribal area. Since then the Bengalis started to settle in the CHT region. This period also witnessed a most devastating impact of "modernization" and "development" on the people of the CHT. The Kaptai Dam, a huge US-funded hydroelectric project, was constructed on the Karnafuli River in Rangamati, causing the displacement of a huge number of hill people, rendering 100,000 people homeless, and inundating 40 percent of the prime land. [9] Even today, thousands of victims of the Kaptai Dam construction continue to languish in India as "stateless persons," and many of them are dispersed within the CHT region as internally displaced persons.

Bangladesh Period

The constitution of Bangladesh in its preamble enunciated nationalism, socialism, democracy, and secularism as state principles. During the constitutional debate Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation and the then Prime Minister of the country, emphasized the exclusive primacy of Bengali culture, heritage, language, and the sacrifices made by Bengalis in the liberation struggle. The constitution declared Bangladesh as a unitary state and Bengali as the state language. The constitution also declared that citizens of Bangladesh were to be known as Bengalis. Manabendra Narayan Larma, the lone representative of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the Parliament, refused to endorse the constitution, since it did not recognize the existence of other national communities or sub-national identities. 

During the constitution-making process, the demands of a hill peoples delegation under the leadership of Larma were rejected by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who urged them to become Bengalis and forget their tribal identities, and reportedly threatened to turn them into minorities in the CHT by sending Bengalis to move there. [10] Bangladesh itself was the creation of a protest movement, defying the imposition of the hegemony of Pakistani nationalism, which was not flexible enough to accommodate other nationalities. It is ironic that the leadership of Bangladesh at that time not only refused to accommodate minority communities, but also imposed their own brand of nationalism upon them.

However, Manabendra Narayan Larma rejected the imposition of Bengali nationalism. The failure of the state to recognize the identity of hill people and their political and economic marginalization led Larma to form the Parbattya Chattagram Jana Samhiti Samiti (PCJSSthe Chittagong Hill Tracts Peoples' Solidarity Association) in March 1972. Subsequently, a military wing called Shanti Bahini was added to it. Thus the seeds of Jumma nationalism—an identity that the PCJSS now claims for the hill people—were sown. [11] Shanti Bahini began its operation when they ambushed a Bangladesh military convoy in 1977. After the ambush, the CHT region was placed under the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Twenty-fourth Division of the Bangladesh Army and the Bangladesh military began counterinsurgency operations. Thus, an opportunity for accommodation and co-existence was lost and the nation was faced with what amounted to an armed insurgency movement.

 

[5] Dr. Mizanur Rahman Shelly, ed., The Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh: the Untold Story (Dhaka, Bangladesh: Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh, 1992), 27.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Philip Gain, "Life and Nature at Risk," in The Chittagong Hill Tracts: Life and Nature at Risk, ed. Raja Devashish Roy, et al. (Dhaka, Bangladesh: Society for Environment and Human Development, 2000), 17.

[8] Zainal Abedin. CHT: That Sheds Blood (Dhaka, Bangladesh: Sunzida Anzuman, 1997), 29.

[9] Life Is Not Ours: Land and Human Rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh (Copenhagen, Denmark: Organising Committee, Chittagong Hill Tracts Campaign, 1991), 13.

[10] Ibid., 14.

[11] Amena Mohsin, The Politics of Nationalism: The Case of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh (Dhaka, Bangladesh: The University Press, 1997), 58.

 

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