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A History of the Chittagong Hill Tracts

[by Naeem Mohaiemen . Additional research by Sagheer Faiz]

Chittagong Hill Tracts: 5093 square miles, 10% of Bangladesh’s total land area. It’s forest area is 47% of the country’s total forest land. Ethnic minority groups include Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Chak, Khyang, Khumi, Murung, Lushai, Bawm and Pankho.

Chakma Queen Manikbi’s husband fought many battles with Maghs in the country called Roang (Arakan) in the year 1118 – 1119 AD (Vide Arakan History: Dengyawadi, Aradafung, pages 17 to 19). During the reign of Chakma king Kamal Chega, there was war with Roang and the Chakmas migrated into that country (Bangladesh Dist. Gazetteers, Chittagong Hilltract pp. 33 – 34).

14th century- Sawngma (Chakma) Raja Marekyaja migrates from Arakan hills to Chittagong belt to establish his rule and dynasty.

1715- Chakma king Jallal Khan establishes treaty with the Mughal Nawab.

1715-1760- CHT is independent kingdom, paying revenue from Cotton/Karpas to the Mughal Nawab. Hence the name, “Karpas Region”.

1760-1780- CHT maintains independent kingdom status, but pays revenue to the British rulers.

1777 & 1780- Chakma warriors fight the East India Company

1787- Chakma king Jan Baksh Khan pledges allegiance to East India Company. Chittagong Hill Tracts goes under complete control of the British. British pledge not to intervene in administrative affairs of the region. Hunter cites an 1829 regulation to say: “In 1829, Mr. Halhed, the Comissioner stated that the hill tribes were not British subjects but merely tributaries and that we recognized no right on our part to interfere with their internal arrangement.”

20 June, 1860- Notification No 3302 separates the hill area of Chittagong from Chittagong district and creates an independent district called Parbatya Chittagong.

1861- Parliament passes Indian Council Law. The Law recognizes the regulations passed by Governor General or local authorities with regards to areas outside the Law’s jurisdiction.

1870- Government Of India Act passed, allowing the Governor General to amend laws related to the “special areas”

1881- Chittagong Hill Tracts Police Regulation 1881 allows Hill Tracts people to form their own independent police force

1 May, 1900- Chittagong Hill Tracts Manual law passed. The area is given exemption from administration as an “Excluded Area” to help preserve minority “tribal” culture and heritage. CHT divided into Chakma, Bomang and Mong Circle. Headmen and Karbari to act as local administrators. Manual’s Regulation 34 banned non-hill people from buying or acquiring land in the area.

1920 & 1925- Manual revised to further enhance the safety of the Tribal people.

1935- India Rule Law ratifies and recognizes validity of CHT Regulation (1900).

17 August, 1947- As partition approaches, Lord Mount batten pressures Sir Cyril Radcliffe to redraw his lines– over the Chittagong Hill Tracts and several Punjab districts. In the end, Radcliffe assigns CHT to the new state of Pakistan.

15-20 August, 1947- Chittagong Hill Tracts People’s Association expresses their doubt as to whether their rights will be preserved if they are assigned to Pakistan. The Association raises the Indian flag in the Rangamati District Administrator’s office. Some leaders of the Bomang Royal family also protest by raising Burmese flag in Bandarban.

21 August, 1947- Baluch Regiment arrives in Chittagong Hill Tracts and forces protesters to lower Indian flag. The Regiment then raises the Pakistan flag.

Tribal leaders Kamini Mohon Dewan and Sneha Kumar Chakma clash over whether Tribal rights will be protected in Pakistan. A large group that is fearful for their rights give up their land and cross over into India.

1948- The new Pakistan government expresses suspicion over allegiance of Hill Tracts people, removing Chittagong Hill Tracts Police Regulation 1881. In fear of their safety, several thousand Tribal people seek refuge in India and Burma. Later, when the Indian and Burmese governments attempt to bring international pressure to take back the refugees, the Pakistan government agrees to abide by 1900 Chittagong Hill Tracts Manual Law.

1950- Violating Chittagong Hill Tracts Manual law, Pakistan government settles several hundred Muslim families in Nanaiachar, Longdu and Bandarban.

1956- Chittagong Hill Tracts Manual law 1900 is ratified in first constitution.

1962- The Pakistan government begins to take away Tribal control by replacing the phrase “separate ruled area” with “Tribal (Upajati) Area” and making major changes to the regulation.

1957-1962- Kaptai Hydro Electric Project Dam is built. 40% of agriculture land in CHT goes under. Thousands of Hill Tracts peoples lose their only source of income.

1964- Hill Tracts peoples who lost their lands in the Kaptai Dam project are moved to Rehabilitation Areas. Dissatisfied with the rehabilitation efforts, 50,000 families take refuge in India. 20,000 of these refugees are later settled by the Indian government in the Arunachal area. The remainder settle in Tripura and other Indian states.

1971- Bangladesh liberation war begins. Major Ziaur Rahman and his troops escape to India via CHT, with help from tribals in the area.

5 December, 1971- After Pakistani soldiers vacate Chittagong’s Panchori region, non-Tribal freedom fighters kill 14 Hill Tracts people. Authorities forbid Tribal freedom fighters when they attempt to intervene.

29 January, 1972- Newly independent Bangladesh’s leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, assures Chakma representatives that Chakmas would get their due share of government jobs.

15 February, 1972- Representatives of the Chakma King hand over a 4-point manifesto to Sheikh Mujib, asking for autonomy for Chittagong Hill Tracts.

24 April, 1972- Manobendro Narayan Larma, member of the King’s council, presents the 4-point manifesto to the committee drafting the Bangladesh constitution.

24 June, 1972- Larma forms a regional political party, the Chittagong Hill Tracts Solidarity Party, to champion the cause of regional autonomy.

13 February 1973- During a tour of the Hill Tracts, Sheikh Mujib says, “From today, there are no tribal sub-groups in Bangladesh; everyone is a Bengali.”

In the general elections of 1973, the tribals’ Solidarity Party wins two seats in the Parliament for Larma and Chai Thowai Rowaza.

August 1975- The political landscape shifts radically after Sheikh Mujib’s assassination. Larma goes into hiding and the Solidarity Party creates an armed militant wing, the Shanti Bahini.

1976- Under the leadership of Ziaur Rahman, the Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board is created, with Area Commander of Chittagong Cantonment as Chairman. The Board sets up a plan to rehabilitate the resettled Bengali poor in Chittagong. Chakma land is redistributed among Bengali settlers, and they also receive government loans to cover their basic food expenses.

29 May 1977- The Shanti Bahini launches a lethal attack on local armed forces. In response, both the Army and Navy in the area are fortified to the extent that the ratio of armed forces to CHT residents is 1:5.

26 December 1977- In a direct warning to Shanti Bahini and Chakmas, Chittagong Cantonment Area Commander Maj. Gen. Manzur announces, “We don’t want you. You can go off wherever you please. We just want your land.”

1979- Professor R.I. Chowdhury of Chittagong University leads a survey team to interview tribals. The results are uniformly critical of the Kaptai Dam project. 93% felt they were economically self-sufficient before the flooding. 89% claim they lost their homes due to flooding, and 69% said the compensation they received was insufficient.

25 March 1980- The Kalampati (Kaokhali) Massacre: the local Martial Law Commander convenes a Chakma meeting at a Buddhist temple. Officers open fire on the gathering, creating a death toll of almost 300. Non-tribals attack Buddhist temples and Chakma residences in the area. MP Upendra Lal Chakma organizes a press conference demanding justice. He accompanies two opposition MPs, Shahjahan Shiraj and Rashed Khan Menon, on a site visit.

25 April 1980- In a press conference, the 3 MPs demand immediate inclusion of Chakma autonomy into the Bangladesh constitution, curtailing of Army presence and cessation of “non-tribal” resettlement in the area.

December 1980 – The Zia government, after light criticism of the Kalampati massacre, passes the Disturbed Area Bill, bestowing upon the Chittagong Police Sub-Inspector and any Non-Commissioned Army Officers the right to shoot individuals suspected of illegal activities and the right to raid any home suspected of storing weapons.

29 July 1980 – Following an earlier closed-door meeting with Chakma leaders, President Zia is quoted in the Guardian (London) as saying “We are doing some wrong there. We are being unfair to the tribes. It is a political problem that is being dealt with by Police and Army action. Yet it can be settled politically very easily. We have no basis for taking over these lands and pushing these people into a corner. We should at least call a meeting of these tribal leaders and ask them their demands.”

30 May 1981 – President Zia is assassinated in Chittagong in a coup led by Maj. Gen. Manzur .

5 February 1982 – Led by the President’s Secretary on Tribal Affairs Subimol Dewan, a group of tribal and non-tribal representatives meet with President Abdus Sattar. The Sattar regime does not see any further resolution of the Tribal problem; the few educational and occupational quotas created under Zia are gradually eliminated.

27 July 1982 – After coming to power, General Ershad meets with three Chakma leaders. He sends Chittagong Cantonment Area Commander Maj. Gen. Mannaf as his representative to Rangamati.

3 October 1983 – Gen. Ershad proposes a package deal to resolve the Hill Tracts crisis. Meanwhile, a rift within the Solidarity Party leads to the assassination of Manabendro Narayan Larma at the hands of supporters of rival Priti Kumar Chakma.

1984- In their report to the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP), the Anti-Slavery Society of London criticizes the Bangladesh delegation’s report at previous year’s session. In particular the Bangladesh delegation’s claim that “Bangladesh has no indigenous population” comes under attack.

May 1985- Asian Conference On Religion And Peace (South Korea) presents report on “The crisis of the Chittagong Hill Tracts” which accuses Bangladesh of violating ILO Convention 107 on Tribal and Indigenous Populations.

21 October 1985 – The 1st summit meeting between the Solidarity Party and the government takes place, with promise of further resolution at a 2d summit scheduled for Christmas. However, the 2d summit falls through and rehabilitation of non-tribals continues.

2 August 1985- Bangladesh delegation to UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations strongly attacks London-based Anti-Slavery Society’s report on Hill Tracts. The delegation chair calls the report “baseless allegations” and “attempts to tarnish the image” of Bangladesh.

1986- First International Conference on Chittagong Hill Tracts held in Amsterdam.

2 June/ 27 July 1986 – Shantibahini launches two separate attacks on the non-tribal population. In retaliation, Bengali settlers pillage local Chakma communities. Many tribals are frightened into crossing the border into India’s Tripura kingdom. Meanwhile, the government claims there are 30,000 non-tribal settlers in CHT, not 50,000 as reported by Jumma activists.

19 September 1987 – In an effort to restore peace to the area, Tribal leaders meet with Gen. Ershad and resolve to find a political solution to the Chakma problem, as opposed to the Shanti Bahini’s search for a solution through violence. Ershad formulates a National Committee headed by the Planning Minister A. K. Khondokar.

17 December 1987 – 19 June 1988 – No resolution is reached during four summit meetings between the government and the Solidarity Party. A 5-point manifesto for regional autonomy is rejected on the grounds that it is untenable under a one-party government. Political solutions circumventing the autonomy issue, including a bid to include Chakma representatives within the government, are rejected by the Solidarity Party.

December 1987- CHT Commission is formed in Netherlands by UN International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs. Commission later brings out influential “Life Is Not Ours” report, which faults Bangladesh government for failing to enter Peace Talks with tribal leaders.

8 August 1988 – The Bagaichari Massacre: an attack on tribal villages in retaliation for a Shanti Bahini attack on Army troops.

14/ 15 December 1988 – The 6th summit meeting breaks down in spite of the Solidarity Party’s compromise in changing the terminology from “regional” to “local” autonomy.

28 February 1989 – A bill is passed in Parliament to allow the creation of local governments in all three districts. These local governments would be led by a “tribal” elected by all members of the Local Government Council.

4 May 1989 – The Shanti Bahini launches an armed response to sabotage the local governments and their electoral process, leading to the assassination of Sub-District Committee Chairman Abdur Rashid Sarkar. In retaliation, settlers attack local Chakma villages, reducing them to infernos. This incident is known as the Longdu Massacre . The martial law government takes over the electoral process, installing its own representatives.

July-August 1990- The UN Economic & Social Council Commission on Human Rights (Working Group on Indigenous Populations) reviews the state of Chittagong Hill Tracts. The number of Hill Tracts refugees in India is reported to be 70,000.

6 December 1990- Gen. Ershad is toppled from power by a popular uprising. In the ensuing melee, a Committee of Tribal students stage a press conference demanding the removal of the local governments.

10 April 1992- Bengali settler Kabir Ahmed is killed, allegedly for the attempted rape of a Jumma woman. In retaliation, settlers and law enforcement authorities devastate the Chakma village of Logang, with a death toll of 300. A wave of international condemation follows. In Japan, 130 NGOs and individuals organize a protest against the incident. Later this coalition forms “Japan Committee on CHT Issues”. Anti-Slavery International, Survival International and Amnesty International send protest letters to Bangladesh High Commission in London. Khaleda Zia’s government forms an inquiry committee to investigate the massacre.

22 April 1992- At Bangladesh Aid Consortium meeting in Paris, Finance Minister Saifur Rahman is greeted by protests against Logang massacre by European human rights organizations.

May 1992- Amnesty International issues report on Logang killings and sends letter to Bangladesh government asking for full inquiry into tribal deaths.

19 May 1992- Violence escalates in the area when yet another youth fracas leads to the formation of a non-tribal Greater Chittagong Committee for Student Uprising.

20 May 1992- Frustrated over government inaction over local violence, Gautam Dewan, Chairman of the Rangamati Local Government Council, hands in his resignation.

8 July 1992- The BNP government presents a bill in Parliament to increase the life-spans of the local governments. Despite vehement opposition from Tribal members among the rival Awami League party, the bill is passed.

10 July 1992-The government creates a Committee to resolve the Chakma problem, led by Communications Minister Oli Ahmed. Leaders of the 3 local governments question legitimacy of the Committee for not including elected MPs.

7 October 1992- Justice SH Khan’s “Logang Disturbances Inquiry Commission” brings out a report blaming the Shanti Bahini for causing the Logang massacre. The report is criticized for biased findings. On page 24, the report states “[Bengali settlers] must raise their own security force namely village defense party who should be given arms and training for protection of the village”– this statement is widely seen as condoning Bengali violence against Jumma people.

5 November 1992- The first summit meeting between the Solidarity Party and the Committee ends unresolved.

17 November 1992- The Naniarchar massacre ? a Tribal student protest is responded to by an army attack on the village of Naniarchar, with 90 tribals killed. Although an inquiry committee is launched by the government, its report remains unpublished.

10 December 1992- International Year of World’s Indigenous People begins. The event is a catalyst for controversy in Bangladesh as a government Minister declares “Bangladesh has no indigenous people”. The statement is condemned by NGO’s, activists and Jumma leaders. Faced by government inaction, NGOs organize “Indigenous Peoples Day”.

March 1995- The US State Department’s “1994 Human Rights Report” reports that government settlement programs increased the number of Bengalis in CHT from 3% in 1947 to 45% in 1994.

23 March 1995- 45 Bangladeshi intellectuals sign a statement accusing Bandarban Police of organizing attacks on tribal students. They include Justice K.M. Sobhan, Dr. Kamal Hossain, Abdul Mannan Chowdhury, Dr. Humayun Azad, and Meghna Guha Thakurata.

1996- Jumma People’s Network of Asia Pacific Australia (JUMNAPA) publishes paper reporting on militarization of Hill Tracts. According to the report, in 1994 there was 1 army officer for every 15 tribals (or “Jumma” people).

23 June 1996 – The Awami League (AL), led by Sheikh Hasina, is elected to power. In the Chittagong Hill tracts constituencies, AL members win parliament seats through repeated promises to work towards solving the Tribal problem. Post-election however, there is consternation at government inaction. In a bid to gain attention, the Shanti Bahini kills a group of 28 Bengali woodcutters.

18 July 1996- Government estimate says 8,000 tribals, soldiers and civilians have been killed to date. Tribal activists say the number is much higher.

30 September 1996 – The Solidarity Party calls a one-month cease-fire to promote discussion with the government. Belatedly, the government forms a National Committee with the aim of resolving the Chakma crisis.

1997- In the 3d update to “Life Is Not Ours” report, CHT Commission (Netherlands) says “negotiations can be successful only if the traditional systems of land rights in CHT are acknowledged”.

14 September 1997 – PCJSS chairman Jyotirindriyo Bodhipriya Larma, alias Shantu Larma, flies into Dhaka for first time since beginning of insurgency to begin talks with the government.

18 September 1997 – After four days of talks, Shantu Larma announces a draft agreement to end the insurgency. Cease-fire is extended until Dec 31. A focal point of the agreement is resolution of disputes over land ownership.

14 October 1997 – At a rally in Bogra, BNP leader Khaleda Zia accuses government of conspiring to hand CHT over to India. She also accuses the government of planning to withdraw the army from the area.

17 October 1997 – PM Sheikh Hasina assures country that army won?t be withdrawn from CHT. She also says: ?We don?t want our people, the citizens of a sovereign country, to stay as refugees in other countries.?

1 November 1997 – In response to calls for making the draft Peace Treaty public, Sheikh Hasina says full disclosure prior to signing may cause complications.

26 November 1997 – Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS) to hold seventh round of talks with National Committee on CHT (NCCHT) in Dhaka to finalize Peace Accord.

Daily Star; Bhorer Kagoj; JaiJaiDin; US State Department; UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations; Refugee Studies Programme (University of Oxford); Center for World Indigenous Studies (Washington); “Genocide in Bangladesh”- Wolfgang Mey; Chittagong Hill Tracts Study & Research Center (Engineering University, Dhaka); International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR); “No Land Rights in Bangladesh”- Colin Johnson; Ray (Dhaka Tribal Student Union, Bijhu Collection)- Biplab Chakma; Existence- Deshpriya Chakma (Dhaka Tribal Student Union); Topic: Chittagong Hill Tracts- Sidhartha Chakma (Nath Brothers); Stop Genocide in Chittagong Hill Tracts- Ogbongha Mohather (Calcutta); Life Is Not Ours- CHT Commission (Netherlands); “CHT: Militarization, Oppression & the Hill Tribes”- Anti Slavery Society (London); Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board Report (1992-93); Upajathis & Adivasis in Bangladesh- Surendra Lal Tripura (Ed. Hafiz R. Khan); Chittagong Hill Tracts: In search of Self-rule and Autonomy- Biplab Chakma (Pathak Shomabesh, 1997); Manabadhikar Shomonay Parishad; Jumma People’s Network of Asia Pacific Australia; HIMAL (April 1997)

Copyright 1997, Naeem Mohaiemen

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