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Thursday, July 5, 2012


On a chilly February day, GHRD met with a Jumma refugee who left the Chittagong Hill Tracts in a quest to create international support and awareness for the plight of his indigenous people: the Jumma. "If we can get strong backing from the European politicians, then we can add more pressure to the Bangladeshi Government to implement the peace accord and to claim our rights”, he says quietly.

While his family is still in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, he is the only one of his tribe who has left the village. Some of his relatives’ lands are now occupied by the army camps.

Here, he shares his memories of how his life changed when the army came to his village when he was a child.

A beautiful sky

“Above my village, when I grew up you could see the sky, there was no pollution. You could see the insects spinning, it was beautiful. I could see the army barracks from my home. There was no electricity for the indigenous people, but I could see the army barracks had their lights on even at night. The army came to my village when I was about four or five years old. Everybody was in panic. They thought they can kill us anytime. They would tell the villagers they needed porters; whether they were elderly or sick or not, they would force them to carry their belongings. They would ask the villagers if they knew the whereabouts of Shanti Bahini (“peace force” / resistance movement) if they said they didn't know, they would beat them”.

 Under the army’s wing

“We built the army camps. As a boy, at 10 years old, I had to work as a porter, and I didn’t get paid. I had to cut their grass, supply the bamboo thatch and the wood to build the army camps. We provided their food, fruits, vegetables; we had to give them our animals, with minimum pay. I am the witness: I was there.

There was no freedom of movement; the army had the right to stop us at any time, we felt like captives. We grew up with fear of the Bengali army at all times: even when we were at home, we felt fear as we heard the sound of army boots passing by our house. The Bengali people who came to the village, they could move freely. We could not even buy matches; we had to get permission from the army to do that. When we would buy things, we had to report. We could not buy more than two matches. They claimed if we bought three, we must be giving one to the Shanti Bahini. We know the army is there to protect the settlers, but we have to live there.

The problem started from '75 onward, when they started bringing the illegal settlers and the armies. The illegal settlers see us as their enemy, and we see them as our occupying enemy as well. The army used to ask the village people to entertain them; young people had to dance and perform in the army camp, we were bound to do that. They sent letters to the village leaders who would inform the young people they had to go and perform and sing or dance for the army, whether it was rain or flood or whatever to make them happy. I went too, of course. They could do anything they wanted because they were the holders of power. There were incidents where army personnel abused the women, but not all”.

Assalumu Alaikum

“One night I witnessed how they tortured my people. The army teams led by 2nd Lieutenant Musharaf Hussain, from 1st Bengal battalion/regiment, a young man who belonged to the Muslim religion, had taught the young villagers to say Assalamu alaikum (Muslim greeting) This night, the army patrolled by and because some of my villagers, young people, forgot to say Assalamu alaikum, the officer became angry. Then the army brought them in front of our house. They started kicking, punching and beating them with their belts. They also beat them with the knives of their guns and they started bleeding. The villagers were crying and told them to ask pardon; the soldier stepped on their heads, like they were footballs. I was the witness to all this, together with other children. And this army officer, the Musharaf Hussain, I heard he got a promotion”.

We just want our freedom

 I went to boarding school, and when I came back, my village was destroyed. They had accused my village of harbouring the Shanti Bahini, so they destroyed it. Not only our village, several others too. The army beat them and put all the villagers into a kind of refugee camp.

 This was in the 1980s, but today the situation is the same. If there was no problem now, why are there no foreigners allowed into the Chittagong Hill Tracts? The main problem is the presence of the army. If they move from there, the problems will be solved with the settlers. Because with the army presence, the illegal settlers have the power. In the media they say that several hundred camps have been removed, but that's not true; they just shift to other places. We don't fight, but they claim there is a conflict. The government and army create the conflict. We want to live there as other people are living. We don't want to see the army. We just want our freedom”.

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