Magazine article New Internationalist

Subodh Bikash Chakma: A Leading Campaigner for the Rights of the Jumma, the Indigenous Peoples Who Live in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh

Magazine article New Internationalist

Subodh Bikash Chakma: A Leading Campaigner for the Rights of the Jumma, the Indigenous Peoples Who Live in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh

Article excerpt

I WAS in grade three when my home was submerged under the waters of the Kaptai Dam.' Subodh Bikash Chakma speaks quickly and quietly; his hands move constantly, circling as if to capture the urgency of his words.

That was the beginning of my anger,' he recalls. 'And, I suppose, of my activism.' The Bangladesh Government began the Kaptai project in 1962. The dam flooded a third of the Jumma peoples' territory, more than 150,000 acres. Since then, says Subodh, the Jumma have suffered a systematic destruction of their land, their livelihood and their lives.

Four years later, I attended a Buddhist fair where a police inspector molested the sister of a classmate. I lost my temper and I beat him up. I shouldn't have.' At this point Subodh's round face breaks into a wicked grin. 'He was not as strong as I was. In fact, he was quite weak. Anyway, after that I had to run away...'

Today Subodh is trying to call world attention to the rights of the Jumma, who live in the isolated and rugged Chittagong Hill Tracts in Northeast Bangladesh. Thirteen different indigenous tribes live in the area, each with their own language and culture. They are mostly Buddhist. The Bangladesh Government has long felt uneasy about the region and claims that the Jumma are secessionist.

Subodh, like many others, was forced into exile. He now lives in Canada, and only last year was joined by his wife and three sons. But he is no less passionate about his people's cause.

In 1972, when Bangladesh became independent, many people from our area were killed. I travelled all around holding meetings and campaigning. In 1975 the student organisation I was working for was banned, as was the Jumma peoples' political organization, the Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS).

Then my wife was beaten up when our second son was only three months old. Everywhere I met people who had been traumatized by rape, by beatings, by the horrors they had witnessed. All these things made me stronger and more motivated to campaign for the rights of my people.'

The Jumma are determined to preserve their culture and their religion. 'We are fighting for regional autonomy within the frame - work of the constitution,' Subodh stresses. He stares at me sternly over the black rims of his glasses. 'We are not separatists.'

The Bangladesh Government is not convinced. It sees the Jumma as different and therefore suspect and wantsto assert its control over the water, timber, oil and land of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. …

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