The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh had been historically inhabited by indigenous peoples (IP), locally known as the Paharis. From the 1970s, however, counter-insurgency operations resulted in the forced eviction of the IP. Massive numbers of Bengali settlers were brought in from outside and placed on Pahari lands, forcibly changing the demographic composition and land distribution of the CHT. The conflict was brought to a formal end in December 1997 by the CHT Accord between the government and the PCJSS, the party leading Pahari resistance.
However, many of the critical clauses of this peace agreement have yet to be implemented by the government, while the influx of Bengalis from outside and the grabbing of Pahari lands have been allowed to continue. Lands are being forcibly acquired by not only government agencies but also private commercial interests led by Bengali powerholders with connections to major political parties and agencies of the state. The failure of various governments in power since the Accord to take effective measures against continuing in-migration and eviction of Paharis from their lands threatens to undermine the social and political stability of the CHT and raises the prospects of renewed ethnic and political conflict.
This book documents the bewildering variety of mechanisms used to grab Pahari lands in the CHT, inclusive of illegal violence and intimidation. It also puts forward a wide range of policy measures to reduce land grabbing and ethnic tension. These policies are addressed to Pahari organizations as well as progressive sections of the government, mainstream Bengali society, donor agencies, the media, public interest organizations, the NGO sector, advocacy groups and others at home and abroad.
The research for this book was conducted under the auspices of the international CHT Commission, which seeks to contribute to the just resolution of the conflicts in the CHT in order to ensure the safety of the indigenous peoples and their lands.
The book has four chapters, concerned with different aspects of the study:
Chapter 1 introduces the research and describes how it was undertaken.
Chapter 2 deals with the CHT Accord of 1997 and the failure to implement most of its important clauses in a substantive manner. It also takes account of parallel social and demographic changes in the CHT occurring outside the framework of the Accord, the results of which may be very difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. Some of these trends bypass the provisions of the Accord and could potentially make it irrelevant.
Chapter 3 provides detailed analysis of the numerous mechanisms of land alienation in the CHT. The roles of different government and private agencies are analysed with empirical evidence, including sixteen case studies. Various Bengali interest groups are also found to be grabbing the lands of poor Bengali settlers, reflecting intra-ethnic and classed-based dimensions of land alienation. The growing significance of commercial land grabbing for rubber, timber and horticulture plantations, driven by profit-oriented capitalist production, is highlighted. These constitute elements of global land grabbing, indicative of ‘accumulation by dispossession’ under contemporary globalization and neoliberal capitalism.
Chapter 4 undertakes policy analysis concerned with the prevention of further alienation of Pahari lands as well as the restitution of their already occupied areas.