The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh is a contentious region that is occupied by various indigenous ethnic groups, most of which still work towards achieving secession from the government through various guerrilla tactics employed by their rebel groups. However, the Toungsa Paharis, one of the Chakma tribes mainly occupying the hill regions, seek a peaceful solution to the discrimination geared towards them as second-class citizens as tribal people[1]. The cultural resistance they are employing is a type of defensive maneuver they are maintaining to protect their identity and integrity, a measure against the prevalent insecurities they face as an aboriginal group of people. However, this resistance is a peaceful way of voicing a group’s identity, and demonstrates their inherently peaceful intentions, as opposed to the other ethnic groups in the CHT region. This ongoing situation may be resolved if proper measures are taken to encourage their willing accommodation into Bangladesh’s society.

Most of the Toungsas (such as the Pangkhoas, Bawms, or Lushais) embraced Christianity and adopted European dress codes about 150 years ago, and as a result, the nearby Bengali does not feel any interest to ‘civilize’ or ‘correct’ them with Bangali Muslim notion of decency. Although they practice Christianity, still they maintain their customary rules and rituals. They wear the Western dress and pray at Church; along with these, they also practice “jhum” and maintain their own rituals on occasions such as birth, marriage, death, and the like. There is no known example from among the Toungsa regarding conversion to Islam, which does happen among the Khyoungsa in an insignificant number. The Toungsas usually do not come to the valleys, so that they can avoid the unwanted situation and keep themselves involved with their own religion and rituals.

The propositions regarding the accommodation, as well as the improvement of the Toungsa Pahari people and similar indigenous people who employ peaceful tactics to defend themselves include:

Cultural Appreciation: The cultures of the Toungsa Paharis and similar indigenous groups should not be regarded as primitive or be forced into reformation into something civilized. Instead, respect for the distinct cultures of these groups should be encouraged and maintained.

Appropriate Education Opportunities: To enable and encourage the Toungsa Pahari groups and similar peaceful groups to participate in the wider society dominated by the Bengali people and not be treated as they are being treated now, appropriate education opportunities should be provided in the region while keeping in mind about their own culture.

Channels of Participation in State Politics: The Toungsa Paharis and similar peaceful groups in the CHT region should be given adequate representative channels to participate in state politics. This way it’ll create a more inclusive nature.

Full Guarantee and Enforcement of Human Rights: The peaceful groups such as the Toungsa Pahari should be cautiously distinguished from other groups that are engaged in secessionist objectives through the operation of rebel groups and violent or potentially violent tactics. The discrimination that they face in the face of the locally stationed army forces should be handled with due.

The Toungsa Pahari people are inherently peace-loving groups, and thus they share peaceful intentions. Their cultures are the only things that they have in defending themselves. Thus, if they can receive their due rights and privileges, they can prosper and come out of the protective shell of reluctance and isolation that they have created for themselves, and enable them to accommodate the broader society of Bangladesh.

Recommended Reading List

Gurr, T. R. (1993). Minorities at Risk: A Global View of Ethnopolitical Conflicts. Michigan: United States Institute for Peace Press.

Serajuddin, A. M. (1971). The Origins of the Rajas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and Their Relations with the Moguls and East India Company in the Eighteenth Century. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, 19(1), 90-98.

Skalník, P. (1989). Outwitting the State: An Introduction (Vol. 7). (P. Skalník, Ed.) New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Uddin, M. A. (2012). Non-violent Resistance among the Toungsa Pahari of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. South Asian Survey, 133-147.

Uddin, N. (2008). Living on the Margin: The Positioning of the Khumi within the Socioeconomic, Political, and Ethnic History of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Asian Ethnicity, 9(1), 33-53.

Uddin, N. (2010). Politics of Cultural Difference: Identity and Marginality in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. South Asian Survey, 17, 283.

[1] In the original treaty of the 1997 Peace Accord, the term ‘Tribal’ has been used instead of indigenous. To avoid any further debate the mentioned term ‘Tribe/Tribal’ has been used.