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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A University in CHT: To Be or Not To Be? - By Khairul Chowdhury

A University in CHT: To Be or Not To Be?

Khairul Chowdhury
Associate Professor
Department of Sociology
Shah Jalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet

Will not establishing a Technology University and a Medical College in CHT be another Kaptai dam? Who will study and teach there?  Are there any of need of them at all, on what ground, whose interest?
Think the stakes and mistakes before they cannot be undone.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is 5125 Sq. m. of land which are mostly hill ranges.  Of which more than 1, 241 Sq. m. (24%) was made reserved forest during the British. Of the remaining of 3884 Sq. m. being called Unclassified State Forest (USF) was and is in fact individual lease hold plough lands and/or common jhum lands upon which the British made civil and revenue administration incorporating the traditional chiefs into the administration. 
During the Pakistan, the Kornophuli hydro-electric power plant (Kaptai Dam) made 250 Sq. m. lake, which submerged 40% of the best cultivable river valley plough lands and dispossessed 100,000 hill peoples, of them 40, 000 took refuge to India. During 1976 to 1990s, many hill peoples had to be taken refuge to India again because of the war between Bangladesh armed forces and Jana Shongti Samity (JSS), the hill peoples’ political party with an armed guerrilla. Some of them returned after 1997 as part of CHT (“Peace”) Treaty. Meanwhile, 400,000 or more Bengali rural poor transplanted into CHT along with 5 Cantonments and 500 Securities Check Posts and Camps. Moreover, from 1962 to 1997, Forest Department also took up, 258,654.00 acres of land, and most of them are now declared Reserved Forest, not to mention thousand acres of rubber plots by anonymous Bengali businessmen and women.  And the old reserved forests are being exploited for timber and industries but have not been replant as planned.
About CHT, the notion of emptiness and sparely populated is “myth” at best, or lie in a common word. 72% of the land areas outside of the old Reserved Forest, that is USF / cultivable lands, are high steep hills (above 40 percent of slopes). Only 3.5% is cultivable plough lands.
In the past, Jhum was the only source of food and income for most of the hill peoples, and is still for a few, mostly the communities of hill peoples other than the Chakma, the Marma and the Tripura. Some members of the remote and rural Chakma, Marma and Tripura do still jhum.  
Jhum is also a technique of forest plantation; without jhuming no forest plantation can be done in CHT. It is the forest Department who has regularly organized jhum cultivation (read: taungya) for forest plantation since the British.        
Since the Kaptai dam, the hill peoples have made to face dispossession, militarization, and violence every day.  There are hardly enough indigenous middle class families or indigenous students in CHT. The University of Chittagong is an hour distance. Still, if there is a “need” for a university for indigenous hill peoples or Bengali communities in CHT, it should be in Chondroghona or on the Chittagong –Rangamati border.
As a university teacher, once I tried to persuade the president of JSS, Mr. Larma to accept government proposal for a technology university. Years ago, I had lived in CHT for a year to learn and know the hill peoples’ lives and living as they are made to be “things” (“tribe”) and becoming of subjects of Bengali domination and Danda.  Now, I do not support a university in CHT but strongly oppose it. A medical college may be?        
A university and/or a Medical college in CHT will surely be a historical event as were the Kaptai power plant and the Kornophuli paper mills in the 1950s, and the CHT Treaty in 1997. However, the University or Medical College will make no differences to the hill peoples’ wealth or well being. If the planned or proposed university and/or medical college in any location of CHT get implemented, they will be disaster for the hill peoples and more detrimental than those of Cantonments in CHT and that of Kaptai dam. They will change current 50/50 ratio of ethnic demography between Bengali and the hill peoples, and every relations of power in CHT including ecology. They will establish chauvinist Bengali hegemony and marginalized the hill peoples’ resistance movement and hope for democratic and secular Bangladesh. The hill peoples’ resistance is a deterrent against tyranny, autocracy and militarism in Bangladesh, and thus, a potential hope and site of struggle for democratic and secular Bangladesh.  
This is December, the month of victory and glory for Bengalis, please do not bring or buy shame from “other nations”, “small in numbers” may the “nations” be!       

Khairul Chowdhury
Ph.D Candidate
Deparment of Social Anthropology
2054 Vari Hall, York University
4700 Keele Street, Toronto, ON, Canada M3J 1P3
FAX: +416-736-5768
alternate email: kc2002@yorku.ca

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