During Partition (August 1947), India was divided on the religious line. Muslim-majority areas went to form Pakistan. Surprisingly, Chakma-dominated Chittagong Hill Tracts of present day Bangladesh formed part of Pakistan even though Muslims were only meager 2 %. The Partition axed the Chakma life. It was the doom day.
The Chakmas have been patriots. They fought against the British, and did not allow the conquerors to conquer them. Following the Partition, they were celebrating the Independence Day on 15 August 1947 by unfurling the Indian tricolour in Rangamati, the main town of CHT. It was pity that they did not even know they were already Pakistanis, much against their own will. The Pakistani troops pull down the Indian flag.
The Chakmas could not give a united stand against the injustice done. Indian government remained mum. It did not recognize the Chakmas’ contributions and sacrifices during the freedom movement. It did not respect the Chakmas’ aspirations and dreams. The Indian leaders forsook the innocent, peace-loving Chakmas to the wolves.
PERSECUTION UNDER PAKISTAN AND BANGLADESH RULE
Given the communal division between India and Pakistan, that the Buddhist Chakmas would be persecuted in Muslim Pakistan was a foregone conclusion. Chakmas were brutally killed, tortured, attacked and their women folk raped under the Pakistan rule. In 1964, the Kaptai Dam reservoir was built that submerged around 44% of the CHT’s agricultural lands and made tens of thousand Chakmas homeless and foodless. Those displaced were neither rehabilitated nor compensated nor treated well. Thousands became IDPs and refugees.
In 1971, Bangladesh was liberated with India’s help. But that did not bring any change in the policy of the Muslim government towards the Chakmas. With active participation of the Bangladesh military, the Chakmas were attacked, massacred, kidnapped, and raped and their houses burned. There was no reprieve. Life was no longer livable. Hundreds fled from their homes to escape from attempts at their lives.
FROM RULERS TO REFUGEES
The Rulers have turned into Refugees, courtesy the brutal policies of the successive governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh. In 1964, around 30,000 indigenous Chakmas displaced by the Kaptai Hydro-Electric dam in CHT of then East Pakistan migrated to India. They were given settlement by the government of India in the North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA), the present Arunachal Pradesh, after consultation with the local tribal chiefs. While being shifted to the NEFA, Government of India issued valid migration certificates to the migrants and assured them of citizenship rights in due course.
“They came in a hopeless, pathetic condition, just with the clothes that they wore” recalls one senior Mizoram official, who was part of the Assam government team that received the Chakma in the Cachar and Lushai hills.
There are presently about 65,000 Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh. All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union has been leading a hate-campaign against the Chakmas and inciting the otherwise sympathetic local population to drive the Chakmas away from the state. Political parties exploit the Chakma issue for electoral gains. They have been denied basic rights, including ration, education, employment and the right to live and peaceful life with dignity.
The Chakmas under the able leadership of Committee for Citizenship Rights of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh (CCRCAP) have been fighting for rights, and achieved some success. But it is a tough task fighting the racist state structure.
On 9 January 1996, Supreme Court of India directed, inter alia, that the life and personal liberty of each and every Chakma residing within the State shall be protected and that, except in accordance with law the Chakmas shall not be evicted from their homes. (AccessSC’s judgment here http://www.aitpn.org/StatelessIPs/SCjudgement.pdf) National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India had moved the Supreme Court.
The Delhi High Court in its judgment of 28 September 2000 (CPR no. 886 of 2000) directed the authorities to enroll all eligible Chakma and Hajong voters into the electoral rolls. (Read the judgment here: http://www.aitpn.org/StatelessIPs/DelhiHCjudgement.pdf)
But the State Government and its agencies including the State Election Commission have been bias and discriminatory towards the Chakmas. The question is “how long”?
There are about 100,000 Chakmas in Mizoram. They gained the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC) in 1972, which is still resented by the Mizo political leaders. But the District Council covers only one-third of the Chakma population in the state. The Chakmas living outside the District Council (including Sajek Valley area) are subject to regular harassment and discrimination by the State government in various forms.
Life is no less painful in Sajek area of Mizoram. The Chakmas have been living in acute poverty and without access to basic healthcare, education and infrastructure such as roads, electricity connectivity.
Most Chakma household is engaged in traditional Jhum cultivation. As forest cover is diminished and production scanty, another name for life has become “struggle for survival”. Due to hate-campaign being carried out by powerful non-state actors such Young Mizo Association, rights of the Chakma people are under threat. Hundreds have already been deleted from voters list arbitrarily.
SITUATION OF CHAKMAS IN BANGLADESH:
The Chakmas have been reduced to minority in their own homeland due to illegal implantation of thousands of plains settlers i.e. Muslims. Although a peace accord was signed between the Chakma rebels and the Government of Bangladesh in 1997, peace and development have been elusive in the Chittagong hills. Besides persecution by the Bangladesh government, the Chakmas themselves are divided into two main groups and killing each other.