The Inequality Between  Underprivileged Bengali in Chittagong Hill Tracts  and Tribals in terms of Quota; A Flagrant Violation of Constitutional Pledges

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Mohammad Foysal

“Instead of learning Alphabets and taking the pencil, I had to learn how to ride a boat and  swim as my preliminary preparation for my primary school education. After a one-hour boat ride, I got into the school and with great surprise, I discovered that there were only two teachers to teach us. As days passed, I understood the misery of my school as well as teachers.  And the most ill-starred part is that the situation remains the same and nothing gets sidetracked,” opined Minhaz Towki, a graduate from the department of Philosophy of Dhaka University.  He  had to face a bundle of adversities and realities for his education only because of being raised up in the hills of Rangamati.

There are so many Minhaz Towkis, who can never prolong their journey to the Secondary or Higher Secondary level, let alone the tertiary level. Even in these days of promising Bangladesh,  a large portion of Chittagong Hill Tracts remains untouched with primary education.  In this dearth, no sense of an ordinary man on the Clapham omnibus can conjecture that the Bengali individuals of Chittagong Hill Tract are the average or privileged portion, but the under privileged one.

Clause 4 of Article 28 of our constitution mandates that the Government shall have the authority to do anything for the advancement of any backward section of citizens. And it is, indeed, the Bengali people of Chittagong Hill Tracts  along with the tribals are under-privileged and a backward section of citizens.

Only a few universities and medical colleges reserve seats for the admission of non-tribal, but all public universities and medical colleges have quotas for the tribals at a large scale. This quota system is nothing short of a blatant violation of the constitutional pledges so echoed in the article 28, clause 4; a demand of equality between equals  is outburst therein. Both tribal and non-tribal share the same air and the same soil and they live under the same sky, but when it comes about quota in educational institutions, an artificial inference has been drawn that the non-tribal Bengalis are vested with the mercy of the omnipotent God and privileges are showered upon them. Such a stance of the universities is nothing but putting a curb on the constitutional entitlements of the non-tribals, to be more specific their fundamental rights.

Up until now, the biggest overhaul regarding the Chittagong Hill Tracts is The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord of 1997. This peace accord opens with a preamble stating that the agreement they reached is to uphold  the political, social, cultural, educational and economic rights of all the people of Chittagong Hill Tracts. No wonder that the non-tribal Bengalis  also legally  belong to the hill tracts and they have equal right to education like that of tribals. The divergent treatment towards the non-tribals transpires only discrimination and a redress of equal treatment in terms of quota is sine qua non.

By furnishing quotas for tribals of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and keeping non-tribals in the dark, clause 1 of Article 28 of the Constitution is also violated, as article 28(1) says that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth and the non-tribals are being deprived of quotas only beacause of being Bengali ( for their race).

Furthermore, this disparity is violative of  several other constitutional pledges.  As article 15 enumerated,  it is the fundamental responsibility of the state to secure the provisions of the basic necessities, especially education in this context. And the non-entitlement of quotas  for the non-tribal Bengalis of Chittagong Hill Tracts  in the tertiary level is just taking away their  one of the basic necessities of life, that is,  education. Again,  one of the centrepieces of fundamental rights so incorporated in part III of the constitution is the right to life under article 32 . Never can it be possible to attain a meaningful life without the light of education. Although the right to life does not textually speak about the right to education, its ever expanding contour includes this very pivotal piece of rights to render an individual’s life meaningful. It is obvious that getting enrolled in  universities competing with a privileged portion of our society is a next to impossible task for non-tribal Bengalis and no quota in higher education literally means to keep them beyond the university education.  And such treatment is just an overkill for their right to life and a flagrant violation of a lofty pledge so enumerated in our constitution.

It is high time that the University authorities should ponder over this issue and provide the non-tribal Bengalis with quotas in the university admission.  Only then, the equality between equals will be achieved and the constitutional pledges will remain secured.

Mohammad Foysal
Student of the Depratment of Law
University of Dhaka

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