‘The state is not inclusive; it prioritizes tourism business over indigenous people’
Indigenous people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are being displaced and exploited on the pretext of tourism, which is a violation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord.
Several speakers shared such observations at a discussion organized by Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Wednesday at the Women’s Voluntary Association (WVA) auditorium in the capital, marking the 23rd anniversary of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord.
Workers Party President Rashed Khan Menon MP, stating that tourism should be eco-friendly and indigenous people-friendly, said: “I have no idea where they got the idea of building a luxury five-star hotel from.”
He said tourism in the CHT areas could thrive without evicting indigenous people from their ancestral lands.
“Tourists could stay with indigenous people,” he suggested.
Referring to a TV talk show, Dhaka University (DU) Prof Mesbah Kamal said: “I was watching a talk show the other day and noticed that a speaker recommended building multiple five-star hotels in the CHT areas to get the tourism business going. This is a blatant example of Bangali hegemony.”
People involved with tourism in Bangladesh need to take lessons from other countries, where tourism has been thriving without displacing and exploiting indigenous people, he added.
It may be noted that Mro people in Bandarban have been protesting the construction of a five-star hotel and tourist spot in Chimbuk Hill area by R&R Holdings Ltd, a concern of Sikder Group.
They claimed that if the project was implemented, it would directly affect six villages of the Mro community and indirectly affect another 70 to 116 villages of the community.
Razequzzaman Ratan, a member of the Bangladesh Socialist Party, said progress and development were two different things.
“If somebody wants to cut down all the trees of a forest to build a garden, that is not progress,” he said.
Moreover, the indigenous people did not get to enjoy what all these developments offered, he added.
Tanjim Uddin Khan, an associate professor at DU, said the state, not being inclusive, prioritized the tourism business over indigenous people.
Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples’ Forum General Secretary Sanjeeb Drong remarked that indigenous people could not celebrate the day because Bangladesh had failed to fully implement the peace deal in the last 23 years.
Farah Tajim Titil, a teacher at a university in Kushtia, said building resorts and luxury hotels were not necessary to establish the tourism industry in the CHT areas.
“What is the point of tourism if it needs to cut down hills and evict hill people?” she questioned.
On December 2, 1997, the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) signed a peace deal with the then Awami League government, led by Sheikh Hasina, ending over two decades of tribal insurgency.