Dated: February 13, 2009
Dear Reverends, distinguished guests, brothers and sisters.
I feel great honor to have this opportunity to make you aware of the prevalent situation in my country, Bangladesh. I would like to thank this community and each one of you very much for giving me this privilege. My sincere thank goes to our friend Ms. Margaret Lindgren for making the necessary arrangements. I would like to share with you some of the burning problems relevant to the facilities available for the people of Bangladesh in religious activities. Further more I would like to brief you about the present crisis. My country, Bangladesh, is mostly comprised of a majority Muslim community, with only 12.00% Non-Muslim people including the inhabitants of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, or CHTs for short.
In the next few minutes, I will share with you some of the wounds inflicted by the successive Governments of Bangladesh on the minority ethnic people in Bangladesh and the indigenous Jumma people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) over decades. I believe your wisdom, courage and support would heal some of our wounds.
Please allow me to present you with brief information about the violation of human rights of minority people in Bangladesh and problems of the CHTs.
The CHT is the traditional homeland to eleven distinct indigenous communities called Jumma collectively. It was an independent kingdom until the inception of Mughal rule in India in the 12th century. The British colonized it in 1860. With the emergence of two independent states – the Muslim majority Islamic state Pakistan and the non-Muslim majority secular state India – in 1947, the British colonialism came to an end in the Indian Sub-continent. Because of the undeveloped communication system and immature political leadership, the leaders of the CHTs were not able to raise their demand for self-determination with the British authorities who were planning the partition of the Sub-continent. And once the British left the Sub-continent, Pakistan occupied the CHTs against the will of the indigenous people. This is how the political status of the CHT disappeared forever and the second phase of colonialism under Pakistani rule started there. East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, got liberation from Pakistani rule in 1971.
In 1947, when Pak-India got independence from British rule, the indigenous population of CHTs was 98%. And CHT was merged with Pakistan leaving the indigenous Jumma peoples at the mercy of the Pakistan Govt. Since then, the process of elimination of indigenous peoples has been started. Presently the population of the indigenous peoples in CHT is 40% and others from plain districts of Bangladesh comprise 60%. If the present process is continued for another one-two decades, the indigenous peoples are bound to vanish or be eliminated from the map of CHT.
In the early 1960’s the Govt. of Pakistan constructed a hydro-electric dam on Karnafuli River thereby displacing around one hundred thousand indigenous Jumma peoples from their ancestral homeland without proper rehabilitation and compensation.
The CHTs delegates submitted memorandums to the Bangladesh authorities demanding provincial autonomy in the CHTs for the protection of their identity in 1972. The authorities responded to their demand militarily and subsequently moved more than 400,000 Bengali Muslim settlers from various plain districts into the hills as part of its ethnic cleansing and Bengalization policy in the region. This resulted in several genocides and other forms of violation of human rights and harassment to women, setting fire on local inhabitants villages, Buddhist temples, and churches, as well as torturing etc. of the indigenous Jumma people and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Jummas from their ancestral lands and finally an exodus of some 70,000 Jumma refugees into the Indian State of Tripura in the late1980s.
Under international criticism, the Government of Bangladesh signed a peace agreement popularly known as the “CHT peace accord” with the political organization of the indigenous Jumma people, the Shanti Bahini or Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), on December 2, 1997. The accord provides limited autonomy to the indigenous people. However, most of the fundamental points of the accord remain unimplemented till today. Such points include formation of the local Governmental bodies and effective transfer of power to them, settlement of land-disputes between Jummas and Bengali Muslim settlers, rehabilitation of the Jumma refugees and internally displaced Jummas, and withdrawal of the “temporary” military and paramilitary camps and the Bengali Muslim settlers from the CHT etc. Experience gained over the years indicates that the Government has no political commitment to implement the accord. Rather, the Government has been manipulating the whole implementation process of the accord in a way in which more Bengali Muslims are migrating into the hills and development programs are becoming increasingly Bengali Muslim-oriented. This has had a seriously negative impact on the socio-economic condition of the local indigenous people.
The Government is carrying out a systematic demographic invasion of the CHTs. As a result, the Bengali Muslim population has increased in great number (more than 60%) in the CHT.
The indigenous people are neither getting the benefits of development programs nor are they getting back their lands, which are still under the occupation of the Bengali Muslim settlers and military. Many indigenous youths are finding themselves in a difficult socio-economic situation in which they are losing their traditional ways of livelihood without any sustainable alternatives. As a result, the crime rate is increasing rapidly and the whole CHT is moving towards a serious humanitarian crisis-like situation. This is leading them to adopt anti-social professions such as, hooliganism in the streets in the case of young men and prostitution in cities in the case of young women.
Unemployment is increasing at a hitherto unknown rate. Many indigenous youths are choosing to migrate to other developed or developing countries in search of livelihood. Cases of mental disorder and suicide of youths due to lack of living conditions within the CHT have been reported. Many indigenous women are being forced to work in private and corporate sectors in cities, where they are grossly exploited economically and sexually.
Because of their distinct racial origin, language, religion and culture, the indigenous Jumma people are often subjected to wide racial discrimination in education, employment, sports, justice, land and resources, trade etc. in Bangladesh. The country’s legal system is unitary and this provides no special legal safeguards to protect the rights of the indigenous Jumma people.
How serious violations are being perpetrated against indigenous Jumma people by the Bangladesh Government’s Civil & Military authorities.
Some civil and military officials who served in Banderban Hill District have taken 1000-1500 acres of land each from Indigenous Jumma Peoples, whereas as per as law of Bangladesh each person can have only 5 (five) acres of land. Arrangement should be made to return all lands belonging to Indigenous Jumma Peoples.
More than 100 indigenous people have been arrested since January 2007, often on false arms charges. Many have been tortured and given long and unjust prison terms, and two indigenous Jummas have died in police custody. Ranglai Mro was beaten and tortured before being given a 17 year sentence. It is widely believed that he was targeted for protesting against the eviction of 750 Mro families from their lands to make way for an army training centre.
We have learnt that the military and paramilitary of Bangladesh are actively involved in all encroachment activities in the CHTs. It is very shameful that the UN peace keepers are involved in this, such as Betchari sub-zone commander Major Qamrul Hassan (37 Bengal, 4 Bde) in Bara Merung who just returned from Africa and was posted in the CHTs after completion of his tenure with the UN Peace mission.
Religious persecution and intolerance is high in the CHTs of Bangladesh. As you may be aware, the majority of the Indigenous Jumma people are followers of Theravada Buddhism. It has been reported that the settlement of illegal Bengali Muslims has taken place in the lands of the Buddhist temple of Sadhana Tila, Boalkhali Buddha Vihara and Orphanage under Diginala sub-district, and Arjo Kuthir at Maischari in Mahalchari sub-district under Khagrachari Hill Tracts. The government officials have ordered not to build any Buddhist temples in Mahalchari. There are persecutions and arrests of Buddhist monks and novices on false cases and charges.
In March 2007 Ruma cantonment acquired about 7,570 acres of ancestral land belonging to indigenous Jumma people for extension of its garrison and ordered more than 400 families to leave the area. In Bandarban district alone, 40,077 acres of land have been given in lease to illegal settlers while a total of 94,066 acres of land were acquired for so-called afforestation projects and 75,686 acres were acquired for establishment of military bases in the district.
In another recent case of land-grabbing, illegal settlers have reportedly taken over 59 acres of land belonging to 17 indigenous Jumma people in Kobakhali Mouza (No-51) under Dighinala police station in Khagrachari district. In an operation lasting from 1st to 15th August 2007, large groups of settlers led by former Union Parishad (UP) member Mohammed Abu Taleb of Hashinchonpur village and former UP member Mohammed Kader of Kobakhali bazaar took control of the hilly lands belonging to Chakma people with the direct assistance of the army., the paramilitary forces and the local Village Defense Party (VDP, Bengali Muslim arms group in village) members.
In June 2007, the military reportedly settled down at least 200 Bengali settlers families at Dhankupya village under Khagrachari district after forcibly evicting 12 indigenous families from their ancestral lands. Earlier, on 8 March 2007, an army camp was set up on the land of Prithiviraj Chakma in the same village to protect the settlers.
You may also be aware about the on-going activities of the Bangladesh military that has unleashed a reign of terror across the CHTs by carrying out extrajudicial killing, arbitrary arrests, illegal detention, lodging false cases and terrorizing the people by frequent raids, military operations, torture, threats and intimidation.
On 5 August 2007, Rasel Chakma, son of Paritosh Chakma of Dewan Para village under Naniarchar Upazila (sub-district) in Rangamati district was arrested by the security forces and killed in custody. The security forces claimed that he died of a heart attack but the body reportedly bore injury marks of torture.
Earlier, on 3 March 2007, a group of army personnel from Ghilachari camp under Naniachar Thana arrested Suresh Mohan Chakma, son of Phedera Chakma at Choichari village in Rangamati district without any warrant or reason. The victim was tortured at Ghilachari army camp in Rangamati district and he died on 7 March 2007, a day after being released.
Arrest under False Charges,
It has been observed that indigenous Jumma people have been unfairly targeted by the military that are taking advantage of the Emergency situation. Since the declaration of Emergency on 11 January 2007, at least a few hundred Jumma people have been arrested.
False charges of extortion, kidnapping, murder etc have been lodged against the arrested Jumma people. During raids, the military plants weapons and ammunitions and claims to have recovered the same from the house of the detained persons to show a ground for arrest. Most cases have been filed under Section 16 (b) of the Emergency Power Rules of 2007, which denies release on bail to the accused during the enquiry, investigation, and trial of the case. Many have been indicted by courts under the Arms Act.
Persecution of indigenous leaders,
In July 2007, Satyabir Dewan, general secretary of PCJSS; Ranglai Mro, chairman of Sualok Union Parishad and headman of Sualok Mouza, and Bikram Marma, president of Kaptai Upazila PCJSS branch were each sentenced to 17 years of jail by a court in Chittagong under the Arms Act for allegedly possessing illegal arms. Another indigenous leader, Sai Mong Marma, organizing secretary, PCJSS Kaptai upazila branch was sentenced to 10 years in jail under the Arms Act. It has been widely alleged that these leaders have been falsely implicated under the Arms Act for protesting against the injustices committed by the Bangladesh military in CHT.
This is a rough description of the problems of the indigenous Jumma people in the CHT. The real picture of the problems is worse than what I have just stated. In Buddhist philosophy, we know - reality cannot be expressed in terms of language or words. I, therefore, encourage you to come to the CHTs and observe the situation directly to understand the gravity of the problems.
We call upon concerned citizens to support our demands to the Bangladesh government:
1. To stop military atrocities and human rights abuses on indigenous people in CHTs;
2. To immediately stop illegal land grabbing and return the illegally occupied lands to their rightful owners;
3. To stop using the Bengali speaking settlers as a tool of national oppression against indigenous Jumma people and to withdraw all illegal settlers from CHTs.
4. To implement the CHT Peace Accord of 1997.
5. To appoint indigenous people in all posts under the CHT local government system.
6. To establish an international Human Rights Camp in the CHTs.
7. To provide constitutional assurances for the future safeguard of the indigenous people and non-repetition of past abuses.
Dear friends, I hope you will help the indigenous Jumma people in CHTs, Bangladesh, take this message to the Bangladesh authorities as well as to the international community through your esteemed dailies or through your letters, expressions of concern and other suitable means.
Thank you very much for your patience and kind co-operation.
May all beings be in peace and happiness!
Jumma People’s Network, UK. http://www.jpnuk.org.uk/
Asian Centre for Human Rights. http://www.achrweb.org/
Survival International http://www.survival-international.org/
Amnesty International www.amnesty.org/en/Chittagong+Hill+Tracts