Friday, February 26, 2010

Huge protest by Chakmas in Delhi against killings in Bangladesh

The Protest

The members of Chakma ethnic community living in Delhi held a huge peaceful protest demonstration in front of Jantar Mantar, New Delhi from 11 AM to 3 PM on 25 February 2010 to protest against the attacks on Chakmas and other indigenous Jummas in CHT, Bangladesh.

Over 300 Chakmas including Buddhist monks, students, professionals, and housewives participated in the February 25th protest at Jantar Mantar.

The Chakma leaders submitted a Memorandum to the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh seeking his immediate intervention to:
  1. Make a public statement expressing concern about the attacks on the tribal peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and take all necessary measures to bring an end to the violence with full respect for the principles of equality and non-discrimination;
  2. Urge the government of Bangaldesh to fully implement the CHT Peace Accord; and
  3. Provide a package for implementation of the CHT Peace Accord to ensure that both the communities can live in harmony





























  

























Why the protest?

Since 19 February 2010, the Bangladesh Army and the illegal Bengali settlers have been attacking the indigenous Jummas peoples in Rangamati and Khagrachari districts, CHT, Bangladesh in order to grab their lands.

Over a dozen indigenous Jummas, mainly Chakmas have been killed.

Over 400 houses of Jummas (indigenous peoples in CHT) burnt down.






The illegal Bengali settlers and the Bangladesh Army personnel also attacked religious institutions and burnt down a Buddhist temple and a Church in CHT. In addition, a UNDP-managed health centre was razed to the ground.

Over 100 indigenous tribals have been arrested, some of them from government hospital where they went to receive treatment for bullet wounds. 


UPDATE: UN’s silence is a "serious concern", says Asian Centre for Human Rights, New Delhi. Read: http://www.kanglaonline.com/index.php?template=headline&newsid=51763&typeid=1

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Massacre of Jummas in Bangladesh: Protest to be held in Delhi

Since 19 February 2010, the Bangladesh Army and the Bengali settlers have burnt down over 300 houses belonging to indigenous peoples (Jummas), mainly of Chakma tribe, dozens have been killed in indiscriminate firings and dozens others are still missing. Over 15 Jumma villages have been burnt down. The victims are all Jummas. Those killed included Chakmas, Mizos, Mogs etc. However, only seven Chakma victims have been identified so far. It is important to note that Jummas in CHT consist of 12 major tribes, including Chakmas and Mizos.

One Buddhist Temple, one Church and one United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-run health centre have been burnt to ashes by the Bengali settlers and the Bangladesh Army.

Over 1500 Jummas have been displaced and living either in forests or under the open sky as no relief and rehabilitation has been provided to the displaced persons.

Curfew has been clamped down and the Bangladesh Army has prevented any independent observers such as human rights activists and journalists from the visiting the affected areas. This is to hide the truth from the outside world. Journalists trying to cover the attacks have been assualted. On the other hand, the illegal Bengali settlers are moving freely under the protection of the army to attack the Jumma peopels.

The Bangladesh security forces have been arresting the Jummas, including those who have gone to the government hospitals for receiving treatment of bullet wounds. This is horrific and inhuman. Yet, there is no protest from the government of India for massacre of religious minorities in Bangladesh, although the government of India has been quick, quite rightly, to condemn the killing of two Sikhs by Talibans in Pakistan. Worst, no mainstream newspapers/ news media in India has reported the wanton killings and attacks on religious minorities in Bangladesh, although the killing of two Sikhs continued to grab the headlines in all national dailies.

The New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights (http://www.achrweb.org/) has brought out a report titled, "Bangladesh: IPs massacred for Land Grab" which is available at http://www.achrweb.org/reports/bangla/CHT012010.pdf


The attacks have spread further to Kagrachhari district. The Jumma villages are still burning. Read, http://www.achrweb.org/press/2010/BD03-2010.html


Protest demonstration in Delhi tomorrow:

To protest agaisnt the barbaric massacre of Jummas in Bangladesh and attacks on minority religious institutions, the Chakmas have planned to organize a protest rally tomorrow, 25 February 2010 at Jantar Mantar, Delhi.

The detailed informations will be available later today....

If any body wants to participate, they are most welcome.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chief Minister Lalthanhawla’s dream of Modern Mizoram - some ideas how to fulfil it

By Paritosh Chakma

Mizoram Chief Minister Lalthanhawla in a recent interview to the North East Sun (15 January 2010 issue) stated - “Mizoram of my dream is a vibrant, prosperous State where peace prevails and the people, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, live side by side in harmony and prosperity. I dream of a corruption free society and a people fully developed to take their rightful place in the bigger Indian society and propelling our beautiful State and country forward. I would like to see the government of the day being governed by people who, in turn, are governed by God. As Walt Disney said, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” My government has that courage.”

I felt very refreshing to know the kind of Mizoram our present Chief Minister dreams of. But I have built, over the years, a bad habit to see things in critical ways. So I can’t stop myself from writing this critique on the CM’s views of a “modern, prosperous Mizoram”.

But I am aware that this analysis of mine runs the risks of being dubbed as “personal prejudice of the author”. This, however, cannot discourage me.

1. Equality, non-discrimination, and dignity

Mr Lalthanhawla said Mizoram of his dream is a vibrant peaceful state where “people, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, live side by side in harmony and prosperity”. What he missed is a society whose foundation must be based on “equality” and “non-discrimination”. We all know, all are born free and equal in rights and hence, by virtue of being human beings there cannot be any discrimination on the basis of any difference including caste, creed, ethnicity and religion. Only when people are treated with equality and non-discrimination they can live with “dignity”. When every citizen feels a sense of dignity in every inch of their lives they can live in peace, harmony and prosperity. When they feel discriminated, neglected and humiliated they tend to rise in revolt. And, wherever there is revolt, there is no peace. Also, no state can develop when its minorities are suppressed, neglected and discriminated against. The civilization of a society is best judged by the way it treats its minorities.

Will the state government led by Mr Lalthanhawla have the courage to lay down the foundation of the Mizoram society based on equality and non-discrimination? He has not answered that but hopefully one day he will. He must.

2. Corruption free society

It is easy for any government to say it will root out corruption. However, it is important to understand that the society will be free of corruption only when there is total transparency in the governance, and when every public official and public leader will be accountable and responsible to the people.

When political leaders fight elections to become MLAs they bribe the voters, and richer candidates spent lavishly in the whole election process. As a result, the MLAs feel the electors have not elected the MLAs but the MLAs have “bought” their votes and so why should they (after they become MLAs or Ministers) at all work generously for the people. The MLAs or Ministers also need to pay back to the leaders at the gross root levels who have helped them win the elections. This is where corruption and nepotism begins in politics and our society rots.

This explains why no welfare scheme has become successful anywhere. Take for example, the Congress party’s flagship programme of poverty alleviation in Mizoram – New Land Use Policy or simply NLUP. This is the second avatar of NLUP, the first one having miserably failed in 1990s. Although rhetorics by Congress leaders tell you that they are damn serious to make NLUP successful this time, just look at what they are doing. They are choosing only the Congress supporters i.e. those who have voted for the Congress party in the 2008 MLA election, as beneficiaries. Because he had voted for the Congress party, he does not need to be a BPL family to get the funds although BPL family is a criteria under the NLUP guidelines.

Now the question arises wherether NLUP scheme is meant only for the Congress supporters. Or, only the Congress men and women are poor in Mizoram. Or, is the present government led by Mr Lalthanhawla only for those people who support the Congress party and the Gandhi family?

This takes me to the next question – is really the “government of the day being governed by people?”

3. Whose government is it?

Whose government is it anyway? Is it the government for the Congress men and women only? Or it is the government of the people of Mizoram?

Can Mr Lalthanhawla provide a government that works for the welfare of all its people without discrimination on the basis of party affiliations? Certainly MLAs seek votes for the party during election but when they win they are suppose to serve all the people of the state. For example, a Minister in the Cabinet is no longer a Minister for the Congress party or of his constituency alone, he is the Minister for the people of whole Mizoram.

But sadly during election campaigns the Congress candidates promised NLUP money to those who voted for the party and after they won they are trying hard to keep the promise: NLUP only to the Congress workers. In the process, the people of Mizoram are robbed of their rights. Their free, prior, and informed consent is not at all taken. How can it be “by the people, of the people, for the people” as a true democracy has been defined? Not surprisingly, the politicians become more powerful, fearful and inaccessible after winning elections. Today, it is the people who are responsible to their elected leaders rather than the way round.

Does Chief Minister Lalthanhawla have courage to see himself as the leader of the people of Mizoram, not merely the leader of the Congress party? If yes, his policies must benefit all the people of Mizoram, not only to the Congress men and women.

As long as Lalthanhalwa-led Congress government does not have the courage to rise above petty politics/political compulsions, the state of Mizoram cannot prosper.

“My government has that courage”, says the Chief Minister. Does it really have that courage? We all will be there to see.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Extension of Dampa Tiger Reserve area: A ploy to grab the Chakmas’ lands?

By Paritosh Chakma

I sense something utterly fishy about the way the state government is going ahead with its plan to extend the existing area of the Dampa Tiger Reserve (in short DTR), the largest and the most celebrated wildlife sanctuary in Mizoram. The DTR having an area of 500 sq km is situated in Mamit district bordering Bangladesh and symbolizes Mizoram’s environmental and wildlife protection commitments. Notified as Dampa Wildlife Sanctuary in 1985 it was declared a tiger reserve in 1994. Hundreds of people, mainly Chakma and Bru minorities had been evicted from their habitats with little rehabilitation benefits when the DTR was notified.

There are 10 villages around the DTR with a population of roughly 10,000 tribals mostly Mizo, Chakma, and Reang (Bru) tribes.(1) The latest ambition (though officially not declared) of the Forest Department is to extend the area of the DTR by including a few surrounding Chakma villages namely Andermanik, Rajiv Nagar, Silsury and Hnahva villages. Of these, Hnahva and Andermanik villages are settlements established by Chakmas who had been evicted from the DTR area.

Yet, interestingly the Mizoram Forest Department has of late renewed its claim over the Andermanik village, which is a duly recognized Village Council, as “core area” of the DTR. As stated earlier, the villagers of Andermanik had been “resettled” here after they were evicted from the notified DTR area. So, how can Andermanik village area be inside the DTR? I have heard that the state government has even issued a “Notification” with regard to the acquisition of the Andermanik village council area to be brought under the DTR. But I am yet to lay my hand on this socalled “Notification”.

No, the Chakma villagers are not complaining. Why should they be complaining when the state government has allegedly verbally promised them Rs 10 lakhs per family if they shifted to other site? In August 2009, Mizoram’s Deputy Speaker and local MLA John Rotluangliana along with other political leaders visited Andermanik village and impressed upon the villagers to find new life beyond Andermanik. Poor and illiterate people seldom complain when their leaders tell them what ought to be good for them.

The golden question which still remains a mystery is: who will fund this eviction programme? There are over 100 families in Andermanik and if the state government sticks to its assurance it will have to shelve out at least Rs 1,000 lakh as compensation plus rehabilitation in their new village. Mizoram has received Rs 97.34 lakhs during 2004-05, Rs 65.1560 lakhs during 2005-06, Rs 115.16 lakhs during 2006-07, Rs 82.90 lakhs during 2007-08 and Rs 241.45 lakhs during 2008-09 under Project Tiger from the Central government.(2) Does it mean the Central government will fund a programme in Mizoram that will displace over 100 families of backward tribals and put them in uncertain future?

I see a hidden agenda. Is it to grab the lands (and forests) of the Chakmas in the name of nature conservation? I guess I will never get the answer to it.

There are very less number of tigers in DTR which is as follows(3) :

1993 – 7
1995 – 4
1997 – 5
2001-2002 – 4

The Chief Wildlife Warden Mizoram has recently stated that there are only 6 (six) tigers in the Dampa Tiger Reserve.(4)

But then what is the necessity of extending its area at the expense of the livelihood of the people? This question should be asked again and again, for, the affected once again are the Chakma minorities.

Apart from the six tigers the important species found in DTR are elephant, Sambar, Barking deer, Hoolock gibbon and variety of birds. It is no denying the fact that environment conservation and protection of the endangered species are important issues in today’s world. But these precious species, in particular the tigers can also be protected and looked after within the existing area of DTR (500 square km). There is no need to extend its area. It is not a fact that the tigers are finding limited space to move freely. The forest officials must concentrate on measures to protect the endangered tigers rather than endangering the Chakma minorities. Last year a Chakma villager asked me, “Are tigers and birds more precious than the lives of the Chakmas?” I had no answer to give him, for, I didn’t want to say ‘yes, it seems at least so’.

I love tigers and environment, but I do not support bad policies when they affect the innocent people, more so if these policies are arbitrarily imposed on them.

The state government knows well that it cannot evict the Chakma tribal villagers of Andermanik as their rights are protected under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. Hence, it is using money as bait. The political leaders’ shadowy defence that it is up to the villagers whether to accept the state government's offer or not is not convincing and outrageous  to say the least. Instead of alluring them with a lot of money the villagers must be counseled about their present, and future. The political leaders and the government must think of the long term interests of the people, not evict them needlessly. If the concerned people belong to minority communities more care should be taken so as not to harm their interests. But Mizoram government seems not to think that way.

If today the state government is shoftly allowed to acquire the Chakmas’ land in Andermanik by offering handsome money, it will not hesitate to ‘buy’ other nearby Chakma villages – Silsury, Rajiv Nagar and Hnahva as part of its policy to economically suppress the Chakma minorities.


Footnotes:

1. http://www.incredibleindia.org/newsite/cms_Page.asp?pageid=298


2. http://projecttiger.nic.in/funds.asp

3. http://projecttiger.nic.in/populationinstate.asp

4. Mizoram to conduct tiger census, The Telegraph, Kolkata, 22 January 2010, available at http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100122/jsp/northeast/story_11995826.jsp#