“I feel fortunate to be a member of the Chakma community, a minority group of Bangladesh, but when such attacks occur, I sometimes feel unfortunate to be a Bangladeshi.”
Bangladesh is not ours
by Mukstasree Sathi Chakma for AlalODulal.org
There goes another attack in Chittagong Hill Tracts region which again led hundreds of people to flee to the Indian border, leaving their ancestral lands and their beloved country. The recent attack in Taindong union, Matiranga, Khagrachari district, reportedly left between 50 and 400 houses including their temples burnt to ashes and the attackers- who unfortunately belong to the Bengali community (admit it or not)– also allegedly either looted indigenous people’s valuables or burnt it.
I feel fortunate to be a member of the Chakma community, a minority group of Bangladesh, but when such attacks occur, I sometimes feel unfortunate to be a Bangladeshi. As a member of the minority, I know we can be attacked at any time, with or without a reason. As a citizen of Bangladesh, I know that behind every single attack, there should be a reason.
So, wearing the hat of a Bangladeshi I was wondering what the reasons behind the attack were. The answer came with a news story published on “Parbattanews.com”. According to that story, a Bengali person was abducted by some “UPAJATI (tribal)” terrorists. The news was published at 3:07 pm on August 3.
If one goes through this “news portal”, s/he can see that there is a lot of news saying things such as “Bengali Equal Rights Movement hold Iftar party/ hold human chain/ hold discussion”. As a member of the media I know that this sort of public relations news from a group can find a place in certain blog-cum-media houses when that site/media belongs to a particular group.
Anyway, according to the circulations of Kapaeeng Foundation and United Peoples of Democratic Front around 3 pm on the same day as the “news portal” reported the abduction, the attacks in Taindong union’s Bandarshing Para, Baga Para, Monudas Para and Sorbeswar Para took place. Later, national and international media also pointed out that the attacks by Bengali people on indigenous people were instigated by this incident.
Now, let’s think a little more, rather than believing whatever the formal and informal media is feeding us. If you were a person who belongs to a minority group, would you dare to kidnap a person who belongs to the majority group? By the way, I am not saying that all indigenous people are innocent angels. Of course, indigenous groups also contain extortionists, rapists, killers and corrupted people. But, almost every time such criminal activities occur, they would target weaker groups rather targeting the majority who are much better equipped than indigenous people in every sense (politically, financially, physically and, of course, legally).
If you were from a minority group would you dare to do any sort of criminal activities when you know that none of the administration or law personnel would protect you? The answer is simple. NO. Because you know that if you did so, your family would be attacked, yours neighbors would suffer, your sister would be raped, your parents would be killed and you have to live your whole life being a refugee in a neighboring country.
Now, changing my hat to that of a member of a minority, I was thinking to myself: why do these attacks happen then? Was it only a “power show”, or something else? The answer was very simple- for our valuables. But what valuables do we possess?
People of the remote areas in CHT live on a hand to mouth basis. They work very hard to meet their daily necessities since those areas are extremely remote. Taindong union, where this attack happened, is not a remote area in the way that you may think. It is indeed a remote area compared to any other place in Bangladesh. Yes, it is much more remote than the Char area or an inhabited island. Indigenous people of that area are more vulnerable than Bengali people who live in Char or on an island. Why? Because a person from the Char or a remote island only fights with poverty and the relevant influential people whereas the Taindong people (in fact most of the CHT indigenous people, regardless of whether they live in towns or villages) fight with poverty, class, caste and the influential people, as well as with the government’s institutions.
So, one can easily assume the most valuable thing they had before they were attacked was their land – the land which they possess ancestrally for many years, which they made cultivable and liveable after working very hard.
There is a land commission which was established by our government to resolve land disputes with the Bengali Settlers and indigenous people. Here, ‘Bengali settler’ refers to those people who till date have settled in CHT through government patronisation, following political decisions of the government in the mid 70’s. But, very sadly and frustratingly the land commission which got its first chairman in 1999, is yet to solve a single land dispute in the area. So, there is no one actually hearing the indigenous people’s problems and trying to solve such land related problems.
In a separate note, have you seen the billboards all over Dhaka? In the past three days I saw a lot of billboards all over my capital. These billboards are proudly announcing what our present government has done for the citizens- for us- in these last four years. Frankly, “the little minority girl” inside me is searching hard for one billboard which actually talks about us. All I wanted to see was just one of these disturbingly coloured billboards talking about indigenous rights or minorities. Have you also searched for a billboard about indigenous people and minorities? If not, then my dear Bengali friends, you do not think of indigenous people as your neighbours, brothers or sisters.
I did not find a single billboard, not one single sentence or word on us. Does that mean that even the government knows they did nothing significant for us? Does that mean indigenous people are that portion of the citizens whom the government can easily deny, avoid and forget?
When and how did we become so forgettable? There are much research and books which show that indigenous people fought side by side Bengali freedom fighters. But, most Bengali people do not know about our contribution, our love for this country. Just as an example, the book named Mukhtijuddhe Adivasi (The Adivasis in the War of Liberation) talks about hundreds of indigenous freedom fighters who actively participated in the war of liberation with arms. These peoples were from 45 different indigenous groups.
The same book also says that more than a hundred people from these groups embraced martyrdom. Very few of us might know about Euke Ching Marma who earned the gallantry award, Bir Bikram. But I am sure most Bengali people do know about one “indigenous war criminal”. How come Bengali peoples ONLY came to know about the suspected war criminal but did not know a single thing about Euke Ching Marma and other indigenous freedom fighters? Which group is preaching such hatred in the majority community towards us? What is their ultimate goal? Why still such negligence and avoidance is persisting in the government and among the citizens?
The answer is simple but bitter – Perhaps all of the stakeholders (including the government) who are spreading hatred do not want us to live here. May be all citizens, who are not interested to know how we manage to live through this hatred and still love our country, do not think we belong here. This is how Bangladesh becomes “not ours”.
So, before pointing fingers at us and labelling us as “exclusionists”, you better try to include us first. You better try to think of us as you think of Sagar-Runi, Twaki, Limon or the Rana Plaza victims.