Friday, November 4, 2011

Adibashi and Adhibashi Issue of Bangladesh

Like many countries of our world, especially in South and South-east Asia, Bangladesh has her share of ethnic minorities. There are some 14 ethnic minorities that live in Bangladesh. They are known as Chakma, Marma (Mogh), Larma, Jummas, Tippra, Murong, Panko, Kyong, Mro, Tangchangya, Bomang, Lushai, Kuki, Khumi etc.

In recent years some foreign NGOs and their local agents have been involved in anti-Bangladesh campaigns that are aimed at undermining the sovereignty of the country. Since 1975, the Indian government has been playing a very dubious role by aiding some of the secessionist movements inside Bangladesh, a process which never stopped even in good times with more friendlier governments. Regretably, their anti-Bangladesh campaigns are also aided by paid local agents inside Bangladesh.

As reported in a prominent daily of Dhaka on March 20, 2010, Subir Bnowmick, BBC representative of Kolkata, India, wrote in his book titled ‘Troubled Periphery Crisis of Indian North East’ that India is interested to separate the CHT (Chittagong Hill Tracts) from Bangladesh. It is worthmentioning here that CHT borders both India and Burma and is home to many ethnic minorities. Captain Sachin Karmaker, International Secretary of Minority Congress Party, wrote a letter to the Director, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of America on July 27, 2007 to help them to establishing a separate homeland for ethnic minorities in the CHT, as reported on August 25, 2009.

None of these is a good news for Bangladesh and its 150 million people who enjoy equal status irrespective of their ethnic, religious and tribal origins. There are protected quotas for these ethnic minorities to ensure that even when they don't qualify on competive tests, jobs or positions, a segment of these ethnic minorities are represented.

As I and other more renowned researchers have long shown through our meticulous research works on minority issues of the region, the settlement of the tribal people of the CHT was rather a recent development, dating back only a couple of centuries ago. Marmas or Arakanese Moghs, e.g., came to the CHT in 1784 when Arakan was conquered by Burman king Bodaw Paya. At that time, two thirds of the Arakanese population (approx. 200,000), both Rohingya Muslims/Hindus and Rakhine Maghs (Buddhists) of Arakan fled to Chittagong and its hilly districts. While a section of these peoples (mostly Rakhines) would later return to Arakan after the British East India Company had conquered the territory in 1826 after the first Anglo-Burma War (1824-26), a vast majority continued to live inside Chittagong Division of British Bengal. Chakmas were a nomadic people that moved to and from between the porous borders. There is no record of their presence before the late 17th century when one of their chieftains (Shermonta Khan), being defeated by an Arakanese king, fled Arakan and took refuge in the CHT. Bomang tribe also settled in the CHT during the seventeenth century. Murong, Mro, Kyong, Panko and Kukhi came here about 200 to 300 years ago.

Similar is the case of settlements of some tribal people such as Khasia and Monipuri who live in Sylhet, Garo living in Mymensingh, Santals, Orang and Mundas living in northern districts of Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Bogra and Rangpur. They are not aboriginals. They came here about 100 to 200 years ago during the British regime to work at tea gardens and cultivation. Santals came from Choto Nagpur of India for ‘indigo’ cultivation during the British era.

Lest I be misunderstood, the aboriginals are the groups of human race “who have been residing in a place from time immemorial… they are the true sons of the soil…" (Morgan, An introduction to Anthropology, 1972). As recently reiterated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina the tribal people of the CHT are not indigenous people, nor are the other minority ethnic groups now living inside Bangladesh. They are not aborigines or Adibashis under any pretext. Unlike Burma, Bangladesh's consitituion guarantees equal rights to all its people - indigenous or not. As citizens of the country, a Chakma or a Marma has as much rights as any Bangali (Bengali). So, all the fuss about adibashi and adhibashi is disingenuous and is aimed at creating a rift between all those that call Bangladesh their home.

As also noted in a recent posting in the Weekly Holiday by A.M.K. Chowdhury, all the tribal people living in the CHT came from Tibbet, Arakan and Myanmar. They cannot be recognized as indigenous people. They are ethnic minorities by any definition.

I fully endorses Bangladesh Government's position on the ethnic minorities of Bangladesh. I also strongly condemn the divisive policy of the Indian government and their paid agents, and foreign and local NGOs who are trying to undermine the sovereignty of Bangladesh.

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