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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Lelung: the hero of the threatened Khumis

He struggled hard in his life and set the record of being the first Khumi graduate just two days ago. The University of Dhaka turned down his repeated request to give him access as he could not fulfill a condition. Of the 1,150-strong Khumi people in Bangladesh he was the first Khumi student who went for university admission. Now the Southern Cross University, Australia becomes part of the Khumi history. Unfortunately, our universities could not take the pride, is it because of hard rules or lack of sensitivity towards the most microscopic threatened peoples of the country? UNDP, AusAid and Southern Cross University can claim their credit for Lelung's success.

Rupayan Dewan

It was possibly in 2003, I saw Lelung first when he visited Mr. Santu Larma at Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council’s Banani rest house in Dhaka, along with a group of Jumma students. He drew my attention basically for his ethnic background as his people forms the smallest in population in the CHT. His good look and beautiful long and curly hair with a pair of powered glasses added extra attraction to separate him from a dozen of Jumma students. Actually, I cherished an opportunity to have some acquaintance with him and I could not manage it as they quitted the rest house once their meeting was over. I read a newspaper report on him which pleaded for his university access. His most disadvantaged ethnic background and attempts to university for education drew my attention and since then I reared my love toward him.

Lelung, with his convocation gear on 27 May 2010. The photo was sent by him.

Out of my love and feeling towards poor rural people and ethnic minorities, I encouraged my daughter to trek to Bangladesh-India-Myanmar tri-junction and see the plight of the most outreach communities of mountainous part of the CHT. She was unburdened, waiting for her M.A. result and one day in November 2009 she set out with a person as guide cum medical caretaker. When she arrived Chargingpara, east of Reingkhyong pukur the community people raised their eyebrows seeing her there and kept asking the source of her inspiration for the daring visit as none from Rangamati or any town visited them before. I asked her to say Lelung's family hello on her way, to build tie with them. Unfortunately, she could not visit them for time constraint.

My second meeting with him was in 2006 at UNDP-CHTDF office of IDB Bhaban when he went to appear before the selection committee of the AusAid-CHT scholarship under the Australian Development Scholarship scheme. During this meeting I did not have any time to talk to him for personal acquaintance. I found the CHTDF very committed to send students belonging to basically non-Chakma indigenous peoples to Australia under this scheme, for giving them scope so that there can be some progress in their societies. This commitment basically originates from the ‘ethnic balance’ policy of the CHTDF. I also found all the members of the selection committee to be very positive towards this idea of finding out promising minority students for this scholarship. And we the members of the selection committee found Lelung capable of facing British Council’s IELTS test which was a prerequisite for final selection.

It, of course, surprises me when I hear from Lelung that “Later on I heard that some UNDP-CHTDF and AusAid-ADS selection committee members didn’t want to consider my application due to the lack of requirements, but an influential high profile member finally convinced all the members to give me a chance since I was the only single piece of Khumi candidate.” Beyond Lelung, the members of the selection committee were also happy to finding out another promising Chak female student, Ucha cha a Chak who might be the first female Chak graduate if she has done her graduation from Australia this time (Chak population in the CHT, Bangladesh is 2,000, according to 1991 census).

Lelung, on December 10, 2008 when he visited Rupayan Dewan at Rangamati.

My third meeting with him was on 10th December 2008 at my home during his university vacation. He volunteered to visit me at my home at Rangamati when he was visiting his sister at Maonoghar Shishu Sadan at Rangapanya. He did not visit any person of Rangamati except a person associated with cultural movement, what he told. I was really glad when I got a call from him telling me that he would like to visit me that day with a friend. I proposed him for lunch and he was kind to accept. Unfortunately, my spouse could organise a very simple meal for him. He was alone as his friend could not accompany him. We talked on many issues for a few hours but I found him his immense love and commitment for his own people,the most threatened Khumis in the CHT.

The Khumi, Lelung’s ethnic people has been living in the CHT since the end of the 17th century who actually originates from upper Koladyne river of Arakan State of Myanmar. According to Hutchinson there were about 1,500 Khumis in the CHT in 1909 and more than 15,000 were settled in Myanmar. The 1991 census records 1,150 Khumis against 1,188 in 1981 census living in the CHT who live in Ruma, Rwangchari and Thanchi Upazilas of Bandarban Hill District. The Khumis are the most microscopic ethnic indigenous people of the CHT and thus are in most vulnerable state. According to Cpt. T. H. Lewin the Khumi numbers in the CHT was some 2,000 (in 1870), the numbers, however, fluctuates as year by year, some families either go to, or return from, their relatives living on the Koladan in Arakan. Now a great number of Khumis live in Chin and Arakan States of Myanmar. My friend, Maung Seing Phrue, a resident of Bandarban says that in recent years the Khumi population is decreasing and one of the reasons is their assimilation with the Mros through marriages for their close habitation.

We do not know the literacy rate and exact population of the Khumis like other Jumma peoples of the CHT. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics does not provide any information on the CHT Jummas in its 2001 census. It might have done based on an unfriendly policy to keep the Jummas in dark about them. The information what we get about us from this government bureau is not dependable. It gives our estimated population in its 1981 census. We do not know how this bureau discovers 40 Murongs (Mro) in Dighinal Thana of Khagarachari Hill District in 1991. Similarly, it again discovers 91 Khumis and 319 Chaks in Rangamati Sadar Thana the same year. We should hope that the democratically elected sitting government would not exclude the Jummas in the 2011 census for laying out all necessary information to judge the exact state of the Jummas.

This is luxury imagination to think of Lelung’s graduation from Australia who comes from a remote mountain village, close to the Keocradong and the Boga Kain whose parents depend on Jum cultivation and can hardly speak Marma dialect beyond their own one. Who was separated from his family at the age of 12 and did not know any to speak in Khumi, the lone dialect he could speak. His parents deserve high appreciation for sending their child to go to Ruma Tribal Residential School in Bandarban Hill District who struggled hard to adapt in this unknown state. This young hero struggles hard and one day in 1998 passed SSC. Afterward, he disobeys his family for college education and thus goes to a college at Satkania in Chittagong District. His parents put pressure on him for marriage, find a job and take care of them. He passed the HSC in 2001 and went to Dhaka with a hope of getting admission into the Dhaka university. Alas, despite several attempts he could not melt the hearts of two VCs of the Dhaka university for his admission as he could not fulfill a requirement. And, finally he settled at Borhan Uddin College under the National University in Anthropology.

The opportunity in his life came close for better foreign higher education in 2006 when he, with little hope applied to UNDP-CHTDF for AusAid-CHT ADS scheme. He contested and succeeded to be one of the 50 applicants for IELTS test and came with 20 successful scholars and finally flew to Australia in the beginning of 2007. After three and half years arduous endeavour he set the record to be the first Khumi graduate in Bangladesh in Social Science major in Sociology from the faculty of Arts and Social Science of Southern Cross University, Lismore, New South Wales, Australia on June 27, 2010. The UNDP-CHTDF, the AusAid and the Southern Cross University can now be the part of the Khumi history.

Now, Lelung wants to be a part of the development in the CHT and draws attention of the Education Minister and authorities of all public Universities to set up a flexible admission policy or a special quota system for some of the most disadvantaged indigenous groups- the Khumi, the Mro, the Bawm, the Pangkhua and the Khyang of Bangladesh with the population of 1,150; 21,963; 6,978; 3,227 and 1,950 respectively, according to the 1991 census.

For being the first Khumi graduate Lelung now shoulders moral responsibility to bring progress among his people and in this mission I want to be one of his trusted friends so that his fellow men can bring progress for them and they are respected with curtsy and due words by others. I warmly congratulate him for setting the record and do acknowledge his struggle.

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