Feature Img
Photo: bdnews24.com
Photo: bdnews24.com

Have we made the adivasis “disappeared” from our midst? A week after the Matiranga incident there is little stir and no major protests noted. Few writings have appeared to draw public attention to the matter. Even fewer know the details. It’s as if we have had enough of the flat-nosed people, enough of their moaning and groaning and it’s safe now to ignore their plight. Matiranga attack is one of the most deadly examples — in spirit not in scale — of our collective indifference to an entire people, a people as precious as any other Bangladeshi citizen.

The story of the attack is all too familiar. There was a rumour that a settler Bangladeshi had been abducted by the hill people. In retaliation the villages in the upazila’s Taindang was torched, vandalised and looted by the Bengalis. Nearly 50 houses in six Chakma and Tripura villages were attacked.

Many adivasis crossed the Feni river and took refuge in the no man’s land along Bangladesh-India border and returned only after the CHT Affairs Minister Dipankar Talukdar assured them that they would be safe.

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The motorcyclist, Kamal Uddin , who was rumoured to have been abducted was found and now arrested.

Seven others have also been arrested. Local police officials have said that Kamal’s abduction story was fabricated and those involved in spreading the lies have been identified. The situation was stated to be under control.

Is the situation there ever under control or do we at all wish it to be under our control? Matiranga is a festering wound of our inability to handle a state with minorities and adivasis along with the majority. It’s the kind of totalitarianism that is not only state sponsored as so many always say but socially sanctioned as well. It’s an indicator of what we think of others who are not our ethnic or faith brothers. It’s our shame.

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We appear to be going through a hyper nationalist phase of our life where we have become totally obsessed with foundational issues of our political birth. It’s interesting how this discourse has overtaken all others and we seem to have become very satisfied that we have done the right thing and therefore don’t have to question who we are or what we do. Our queries are all directed to political parties and believing that our problems should be resolved if we change the parties in power whether in or out of the governing seat. But we are not asking if the source of the problem could be us.

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There are two factors in the issue: the external factor of the quality of our governance that thinks that security matters can be settled by force and in this case demographic forces which the Bengalis there are. Whatever may be the reason for their problems now, it began as a way to pacify the area and diminish the burgeoning insurgency by having Bengali military allies in their midst. It’s the inheritance of that military strategy that has given birth to the situation now. It’s a military decision and a bad and futile one.

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But the deeper factor is the internal racism that we carry within us. While we ourselves were victims of Pakistani racism, we like most if not all South Asians are racists of many varieties. And for us Bengalis, that is a significant matter because we have a multi-layered identity. Just as we find an identity in every layer, we find our enemies too in them. So when we started the settlers policy, it never occurred to us that they were like us, our own if we will and that we wouldn’t possibly do to any one of our brown skinned brown brothers what we were doing to them. If the settlers policy was a result of state policies unable to treat the problem of underdevelopment in a special zone, which had been ignored by the state for years, the rationale made sense because internally the hill people were never our equal, never ones who needed the consideration that we are ready to show to a Bengali.

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Racism is a reality but it must be combated at all levels and not just because it’s a crime against humanity but in every run, long or short, everyone suffers. For that we need not only to examine our policies but also our psycho-social construct. Unfortunately, the CHT doesn’t seem like it’s part of the republic of Bangladesh but a lot more like the territory of the armed forces. At one time it was a completely hands off area but now it may not be that bad but still not subject to social concerns and reflection of our concern. As a result, there is no way of exerting any pressure on any of the responsible agents.

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But the issues of identity and the unresolved national question also prevents self-examination. The BNP uses the anti-India bogey to threaten anyone or brush any unpleasant topic under the rug and the AL uses the same tactics using the ‘anti-liberation force’ bogey. Both are devoid of any sensible reasoning and points to the deep rooted jingoism in our society. That society can’t handle peacemaking and conflict resolution but only hate mongering. Anybody exploring our history will see that only violence and revenge inspires us and the recent campaigns which at some point insisted that people of the CHT were also Bengalis are our worst advertisements of our capacity or will to accommodate others.

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Societies as a whole move forward in stages. The “mango- people” must hear from the leaders, young or old, messages of reason, civility and rule of law. But that has not happened. The young and the old generations have no gap on this matter and both are equally bloodthirsty and seek enemies everywhere. In that environment, so easy to manipulate, the authorities have once again refused to go forward to establish peace and the CHT Peace Accord lies in tatters.

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Let’s forget the hill people for the moment and remember that peace is in our interest. History shows that conflict can explode into clashes anytime and given our extremely weak governance structure, it might affect the peace and well being of Bengalis too. But it’s also worth asking whether the civil authorities have any influence in the matter. For the moment let’s not just ask for mending our national hurts, let’s not hurt others too.

Md. A Hossain is a HR activist teaching at a private university.

9 Responses to “Matiranga and Bengali racism”


    At first writter, wrote wrong identity of Trivel. Chittagong hill tracts trival are not “ADIVASHI”. There are forgner in this country.it is true like as water. but one kinds of bangladeshi criminal called there ADIBASHI for there self motives.

  2. xt planter

    Adibashi or Bhumi Putra? In any case all these moniker are by an external force, colonial or whatso ever, to denigrate the sons of the soil to justify an extermination policy. The native is a word used for all practical purpose the superiroty of the dominent race. Only one ethnic group is full blooded Americans. The rest (Afro, Asian, Latin et el) need prefix to explain who they are. Even 300 years after Columbus, the natives are still Red Indian (as the rest in central and south america are just Indians, hounded in to pockets of reservation in their own country. Only whites qualify to wrap the flag of the country around them.

  3. Satya TRIPURA.

    The word -ADIBASI- derieved from Indian Bangla and Hindi Words, and INDIGENOUS derives from English word, synonyms-“Aboriginous-primitive-Ancient etc. Tribal also uses as the same word as Colonial word. Colonial words mainly “Tribals” who are known as very much backward, poorest of the poor, deprived, uncivilized, who are like animals, who do not know nothing to write to speak, to eat , to wear or to put on clothes, to study to writes, to ete…judge, to live etc.Those are called Tribals, Indigenous. Those peoples were had been trained by Colonial leaders, Like English, Portuguese, Spain, German, France etc . That’s the main believe and that’s the main problem of any country to accept them or us as Indigenous because those Indigenous at the same time lost their lands, culture , traditions or everything.

  4. Ehsan Ali Chowdhury

    I blame the government and the government only for the situation in CHT that has come to this. It is primarily the government’s responsibility to ensure safety and security to each and every citizen be it the plain land people or the adivasis. The government not only failed in that but also responsible for creating the rift between ‘us’ and ‘them’. i’m not talking about the present government here but the Ershad government who started this process. however the incumbent government cannot evade its responsibility either. given the fact that they were one who signed the much praised CHT peace treaty, their responsibility becomes double. Instead during this government’s rule Ramu happened and now the Matiranga attack.

    It was the highest insult made to me and all the Bengalis to be called racist by the writer Mr Rahman. It made me extremely angry, but sadly I cannot but agree with the writer that we indeed have become a racist nation.

  5. Ritu

    very sad, their rights should be preserved by the government.

  6. Prashanta Tripura

    A very timely piece. I think the answer to the question raised at the very start of the article can be found through an examination of the the word ‘adivasi’ that the author uses. This word, which literally means ‘original inhabitant’, has a curious genealogy. It was probably coined (in Bangla and other South Asian languages) as a synonym for Aborigines/aboriginal during the colonial period. In popular usage, in Bangla, the word came to be used in the sense of ‘primitive people/inhabitants’ and has been employed quite interchangeably with another colonial category ‘tribal’ or its Bangla equivalent. But since 1993 or so, the word came to be used quite commonly as a synonym for ‘indigenous people’, a category that has usually been dismissed – in the context of UN legal instruments dealing with indigenous/tribal peoples – by all governments since 1993 as being not applicable to Bangladesh. Curiously, despite such official positions (usually stated in English), political leaders, including the current prime minister, publicly used the Bangla term ‘adivasi’ (no doubt in the sense of ‘primitive’) and expressed solidarity with the people so designated. But within the last two years or so, some quarters within the government managed to establish the Bangla word ‘adivasi’ itself being dangerous and a threat to national sovereignty. Reportedly, there was even a move within the government to erase the very word ‘adivasi’ from all official documents! As ill-conceived as such an initiative may be, it is actually quite consistent with more deeply entrenched policies and views – reflected in the very constitution of the country – that are indeed designed to erase the ‘Adivasis’ completely, culturally, politically, and economically. I thank the author for highlighting the mindsets behind such moves.

    • Rezaul Karim

      The confusion of the word ‘adivasi’ comes from India. Like you have mentioned, in India the word ‘adivasi’ is used for the aboriginal groups like santhal, gonds and irulas, whereas the people with mogoliod feature are called pahari or tribals. Maybe 10,000 years ago mongoliod people moved from China to Myanmar, Thailand and CHT. If the mongoliods are at home in Thailand and Myanmar then they should be at home in CHT. Welcome Home!

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