Democracy and Political Rights

No Justice, No Democracy for the Ethnic Minorities of Bangladesh


By Sameer Abdullah

Bangladesh, a country with a population of approximately 160 million people, is not very diverse, and while it may sound counter intuitive that does not mean that there are not many different kinds of people in the country. The majority of the populace is Muslim and very patriotic, and the impact of this will be explained further on in the article. The problem lies in the discrimination of certain minorities in Bangladesh, and those minorities being deprived of their rights due to this discrimination. Although Bangladesh is a democratic country, some not so democratic things often end up happening to the indigenous tribes living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

As of now, the indigenous people living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts cannot be said to be living in a democratic country. While the previous statement may seem an exaggeration, there can be no doubt of its validity. This is because of the fact that the government of Bangladesh itself has clearly admitted to the fact that they have put the indigenous tribes in the Chittagong Hill Tracts under military rule. This military rule however, is only a pretext to control the indigenous tribes living in those locations. The government’s need to control them is derived from the happenings in the past, which will be shortly elaborated upon to explain the relationship between the current discrimination and the happenings in the past.

Bangladesh is a country that achieved its independence on 1971, and it can be said to be a short amount of time. Bangladesh achieved its independence from Pakistan through a war of liberation, a messy and bloody affair, further complicated by the fact that some people living in Bangladesh decided to support Pakistan in its suppression of what they deemed to be a rebellion. The Bangladeshis won and achieved their independence from Pakistan, but shortly thereafter followed the matter of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The indigenous tribes in the Hill Tracts did not play any major roles in the war, and they wished to remain separate from the new Bangladesh, wishing to be an independent entity.

The want to be separate remained in the people of the indigenous tribes, which in turn led to the now infamous Chakma insurgency. This was nothing short of a war, with the conflict being led by the government of Bangladesh on one side and the United People’s Party of the Chittagong Hill Tracts on the other.  The Chittagong Hill Tracts even formed their own army, the Shanti Bahini, in an attempt to resist the Bangladesh government and the government’s policies. A brutal war followed, and with the Shanti Bahini making use of guerrilla tactics, the war lasted for 20 years. The war only ended after a signing of peace accords in 1997, with the Bangladesh government regaining control over the Hill Tracts. However, even though a peace treaty had been signed, the underlying problems had not been addressed.  Public opinion of the indigenous groups was also low, and the discrimination against them was widespread.

This in turn led to the current situation, one where the indigenous tribes live under military rule. An article in the UNPO summarizes their situation quite well:

“The indigenous communities of the Chittagong Hill Tracts are going through an ordeal due to the heavy military rule that denies the possibility for organisations to investigate and report the numerous human rights violations committed by the army. Restrictions have been imposed by the Home Ministry on numerous rights and freedoms, comprising the freedoms of speech and assembly, while extra-judiciary killings and enforced disappearance are nowadays countless. Human rights activists, students and members of political parties are the first targets of these injustices and conspiracies, which are creating a deep frustration among the Jumma peoples, especially youth and students.”

It is indeed quite sad, that even though Bangladesh is a democratic country, the indigenous tribes have to face such difficulties. Are they not citizens of Bangladesh too? Why should the youth that had no part in their parents’ actions be punished for what they did not do?

Dear reader, my question to you is this: How would you feel if you were the one having your rights taken away for things you did not do?


About the Author

Sameer Abdullah
Chief Editor of the Democracy and Political Rights department

Sameer is a student at William Carey Academy. He likes to walk the path less trodden and advocate for the devil. He also loves online gaming and learning new stuff. Too often, he finds himself pondering and analyzing society, constructs, the human mind, and anything that affects the lives of those of us living on earth.

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