Progressive development in societies is pervasive.
We call it progress, or development, because it replaces the old with the new. When progress takes place in the culture of a community, we call it cultural invasion, which makes not only the culture of that community extinct, but also the community itself at one stage.
Invasion, as such, brings mammoth changes in the cultural construct and life of a community. Cultural invasion in the name of progress is considered essential by the necessity of development. But for the communities who are backward and live in difficult land, development implies their eventual extinction.
One may argue that some communities still remain backward and evade development. The counter-argument is that development is communal and non-egalitarian for the different classes of society. The stronger class happily accepts development while the weaker rejects it.
Therefore, development is not a natural phenomenon, rather a human urge. The history of mankind -- from the australopithecus to the neanderthals to homo erectus to sapiens -- suggests that development caused the disappearance of many other creations in nature.
The Spaniards decimated the highly-developed Aztecs of South America by their superior muscle. Columbus and his companions wiped out the natives from North America. Chinese history reveals that the Han community had to annihilate many other smaller communities to turn into the significant clan.
Bangladesh is blessed to have a tiny number of ethnic communities in its southern part. Among the surviving 13 tribes, the Lushai is one of the earliest tribes to settle and now live in Sajek.
A nation rich in cultural diversity must take all measures to develop, but also take measures to preserve the interests of the marginalised, however small they may be
A short visit to Sajek valley reveals that this tribe, like others, dreams of development, and at the same time, are apprehensive of it.
There is a dichotomy here.
Within every nation, various communities are under pressure to preserve their languages from the dominant language used in the country’s system. The dominant language survives, while the languages of other smaller communities slowly die out -- that is the natural order.
The Lushai and Kukis are the earliest settled tribes in hill tracts of Chittagong.
While the Kukis are completely gone, the Lushai survive still, though barely.
There are no signboards in the Lushai language, or any schools to preserve it.
The struggle of an educated Lushai girl to build a Lushai Heritage Village even finds its access gate bannered in English.
Before recent developments, the innocent Lushai tribes of Sajek were not familiar with inventions such as the padlock key, or the concept of closing doors to strangers. Life was simple and free.
Like many other tribes, their lives have now changed -- a comprehensive economy and tourism poured in money to bring peace and prosperity to them almost overnight.
Prosperity came but not peace, as it brought changes to the core values of such communities. It also brought with it a sense of insecurity borne out of prosperity. They now need to lock the house while out for work; trust has been eroded because of economic growth.
The innocence has vanished and deceit occupies the hearts of many driving economic advancement.
Change in the age-old values and norms hurt them, despite changes in the economic life and livelihood. They love progress, but at the same time, mourn the loss of values as a result of the spread of tourism.
To some, progress is an idea like the Renaissance, while, to others, an eventual extinction. Progress is a two-sided coin, when tossed it shows heads to one group while tails to another.
A nation rich in cultural diversity must take all measures to develop, but also take measures to preserve the interests of the marginalised, however small they may be.
Regulatory measures are not only necessary in order to help preserve tribes like the Lushai in Sajek, but to also prevent the dominant “other” from gobbling them up.
Brigadier General AF Jaglul Ahmed is Commandant, East Bengal Regimental Centre.