Chittagong Hill Tracts
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The Chittagong Hill Tracts (Chakma: 𑄦𑄨𑄣𑄴 𑄌𑄘𑄨𑄉𑄋𑄴, Hill chadigang)/ (Bengali: পার্বত্য চট্টগ্রাম, Parbotya Chottogram) comprise an area of 13,295 km2 in southeastern Bangladesh and border India and Myanmar (Burma). They formed a single district of Bangladesh until 1984, when they were divided into three districts: Khagrachari, Rangamati, and Bandarban. Topographically, the Chittagong Hill Tracts are the only very hilly area in Bangladesh. With Ladakh, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka, they constitute one of the few remaining abodes of Buddhism in South Asia.
According to the census of 1991, the population was 974,447, of which 501,114 were tribal peoples and the rest were from other communities. The tribal peoples, collectively known as the Jumma, include the Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Tanchangya, Chak, Pankho, Mru, Murung, Bawm, Lushai, Khyang, and Khumi.
The population of the three districts (zilas) totalled 1,587,000 in the provisional returns of the census of 2011. About 50% of the population are tribal peoples and mainly followers of Theravada Buddhism; 49% of the inhabitants are ; Muslims;Hindus and 1% Christians, or animists.
The early history of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a record of constantly recurring raids on the part of the eastern hill tribes and of the operations undertaken to repress them, of which narrative will be found in the article on the Lushai Hills. The earliest mention of these raids is found in a letter from the chief of Chittagong to Warren Hastings, the governor-general, dated April 1777, complaining of the violence and aggressions of a mountaineer, the leader named Ramu Khan of a band of Kukis or Lushais. These raids continued without any long intermission until 1891, when the Lushai Hills were annexed to British territory. The recorded population increased from 69,607 in 1872 to 101,597 in 1881, to 107,286 in 1891, and to 124,762 in 1901. The Census of 1872 was, however, very imperfect, and the actual growth of population has probably not exceeded what might be expected in a sparsely inhabited but fairly healthy tract.
When the 1901 census was taken there were no towns, and 211 of the villages had populations of less than 500 apiece; only one exceeded 2,000. The population density, excluding the area of uninhabited forest (1,385 square miles), was 33 persons per square mile. There was a little immigration from Chittagong, and a few persons had emigrated to Tripura. The proportion of females to every 100 males was only 90 in the district-born, and 83 in the total population. Buddhists numbered 83,000, Hindus 36,000, and Muslims 5,000.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts, combining three hilly districts of Bangladesh, were once known as Korpos Mohol, the name used until 1860. In 1860 it was annexed by the British and was made an administrative district of Bengal. As of today, it is a semi-autonomous region within Bangladesh comprising the districts Chengmi (Khagrachari District), Gongkabor (Rangamati District), and Arvumi (Bandarban District).
The last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, who considered the grant of independence to India as his act of crowning glory, was ambitious to achieve this "superhuman" task in record time. He said that before accepting the post of viceroy he had told King George VI, who was his cousin: "I am prepared to accept the job only on one condition. India must be granted independence by July, 1948 and I will not stay there a day longer". Mountbatten came to India in March, 1947 and this left him just about sixteen months to complete such a gigantic task. In reality, he achieved it in five months, on 15 August 1947 for which he was given so much credit.
Originally, the award of the Boundary Commission was to be made public on 13 August. But Mountbatten was reluctant to make this public. According to Philip Ziegler, the author of Mountbatten's official biography, the case of the Chittagong Hill Tracts was uppermost in Mountbatten's mind. Mountbatten "foresaw an Independence Day marred by rancour, Nehru boycotting the ceremonies, India born in an atmosphere not of euphoria but of angry resentment." So Mountbatten decided to announce the award only on 16 August when the celebrations were over. As Zeigler writes, "India's indignation at the award of the Chittagong Hill Tracts to Pakistan may have been a factor in making up Mountbatten's mind to keep the reports to himself till after independence".
Mountbatten was himself surprised by the ferocity of Sardar Patel's reaction to the issue. In his memoirs he wrote: "The one man I had regarded as a real statesman with both his feet firmly on the ground, and a man of honour whose word was his bond, had turned out to be as hysterical as the rest. Candidly I was amazed that such a terrific crisis should have blown up over so small a matter. However, I have been long enough in India to realise that major crises are by no means confined to big matters." Leonard Mosley in his book The Last Days of the British Raj puts it "This is a matter for Mountbatten's conscience.
During the 1970s and 80s, there were attempts by the government to resettle the area with Bengali people. These attempts were resisted by the tribal, who, with the latent support of neighboring India, formed a guerrilla force called Shanti Bahini. As a result of the tribal resistance movement, successive governments turned the Hill Tracts into a militarized zone. Professor Bernard Nietschmann wrote a letter about Shanti Bahini and the Chittagong Hill Tracts people to the editor of the New York Times published on October 25, 1986.
Following years of unrest, an agreement was formed between the government of Bangladesh and the tribal leaders which granted a limited level of autonomy to the elected council of the three hill districts.
The 1997 Peace Treaty signed between the then Sheikh Hasina Government and the Jana Shanghati Shamiti or Shanti Bahini has been opposed by the opposition parties as well as a fraction of the tribal rebels. Opposition parties argued that the autonomy granted in the treaty ignored the Bengali settlers. The successive Khaleda Zia government promised to implement the peace treaty, despite their opposition to it during the previous government's term. According to the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs, a peace treaty between the Government of Bangladesh and Parbattya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti was signed on 2 December 1997. However, the genocide being committed in the Chittagong Hill Tracts against the indigenous people, the Chakma, Marma, Tripuri and others indigenous people who are mainly Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and Animists, continues. The perpetrators of this genocide are the Bangladeshi military and the Bengali Muslim settlers, who together have burned down Buddhist and Hindu temples, killed many Chakmas, and carried out a policy of gang-rape against the indigenous people. There are also accusations of Chakmas being forced to convert to Islam, many of them children who have been abducted for this purpose.
Tobacco cultivation is damaging the ecology of the area, with loss of indigenous trees, such as Chukrasia velutina, and soil fertility. Many of the farmers of Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachhari districts of Bangladesh have been losing their interests in cultivating indigenous crops like paddy, banana, maize, sesame, cotton, potato, pumpkin etc. as they became defaulters of loans provided by tobacco companies, they said.
Land use and environment in CHT
Like other mountainous areas in South and Southeast Asia, the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh are undergoing deforestation and land degradation arising from environmentally unsuitable activities such as tobacco cultivation in sloping land, shifting cultivation and logging. Shifting cultivation also known as slash-and–burn agriculture or swidden cultivation, embraces a large variety of primitive forms of agriculture. It is a special stage in the evolution from hunting and food gathering to sedentary farming. Mankind began to change its mode of life from food gatherer to food producer about 7000 B.C. by adopting shifting cultivation. Some form of shifting cultivation has been practiced in most parts of the world, but more intensive forms of agriculture have subsequently replaced it.
The present shifting cultivation system with short fallow in the CHT has accelerated soil erosion, land degradation, deforestation, and impoverishment of tribal people in CHT. If the present state of degradation is continued, most of the areas under shifting cultivation will be severely degraded and the future generations will face more difficulties to eke out their livelihoods on further degraded land. Although there is some scope for shifting cultivators to leave the degraded fields and move to other areas, this avenue will soon vanish as the population is growing at a high rate. It is estimated that on average eight hectares of land is necessary for the sustenance of a family in CHT. If this ratio is adopted, 1,240,000 ha land is required to sustain the present population; however, the total land available, excluding the reserve forest, is 928,000 ha. Shifting cultivation, therefore, cannot fulfill even the subsistence requirements of the people. In such a situation, either large non-farm employment opportunities need to be created or more productive land-use systems need to be developed and adopted. Given the sluggish growth of the economy, there is limited scope for generating adequate non-farming employment opportunities in the near future. It is, therefore, imperative to replace the present shifting cultivation system with more productive and sustainable land use systems to enable people to secure their livelihoods.
- Hilly Bengal
- Chittagong Hill Tracts Conflict
- Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord
- Chittagong Division
- Radcliffe Line
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- Life is not Ours: Land and Human Rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh. Copenhagen, Denmark: Organizing Committee, Chittagong Hill Tracts Campaign, 1991.
- Brauns, Claus-Dieter, "The Mrus: Peaceful Hillfolk of Bangladesh", National Geographic Magazine, February 1973, Vol 143, No 1
- Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs
- Chittagong Hill Tracts - Imperial Gazetteer of India, v. 10, p. 319.
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- Rasul, 2009.
- Rasul and Thapa, 2003. Factors influencing shifting cultivation in South and Southeast Asia
- Rasul, 2009
- Rasul et al., 2004
- Rasul, G. and Thapa, G.B. 2003. Shifting Cultivation in the Mountains of South and Southeast Asia: Regional Patterns and Factors Influencing the Change. Land Degradation & Development 14: 495-508.
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|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Chittagong Hill Tracts.|
- Official website of The Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission
- Politics of Peace: A Case of the Chittagong Hill Tracts edited by Dr. Nasir Uddin
- Banglapedia article on Chittagong Hill Tracts
- Background information, news and literature on the Chittagong Hill Tracts
- Survival International
- Ali, M. Emran and Toshiyuki Tsuchiya, Land Rights of the Indigenous People of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh: A Historical Analysis of Policy Issues. Fourth World Journal, Volume 5, Number 1.
- Rahman Nasir Uddin, General Concept about Jhum Cultivation and the Role of Media
- S. Dewan, Horrors in the Chittagong Hilltracts. Center For World Indigenous Studies.
- Jumma People Network - UK
- Jumma People Network - USA
- Refugees Within, Refugees Without
- Chittagong Hill Tracts: Ceremonies and Lives (Videos)
- Chittagong Hill Tracts: Slideshow (Photographs)
- J.P. Mills and the Chittagong Hill Tracts, 1926/27 (Tour Diary, Reports, Photographs)
- A worldwide campaign for the indigenous people in Chittagong Hill Tracts - 100, 000 Global Voices for Peace in the CHT