Religion: A Tool for Grabbing Land in CHT

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Maher Islam

There are a good number of people on this God’s earth who are sensitive to religion. Needless to say, the sentiment of people of this subcontinent is quite indifferent. The example of ‘Two Nations Theory’, the partition of the Indian Subcontinent, several communal riots in different countries in South East Asia, and the latest issue of Exodus of Rohingya are only a few amongst many of this kind.
Therefore, it triggered a great alarm when it was made viral in the social media that Bangladesh Army has instructed some local Tribal people of Kukichara, Guimara, Khagrachari to dismantle a Kiyang (Buddhist monastery) which was being constructed by the local Buddhist people.

Anyone would feel the heat of the sensitivity on this issue. There is no point blaming anyone if he or she started anguishing about whether it would be appropriate for any member of the security force to ask such thing. Obviously, all the posts in social media, especially in Facebook containing this news, could draw huge attention and almost all the comments are simply an expression of hatred against Bangladesh Army as well as Bengali people living in CHT. Definitely, the issue is such of nature.

However, it did not take long to reveal the fact. The fact may surprise some of the readers but not those who are well conversant with the issues in CHT. The issue of Kukichara may be considered as one of the examples of grabbing government land in the name of religion; similar sort of land grabbing could have happened sometimes in other parts of the country also. Similarly, this phenomenon is not new in this part of the country. This practice has been going on since last few decades, especially after the signing of CHT Accord on 02 December 1997.

Thanks to inquisitiveness of a few journalists who have provided a glimpse of land grabbing in the name of religion in CHT. Following this incident, Parbattanews published a figure showing number of Kiyang in CHT on 26 June 2018. Accordingly, it is learnt that there were total 1114 Kiyangs in CHT before the CHT Accord was signed in 1997. After the Accord, as many as 462 Kiyangs have been constructed, making total no of Kiyang in CHT to be 1576. Of which, 490 Kiyangs have been constructed grabbing Khas land (government land) and 73 have been constructed on the land of Forest Department (government land). However, only 6 Kiyangs have been constructed on the site of an abandoned camp of security forces, which were withdrawn as part of the implementation of CHT Accord in the different time frame.

Security forces establish camps on a site which has some significant from the strategic point of view. Usually, the proximity of inhabitants, security of the population, availability of the communication centres, domination of the ground over its surroundings etc are considered before selecting any campsite. So, once the camps are withdrawn while implementing the CHT Accord, the Tribal miscreants are trying to occupy those places in different pleas. Thus, they will be in control of such a piece of ground which will facilitate them to continue with their atrocities and evil activities such as abduction, killing, extortion, observing the movement of security forces, domination over certain areas etc.

It may be mentioned here that there was some allegation of utilizing religion for illegal activities in CHT. It alleged that sometimes the miscreants take shelter in these Kiyang, especially when the security forces intensify their search for miscreants. As the security forces do not enter the religious places to maintain the sanctity, sometimes miscreants use these places for hiding arms, holding the secret meeting and some other illegal activities. Reportedly, some of the Kiyangs could have been used as the training centre for the miscreants.

A field level in-depth study found a good number of incidents where abandoned campsites, government land as well as the land of Bengali people were grabbed in the name of religion. This type of incidents is on the rise, especially once the camps are gradually being withdrawn for implementation of the CHT Accord. A few of such incidents are enumerated below:

1. A Buddhist monastery named Dhonopata Moitri Kolyan has been constructed in the abandoned campsite of Dhonpatachara Army Camp in Dighinala in 2007.

2. A Kiyang was constructed in an abandoned campsite named Korollachari Army Camp in Mohalchari in the year 2008 – 2009.

3. Around 200 acres of land which were allotted to 50 Bengali families in 1982-83 by the government, was illegally grabbed in 2008-09, wherein a big Buddhist Monastery named Shantipur Aoronya Kutir has been constructed in Panchari of Khagrachari. It contains residence of the monks, offices, places for visitors, gardens etc. This place has already earned some popularity among tourists. However, as learnt, some of the areas in the monastery are not open to visitors and common public. Rather, only a few specified places are open for the common visitors.

4. Some Tribal people have constructed a Kiyang named ‘Dukkha Mukti Bidorshon Vabona Kendro’ in an abandoned police camp at Dudaiyakhola of Laxmichari in 2001.

5. A few years back, local Tribal people have constructed ‘Tinotamoni Buddha Bihar’ at the campsite of an abandoned district police camp at Babuchara Bazaar of Dighinala.

6. ‘Sadhona Prem Buddha Bihar’ has been constructed in the abandoned Banchora Army Camp at Dighinala in 2011.

7. The most horrible one is the case of Sonamia Tila of Babuchara, Dighinala. There were as many as 812 families who were allotted with land by the government with necessary documentation in 1981-82. However, due to inhuman cruelty and atrocities of the then Shanti Bahini they had to be shifted from there subsequently. But, they could never return to their own land, even after the CHT Accord. Most of them are living on the mercy of others, in a different location, beside roads or in the land of other people. Some of the families living an unspeakable life where one room is being shared by the family members and their cattle at night. They cannot visit the graveyard of their ancestors to pay homage and pray during special religious days located in Sonamia Tila. Grabbing their land, construction work of a Buddhist Monastery have started and been going on rapidly since 2016 over a land of 30 to 40 acres. The Tribal people, in connivance with some local public representatives, have already renamed the area as Sadhona Tila.

  1. The latest one is the one at Kukichara of Guimara where some locals under the leadership of their Karbari (the village head) started constructing a Kiyang in the abandoned campsite of Kukichara Army Camp. A patrol of the security forces went to the spot and found that local people are constructing a Kiyang on an abandoned campsite hurriedly. Whereas, there was no sign of any sort of construction work just a few days back when another patrol visited the same spot. Once the patrol leader inquired about ownership of the land and necessity of construction of the Kiyang, it was propagated that the Army has instructed them to dismantle the Kiyang. As learnt, there are 2 more Kiyangs located nearby, approximately within 300 metres. Moreover, the locality does not have so many people as to require 3 Kiyangs in that area. Reportedly, some locals have already confessed that the aim is to occupy the abandoned campsite in the name of Kiyang. Off late, it learnt that the local government official has already instructed to stop the construction work.

The most heinous side of this crime is that while committing a crime by themselves, they were blaming Bangladesh Army who was actually doing the right thing. However, this type of propaganda and hate campaign against security forces and government machinery is not new in CHT.

Unfortunately, most of the time, this sort of fake, fabricated and misleading news are spread deliberately to create hatred amongst the people against the Bengali, security forces and government machinery as well as gain sympathy in favour of the Tribal people.
While victimizing others, they project themselves to be the victims to draw the attention of the ordinary people away from their crimes. In doing so, they never show the fact, but either they hide the fact or show half-truth only.

Thus, it is not surprising that they blame security forces and Bengali community for violation of human rights, violence against women and illegal grabbing of land in CHT. The fact is simply reverse; just like the aforesaid examples where religion has been used as a tool for grabbing land. There are numerous examples of other types of atrocities being committed by the Tribal miscreants regularly, on the other hand imposing the blame on the security forces or the Bengali communities in CHT. Needless to say, when a human can take advantage or exploit religion, probably, he could do anything – blaming someone else for own crime is a petty issue, in that sense.

♦ Maher Islam: researcher and columnist

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