Thursday, January 31, 2008

Press Release: Displaced Chakmas urged NBCC to provide compensation

India-Bangladesh Border Fencing Compensation Demand Committee, Marpara
Headquarters: Marpara, PO-Marpara ‘S’, district Lunglei, Mizoram-796431
Press Release

31 January 2008


Displaced Chakmas urged NBCC to provide compensation


Marpara [Mizoram]: Today the Chakmas of Mizoram strongly criticized the National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC) for its failure to keep its promise to release compensation to the families affected by the India-Bangladesh border fencing project in Lunglei district of Mizoram by 31st January 2008. In a meeting attended by the representatives from the India-Bangladesh Border Fencing Compensation Demand Committee, Young Chakma Association, Mahila Samity, Mizoram Chakma Students Union and the Village Council here, the Chakmas adopted a strong resolution against the NBCC and vowed not to allow any further construction of fencing along the India-Bangldesh border in Lunglei district until compensation is provided to all the affected families.

“The NBCC has been duping us. While the Chakmas in other districts have already got some compensation, the NBCC has failed to release the compensation money in the Lunglei district where it is engaged in the fencing. We have given our lands, now we want justice to be done with us.” – stated Nihar Chakma, Secretary of India-Bangladesh Border Fencing Compensation Committee, Marpara.

“The NBCC must not take us lightly. We will resist and protest indefinitely till we get proper compensation. However, the protest will be peaceful and democratic”, Mr Chakma added.

Hundreds of Chakmas including women and children have been protesting against the border fencing project at Marpara since 13 January 2008 over the denial of compensation in Lunglei district. On 18 January 2008, the protests were temporarily suspended up to 31 January 2008 after S K Pandit, Deputy Project Manager of NBCC, Mizoram sector, signed an agreement with the protestors at Marpara agreeing to release compensation by the end of January.

The government of India has been construction fencing along with 318 km-long stretch in Mizoram sector along the India-Bangladesh border which will displace 5,790 Chakma tribal families consisting of 35,438 persons from 49 villages. [Ends]

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Yet another moral policing on women

It seems the honourable Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) of Tamil Nadu have found nothing worth debating in the State Assembly that on 29 January 2008 they keenly debated on what kind of dress should women of the state wear. It highlights the manner in which the legislators might have wanted to spend their time in the Assembly House while ignoring serious matters which need serious attention.

The short dress of Tamil film actress Shriya Saran of superhit “Sivaji: The Boss” in a public function has turned to be ingredients for a sizzling debate in the Assembly House.

Some conservative MLAs of ruling ally Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) found the dress of the Tamil actress too revealing to warrant a debate in the assembly to bring a law on women dress code. The actress had on 11 January 2008 appeared in a short dress at a public function to celebrate the silver jubilee of the film.

Instead of women’s wardrobe, the legislators should discuss, among others, as to how to protect women and children from abuses and make their lives safer and happier. According to the National Crime Records Bureau of the Ministry of Home Affairs, a total of 6489 cases of violence against women (including 457 rape cases) have been reported from Tamil Nadu in 2006 which is about 4% of the total national cases of violence against women in the same year. Also, a total of 353 cases of violence against children including 125 cases of rape have been reported from Tamil Nadu in 2006.

Many of the MLAs who have protested the actress may have daughters who go out in “revealing dresses” to the night clubs to have fun. Yet, they have no control over their daughters. This is mere hypocrisy. It is like asking others to be nationalist by going to vernacular medium schools while sending their children to study in Oxford or Cambridge or the like.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The illiterate children of a literate mother: The case of the Chakmas of Mizoram

By - Paritosh Chakma


Everybody knows and remembers Mizoram as a highly literate state. With 88.49% literacy rate Mizoram is the second most literate state of India , only next to Kerala’s 90.92%. This is euphoric in the sense that it is a success story. But the other side of the story lies buried and untold: the story of illiterate Chakma tribals of Mizoram.

94.5 per cent people are tribals in Mizoram. The Chakmas who constitute 8.5 per cent of the total tribal state population is the second largest tribal community, next to Mizos who constitute 77 per cent. Yet, Chakmas are lagging behind in all aspects of life.

1. High level of illiteracy

According to Census of India 2001, the Chakmas are the most illiterate community in Mizoram. They have registered a literacy rate of only 45.3 per cent, way behind their Mizo counterparts who are at 95.6 per cent. The gape is huge between males and females amongst the Chakmas. While 56.2% of the men are literate, the literacy rate of women is only 33.6%. In case of the Mizo tribes, male and female literacy stand at 96.8% and 94.4% respectively, which is a clear sign of social progress.

Only 13.7% Chakmas were attending formal educational institutions while 29.7% Mizos were doing the same at 2001 Census. The percentage of those Chakmas attending institutes of high learning is very very thin.

The high level of illiteracy and backwardness of the Chakmas is clearly seen if we visit any Chakma village, particularly the remotest ones. The alarmingly high rate of illiteracy of the Chakma tribe is ironic and grotesque in this number two literate state of India .

2. Lack of viable socio-economic programmes

99.2% of the Chakmas live in villages, which are remote and disconnected from development programmes/schemes of the government. Education for majority Chakma children do not reach beyond what is being provided under the ill-trained teachers under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (Education For All) programme. In some cases, where the state government might stake claim of having spread its tentacles of development, there are no school buildings as such or the school buildings are in shatters. Funds are seldom allocated for reconstruction of such school buildings, or if allocated there is no mechanism to establish accountability when funds are siphoned off. As a result, most of the government schools lack basic infrastructure such as a proper school building, benches, blackboards, and recreational facilities. In most villages, villagers run “private schools”, which are basically one-room thatched house, and lessons are imparted by half -educated village boys and girls. The government’s apathy is coupled with lack of spirit amongst the teachers to spread knowledge. Where will the road end?

Illiteracy is deeply related to poverty and backwardness. Yet, the successive governments have miserably failed to take up viable socio-economic programmes to uplift the condition of the Chakmas, who are the poorest and the most marginalized section of the society.

The previous Congress government at Aizawl might boast about its brain-child New Land Use Policy (NLUP), a plan to gradually replace the traditional practice of Jhuming and achieve sustainable development in the rural areas by creating permanent means of livelihood. But what it merely did was to provide the money and the seeds to the beneficiaries but not the expertise or know-how of the various schemes, at least in the Chakma villages. This led to the failure of NLUP. Because, without the technical know-how or expertise a beneficiary of fishery, for example, ended up building a dam out of mud over a rivulet and released his cute fishes on the flood waters. But in rainy days, the water of the rivulet was untamable with the mud dam. The fishes, now grown big, were washed away into the river without a single penny coming into the beneficiary’s hands. If this beneficiary were in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra , he would have possibly committed suicide. But thankfully, the Chakmas are more brave hearts.

The Chakma habitations remain the most undeveloped till date. There are no roads, hospitals, electricity and telephone connectivity etc in most villages.
Poverty, under-development and lack of awareness are major obstacles to achieving universal primary education. In absence of alternative sources of livelihood, the poor Chakma parents are forced to make their children work in Jhum fields in remote hills, away from schools. The parents can’t help feeling utterly helpless. Not that they do not have the zeal or dreams of having educated progeny like any other parents in the far away towns.

3. The reasons for being left uneducated

Many politicians and armchair intellectuals will easily suggest that Chakmas are not so interested going to schools as the Mizos are and blame the Chakmas for their high level illiteracy rate. This is utter nonsense. This is only an attempt to pass the blame on the victims. If at all the Chakmas are not interested to get educated there must be something that might be forcing them to do so at various stages of times. The State government must find out what these problems are and solve those problems gradually in an effective way with strong tangible plans in place. Meantime, the state government must also adopt short term measures for the welfare of the Chakmas.

Certainly, acute poverty and lack of awareness among the Chakmas could be two primary reasons of high level of illiteracy. I think poverty is the main culprit. In a situation where it is the question of feeding the mouths in the families, which are usually large, education assumes a secondary importance for most parents. Most children are forced by the circumstances to quit schools at primary level.

I hold the successive governments at Aizawl responsible for the lack of educational prospects for the Chakmas. As for promoting educational awareness, I have never seen or heard of any government programme promoting education in the villages.

Further, the State government seldom establishes schools on its own. First the villagers must establish Middle or High Schools and run them successfully for many years, in some cases more than a decade, before the government take control of such schools. But the question is how can the poor villagers who depend on jhums for their livelihood fund education upto secondary level? Without proper pay, it is hard to find teachers offering almost voluntary service.

The state government must establish enough Middle and High Schools in the Chakma dominated villages.

4. Responsibility of Village Councils

The Village Councils have a crucial role to play to improve the quality of education in their respective villages along side the teachers, who should do the actual job. It is the duty of the Village Council to discipline the teachers, if they aren’t. This process needs adequate consultation and co-ordination with the civil society organizations, teachers, parents and students.

We can no longer afford to ignore the rural schools by saying that they do not promise any future for our children due to the poor quality education that they provide. Instead, these must be seen as the foundations of our future. We must transform the village schools into “the centres of leaning”. Failure to do so will leave us illiterate and backward for decades to come.

There is also an urgent need to revamp the Anganwadi centres set up under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), which have for long turned into private enterprise catering to the needs of the members of own family or extended kinship in the village. The Scheme targets the most vulnerable groups of population including children up to six years of age, pregnant women and nursing mothers in the villages and urban slums. But the Anganwadi centres are doing poorly. Yet, the workers escape monitoring.

Another important social evil we need to strongly fight against is gambling in various forms and manifestations that are reportedly going on at the very heart of Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC) headquarters, Kamalanagar and some other interior villages. Gambling can destroy a family completely. Gambling can corrupt the younger generation. Yet certain individuals are making huge money by spoiling the society under the nose of the CADC authorities.


5. Implement the Border Area Development Programme

As stated above, underdevelopment hampers education programmes in a major way. The State government must initiate implementation of Border Area Development Programme (BADP), which is a 100% centrally funded programme, in the areas along the India-Bangladesh border. The list of schemes under the BADP include Education (building additional school rooms, play fields, buying of school dresses/books, adult education, public libraries and reading rooms, vocational and technical education, etc), Health (provision of basic medical equipments such as X-Ray machines, provision of equipment for dental clinic, first aid kit for midwives, construction of public toilets, setting up of mobile dispensaries in rural areas, health awareness programme, eye camps, control of Malaria and other diseases, etc), Agriculture and allied sectors (animal husbandry, pisciculture, sericulture, poultry farming, horticulture, parks and gardens, water conservation programmes, social forestry, use of improved seeds, fertilizers and improved technology, veterinary aid centres, etc), Infrastructure (roads, rural sanitation, electrification, drinking water facility – construction of tubewells, water tanks, construction of buildings for weekly bazaars, etc) and Social Sector (construction of community centers, Anganwadies, Cultural Centres /Community Halls, Sports Associations, etc).

6. Conclusion

Instead of being content with the second place, Mizoram must strive ahead. The goal is merely not to compete for the top position but to become a truly “total literate state”. However, this feat won’t be achieved so long as the social, economic and educational conditions of the Chakmas and other minority groups are not raised. For this purpose, the government must pay adequate interest in the development of the areas predominantly inhabited by the Chakmas and all villages be provided with ICDS centres, schools, primary health centres, telecom facilities, roads and electricity, among others. The government must also strengthen Public Distribution System (PDS) delivery mechanism in the rural areas.

The government, the village councils and the civil society groups must undertake a sustained coordinated effort for raising mass awareness on education through innovative ideas and programmes. Our society cannot develop if our education system in the villages is not developed. Education must reach to the poorest of the poor living in the remotest areas.

The 86th Constitutional Amendment Act of 2002 made “free and compulsory education” a Fundamental Right for all children in the age group of six to fourteen years. Ideally, we can no longer afford to remain illiterate. But the million dollar question is whether the twin concepts of “universal primary education” and “free and compulsory education” can be turned into reality. In Mizoram, the State government faces the acid test with regards to Chakmas and other socially and economically backward communities.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bangladesh: Indigenous Jummmas fleeing homes to escape army crackdown

New Delhi, 25 Jan 2008

The indigenous Jumma[1] peoples in Burighat area of Rangamati district in Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh have been fleeing their homes after Captian Qamrul of Burighat army camp served a 72-hours ultimatum for the release of a Bengali settler alleged to have disappeared a few days back. The ultimatum ends today, 25 January 2008.

The Bangladesh army has arrested two Jummas from Gorjontoli village. Jumma villagers from Gorhed, Edmara and Krishnama Chara are also fleeing due to fear of attacks by the army and the illegal Bengali settlers.

In a military style, the army has blocked the Rangamati - Khagrachari road to prevent flow of information outside. The Jummas fear massive military operation against them.


[1]. A collective name given to 11 indigenous communities of Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. The name is derived from their traditional occupation, Jum which is a form of shifting cultivation in the hills

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bangladesh:The Army attacks Buddhism to facilitate illegal settlement in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

(Note: This is the full article published by Asian Centre for Human Rights in New Delhi, http://www.achrweb.org/ , and it describes how the Chakma indigenous peoples of Bangladesh and their religion, Buddhism are being targetted by the military-ruled Bangladesh, whose state religion is Islam. Also see my article, Bangladesh: Buddhist Monk arrested, land grabbing continues in this blog.)


On 25 January 2008, indigenous Jumma peoples are scheduled to hold a large religious gathering at Sarnath Arannyo Kuthir, a Buddhist temple at Karallyachari in Khagrachari Hill district of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs). The Bangladeshi authorities have banned the meeting. It is unclear if the meeting will go ahead. As we upload this Weekly Review, the Deputy Commissioner of Khagrachari district is holding a meeting with the local Jumma elders of Karallyachari to decide the fate of the religious gathering while the Bangladesh army personnel have been seizing the bikes and other vehicles. But if the meeting takes place it is likely that the government will use violence to suppress it.

The government’s actions at the temple are a microcosm of an ongoing and long established State policy to establish a homogenous Bengali Muslim society; a policy that implies the destruction of the identity of the indigenous Jumma peoples through a process of illegal and often violent settlement of the Bengali Muslim settlers.

With international community's attention focused on Bangladesh’s parliamentary elections the care-taker government is free to execute the ethnic cleansing policy in the CHTs without external interference.

Background to the Sarnath Arannyo Kuthir:

The banning of the religious gathering comes as part of a pattern of wider attacks on the religion of the indigenous communities. On 14 January 2008, the Bangladesh Police arrested Reverend Arya Jyoti Bhikkhu, Head Priest of Sarnath Arannyo Kuthir, after a settler, Abdul Majid, son of late Akad Zaman from Karallyachari cluster village, filed a First Information Report (No. 1 of dated 11/1/2008) under sections 143, 447, 379, 427, 506 and 109 of the Bangladesh Penal Code. The complainant accused about 500 indigenous peoples including Rev Aryo Joti Bhikkhu and Late(!) Tumbo Chakma of committing offences of illegal gathering, theft and destruction to private properties. In reality, it appears that these indigenous Jummas were making temporary houses to accommodate the Buddhist monks and the devotees within the temple premise.

On 21 January 2008, the Additional District Magistrate of Khagrachari Mr Manindra Kishor Majumder in a communication (je.pra.kha/je.em/tin-75/2008-63) ordered the Officer-in-Charge of Mahalachari Police Station area to issue show cause on the headmen and Karbaris (traditional village chiefs) of Karallyachari area as to why they had failed to notify the administration about the religious programme. He also ordered that the court examine the land documents of the temple and threatened legal action against the headmen and Karbaris if they failed to provide satisfactory documentation.

On 21 January 2008, Bangladesh army personnel prevented local people from constructing a makeshift bridge over the river Chengi at Karallyachari - Paujjyachari area under Mahalchari Police Station. The bridge was being prepared for the religious programme.

Targeting of the Buddhist temples:

The events at Sarnath Arannyo Kuthir are not isolated. Across the CHTs, Buddhist temples have been targeted for destruction by the authorities. Indigenous Buddhist Chakmas and Marmas usually live in and around their temples. Once temples are destroyed the area can be more easily cleared for illegal plain settlers.

In August 2007, illegal settlers and the Bangladesh army personnel tried to take over the lands of the Sadhana Tila Buddhist temple of Babuchara area under Dighinala upazila in Khagrachari district. As national and international protest grew, the de-facto ruler of the country General Moeen U Ahmed visited Dighinala on 28 August 2007 and assured locals that the temple will not be destroyed.

On 12 September 2007, Khagrachari district authorities banned the “construction of new Mosque, Hindu temple and Buddhist temple” in Mahalchari sub-division without prior permission of the authorities. While the order does not specifically target any religious group, given the long history of well documented evidence of violations against the Jumma peoples the political reality is that the order is targeted at the indigenous peoples and their religion i.e. Buddhism.

On 5 November 2007, Major Qamruzzaman, Commander of Babuchara zone, summoned Sneha Moy Chakma and Santosh Jibon Chakma to his camp and ordered them not to use loudspeakers to announce the Katin Chivor Danotsav, the Buddhist festival that follows the end of the rain retreat of Buddhist monks.

On 31 December 2007, a group of army personnel led by Captain Sohel, Commander of Shuknachari Indra Singh Karbari Para camp of the Bangladesh Army, demolished Bhujulichuk Kuthir, a Buddhist meditation centre in Lakshmichari Upazila in Khagrachari district. Captain Shohel threatened witnesses on a prior attack that : “We will not tolerate any Buddha house here; we want only Allah's house”.

On 17 January 2008, the Commanding Officer of Baghaihat zone in Rangamati district threatened Reverend Dwip Bongshaw Bhikkhu, the Head Priest of Bishwa Moitri Bouddha Vihar at Hazachara village in Baghaihat. The Commanding officer threatened to demolish the temple if the priest did not leave.

The motivation for taking land of the Sadhana Tila Buddhist temple and its surrounding areas is simple: further illegal settlement. Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) is in possession of a letter dated 19 November 2007 issued by Md. Sulut Zaman, Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs (MoCHTA). It orders the Deputy Commissioner of Khagrachari district to illegally settle 812 families into the lands of the indigenous Jummas at Babuchara area, Baghaichari mouza under Dighinala upazila (sub- district) in Khagrachari district.

Land grabbing:

There are many other recent incidents of forcible land grabbing. In December 2007, illegal plain settlers led by Md. Wahab from Burighat under Rangamati district forcibly grabbed 25 acres of land belonging to the indigenous Jumma people at Hatimara village under Burighat Mouza in Rangamati district.

During March 2007-November 2007, a total of 399.22 acres of land belonging to 133 Jumma individuals and a primary school in 14 villages under four Unions of Mahalchari police station and Khagrachari Sadar police station under Kagrachari district have been illegally and forcibly grabbed by the illegal plain settlers with direct help from the army. [1]

At a press conference in Dhaka on 19 January 2008, representatives of the Committee for Protection of Land in Bandarban called upon the government to cancel the ongoing process of acquiring 9,560 acres of land for the purpose of expansion of Ruma Garrison. The government is presently at the final stage of acquiring 9,560 acres of land for the purpose of expansion of Ruma Garrison in three Mouzas of Galenga, Pantola and Sengum under Ruma Upazilla in Bandarban. Out of the total land to be acquired, 1,569.06 acres belong to the indigenous peoples and 4,000 acres belong to the Forest Department. The project will lead to displacement of 4,315 indigenous persons from 644 families. Way back in 1988, a joint study team of Bandarban District Administration and the Bangladesh Military stated that the project would be disastrous for the local indigenous peoples. [2]

Background to the CHTs crisis:

The root of the CHTs crisis lies in the policies of the government of Bangladesh which seek to establish homogenous Bengali muslim society. This implies the destruction of the identity of the indigenous Jumma peoples. 'Jumma' is the collective name for the eleven tribes of the CHTs.

Over the last 50 years, hundreds of thousands of Bengali settlers have been moved onto Jumma land. Successive regimes in East Pakistan, and later Bangladesh have supported the influx of Bengali-speaking Muslim migrants into the 5,000 sq km Hill Tracts, which is sparsely populated in comparison to the rest of the country. The settlement has been carried out with varying degrees of violence, including in earlier periods massacre.

Today, as a result of the aggressive settlement policy, the Chittagong Hill Tracts has a population of 900,000 which is evenly divided between Muslim homesteaders and the indigenous Jummas.

On 2 December 1997, the government of Bangladesh and the Jummas signed a peace accord that brought an end to the long running insurgency. It committed the government to removing military camps from the region and to ending the illegal occupation of Jumma land by settlers and the army.Since emergency rule was declared in Bangladesh in January 2007, arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings of Jummas have escalated. Jumma activists have been targeted by the Bangladesh military taking advantage of the emergency. Since the declaration of Emergency on 11 January 2007, at least 50 Jumma activists have been arrested, including 20 members of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity ( PCJSS) and 10 members of United People's Democratic Front (UPDF).

False cases such as extortion, kidnapping, murder etc have been lodged against arrested jumma activists. During raids, the Bangladesh military plant arms and ammunitions and claim to have recovered the same from the houses of the indigenous activists to provide grounds for arrest. Most cases have been filed under Section 16(b) of the Emergency Power Rules of 2007 which denies release on bail to the accused during the enquiry, investigation and trial of the case.

Prospects:

The state has been carrying out illegal land grabbing in CHT since independence. There should be no doubt about the central government’s long term intentions in the CHT. The deliberate destruction of religious centres and intimidation of the priests is part of the political strategy to realize the aim.

The Army (the de facto government) is actively involved in the ongoing settlement policy. There is no protection under the law: the rule of law in Bangladesh is subverted to political interference, weak institutions and an indifference to human rights. And the history of grave violations of human rights and ongoing arrest and torture and extra-judicial execution of Jumma activists means any protest carries a high risk.

Jumma culture centres around the religion and the community derives a sense of protection from the religion. Attacking the religion is intended to dissipate Jumma communities. The attacks facilitate a climate of fear that undermines what remains of any organized peaceful resistance to the settlement policy.

The international community:

Despite the increasing rate of illegal settlement and blatant human rights violations, international concern is hard to discern. Even Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International omitted reference to the CHTs in their Annual reports 2007.

In more ways than one, international community is responsible for the gradual extinction of indigenous Jumma peoples in Bangladesh. They had funded the programmes for implantation of plain settlers into the CHTs. While speaking about peace in the CHTs, they continue to remain mute witness as the government of Bangladesh continues to provide free rations only to the illegal plain settlers.

The failure to condemn state sponsored racism has given a free hand to the authorities in Dhaka to take measures that will eventually destroy the identity of the indigenous Jumma peoples.


[1] . This was revealed by Dhaka-based human rights group, the Hill Watch Human Rights Forum after conducting a fact-finding investigation in November 2007.
[2] . Press conference held against land acquisition in Bandarban, CHTnews.com, News No. 01/2008, 19 January 2008

Friday, January 18, 2008

Border fencing: Is Aizawl ready to wipe Chakmas’ tears?

By- Paritosh Chakma

Since 13 January 2008, the Chakmas have been staging peaceful and democratic protests at remote Marpara village under Lunglei district of Mizoram (India) demanding immediate suspension of the ongoing India-Bangladesh border fencing because of the failure of the Lunglei district administration to disburse compensation to the affected families so far. The protests have the support of the Young Chakma Association, Mizoram Chakma Students’ Union, Village Councils and elders. On 18 January 2008, these protests were temporarily suspended up to 31 January 2008 following “written assurances” from the officials of the National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC), the company which is implementing the fencing works in Marpara sector, who met the protestors at Marpara.


I. No compensation, only acquisition

The Chakmas have accused the Lunglei district administration of sheer discrimination and neglect by refusing to release any compensation although the necessary verification of the affected villages was completed one year ago. The Zoramthanga government had promised fair treatment to all oustees of the border fencing in the award of compensation and rehabilitation. Both state government of Mizoram and the Central government had also assured the would-be displaced persons of proper rehabilitation.

Yet, the discrimination and neglect of the villagers in Lunglei district is crystal clear given the fact that the fellow affected Chakmas in other districts have already been given the first installment of compensation and they are about to get their second installment from their respective district authorities who have been entrusted to look into the compensation and rehabilitation of the oustees.

In clear deviation from the stated principle of the State government, “No compensation, Only acquisition” seems to be the mantra of the district authorities of Lunglei.

In India, the State has the power to forcibly acquire any land of any individual in any part of the country in the name of “public purpose” or “emergency” under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 which has also been upheld in the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy of 2007. But the concerned officials have gone a step ahead by not providing compensation to the affected families in Lunglei district.


II. Extent of displacement and its consequences

The government of India has been erecting fencing along its 4096.7 km-long border with Bangladesh running through five Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram in order to stop infiltration, smuggling and other alleged anti-India activities from across the border. Mizoram has a 318 km-long international border with Bangladesh.

The border fencing has hit hard the already poverty-stricken Chakma tribals. A house to house survey conducted by Indo-Bangladesh Border Fencing Affected Families Resettlement Demand Committee (IBBFARDCOM) headed by former minister Mr Nirupam Chakma found that the fencing will displace a total of 5,790 Chakma tribal families consisting of 35,438 persons from 49 villages.

Apart from loss of their immovable houses and properties, the villagers will lose already developed wet rice cultivation lands, horticulture gardens, gardens for growing vegetables and other cash crops, tree plantations of high commercial values like teak etc, community/ government assets like schools, health sub-centres, community halls, market places, places of worship, play grounds, cemetery/ grave yards, water ponds, water supply, and other government/ council office buildings, etc. The consequences of the mass displacement will be disastrous unless the government take concrete steps to provide all the facilities, including clean water supply, roads as the rivers will fall outside the fencing, markets, schools and primary health centres among others.

The IBBFARDCOM has been pressing for “full and proper” rehabilitation of all the oustees without any discrimination by New Delhi and Aizawl.

To mitigate the sufferings of the Chakmas, not only New Delhi and Aizawl must act in cooperation but the district level officials must also discharge their duty properly and timely.

The condition of the Chakmas has been aggravated by the denial of timely compensation (in Lunglei district) in the backdrop of the Mautam (bamboo famine) which has been raging on in Mizoram resulting in acute shortage of food in some villages. It has been reported that the Chakmas in some villages in western Mizoram have already been living on (eatable) potatoes found in the jungles or are taking only one meal a day to save more food for the coming days. The price of rice in the market has soared up to Rs 20 per kg which is not affordable to the poor.


III. Chief Minister must intervene

The protesting Chakmas have been given assurance of compensation by the end of this month. The Chakmas can only keep their fingers crossed.

In the event of the failure to disburse compensation by the deadline of 31 January 2008, Chief Minister Mr Zoramthanga must himself intervene to take immediate appropriate steps to fulfill the demands of the aggrieved Chakmas and establish accountability by taking action against the guilty officials. Mr Zoramtahnga must also order an investigation as to why the compensation in Lunglei district has been delayed. But the million dollar question is: Is Aizawl ready to wipe Chakmas’ tears?

Bangladesh: Buddhist Monk arrested, land grabbing continues

New Delhi, 18 Jan 2008

In the military-controlled Bangladesh, the religious persecution is growing bigger and subtler every day. It is not to say that persecution of the minorities did not exist earlier. It very much existed. But then, the emergency was imposed a year ago, on 11 January 2007, to deal with fundamentalism and corruption.

I. Arrest of Buddhist monk

On 14 January 2008, a Buddhist monk Rev Arya Joti Bhikkhu, chief priest of Sarnath Arannyo Kuthir (Buddhist temple) in Karallyachari under Khagrachari district, CHTs of Bangladesh was arrested by the police. The arrest was made based on a fabricated complaint filed an illegal Muslim settler on 11 January 2008 which accused about 500 indigenous peoples including Rev Aryo Joti Bhikkhu of illegal gathering, theft and destruction to private property.

The complaint was referring to uplift works which the indigenous Buddhist villagers were doing in the Buddhist temple. The illegal Muslim settlers have been claiming the temple land as theirs.

Rev. Aryo Joti Bhikkhu was produced before the Khagrachari district court and released on bail on 15 January 2008.


II. Restrictions on religious affairs

Religious persecution is in nothing new in Bangladesh. The arrest of Rev. Arya Joti Bhikkhu, chief priest of Sarnath Arannyo Kuthir, is only a sequence in the Bangladesh government’s anti-minority policies.

In the context of the arrest of Rev. Arya Joti Bhikkhu it is important to note that the district officials had been preventing any uplift work in the Buddhist temple since November 2007. Army personnel have been deployed around the temple since 3 January 2008. The government also banned a religious event scheduled for 25th January 2008 at the Buddhist temple.

Earlier, on 12 September 2007, Khagrachari district authorities banned “construction of new Mosque, Hindu temple and Buddhist temple” in Mahalchari sub-division within the district without prior permission of the authorities concerned. The order is not targeted against the Muslims or Hindus but against indigenous Buddhists.


III. Illegal land grabbing

The arrest of the Buddhist monk and indigenous jummas is part of the wider conspiracy to grab the lands of the indigenous peoples in the CHTs. Now, the illegal plain setters have laid their claim on the 18 acre land of the Sarnath Arannyo Kuthir Buddhist temple in Karallyachari under Khagrachari district. In another similar development, since 13 August 2007, the illegal settlers have been trying to grab the land of the Buddhist temple at Sadhana Tila under the Dighinala Police Station in Khagrachari district of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The army was directly involved in the attacks on the indigenous peoples and Buddhist monks at Sadhana Tila.

The Kagrachari district has been one of the worst affected districts in the CHTs from the onslaught of the illegal settlers and the army. Since March 2007, a total of 399.22 acres of land belonging to 133 Jumma individuals and a primary school in 14 villages under four Unions of Mahalchari police station and Khagrachari Sadar police station under Kagrachari district have been reportedly illegally and forcibly grabbed by the illegal plain settlers. This was revealed by Dhaka-based human rights group, the Hill Watch Human Rights Forum after conducting a fact-finding investigation in November 2007.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The raging war in Sri Lanka

New Delhi, 16 January 2008

As the ceasefire agreement between the government and LTTE formally ends today, at least 23 civilians, including several school children, were killed and 67 injured in a powerful bomb explosion that ripped a bus carrying school children in Buttala in South-eastern Sri Lanka. The attack on civilian targets is a blatant violation of international humanitarian law and certainly a cowardly act on the part of the attackers. The government of Sri Lanka blamed the LTTE for the attack. However, no group has so far claimed responsibility. None is expected to, either.

The Tamils have been fighting a bloody battle for creation of an independent Tamil Elam, homeland for the minority Tamils, consisting of parts of the East and North of Sri Lanka.

I. Attacks on civilians are unjustified:

In recent days, attacks on civilians have been regular in Sri Lanka.

On 14 January 2008, two Sri Lankan soldiers and a civilian were killed in a roadside bomb attack on a van in the north. On 2 January 2008, at least four persons including three civilians died and about 20 others injured when suspected LTTE exploded a bomb targeting a military bus in Colombo. On 5 December 2007, at least 15 civilians died and 38 others were injured in a landmine attack allegedly by the LTTE on a crowded bus in the north.

II. Lack of commitment for human rights

Both the government and the LTTE do not have commitment for human rights. Both the parties have been equally responsible for the failure and end of the ceasefire agreement brokered by Norway in February 2002.

The Sri Lankan government has a sovereign right to take military measures to deal with the forces which intend to dismantle the unity of Sri Lanka. But it must at the same time respect and uphold the basic human rights and humanitarian laws.

While the Sri Lankan government may try to justify killing of members of the LTTE, there is absolutely no justification for killing of 17 aid workers by the Sri Lankan security forces on 5 August 2006 at Muttur, Trincomalee district or such other numerous instances of killings of innocent civilians by the security forces. To scuttle any international criticism, President Mahinda Rajapakse established a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate all the serious human rights violations and in November 2006 appointed the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) headed by the former Chief Justice of India, P.N. Bhagwati to monitor the functioning of the CoI. The government has been disregarding the recommendations of the IIGEP. The IIGEP has repeatedly accused the CoI of not being independent or not meeting international standards.

But the Sri Lankan government seems not to care.

It has also rejected the “serious concerns” expressed by many countries and UN over the withdrawal from the ceasefire agreement.

As the war rages on, the civilian populations in the Tamil-held areas are most affected. Thousands have been displaced. Although majority of them have returned home, they have been living in intense insecurity, without the basic requirements and are prone to attacks from both sides of the conflict. On 14 January 2008, a returnee IDP identified as Kanthasamy Selliah was shot dead by unidentified gunmen at an IDP camp in Kalliyangkaadu area in Batticaloa.




Thailand: Release the Hmong refugees NOW!

New Delhi, 16 Jan. 2008

On 15 January 2008, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) once again urged the government of Thailand to release the 149 Hmong refugees from Laos including 90 children who have been illegally detained at the Nong Khai Immigration Detention Centre since they were arrested in Bangkok in December 2006.

Earlier, on 20 August 2007, UNHCR had called upon Thailand to release these refugees stating that they have been illegally detained in “truly inhumane conditions” without any basis. But the Thai military junta did not pay any heed to the plea.

Thailand has been cruel to the Hmong refugees and forcibly refouled many refugees to Laos although they face persecution at the hands of the Laotian authorities. Thailand has also refused to provide access to the UNHCR or any other international monitoring mission to monitor the refoulement and resettlement of the refugees. The whereabouts of the refouled refugees are not known.

Hmongs are minority hill tribe who face persecution at the hands of the Loas government because they had sided with the US forces in the Vietnam war. But Thailand has treated them as “illegal immigrants” and forcibly sent them back to Laos. On 6 August 2007, Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont stated that the Hmong refugees entered Thailand “illegally” and failure to send them back to Laos would create a “never-ending problem” for Thailand.

On 20 September 2007, the Thai military government signed an agreement with Laos agreeing to deport over 7,700 Hmong refugees who have been sheltered in refugee camps before the end of 2008. But without the involvement of the UNHCR or international human rights NGO to monitor the wellbeing of the Hmongs prior to and after their repatriation to Laos, the repatriation of the ethnic Hmongs will be illegitimate. Under such circumstances, the situation will be alike to handing over somebody to the wolves.

Although Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the Thai government has obligations under international law to protect the fundamental rights of the refugees. The UNHCR said these 149 refugees have been offered asylum in other countries. So, why imprison them and ruin their lives?

Release them NOW!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Farmers' suicides: The Govt does not care

New Delhi, 10 Jan 2008

The farmers have been the backbone of India's growth and development. They feed the entire nation but the nation does not care for them. India's agriculture deepens on monsoon rain. The imbalance in the weather or natural disasters cause potential havoc to the farmers and their families. They are forced to take loans from private landlords at high interest rate in the hope that the next time they would be lucky. When they are unlucky again, they are forced to take the extreme steps and end their lives.

It is imaginable how their wives and children continue to live their lives.

According to available statistics, nearly 1,50,000 farmers committed suicide from 1997 to 2005 in India. On average, one Indian farmer committed suicide every 32 minutes between 1997 and 2005. Since 2002, that has become one suicide every 30 minutes.[1] Nearly two-thirds of these deaths were reported from five States - Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh (including Chattisgarh) and Kerala.[2] This trend continued unabated. In 2006, 17,060 farmers including 2,396 women committed suicide in the country. Maharashtra topped the list with 4,453 suicides followed by Andhra Pradesh with 2,607, Karnataka (1,720), Chattisgarh (1,483), Madhya Pradesh (1,375), West Bengal (1,189) and Kerala (1,124), among others.[3] In Maharashtra, Vidarbha region has turned into a killing field for farmers.

In 2006 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tried to apply a balm on the farmers' wounded lives by announcing a relief package of Rs 3,750 crores for six worst affected districts of Vidarbha. But the state government has made a serious fun of the scheme. The farmers were given cheques of paltry amount in the name of compensation. What is more grotesque is that the cheques often bounced back to harass the poor farmers. When the bank officials said they could do nothing if the government’s relief account did not have enough cash, even the farmers understood the government was mocking at their miserable lives.

Now, it has been reported that farmers in Vidarbha in Maharashtra have been provided compensation money (cheques) ranging from Rs 13 to Rs 20 for crop loss. The beneficiaries will probably have to spend more money than this when they go to the banks in the town to encash the cheques. Shocking! Shocking!! Shocking!!!

Are jokers running this country?


[1]. One farmer’s suicide every 30 minutes, The Hindu, 15 November 2007
[2]. Nearly 1.5 lakh farm suicides from 1997 to 2005, The Telegraph, 12 November 2007
[3]. Bengal, Maharashtra top suicide list; fall in farmers’ suicide, The Hindu, 10 December 2007

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Thailand: PPP must be allowed to form government

New Delhi, 5 January 2008

The apparent victory of the People Power Party (PPP) in the Thailand’s first ever general elections after the September 2006 bloodless coup was a fitting reply on the face of the military generals that the majority Thais still supported ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and showed that they stood for civilian democratic rule. In the general elections held in December 2007, the PPP emerged as the single largest party by winning 233 seats out of total 480 seats while the military backed Democrat party managed to win only 165 seats. The PPP led by Samak Sundaravej has claimed support of at least three smaller parties to be able to form the government.

But the coup leaders have been reluctant to give up power to the people. Mr Samak Sundaravej alleged that a conspiracy is on to deny the PPP the right to rule the country.

The Election Commission has delayed the declaration of the final result of the general elections as it is investigating alleged vote-buying and other irregularities taken place in 83 Parliamentary seats including 65 won by PPP and 6 won by Democrat party.

The Election Commission has already disqualified three winning PPP candidates on the charges of vote-buying.

The PPP is allied to Thaksin Shinawatra whose party Thai Rak Thai (TRT) was disbanded following the coup in September 2006. Many of the leaders of TRT party joined to form the PPP. Surely, every citizen has the fundamental right to form political associations to engage in the democratic process of the country. Whoever supported Thaksin’s right to return to the country should not be persecuted for their political opinion. Thaksin has the right to face fair trial to dismiss any allegations against him in Thailand.

But on 3 January 2008, the Supreme Court admitted a case filed by a Democrat candidate to decide whether the PPP should be dissolved for being proxy of Mr Thaksin. If the Supreme Court rules against the PPP – any thing can happen in a military ruled country -, it will be the most serious setback for the restoration of democracy in Thailand. The very elections results will be nullified and another election will be imposed on the people while the opposition leaders will be imprisoned. Under such conditions, the Democrat party is sure to form the government, which will be only a crony of the military leaders.

The PPP-led alliance should be allowed to form the government. It is up to the people to decide if this government has the right to rule or throw it out if it is found to be inefficient or corrupt. Let the people of Thailand decide their future.

Scotland Yard in Pakistan: Hoping against hope

New Delhi, 5 January 2008

President Musharraf was forced to call the British detectives “Scotland Yard” to investigate the killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto as a face saving formula because the findings of his government’s investigation would not be accepted by the people. President Musharraf also did well not to invite the FBI as majority Pakistanis would not welcome America’s another involvement. But it is unlikely that the Scotland Yard team, in spite of all the expertise it has, will be able to come up with any definite conclusions given that the local police destroyed all the forensic evidence by washing the assassination site immediately after the incident without collecting the evidence first. The doctors at the Rawalpindi hospital where Benazir Bhutto was taken after the attack have been allegedly under pressure from the government to remain silent.

Mr Mush has admitted that the washing of the assassination site was a “mistake”. Was it only a mistake? It was a blunder, Mr President. And the act was a clear sign of huge inefficiency of the Pakistani investigators unless the act was done with a motivated design.

The Scotland Yard may be a renowned intelligence agency but they do not have a good track record in Pakistan, primarily due to the non-cooperation from the Pakistani establishment.

Back in 1951, an expert from the Scotland Yard was entrusted to investigate the killing of the first Prime Minister of Pakistan Liaqat Ali Khan in Rawalpindi after the opposition leaders alleged the involvement of some government officials in the murder. But in the middle of his job, the British investigator was asked to leave Pakistan. The reasons were never disclosed.

This time also, the British team is only assisting the Pakistani police team which has already begun the probe. Because of the lack of evidence, it is necessary to exhume the body of Ms Bhutto for post mortem examination which is unlikely as her family members will not allow this.

Benazir’s husband Asif Ali Zardari has claimed that she was eliminated as she was about to expose a plot hatched by the ISI to rig the polls in favor of President Musharraf. But unfortunately, the Scotland Yard team will not be probing the conspiracy angle into Benazir’s killing.

It seems that the investigation is only trying to identify as to how the Pakistani opposition leader was actually killed: i.e. whether she was shot or not? Is the investigation worth it and how does it matter how Bhutto died? The fact remains that she died in an terrorist attack and that there was huge security lapse. But the government has deliberately floated the “lever-hit-her-head” theory in order to detract the investigators as well as the people from the conspiracy theory. A recent video released by the Britain’s Channel 4 clearly shows that Ms. Bhutto was shot by a gunman before the suicide bomber exploded his device.

But the government still firmly stands by its own theory as it knows that this investigation will lead to nowhere. The forensic evidence from the crime spot have been destroyed, the doctors are being threatened, and post mortem is unlikely due to opposition from Ms Bhutto’s family.

The PPP has been demanding an investigation by a United Nations-backed investigation team. The team must also probe into the allegations of ISI’s involvement in the killing of the Daughter of the East.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Sri Lanka: preparing for more bloodshed

On 2 January 2008, the government of Sri Lanka officially scrapped the Cease-fire Agreement (CFA) with the LTTE brokered by Norway in 2002.

The development has hardly surprised any body as the CFA has been considered as “dead” long ago. Till April 2007, LTTE reportedly violated the provisions of the CFA 3,830 times and government 351 times (The Hindu ). The violations were so regular and brutal after escalation of hostilities since July 2006 that the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) has stopped issuing ruling on the violations. The repeated international condemnations of the serious human rights violations went unheeded both by the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE.

The CFA has become a “joke” on the face of Norway. Yet, Norway expressed deep concerns over Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the ceasefire agreement.

Recently, a Sri Lanka official hinted that Tamil Tigers chief Velupillai Prabhakaran might have been killed in the air raid on his bunker on 26 November 2007. With the formal withdrawal from the CFA, the Sri Lankan government could be signaling a major shift in its policy vis-à-vis the LTTE. The government may be interested to hear a reply from Mr Prabhakaran himself to ascertain if he is really alive. Most importantly, the government could be definitely preparing for an all-out military strike against the Tigers.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Nepal: Maoists' second innings in governance

New Delhi, 2 January 2008

On 30 December 2007, the Maoists of Nepal rejoined the government after inking an agreement with Prime Minister GP Koirala that Nepal would become a federal democratic republic after the elections.

I don’t see anything new in the demand for “federal democratic republic” which the Maoists were so eager to have from the government. After all, Nepal will be declared as “federal democratic republic” only after the Constituent Assembly if so decides. That the monarchy would be abolished was long before agreed upon when the Maoists had signed the Comprehensive Peace Accord with the Seven Party Alliance in November 2006. After the Maoists joined the interim government, the Draft Constitution of Nepal was amended to declare Nepal as Secular and Federal. It is already a fragile democracy.

Truly, Nepal’s Maoists, after fighting a decade-long war against the King, have been left without any distinct agenda/ manifesto to go to the voters after some other political parties such as the Nepali Congress, the biggest political party, also decided to back abolition of the monarchy. Hence, they have been seeking a fully proportionate system of elections. When the government refused to budge, the Maoists withdrew from the government to resort to blackmailing the Grand Old Man of Nepal, Prime Minister GP Koirala. The elections had to be postponed.

Even after formally coming over ground and storing their arms and ammunition under the care of the United Nations and joining the government, the Maoists failed to learn the first lesions of democracy: non-violence and respect for human rights. In fact, Mr Prachanda must have realized that it is more difficult to run a democratic country in democratic ways than creating a bloody revolution, where the rebels are not accountable to the people. While the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) cadres are in the UN supervised- camps, the Maoists’ youth wing Young Communist League (YCL) cadres have been engaged in gross human rights violations including killings, abductions, torture, and extortion. Can one imagine a constituent of the government breaking all rules and laws of the country and yet was not accountable for anything they do? Prime Minister GP Koirala called the Young Communist League “the Young Criminal League” for their human rights violations. The police have been helpless in dealing with the unruly Maoist cadres. They have beaten up the police personnel for arresting Maoist cadres involved in crimes. There is no accountability so much so that it seems that Prachanda has lost his control with his cadres or that the cadres at the local level enjoy his consent while committing crimes. Although the Maoist leadership has admitted that journalist Birendra Shah was killed in the custody of the Maoist cadres, the perpetrators were not punished.

The Maoists must also win the confidence of the indigenous peoples, the Dalits and the Madhesis of Terai. But it is clear that they have lost their control in the Terai region.

As the Maoists are ready for their second innings in governance, the world can only hope that they behave themselves. It will be the greatest blunder of Mr Prachanda if he still thinks that the Nepalese voters can be swayed by the point of the gun or that a nation can be built with strikes and similar nonsense stuff.