The plight of the Kukis in Bangladesh

Published on August 30, 2013

By Nathan Loncheu

There are 11 tribal tribes in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Southeast Bangladesh. The Chakmas are the largest in terms of population, the Moghs second and the Tripuras third respectively. The Kuki group or Zo people such as Bawm, Pangkhua, Lushai, Khumi, Mru and Khyang are the minority. The Chakma, Mogh, Tanchangya and Chaks are 100% Buddhists. The Tanchangyasa and Chaks are offshoots of the majority tribes. The Tripuras are Hindus but some have embraced Christianity.

In CHT, there are two political organizations supported by the majority tribes – Jana Sanghoti Somity (JSS) and United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF). Both parties have armed wings and they fight to establish Jummaland (Chakma kingdom) but with different visions. They have been fighting each other for supremacy for over a decade. They try to adopt Jumma as the political term for all the hill peoples of CHT.

According to JSS, Jumma means “Jhum cultivator.” But sometimes, it refers to Chakma because the Chakmas, in olden times, called themselves “Jumma” or “Sakma.” In their history, there was a Chakma king named Jumma-bir. The Chakmas are planning to establish their Chakma land in CHT in the name of Jummaland by convincing all the hill tribes.

But we do not accept the proposal as it is a Chakma term and their political vision. All the land cannot be Jummaland, the land we also belong to. We are Mizo-Chin-Kuki or Zo Hnahthlak (descendants of Chinlung). We will be in the name of Kuki, Chin or Mizo.

In the past, we were called Kuki by the Bengalis in plain areas and the land had also been known to the plainsmen as “Kuki Rajjyo” which means Kuki kingdom. History has never known the CHT as the Chakma kingdom. History has the land of CHT as Kuki country. But today, the majority tribes claim the CHT as the Chakma Rajjyo (Chakma kingdom).

They rewrite the history of CHT in their own way by concealing documents maintained by the British. They have already changed the history of CHT and the history of Kuki people in CHT. For all these reasons, we formed Bawm Literature Forum in 2002 and collected documents pertaining to the Kuki people which I later published as a book titled “Bawmzo.” The book was also published in India in 2012.

After signing the Mizoram Peace Accord and when all members of the Mizo National Front (MNF) left the CHT, disgruntled insurgent groups such as the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) and the Arakan Army (AA), backed by the Mogh tribe, became very active in the Kuki areas. These armed groups started kidnapping the innocent Kuki people and demanded huge amount of money for ransom, threatened the poor people and jeopardized their peaceful existence.

They raped a Bawm woman and brutally killed her. During elections, these armed cadres forced our innocent people, at gun point, to cast their votes for the candidates of their choice belonging to the majority tribes. No one from the Kuki community was elected as Chairman in the Union Parishad’s elections, and therefore, could not become a member of District Council. The majority tribes now have special District Councils, Regional Council and Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs of their own.

They have availed all the facilities provided by government and non-governmental organizations, including Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Facilities (CHT-UNDP). They also enjoy foreign scholarship provided by the Australian government under the CHT-UNDP. As they hold all the high level posts in District Councils, our voice always remain unheard.

We now have nothing in these Councils. Our rights have been ignored. The majority tribes are dominating us in various ways. For all these reasons, in 2008, we formed an organization called Kuki-Chin National Development Organization (KNDO) with a view to unifying all the neglected Kuki-Chin-Zo tribes of the CHT. We visited Mizoram and met with some former MNF leaders and political organizations.

We are still being oppressed and persecuted by the majority tribes. We have informed the government several times but no concrete response thus far. Some Kuki leaders, though highly educated, are not aware of our culture, our politics and even our existence. Some of these people support the majority tribes. They have never tried to highlight our plight to the Bangladesh government, nor to the international organizations. Instead, they often speak out in favor of the dominant tribes.

The majority tribes are fighting each other for power. They attempt to drag the minority Kukis into their dirty politics. Both armed groups (ALP and AA) do not consider the interests of the Kuki people. Last month, a pastor in Khagrachari was brutally murdered by the majority Chakma-led armed cadres. The PCJSS blamed the UPDF for the killing but the latter denied.

A year ago, the majority tribes released several false propagandas against the Christian missionaries across CHT, which is a threat to our religion and community. In other words, there is religious persecution on minority Christians by the majority tribes and the local government despite the Bangladesh constitution clearly stating that everyone is free to practice his or her own religion.

The CHT Peace Accord was signed between the Bangladesh government and the Chakma armed group in 1997 in Dhaka. They formed Regional Council in CHT. Before and during the peace talk, we were optimistic that all the hill tribes would be part of the solution. Unfortunately, the Kukis were left out when the agreement was signed and the subsequent Council formation. Hence, the Kuki people rejected the Accord since it was signed without our consent.

At present, we the Kukis have no voice in both District and Regional Councils. We are not happy at all with the so-called CHT Accord and its formation. Our rights and voices have been neglected. The Bengalis from the plains have been empowered in the Councils by allocating 7 seats to them. There are six Kuki tribes and not a single seat is allocated to them.

During the signing of the CHT Accord, they said, “the Kuki people had no any contribution during our movement.” They established a regional council by excluding the Kuki groups. The formation of regional council has made the dominant Bengalis more powerful. We, the Kuki people, have become powerless in our own land while the Bengalis and other majority tribes are gradually becoming powerful. The majority tribes from the plains now have enough administrative powers to grab our land.

Recently, there was a massive influx of the plainsmen to the hill areas. If the trend continues, we are going to lose our ancestral land, the hunting ground of our forefathers. This is an alarming agenda of the majority tribes and their political parties – UPDF & JSS – in their attempt to create Jummaland. Taking serious note of the situation, the government must ensure equal rights to all the hill people, including the Kukis. Under the present circumstances, we, as minority, are extremely worried about our future.

After strong protests, apparently the government is now putting on hold further implementation of the CHT Accord. My hope is that the government will abandon the Accord unless there is participation from all hill tribes. In this regard, the majority tribes have approached the United Nations (UN) and even the vested-interest leaders within our own community for their support. The Bawm Literature Forum earlier protested the CHT Accord at a UN meeting.

We have been very clear from the beginning that we will fight for our rights and restore our land with the help of our brethren Kuki-Mizo-Chin people. We recently heard rumors that some leaders from Manipur will come to discuss with the Mogh/Chakma leaders on the issue of CHT politics.

If this is true, we hope that our brethren from Manipur will represent the interests of the Kuki people in CHT, and not for Jummaland or the implementation of regional council. We always anticipate our brethren’s support and co-operation. The Kukis tribes – Hmar, Zou, Thado, Lushai, Lai, Paihte, Lakher and other Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribes are of one family

We long for Manipur, Chin Hills and Mizoram. We are proud of our brethren Kuki people in Manipur, the Chin of Chin Hills and the Mizo people of Mizoram. We hope the Kuki of Manipur and Mizo of Mizoram, as well as the Chin of Chinland will not reach any political agreement with the majority tribes of CHT, their supporters or armed groups – JSS or UPDF – without the consent of KNDO, the only socio-political organization of the Kukis in CHT.

The writer is president of the Bangladesh-based Kuki-Chin National Development Organization (KNDO).

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