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Monday, October 01, 2012

Recognition of non-Bengali nationalities a pre-condition for CHT peace

New Age, Dhaka, editorial
30 Sept 2012

The Chittagong Hill Tracts continues to remain a political hotbed for racial conflicts, conflicts between the non-Bengali ethnic communities living in the regions for several hundred years and the Bengali settlers because of the national chauvinism nurtured and practised by the Bengali ruling class organised primarily under the Bangladesh Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. The peace agreement between the government of Bangladesh and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti, signed in 1997 following a decade-long political negotiation, and the subsequent surrender of arms by the PCJSS, put an end to the war in the CHT but the non-implementation of major components of the agreement by the government has resulted in perpetual racial conflicts in the region. The latest racial violence in Rangamati town, which resulted from an apparently small brawl between two students belonging to the Bengali and Chakma nationalities on September 22 was the result of broader racial conflicts prevalent in the areas for decades.  Those in the ruling circles, and beyond, who have found a ‘grave conspiracy’ behind a small personal dispute of two students turning into a large-scale ‘sectarian violence,’ in fact, in our view, are not more or less than conspiracy theorists; they fail to understand that the perpetual racial tension existing in the region is inherently capable of creating wildfire of clashes among the feuding communities from the small spark of a private dispute between any two individuals belonging to the opposing nationalities in the CHT. They also fail to understand that the question of racial harmony has become more vulnerable to apparently innocent disputes particularly since the Awami League-led ruling alliance had adopted the 15th amendment to the constitution of the republic in June 2011 that refuses to recognise the existence of any race in Bangladesh other than the Bengalis. The opposition camp led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party politically recognises the existence of the non-Bengali nationalities but practically it has done nothing substantial to resolve the racial conflicts in the CHT.

However, in the wake of the Rangamati violence, five left-leaning components of the Awami League-led alliance held public protests at the attacks on the national minority communities concerned, and demanded, as reported by New Age on Friday, that a judicial inquiry of the sectarian attack should be conducted to find out the perpetrators of the crime to bring them to justice. Indeed, it is important to punish the attackers and end the impunity enjoyed by such attackers. But at the same time the government needs to realise that the fact that Bangladesh is not inhibited by only the Bengalis and that there are non-Bengali communities like the Chakmas, the Murongs, the Garos and so on, who have been living in this country for centuries with different languages, culture and traditions, and these communities have legitimate rights to exist in the country with their own racial identities. The first and foremost pre-condition for peace in the CHT, after all, is to the constitutional recognition of the existence and rights of the national minority communities. Besides, it is high time that the government initiated an effective implementation of, at the least, non-controversial components of the CHT peace treaty.

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