The Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord (CHT Accord) signed in 1997, with the promised to end a long-standing armed conflict and grant a host of benefits to the indigenous Jumma people occupying the south-eastern region of Bangladesh has increased more tensions last 20 years within the region. The CHT Accord had ended the decade’s long fierce armed conflict between the Jumma people and government of Bangladesh. This Accord was hailed and welcomed by not only the Jumma people of CHT and democratic and progressive political parties of Bangladesh but also by the United Nations, European Union and many democratic governments of the world and many national and international organizations and agencies and personalities as well. Even after 2 decades, the accord has yet to bear fruit; it remains unimplemented and the suffering, misery, subordination, and exploitation of the indigenous Jumma people still continue.The region is still the most unstable region of the country and resentment among the indigenous Jumma people is increasing day by day due to delays in the full implementation of the Accord. However, the failure to fully implement the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord has led to continuing sufferings of internally displaced families and India-returnee refugees of Jumma peoples in the CHT who were the innocent victims of government atrocities and humanitarian crises in the 1980s and 90s. By these 20 years of CHT Accord, so many scholars have done their Ph.D. on CHT Accord, but the Accord remained still unimplemented yet. The major objectives of the 1997 peace accord included protection of the land rights of the indigenous people, revival of their cultural uniqueness, rehabilitation of internally displaced people and refugees who had left the country, withdrawal of the military from the CHT (with the exception of permanent military establishments), and self-government through regional and district councils. The signing of this accord was an important achievement for both the AL government and indigenous Jumma people representatives of the PCJSS. The accord greatly enhanced Sheikh Hasina’s image internationally, and she was awarded the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Peace Prize in 1999 but dramatically the Accord failed to change the life of the indigenous Jumma peoples who fought and shed their blood to make this Accord.
What has given the Accord to the Jumma peoples for last 20 years? Political instability and the lack of a firm political commitment have crippled the accord, thus the hopes and aspirations that accompanied it have withered. The costs of failure are high: disrupting activities, armed warfare, violations of human rights, losses of lives and resources, exposing the border regions to external threats—all of these are costs that the nation can hardly bear if lasting peace is not achieved. This has resulted in serious consequences for the indigenous people: intra-group rivalry and conflicts, fragmentation within the communities, a dwindling economy and stagnating social and human development due to the poor healthcare and education sectors. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord is comprised of four parts—General, Hill District Local Government Council; the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council; and Rehabilitation, General Amnesty, and Other Issues. The Accord was implemented to some extent in the first couple of years, with the demobilization of PCJSS, repatriation of Jumma refugees, enactment of the three revised Hill District Council Acts and Regional Council Act, establishment of CHT Affairs Ministry and so on. But, the vast majority of the most important provisions of the Accord, such as withdrawal of temporary military camps, resolution of land conflicts and making functional the hill district councils and the regional council still remain unimplemented.
Moreover, the increasing of Bengali Muslim population in the CHT region, in contrast to a declining trend for the Jumma population. The Bengali Muslim population, which was around 2% of the total population of the CHT in 1947, rose to 49% in 2003. On the other hand, the Jumma, who comprised 98% of the total population of the hill tracts in 1947, declined to 51% in 2003. The Jumma people, in fact, seem destined to become a minority in their own homeland if the trend continues. These official figures are widely seen in the CHT as being politically manipulated and motivated. Indigenous sources put the Bengali Muslim settler figure at more than 65%.28 It is alleged that the Bengali settlers frequently grab land by force, sometimes with the tacit consent and connivance of the local administration and security personnel (mostly Bangalis with the Bangladesh army stationed in various locations in the CHT) and sometimes by luring illiterate indigenous people and forging documents. The eviction of indigenous Jumma People and land grabbing by Bengali settlers in collusion with government officials are clearly visible in the hill tracts. As a part of their strategy, the armies intentionally encourage the settler to marry hill girls by converting them to Islam. Al Rabita, a Saudi NGO is working in CHT and trying to convert poor hill people to Islam by offering food security, money, and jobs. Massacre and rape were carried out by the Bengali settlers with the help of Bangladesh army so that indigenous Jumma people could not support the PCJSS but extending the Islam by converting indigenous people. Increasing day by day very high rate of Islamic educational institutions in CHT due to Muslim settlers. Due to demographic engineering the Muslim immigrants in recent time destroying the culture, language and religion events. In some places, immigrants are more dominant than hill people with strong back up from army and administration. In this 20 years of the CHT Accord, Bangladesh government undertook different elusive development projects to evict the indigenous Jumma peoples from their ancestral lands and the tourism industry is a new instrument to use as a weapon for the indigenous cleansing of the Jumma people and grabbing their land in the name of development. Even though the settlers in CHT replaced the Chakma, Marma names of different places with Bengali and Muslim names.
The signing of the peace accord enkindled a light of hope among the Jumma people that they will eventually live in peace and dignity. But, their hope and desire have not been materialized in the last 20 years, as the state failed to implement most of the provisions of the Accord. As a consequence of the unimplementation of this accord, the indigenous people became divided and stated again revolutionary activities. The conflict between government and them grew up again. The government of Bangladesh needs to implement the accord fully and all institutions should be established and function properly according to the Peace accord. It is true that the Peace Accord of CHT able to bring peace in hill tracts for few days. But without these elements of a comprehensive solution, state legitimacy, regional security, and trust between settlers and indigenous people in the CHT will remain distant, and the violent conflict in the CHT is likely to endure well into the future. It is time to end the waiting but to act with cooperation to implement the remaining unimplemented f the Accord.