Zafar Ali Khan, mayor of Rangamati's Baghaichhari municipality and an Awami League leader, claimed the Bangali people are worried about armed ethnic people
While rights groups from both the ethnic and Bangali community in the Chittagong Hill Tracts forecast a worsening political climate, they believe coexistence between the ethnic people and Bangalis could bring about peace.
The Dhaka Tribune spoke to various regional leaders from both sides of the aisle, who believe proper recognition while ensuring basic rights for all could decrease mistrust and make lasting peace.
Zafar Ali Khan, mayor of Rangamati's Baghaichhari municipality and an Awami League leader, claimed the Bangali people are worried about armed ethnic people.
He said: “They pursue criminal activities to establish supremacy. They extort on the roads to fund their activities.”
UPDF Spokesperson Mikel Chakma said the worsening situation is due to having huge mistrust among the people.
He said: “We do not support derogatory terms like ‘hilly people’ or ‘Bangali people in the hills’, instead, if all the people could be described as hill people, then it would be a good step to bringing people together.”
He denied claims of extortion and other criminal activities allegedly committed by the members of the regional political parties and said the rumours were the outcome of growing mistrust among the communities.
Mitan Chakma, publication secretary of UPDF (Democratic), Sudarshan Chakma of JSS (MN Larma), and central president of Parbatta Odhikar Forum, Main Uddin all agreed on the issue that full implementation of CHT accord with rightful implementation preserving all hill people’s rights is needed.
All three representatives agreed that mutual respect is crucial to bringing peace to the hills.
What rights activists and experts say
Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal General Secretary Khalequzzaman said while there are some 45 ethnic groups in the country, the constitution did not recognize any other ethnic group other than Bangalis.
He said: “Article 9 of the constitution says ‘The unity and solidarity of the Bangali nation, which, deriving its identity from its language and culture, attained sovereign and independent Bangladesh through a united and determined struggle in the war of independence, shall be the basis of Bangali nationalism.’”
Hasibur Rahman, president of Bangladesh Lekhok Shibir, a platform of local authors, said land grabbing is the key reason for the situation.
The impending dispute over the ownership land has to be resolved to end the crisis, he said.
Razat Huda, central committee member of Jatiya Gonofront, said an attack on language, culture and ethnicity causes protests in any quarter of the society.
He suggested: “Instead of containing protests, it will be wiser to stop the attacks and recognize ethnicity properly.”
Jatiya Mukti Council Secretary Faiezul Hakim Lala said there is a huge mistrust between Bangalees and ethnic people in the hill districts, something that should not have been there.
“The 11-point directive imposed by the home ministry for the CHT has blown away the democratic practice in the area,” he alleged, suggesting the removal of the directives and disposal of land dispute to restore trust and peace among the hill people.
There is no alternative to coexistence of people living in the hill tracts, irrespective of their origin and political identity, he said.