All is not well in CHT
THE arson attack on four villages of the hill people in Khagrachari by Bengali settlers on Saturday, which left at least 100 houses gutted and prompted the villagers to flee to no man’s land on the Bangladesh-India border at Matiranga upazila, provides a poignant pointer to increasing tension in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. According to a report published in New Age on Monday, the trouble began over a rumour that a Bengali settler had been abducted. The attack seems to have so unnerved the hill people that they refuse to return home from the no man’s land despite assurances of safety and security by the state minister for CHT affairs; hardly anyone can blame them for feeling vulnerable after an attack that turned their homes into ashes in a few hours. The affected villagers also claim that a number of people were killed in the attack, which is yet to be confirmed.
It is unfortunate that natural peace remains elusive almost 16 years after the CHT peace treaty between the then government of the Awami League and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti, the political umbrella of the secessionist Shanti Bahini brought to a close more than two decades of guerrilla warfare in the hill tracts; it is not quite surprising, though. After all, while three different governments have been at the helms since the signing of the treaty, there has not been much progress in its implementation. It is true that some provisions of the treaty are in contravention with the constitution and need to be amended. However, it is also true that some provisions of the treaty are free from legal and/or constitutional glitches and thus could have been effectively implemented in all these years.
That these provisions have not been implemented, nor has there been any significant move to amend the unconstitutional and unlawful provisions, tends to highlight the general apathy, if not antipathy, of the ruling elite, composed of majority Bengalis, to the causes and concerns of minority ethnic communities of the hills. Such apathy or antipathy could very well be traced to nationalistic chauvinism of the majority Bengalis, which might have had prompted the hill people to take up arms so many decades ago in the first place.
Suffice to say, the failure, if not unwillingness, of the ruling elite to effectively implement the CHT treaty could only deepen suspicion among the hill people of the former’s intent. Moreover, the endless influx of Bengali settlers, along with their increasing highhandedness, could be viewed by the hill people as part of an elaborate scheme to drive them away from the ancestral lands.
Worryingly still, with the passage of so many largely fruitless years, in terms of effective implementation of the treaty, the problem of mutual mistrust—between settlers and hill people, and among hill people—may have become already intractable. The ruling elite need to act, and act fast, before it snowballs into a full-blown crisis. For starters, the government needs to identify Saturday’s attackers and have them punished, and also arrange for rehabilitation of the affected hill people immediately.
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