SUBIR BHAUMIK | AMID growing Indian suspicion about Bangladesh’s increasingly close ties with China and even its reaching out to Pakistan a letter from foreign minister S Jaishanker to his Bangladesh counterpart AKA Momen has helped ease tensions. Jaishanker’s 2 July letter reciprocates Momen’s congratulations over India’s becoming a non–permanent member of UN Security Council,…
IN 1980s, it has been only the Awami League, amongst the national political parties, to advocate for a political solution to the Chittagong Hill tracts (CHT) crisis. Hence, during the general election held after the fall of General Ershad in the mass uprising of 1990s, the indigenous Jumma people kept extending their support to Awami League.
Quite usually, the CHT Accord that was signed between Sheikh Hasina–led Awami League government and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) on 2nd December 1997, transmitted a hope to the Jumma people including the countrymen and international community, indicating an assumption of begetting a political solution to the longstanding crisis of the CHT.
The Jumma people while entrusting full faith and confidence upon Sheikh Hasina, had cherished the hope that negligence and deprivation for the centuries together would meet an end and that they would gain back their rights. But to this day, standing at the phase after passing 23 years, the Jumma people find their expectation has already turned into a heave of coarse sands completely.
The reason is that in 1997, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, while widely pitting drums and having the country people and international community as witnesses, posing as the genuine seeker of peaceful and political solution to the CHT crisis, though signed the historic CHT Accord, has not implemented it properly and to the fullest. Having acceded to the political, administrative and economic rights in the Accord, the undertaking that she committed to introduce a Special Administrative System in the CHT incorporating the CHT Regional Council and the three Hill District Councils, in practice, she has taken no initiative to translate her commitment into a reality. She uttered mouthful of words one after another denoting to political and peaceful solution to the CHT crisis but she has never stepped nearing to implementation of her words. So, whoever she is, what is there to say about her role or behaviour except political hypocrisy, dishonesty and trickery ?
Sheikh Hasina has implemented various less important sections and sub–sections of the Accord, but has not implemented the key provisions of the Accord as yet. She has left absolutely stranded the main issues of the Accord based upon which stands the political and peaceful solution to the CHT crisis
The post–Accord period passes almost 23 years after signing of the CHT Accord in 1997. Curtailing 5 years of BNP–led four–party coalition government and 2 years of Dr. Fakhruddin–led Caretaker government, Sheikh Hasina–led government, the counter–part signatory of the Accord, is all along in the state power for 16 years. All through the 16 years, Sheikh Hasina has implemented various less important sections and sub–sections of the Accord, but has not implemented the key provisions of the Accord as yet. She has left absolutely stranded the main issues of the Accord based upon which stands the political and peaceful solution to the CHT crisis and which is also supposed to work as a pivot of the self–governing Special Administrative System in the CHT.
The unimplemented main provisions of the Accord, among others, include: to take lawful and administrative measures to preserve the tribal–inhabited feature of CHT; political, administrative and economic powers and functions including general administration, law & order, police, land & land management, forest & environment, tourism, development of communication system to the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils; to make voter lists with the Permanent Residents of the CHT by formulating Election Rules and Electoral Roll Rules and to hold elections in CHT Regional Council and Hill District Councils accordingly; to withdraw all the temporary camps including de facto military rule ‘Operation Uttoron’; to return the dispossessed lands to the Jumma land owners by settling the land disputes through the Land Commission; to rehabilitate the India–returnee Jumma refugees and internally displaced Jumma families in their respective lands after returning their lands to them; cancellation of land leases given to the non–residents; to appoint the permanent residents in all jobs in the CHT on priority basis to the Jumma people; to bring in amendment of all the other laws applicable in CHT including the Police Act 1861, Police Regulation and CHT Regulation 1900, in order to make them in consonance with the Accord; and to rehabilitate the Bengali Muslim settlers outside CHT with due honour, etc. It is the Sheikh Hasina government, signatory of the CHT Accord that has followed dilly–dallying tactics in implementation of core elements of the Accord for 16 years.
To rehabilitate the India–returnee Jumma refugees and internally displaced Jumma families in their respective lands after returning their lands to them; cancellation of land leases given to the non–residents; to appoint the permanent residents in all jobs in the CHT on priority basis to the Jumma people
In fact, towards implementing the first deceptive and procrastinating effort of Hasina administration was noticed in April–May 1998 parliamentary sessions when formulation to the Hill District Council Act and the CHT Regional Council Act were being executed. As it was decided earlier that the drafts of the Acts would be sent to the PCJSS for opinion. But to the utter surprise, in spite of sending the drafts to the PCJSS for opinion, the Hasina administration placed the drafts of the Acts directly before the parliament during April–May sessions. It was seen that at least 4 sections contradicting to the CHT Accord were included in the laws so ingeniously — all of which perilously crippled the rights and jurisdiction of the Accord. The PCJSS voiced out strong protest against the move promptly. It was decided at a special meeting of both the parties that the contradictory provisions would be modified. Despite being so, the Bills were passed in the parliament without bringing in modifications to the conflicting sections of the Bills in May. Later on, though 3 out of 4 contravening sections were modified under continued pressure of PCJSS yet an important section on Development was left unmodified.
Following the event, violation of the Accord by the Hasina administration came up with the issue of constituting the Interim Regional Council. Apart from the Accord, there has been one of the points of the unwritten agreement according to which the PCJSS would form the CHT Regional Council and accordingly, the PCJSS submitted a panel of the Interim CHT Regional Council members to the government. But while excluding the PCJSS–proposed non–tribal members or members from Bengali community and in place, incorporating 3 other Bengali members nominated by Awami League, the government published the panel of the Interim Regional Council in the Gazette on 6 September 1998 without having consultation with the PCJSS. Due to this undue move, it caused the interim CHT Regional Council to delay for 8 months in taking oath of office. Thus, the Hasina administration had its debut in running the continued process of violation of the Accord.
As it was decided earlier that the drafts of the Acts would be sent to the PCJSS for opinion. But to the utter surprise, in spite of sending the drafts to the PCJSS for opinion, the Hasina administration placed the drafts of the Acts directly before the parliament during April–May sessions
The CHT Accord contains the provision by merit of which the internally displaced Jumma families are also to be rehabilitated under the status applicable to the India–returnee refugees. But when the internally displaced Jumma families began to get rehabilitated through the Task Force on Rehabilitation of India–returnee Jumma Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the Hasina administration came up with an anti–Accord proposal stating also to consider the Bengali Muslim settlers as the IDPs and rehabilitate them accordingly. Whereas, no such provision for rehabilitation of the settlers in the CHT enshrined in the Accord. However, there was an unwritten agreement, on the other hand, which stipulated for the rehabilitation of non–tribal settlers outside the CHT with dignity.
At this, while the PCJSS and Jumma Refugee Welfare Association opposed to the government move, a directive was then issued from the Special Affairs Division of the Prime Minister’s office on 19 July 1998 in which it was mentioned also to rehabilitate the Muslim Bengali settlers along with the Jumma IDPs. Despite strong protest and walk out of PCJSS and Jumma Refugee Welfare Association, in the 11th session of the Task Force held on 15 May 2000, the government side declared 90,208 tribal families and 38,156 settler families to be IDPs illegally and unilaterally.
The Anti–Accord move on part of the Hasina administration yielded in getting thwarted down the rehabilitation process of the Jumma IDPs at the very beginning the situation of which still continues to exist. The Jumma displaced families are passing sub–human life under compulsion in the inaccessible hills and reserve forests with deprivation from education, healthcare and development facilities. On the other end, even having decision concluded to that affect in the Session of CHT Accord Implementation Committee, the Hasina administration has not cancelled the Anti–Accord office order of rehabilitating the Muslim Settler families in the CHT.
After signing the CHT Accord, PCJSS deposited all the arms and ammunitions of its 1947 members to the government within 45 days accordingly and declared abolition of its armed wing. Consequently, with this, the longstanding bloody conflict ended. But despite so, in place of the ‘Operation Dabanal’ (Operation Wildfire) introduced in 1970s to combat the insurgency, the government for once again promulgated de facto military rule named ‘Operation Uttoron’ (Operation Upliftment) in 2001 one sidedly — violating the CHT Accord, and kept the ‘Pacification Project’ continued — yet another counter insurgency measure. As it has been earlier, issuance of a grant of 10 thousand metric ton food grains to the army authority of the CHT continued under the project. In place of rehabilitating the settlers outside the CHT, the army began to spend the grant in the settler–centric programs, such as, expansion of cluster villages, healthcare, education and socio–economic development.
The PCJSS would form the CHT Regional Council and accordingly, the PCJSS submitted a panel of the Interim CHT Regional Council members to the government. But while excluding the PCJSS–proposed non–tribal members or members from Bengali community and in place, incorporating 3 other Bengali members nominated by Awami League
Indeed, it is by merit of the ‘Operation Uttoron’ that was promulgated in the name of aiding the civil administration in implementing the CHT Accord, the army continued to control all the subjects and functions on CHT affairs including general administration, law & order, land & land management and development programs in the CHT with supremacy. On the other end, all the temporary camps were to be withdrawn as per the provision enshrined in the Accord. But the Hasina administration withdrew only 100 temporary camps within the last 23 years. More than 400 temporary camps are still in force in the CHT. At present, it is the de facto military rule ‘Operation Uttoron’ and the military supremacy of more than 4 hundred temporary camps that has stood as the arch obstacle in implementing the CHT Accord. Thus, the way along which the Hasina administration, itself, continues to violate and cripple the CHT Accord in every step, which appears tantamount to extreme fraudulence and faithlessness to PCJSS and Jumma people.
The land issue comprises one of the main elements of CHT crisis. From 1979 to 1985 more than 4 hundred thousand Muslim Bengali people from plain districts were shifted and rehabilitated in the CHT. It is due to unavailability of arable lands in the CHT, the settlers were rehabilitated in the lands recorded and possessed by the Jumma people, in deed. Thus, the settlers, through eviction of the Jumma people from their recorded ancestral lands and homesteads in which they have been dwelling over the generations together, brought under their illegal occupation. As a result, the land problem has turned into a burning globe of fire. There has been drawn a provision in the CHT Accord to resolve the CHT land problem through a would–be–formed Land Commission chaired by a retired Justice to ensure returning of the dispossessed lands to the actual owners of the Jumma people. If the settlers are made return their illegally occupied lands to the Jumma land owners, then it would also be supportive to the programs of relocating the settlers outside the CHT. This has been the most important element of the CHT Accord. Though Hasina administration without consultation with the PCJSS and the CHT Regional Council, hastily passed the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act in the parliament on 17 July 2001. Consequently, it was found that with 14 sections contravening to the CHT Accord the Act was framed undermining the already recognised rights and jurisdiction of the Accord. This has been the biggest fraudulence and motivated creation of dreadful obstruction of Hasina administration in implementing the Accord. Consequently, as the law, for not having been formulated precisely, in deed, the program of settling the land disputes in the CHT, one of the core issues, has got faced down. After returning to power in 2009, Sheikh Hasina again went back to its procrastination tactics in amending the contravening sections contained in the CHT Land Disputes Resolution Commission Act 2001. The Hasina administration consumed 8 years in dilly–dallying with the task. At last, the law was amended in 2016.
But what next in the pipe line was formulation of the Rules of the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission with which the Hasina administration again has begun pulling delay tactics. Having prepared the Draft Rules of CHT Land Commission, the CHT Regional Council submitted to the Land Ministry on 1 January 2017. But the Hasina administration has not yet finalised the Rules. It is due to not having the Rules formulated, the Land Commission has not been able to start with the judicial work on the land disputes. Thus, the Hasina administration has wasted 20 years simply in formulating the law and the concerned Rules for resolution of the land disputes as per the Accord, let alone starting the judicial functions on land dispute resolution and returning the lands to the Jumma people. As the land disputes have not been resolved even within 20 years, in one end, extreme resentment and despair over the government move while contention and conflict between the Jumma people and the government and also Jumma and settler people cantering the land disputes in CHT. In perspective of resolving the land disputes, indeed at the present time, solution to the land disputes has become absolutely uncertain due to obstruction being offered by the Hasina administration.
Hasina administration yielded in getting thwarted down the rehabilitation process of the Jumma IDPs at the very beginning the situation of which still continues to exist. The Jumma displaced families are passing sub–human life under compulsion in the inaccessible hills and reserve forests with deprivation from education, healthcare and development facilities
The CHT Accord confers the power to the three Circle Chiefs with authority of issuing Permanent Resident Certificates (PRC) to the permanent residents belonging to both Jumma people and Bengali community (Tribal and Non–Tribal peoples) subject to recommendation of the Union Council or Municipality concerned. The provision has also been duly inducted in the three Hill District Council Acts. But the Hasina administration entrusted the three Deputy Commissioners with the power of issuing PRCs through an office directive besides the three Circle Chiefs on 21 December 2000 violating the CHT Accord and the three Hill District Council Acts. Issuance of such directive violating the law that was formulated and passed in the parliament is through an illegal move and violation of law yet the Hasina administration did the task blatantly. Despite placing pressing demands repeatedly, the Hasina administration has not cancelled the office directive as yet. In compliance to the directive, the Deputy Commissioners have been providing PRCs to the outsiders including the Rohingya people and by merit of the PRCs so issued, the outsiders have been gaining various facilities including access to employment, enrolment in the electoral roll and land ownership in the CHT the measure of which stands totally contradictory to the Accord.
It is worthy to be mentioned that the Hasina administration transferred the subject of Local Tourism means the Hill District Tourism to the Hill District Councils for the name sake under authority. The Office and Tourism Centres run by Bangladesh Tourism Corporation or other institution have not been transferred to the Hill District Councils. The Hill District Councils have been transferred with no jurisdiction over the other projects but only with the authority by which the institutions can undertake tourism projects at their own financial capacity, which is contravening to the provision of the Accord. Initially, the Hill District Council authorities though had shown mild reaction to the government measure, ultimately, they had to keep silence under the government pressure for the reason of being all the three Hill District Councils constituted with the nominated partisan members only. Despite repeated objections on part of the PCJSS and CHT Regional Council, Hasina administration undertook no step to review the issue and to transfer the subject precisely and afresh. On the contrary, while violating the Hill District Council Acts and CHT Regional Council Act, various government institutions and authorities, army and various private entrepreneurs have established their tourism centres and are running their business having the lands of local Jumma people illegally occupied. As a result, the livelihood of the local Jumma people has been jeopardised and various socio–cultural problems are being cropped up.
The army continued to control all the subjects and functions on CHT affairs including general administration, law & order, land & land management and development programs in the CHT with supremacy. On the other end, all the temporary camps were to be withdrawn as per the provision enshrined in the Accord. But the Hasina administration withdrew only 100 temporary camps within the last 23 years
During the formal dialogue with Hasina administration for solution of the CHT crisis, PCJSS sought constitutional guarantee of the Accord. The government side, by then it was stated that the then Awami League government did not have that much majority in the house to amend the constitution to that affect and hence, it would not be possible on their part to ensure constitutional guarantee to the Accord. However, the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina assured of taking measure for awarding constitutional guarantee if they could come to power with majority in future. In 2008, as the Awami League obtained absolute majority in the house, the PCJSS placed the demand for constitutional guarantee of the Accord with due formality. Especially, during the 15th Amendment to the constitution, a demand was placed for inclusion of the CHT Regional Council Act and the three Hill District Council Acts framed in consonance with the CHT Accord, under the First Schedule of the constitution to ensure ‘legal protection’ (‘Saving of the Laws’) as the ‘Effective Laws’. But Hasina administration did not pay heed to the demand. However, though the clause stating: “tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities” was inducted into the 15th Amendment under Article ‘23A’ but by that measure the laws formulated as per the Accord have not been ascertained with a safeguard in the constitution.
It is to be mentioned that rehabilitation of more than 4 hundred thousand Muslim Bengali population in CHT during General Zia and General Ershad regime made the CHT crisis more complicated. While demanded during the formal dialogue for solution of the CHT crisis, PCJSS representatives were told that Bangladesh government expressed its consent in principle to relocate the Bengali settlers to other place, however, if the withdrawal issue of the settlers was directly written in the Accord, there would be an adverse reaction throughout the country. Hence, as Hasina administration compromised, even though the said issue was not to be written in the Accord, the government would relocate the settlers to a place outside CHT. But the government has so far taken no initiative to rehabilitate the settlers on the plains as per the unwritten agreement. Rather, the position of Muslim settlers continues to be strengthened and expanded.
It is pertinent to note that there was an unwritten agreement between the two parties for the rehabilitation of the Muslim settlers with dignity outside the CHT. Sheikh Hasina repeatedly promised the PCJSS that the government would take appropriate steps in this regard. It is to be mentioned that, even after signing the Accord on 2 December 1997, also during meet with the PCJSS representatives in Dhaka, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina repeated her commitment with full assurance.
Hasina administration has not cancelled the office directive as yet. In compliance to the directive, the Deputy Commissioners have been providing PRCs to the outsiders including the Rohingya people and by merit of the PRCs so issued, the outsiders have been gaining various facilities including access to employment, enrolment in the electoral roll and land ownership in the CHT
While the issue of financial aid grant of European Union arose, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, herself, told the PCJSS representatives that the EU financial grant for rehabilitation of the settlers would not require. She strongly opined that the task of rehabilitating the settlers would be comfortably possible at own of the government. It is also stated in 20–point Package Agreement with the Jumma Refugees that the lands would be returned to the Jumma refugees and then they would be rehabilitated. To that end, commitment was given to return the lands to the Jumma refugees and to remove the settlers to elsewhere. But after signing the Accord, Hasina administration has had no initiative to that affect. On top of all, Hasina administration continues to refuse the unwritten agreement and commitments, which has been a deceit and equivalent to faithlessness. Consequently, 40 villages of the India–returnee Jumma refugees illegally occupied by the settlers have remained under settlers’ occupation and the lands belonging to more than 9,000 families out of 12,000 remain unreturned to the actual Jumma owners.
As though the 20–point Package Agreement signed with the Jumma refugees based on which the settlers were supposed to have been shifted from the lands owned by the returnee Jumma refugees, instead, it was during Sheikh Hasina government tenure in 2000, the settlers’ cluster villages were expanded having illegally occupied the recorded and already possessed lands of Jumma people with the help of security forces in the areas of Gamaridhala, Bijitola, Nunchhari, Paguchyachhari, Katting Tila, Lemuchhari, Joysen Karbari Para etc. under Khagrachhari Sadar Upazila and Mahalchari Upazila, as it has been done in other parts of the CHT. In place of resolving the land disputes as per the terms and conditions enshrined in the Accord, Hasina administration has aggravated the land disputes to further extent in this way. Though Santu Larma, the President of PCJSS brought it to Sheikh Hasina’s notice to stop the extension of settlers’ cluster village violating the CHT Accord and 20–point Package Agreement, she did not step up any measure to that regard.
One of the examples of farce and deception of the Hasina administration remain completely refrained from making the voter list of the three hill districts with permanent residents. Hasina administration has not undertaken any initiative during the last 16 years to formulate Election Rules and Electoral Roll Rules to enumerate the electoral roll in accordance with the provision of the Accord and to hold elections in the three Hill District Councils. In 1999, having formulated the drafts, the Election Rules and Electoral Roll Rules of the Hill District Councils were submitted to the Hasina administration, on part of the CHT Regional Council. Despite repeated efforts for finalisation of the Rules persuaded by the PCJSS and CHT Regional Council, Hasina administration did not undertake any effective measure in this regard during its quarter to 4 years tenure immediately after signing the Accord and even after returning to power in 2009, it has not taken any initiative to formulate the Rules during the last 12 years. Consequently, elections in the CHT Regional Council and Hill District Councils could not be held during the last 23 years after signing the Accord.
On the contrary, instead of constituting the Hill District Councils in complete form with the directly elected members, the government continues to form the Interim Hill District Councils with the nominated partisan people. Moreover, despite opposition of PCJSS and CHT people, Hasina administration had increased the number of members of each Interim Council from 5 to 15 in 2014 by unilaterally amending the three Hill District Council Acts speedily within 6 months. As a result, organising the Councils with the members directly elected by the people and introducing the public representing ‘special administrating system’ with the elected members have become a far–flung matter. Thus, how the Hasina administration has turned the CHT Regional Council and Hill District Councils into dysfunctional and ineffective institutions, which reflects the ill–will of the Hasina administration in introducing the self–rule Special Administrative System in the CHT as it appears.
In 2008, as the Awami League obtained absolute majority in the house, the PCJSS placed the demand for constitutional guarantee of the Accord with due formality. Especially, during the 15th Amendment to the constitution, a demand was placed for inclusion of the CHT Regional Council Act and the three Hill District Council Acts framed in consonance with the CHT Accord, under the First Schedule of the constitution to ensure ‘legal protection’
In the interest of appointing more party members as chairman–members of the Interim Hill District Councils, the Hasina administration has amended the Hill District Council Act very quickly within 6 months, But the approval and implementation of the CHT Regional Council’s project titled “Construction of CHT Head Office, Residence and Related Complex” has been pending for the last two decades. Although the project was recently approved by ETNEC after two decades, but the infrastructure of the CHT Regional Council has not yet been developed. Thus, the Hasina administration has left the Regional Council, the highest institution of Special Governance System in the CHT, in a state of stagnation.
It is also pertinent to note that according to the CHT Accord, the highest body of Special Administrative System in the CHT is the Regional Council and the three Hill District Councils. These councils have responsibilities and powers of general administration and law and order. Needless to say, in order to make the Councils active and effective, various laws applicable in the CHT region have to be amended in accordance with the CHT Accord, otherwise the Councils will remain ineffective. Therefore, the Hasina administration did not take any initiative to amend the laws and regulations applicable in the CHT, including the CHT Regulation of 1900, the Police Act of 1861 and the Forest Act of 1927, so that the CHT Regional Council and the three Hill District Councils could not exercise their responsibilities and powers of general administration and law and order in the CHT. On the contrary, the Deputy Commissioners and Superintendents of Police of the three hill districts have been protected by the government and through them the general administration and law and order of the district have been directly abusing such powers against the Jumma people in direct cooperation with the army authorities.
While adopting the policy of Development Engineering program designed to destroy the national entity and cultural existence of Jumma people like her predecessors, Hasina administration, in one hand, has been silently executing the conspiracy of ethnic cleansing of Jumma people while alongside executing the incomplete blue print of Pakistan to turn the non–Muslim inhabited CHT into a Muslim–inhabited region
Another major insincerity of Hasina administration is to issue 11–point directive from the Home Ministry violating the Accord. The 11–Point directive dated 7 January 2015, among others, includes: during the meeting with the indigenous people (in words of the government, tribes) by domestic/foreign person/organisation, to ensure physical presence of individuals representing local administration and Army/BGB; foreigners intending to visit CHT to obtain pre–permission from the Home Ministry prior to a month before travelling to the CHT; transfer of Jumma Police constables from CHT to other districts, etc.
As per the provision of ‘Police (Local)’ subject enshrined in the Accord is to devolve to the Hill District Councils and the local Police Force ranking from constable to Sub–Inspector is to be appointed by the Hill District Councils. But let alone devolvement of the Police subject and appointment of police force ranking from Constable to Sub–Inspector based on preference to the indigenous Jumma candidates, the Hasina administration issued thus anti–Accord order to transfer the Jumma Police constables, who were posted in the three hill districts of CHT, to other districts. And the very purpose of imposing restriction upon domestic and foreign nationals on talking with Jumma people or local organisation without presence of official from local administration or defence service personnel is to isolate the Jumma people from the outside world, which is contravening to the main spirit of the Accord. This restriction of Hasina administration is nothing but an ill–effort of carrying out irrespective repression and suppression upon the Jumma people while keeping the countrymen and international community in the dark. With the anti–Accord programs of the kind, the Hasina administration commits to extreme trickery and faithlessness one after another in dealing with the Jumma people.
With Sheikh Hasina as Prime Minister for 16 years, Santu Larma, President of the PCJSS and Chairman of the CHT Regional Council had at talks and meetings several times on implementation of CHT Accord. Many important decisions were taken on implementation of the Accord in those high–level talks. But those decisions have never found the face of reality. Indeed, all those decisions were implemented simply in commitments of Sheikh Hasina. At last, in response to Sheikh Hasina’s request, identifying the unimplemented issues of the Accord, Santu Larma had prepared an 18–page Report titled: “Statement on Unimplemented Issues of the CHT Accord” attaching supporting document with 16 annexes and submitted it to the Prime Minister on 1 April 2015. But in practice, no headway was made directing to execution of the unimplemented issues of the Accord as per this report. Under this circumstance, the allegation of PCJSS that the Jumma people have been cheated by the Hasina administration can never be unreasonable.
Army campaigns, unwarranted searching of houses, taking arrested, extra–judicial killings in the name of ‘crossfire’, filing up projected cases, etc. have been accelerated. Indeed, the CHT has been transformed into a blocked region in one hand, by spreading propaganda against the Jumma people through hired yellow journalists while imposing restriction on publication of the news categorically on violation of rights to speech
As a matter of fact, under heavy domestic and global pressure, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed the CHT Accord with commitment to resolve the CHT crisis politically and peacefully in 1997 and though she obliged to accede to the political, economic, social, cultural and land rights of the permanent residents of Jumma and Bengali people but indeed, she did not accept it at heart. Consequently, it took no more time to get unmasked the ultra–nationalist and ultra–communal face of Sheikh Hasina and her administration. The Accord that had been signed chiefly aiming at resolving the crisis by political and peaceful means and to that end, the Hasina administration did not step forward in resolving the crisis peacefully and politically so far and on top of it, following her autocratic predecessors, Sheikh Hasina adopted a policy of meting out steam roller upon the Jumma people using the military and para–military forces to block their voice demanding implementation of the Accord. The episode did not stop there, while adopting the policy of Development Engineering program designed to destroy the national entity and cultural existence of Jumma people like her predecessors, Hasina administration, in one hand, has been silently executing the conspiracy of ethnic cleansing of Jumma people while alongside executing the incomplete blue print of Pakistan to turn the non–Muslim inhabited CHT into a Muslim–inhabited region.
With this purpose, the Hasina administration has been keeping de facto military rule active in the CHT, uprooting the Jumma people from their ancestral lands and homesteads unilaterally by: unilateral declaration of more than 200,000 acres of Jum–cultivating and Mouza lands; giving tens of thousand acres of lands in leases to the outsiders; acquisition of thousand acres of lands in the name of establishing army camps, their expansions and establishing Artillery Firing Zones; illegal occupation of hundred acres of hills for tourism development managed by the army; expansion of settlers’ cluster villages and continuation of rehabilitation of outsiders; carrying out communal attacks upon the Jumma people, setting their villages in fire, violations against the women and children, etc. programs.
In place of political and peaceful solution to the crisis, alike the autocratic predecessors, at present indeed, the Hasina administration has chosen the path of military solution and to that end, it has strengthened the militarisation in CHT. As a part of the whole, Hasina administration has taken initiative to establish army new camps in various areas. Hasina administration has resorted to spread wide–ranging propaganda and conspiring programs as to identify the individuals and organisations including the PCJSS members as ‘terrorists’, ‘extortionists’ and ‘armed miscreants. Alongside, army campaigns, unwarranted searching of houses, taking arrested, extra–judicial killings in the name of ‘crossfire’, filing up projected cases, etc. have been accelerated. Indeed, the CHT has been transformed into a blocked region in one hand, by spreading propaganda against the Jumma people through hired yellow journalists while imposing restriction on publication of the news categorically on violation of rights to speech, rights to assembly and association and human rights, on the other. Consequently, the news of atrocities by the army and para–military forces are getting slipped under the carpet in the country’s mass media. Thus, the overall situation of CHT is getting unstable and conflicting day by day, as it has been during pre–Accord era.
Violating the Hill District Council Acts and CHT Regional Council Act, various government institutions and authorities, army and various private entrepreneurs have established their tourism centres and are running their business having the lands of local Jumma people illegally occupied. As a result, the livelihood of the local Jumma people has been jeopardised and various socio–cultural problems are being cropped up
It is not that Hasina administration has cheated only in case with the CHT issue, also it has cheated to the extreme extent with the minority communities and other indigenous groups of the country. Hasina administration gave a commitment to form a separate Commission for the indigenous communities to recover their dispossessed lands. But the grand alliance government led by Sheikh Hasina did not proceed even nearness to her commitment during the last 12 years. On the other side, though assurance was given to recover the lands and homesteads once had been snatched away from the religious minorities in the name of ‘Vested Properties’ including the lands of indigenous people living in other parts of the country, the Hasina administration has been wasting times in bringing due amendment to the law throughout the decade last. No headway has been made in the recovery and returning the ‘Vested Properties’ to the owners. Recently, in April 2020, the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council alleged that attack upon the Hindus, carrying out arson and illegal land occupation have not got stopped even amid deadly world–wide Covid19 pandemic. It is due to continuous impunity to the attackers also during Sheikh Hasina government’s tenure, continuation of such attacks has remained on the trek during the ongoing Corona crisis. Whereas, in taking to the guise as messiah of the minority Hindus and delivering honey–dripping message, it is hard to find out the 2nd one to make a pair.
Sheikh Hasina, to herself and of her government, though claims to be a non–communal and democratic yet her government is noticed entering upon alliance with the fundamental Islamic ally like Saudi Arabia; getting into alliance with Hefazat–e–Islam, the radical Islamic organisation; and taking initiative to introduce Islamic Lesson Plan by excluding the texts of non–Muslim authors from the textbooks with the aid of Hefazat–e–Islam. It is rather easy to identify the character of the rightist BNP and Jamat for their ultra nationalist and extreme fundamentalist words and activities. Hence, Sheikh Hasina’s policy on the issues of CHT crisis, indigenous peoples and minority communities draws no distinction; rather it is more terrible and destructive by all counts.
The people in the ruling party and government often cite the signing of CHT Accord with preference, as one of the prime political success of Sheikh Hasina. The ruling party people get boosted in pride to mention the Félix Houphouët-Boigny — UNESCO Peace Prize in 1998 and Indira Gandhi Peace Award honoured to Sheikh Hasina for her initiative for a peaceful solution to the CHT crisis. But as the character of a people’s leader or people–friendly politician cannot be just assuring with commitment but not to keep it accordingly and similarly, it cannot be reckoned that it has the ground of reality to derive pride out of such success. Rather, it could be held for an illustration of cheating, faithlessness and hypocrisy worthy to be a historical theme.
The CHT Accord that Sheikh Hasina and her government signed by spreading out heart and good will with alluring commitment of political and peaceful solution, undeniably, that has been not for a solution to the CHT crisis but the ultimate aim behind the move was to divert Jumma people’s movement for rights to self–determination by snatching away the arms and ammunition of the PCJSS with entrapping of cheating and ultimately to destroy its working capability of the PCJSS. To that regard, though Sheikh Hasina and her government could succeed for a time being, but in the history, it will remain indelible as political deception, farce and hypocrisy. On the contrary, it can safely be stated in other words that the Jumma people have been pushed towards the do–or–die struggle, which cannot be desirable in the greater interest of the country.
Therefore, in the history of the CHT Accord, Sheikh Hasina and her government will be considered as a betrayer in the angry minds of the oppressed, exploited and cheated Jumma people. ■