Violence rages on in the CHT while implementation of the peace accord remains a far cry
Bangladesh proclaims itself to be a pluralist nation since the day of its birth in 1971, promising each and everyone in the country to flourish under its own identity.
More than 54 groups of indigenous communities, comprising about 2% of the total population, have been living both in the Chittagong Hill Tracts as well as various other parts in the plains along with Bengalis, the majority population of the country. However, Bangladesh’s journey to democratic refinement has not been a smooth one.
The essence of the Liberation War has been maimed, severely threatening the pluralistic character of the country. As a result, people belonging to different ethnicities with smaller populations have to confront a severe identity crisis and disruption in harmony in their respective communities, which can only be overcome by democracy, if democracy’s role is to be realized in framing policies and running the affairs of the state.
The prevailing circumstances that indigenous peoples are forced to live in have made them believe that courts, police, administration, local government representatives, land officials, service sectors -- all are biased against them, regardless of how correct or incorrect their belief is. As a result, they continue to be robbed of what they possess, especially land (the only means of their survival) and their rights are denied, day in day out, instead of being redressed or protected.
Can rain wash away the problems?
I hope this year will be a more fruitful harvest season. I hope, the rain will fall, the crops will be saved from the invasion of insects, the sun will bring new energy to the body, the moon and the stars will take away all the pain.
The flowers of the forest will fill the air with its fragrance again and across the hill, the green grass and evergreen forests will return to life.
What if the Boishakhi storm comes and all of the wounds and conflicts of politics are washed away? What if the people’s trust and compassion blossomed?
What if the suspicions and distrust among each other were overcome? I really do want to live here without fear and anxiety in the hills and move ahead in life with hopes and dreams.
As a matter of fact, it is really disturbing to note that violation of civil and political rights of indigenous Jumma peoples in the CHT has seen an uptick in recent years.
Oftentimes, it has been observed that different agencies of the government wrongfully interfere with the lawful rights of the indigenous Jumma peoples. The Longadu attack in June 2017, with the help of the law enforcing agencies, led to increased fear and the insecurity that dwell in the indigenous communities’ lives in Bangladesh.
However, on the other hand, the systemic human rights violations by the military forces continue unabated in the CHT region with full impunity. The criminalization by law enforcement agencies of Indigenous Human Rights Defenders and Members of Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations (IPOs), including the members and supporters of the PCJSS engaged in the movement for implementation of the CHT Accord intensified alarmingly -- by labelling them as terrorists, armed criminals, extortionists, separatists, etc.
This has resulted in arbitrary arrests, detention, and intimidation. Even Jumma activists who were released on bail are being illegally held without warrant by the intelligence agencies and military forces and taken to army camps wherein they are tortured and implicated in fabricated cases, and sent to jail.
How long can you ignore these numbers?
According to the Kapaeeng Foundation Human Rights Report 2017, a total of 48 cases of violence against indigenous women were reported from January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017. Out of 48 such cases, 20 were reported in the plains and 28 in the CHT. As of January 2017, 57 indigenous women were sexually or physically assaulted. At least 12 women were raped, nine were killed.
Among other incidents recorded, during the aforementioned period, there were four gang rapes and eight cases of kidnapping. On the other hand, out of 75 alleged perpetrators, 64 were reported to be from the mainstream Bengali community and four from indigenous communities.
The age of the victims range from three to 75. Rape has been identified as the most severe violation of human rights against indigenous women and girls in 2017. The number of rape victims reported in 2016 was 16, which came down to 12 in 2017. Most of the rape victims were children and girls below 18 years of age. In most of the cases, perpetrators used food items to allure the victims.
As the CHT Accord of 1997 is still not in place, a political and peaceful solution to the CHT problem, which was one of the main aims of the Accord, has become unrealistic and unattainable. Consequently, the situation in the CHT is becoming more restless. The blueprint for demographic engineering to make indigenous Jumma peoples a minority in their ancestral land is rapidly becoming a reality.
There have been many successful efforts by forces in power to implement the designs of anti-accord and anti-Jumma interests, instead of implementing the CHT Accord. In order to turn the CHT into a Bengali Muslim-majority region, all available avenues from development activities to militarization, construction of border roads, declaration of reserved forests in traditional lands of Jumma peoples, indiscriminately leasing out of lands to outsiders, expansion of tourism sites by the army, setting-up of controversial educational institutions -- all are in use.
Yet, I still want to be hopeful that one day this accord will be implemented. Each sentence of this accord will be implemented with sincerity. In fact, for a political and sustainable peaceful solution to the CHT problem, there is no alternative but the implementation of the CHT Accord.
In order to foil the conspiracy to make indigenous Jumma peoples a minority in their ancestral land, the characteristics of the tribal-inhabited CHT region must be preserved as per the CHT Accord, and all powers and functions have to be brought into force as per laws under the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils introduced under the CHT special administrative system.
John Tripura is an Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Defender.