The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are home to the indigenous Jumma tribes of Bangladesh, who consist of eleven ethnicities and are predominantly Buddhist, Christian and animist believers and who, like native and indigenous groups in the United States, Canada and Australia, fight against overwhelming oblivion. The Bangladeshi government during the brutal Dhaka crusade to overwhelm the Jumma in a sea of Muslim Bengali settlers in the name of inevitable “modernization”, “development”, “assimilation” or “progress” is about to materialize. Indigenous peoples are rapidly becoming a minority in their own lands as the number of (often illegal) Bengali settlements, backed by overwhelming military firepower, continues to grow.
The marginalization of the Jumma arguably began in the late 1970s and 80s. Dhaka’s ruthless response to the indigenous Shanti Bahini insurgency terrorized the entire Jumma population. The Bangladesh Armed Forces, in close cooperation with Bengali settlers, have murdered thousands of indigenous civilians, destroyed or desecrated dozens of Buddhist temples and Hindu shrines, looted and burned down countless homes, and raped women with impunity. Victims told Amnesty International that the torture was rampant and arbitrary: “We were all thrown into the pit… the soldiers would throw boiling water at us whenever they felt like having a little fun . Soldiers threw infants into burning huts and shouted “No Chakmas will be born in Bangladesh” while shooting women in the stomach.
These hellish scenes forced countless Jumma to brave unforgiving terrain to flee to refugee camps in India. Scholar Zobaida Nasreen interviewed women like Rajeswari Tripura, who remembered mothers abandoning and sometimes killing their own crying babies so as not to alert army patrols as they fled through the forests bordering the India. Many children also died of disease before reaching safety. History has largely forgotten this trail of Jumma tears, but countless survivors never recovered: “I am the most unhappy mother in the world, who could only save my life, but not my child”, one told Nasreen.
The Jumma withstood extreme hardships in India. Professor Asha Hans says poverty in the refugee camps of Tripura dwarfs that of India’s urban slums. Delhi authorities have been slow to build accommodation to accommodate thousands of refugees fleeing the seemingly unrelenting killings in the CHT. Warm welcomes were just as rare. The Indigenous Refugee Welfare Association says Indian doctors and paramedics perform their duties only sporadically. During the first months of 1987, about 900 refugees died of diarrhoea. Indigenous women, who grew up in a culture that valued self-reliance, discipline and hard work, struggled to adjust to a life of dependency. Depression, anemia and many other health problems spread like wildfire in the camps. Any compensation offered by Dhaka to refugees who returned to the CHT after the insurgency ended was meager.
Additionally, political scientist Donald Beachler argues that the gradual extermination of the Jumma peoples prevents Bangladeshi intellectuals and politicians from speaking freely and objectively about Bangladesh’s liberation war against Pakistan in 1971. The Pakistani military pursued a genocidal strategy to crush the Bangladeshi independence movement. This barbaric campaign killed between one and three million people, led to the mass rape of 200,000 to 400,000 Bangladeshi women and displaced around ten million refugees to India.
Successive Bangladeshi administrations, particularly the Islamic-oriented military dictatorships of Ziaur Rahman and Hussain Ershad, were reluctant to draw attention to the 1971 genocide because Dhaka would in turn expose itself to accusations of ethnic cleansing in the CHT. Historians like Mark Levene have previously likened Dhaka’s heinous mistreatment of the Jumma to “creeping genocide”. Bangladeshi governments protect themselves from legitimate criticism of their continued repression of the Jumma by keeping silent about Pakistan’s crimes in 1971. When discussing the campaign, they regurgitate distorted, biased, incomplete and “sure” not to ruffle too much. feathers at home or abroad.
Today, Dhaka continues its relentless war against the Jumma without contest. Professors Pranab Panday and Ishtiaq Jamil argue that the 1997 Peace Accord, which promised to demilitarize the CHTs, protect indigenous land rights, revive Jumma religious and cultural distinctiveness, rehabilitate refugees and grant the Jumma some degree of autonomy through regional and district councils, has failed to bring about lasting peace. The army simply refuses to dismantle hundreds of bases and camps scattered throughout the CHTs. In blatant violation of the Accord, troops erected 19 new camps between 2019 and January 2021, according to the Hill Voice. Adding insult to injury, army officers are forcing Jumma villagers to rebuild camps and cut down forests without pay. They suffered no consequences. As politician Jumma Santu Larma said last year, “the entire government and state apparatus is against the implementation of the agreement”.
Meanwhile, Jumma political parties like the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) and the United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF) are bickering among themselves instead of defending the interests of their constituents. Eurasia Review reported in 2021 that ethnic or ideological rivalries between these parties, and sometimes even within the PCJSS, often escalate into violent internecine conflicts and turf wars – much to the delight of an army always looking for opportunities to divide and conquer the Jumma. Professor Nasreen says 50,000 PCJSS and UPDF members were killed between 1997 and 2013.
Additionally, the PCJSS, UPDF and many other factions engage in extortion rackets involving the timber trade, livestock markets and transportation routes. These illicit activities generate huge sums of money that various factions squander on arms and ammunition. As a result, ordinary Jummas became disillusioned with their leaders: “No one is good, neither the JSS nor the UPDF; we are afraid of both.
What can be done to improve the fate of the Jumma? Above all, the UN must immediately sever its ties with the Bangladeshi armed forces until the military garrisons, checkpoints and command posts in the CHTs are permanently dismantled. Several organizations, such as the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), have warned for years that UN peacekeeping operations employ Bangladeshi soldiers. guilty of heinous atrocities against the Jumma. In 2003, for example, Colonel Abdul Awal allegedly supported Bengali settlers who allegedly raped dozens of indigenous women, burned down 359 indigenous houses and destroyed three Buddhist temples in Mahalchhari sub-district. Awal had just returned to Bangladesh after serving in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone.
The Bangladesh Armed Forces view the CHT and its people as little more than training grounds for low-intensity warfare – valuable work experience, which senior Dhaka brass look upon favorably when selecting troops to participate. to UN peacekeeping missions. A 2012 IWGIA report indicates that the Bangladesh Peace Support Operations Training Institute hires army officers who have served in the CHTs as instructors. Many of these peacekeepers are then implicated in terrible crimes abroad. The Daily Star claims that Bangladeshi personnel deployed to Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic have sexually assaulted children, raped teenagers and engaged in exploitative relationships with local women.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations must persuade Dhaka to prevent CHT veterans from participating in overseas peacekeeping. In addition, a more rigorous vetting process, both at the UN and in Bangladesh, is needed to root out soldiers complicit in human rights abuses.
Finally, civil rights groups and NGOs must pool their resources and launch a massive campaign of information, boycott and divestment to dismantle the tourist industry controlled by the CHT army. Journalist and anthropologist Hana Ahmed has amply demonstrated that hotels, resorts, and scenic getaways in CHTs are often built on the ruins of Indigenous homes, schools, and villages. Jumma groups estimate that the army has converted around 1,700 acres of land into tourist attractions, resulting in the eviction of 700 indigenous families.
Tourism here also gives rise to sex trafficking rings that target poor Jumma women and girls. Lawyers like Samari Chakma fear that traffickers will force indigenous women to become surrogates in exchange for money, but NGOs tend to avoid the issue for fear of alienating wealthy donors or angering military authorities. local. Tourists are generally oblivious or indifferent to the oppression and humiliation that the Jumma endure every day. Visitors see them as charming relics of a bygone era or “something to consume”, to quote women’s rights activist Dawnai Prue Naly, and rarely as human beings deserving of respect, sympathy or solidarity.
The military’s systematic dehumanization of the Jumma is carefully concealed under layers of deceptive marketing and propaganda. It’s up to us to tear down these fabrications and expose the ugly truth of what the Jumma experience in the CHT.