The indigenous people of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) yesterday said the government was engaged in evil attempts to turn the region into a Bangalee majority one in a clear violation of the CHT Peace Accord.
They said they had been deceived and deprived of their rights so much despite repeated pledges of the authorities that they were now losing faith in the government.
The observations came at a discussion on the back of the government's initiative to set up a university and a medical college in Rangamati. CHT Citizens' Committee and Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples' Forum (BIPF) organised it at The Daily Star Centre in the capital.
The government started acquiring land to establish Rangamati Medical College and Rangamati Science and Technology University in 2010 but it was suspended amid opposition. Recently, it has resumed acquiring 50 acres of land.
“While establishing higher educational institutions should be good, reviews of the past government activities do not suggest it has truly good intentions in taking up the project,” said Gautam Dewan, president of CHT Citizens' Committee.
Referring to the Kaptai Dam, he said the then Pakistan government had pledged free electricity to all in the region, but it never happened. Instead, over a lakh hill people were displaced, while 54,000 acres of arable and jhum land went under water, he added.
Dewan said Bangladesh Sweden Polytechnic Institute was founded during the Pakistan period to educate hill people, but only 4-5 percent of students there were indigenous. There is also no adivasi teacher, while most employees are Bangalee, he mentioned.
“The same situation exists in Chandraghona Paper Mill, Ghaghra Rayon Mill and other industrial units in the CHT.”
In 1997, the government signed the peace accord with indigenous leaders to maintain the region's original features, establish autonomy, rehabilitate the refugees and settle land disputes, but over the last 17 years, it has moved away from its position.
“If the government was really sincere about promoting education among hill people, it would have consulted the CHT regional and district councils for setting up the educational institutions,” said Dewan.
Speakers said quality at the education institutions in CHT was quite low, and that there were huge teacher crises. Many CHT villages have no primary schools, so many students cannot eventually qualify to fill the admission quota in public universities, they said.
Amid this situation, the adivasis believe the university and medical college will bring no good for them.
“We're not against the university and medical college, but we want the government to ensure quality at existing educational institutions first,” said Ushatan Talukder, MP of Rangamati.
He said the adivasis were already in trouble, and if 20 to 25 thousand students from the mainland studied in Rangamati, they would control politics in that area.
“There will be no shortage of people for instigation…so there are risks of ethnic clashes,” Ushatan said, urging implementation of the peace accord before setting up any university or college.
“We'll not endorse any project that creates the foundation for our extinction,” said Gautam Dewan.
Columnist Syed Abul Maksud urged formation of an expert committee, comprising university teachers and CHT representatives, for making recommendations on establishing the university and medical college.
“Otherwise, the initiative would make the situation complicated,” he said.