Bomang Raja U Cha Prue, along with special guests, speaking at the book launch and photography exhibition event in Bandarban Photo: Syed Mozammel Huq Antu
One of the tiniest minorities in Bangladesh, the Chak of Bandarban became the focal point of interest on 15th of June, 2013. A weeklong photography exhibition and a book launch event took place at Shishu Academy in Bandarban town. Naming it “Ambushed by Greed: the Chak Story” the event started at 2:30 pm and ended at 5:00 pm.
The event is organized by Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD). The displayed photographs are taken by Philip Gain, director of SEHD. Since 2005, he has been researching on Chak communities in Bangladesh.
The photographs are focused on Chak tradition and culture. Many of the photographs on display portray the desperate plight this small community is going through.
A book called “The Chaks: Life on the Fringe” was distributed for free to the audience. The book contains statistics and history the community. It features articles and research reports conducted by researchers Khadiza Khanam, Partha Shankar Saba, Lucille Sircar and Philip Gain.
Bomang Raja of Bandarban Bomang Circle, U Cha Prue was the chief guest. Special guests were; Mong Mong Chak, ex-officer Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board, ZuamLian Amlai, Chairperson of the Movement for the Protection of Forest and Land Rights and Professor Osman Gani, President of Bandarban Press Club. A primary school teacher of Baishiri Chakpara Dhung Cha Ong Chak and Bandarban based young computer teacher Ong Jai Wei Chak also spoke on the event.
After the formal inauguration of photography exhibition and book launch, a discussion panel delivered speeches. The discussion was moderated by Philip Gain. Later, the floor was open to the audience for QA session.
Bandarban Shishu Academy was full well before time of inauguration. Among the audience, many were from the Chak community who live across Bandarban district.
The Chaks from Badurjhiri village who have recently been forced to leave their ancestral homeland in fear of bandits and have taken shelter at Baishiri Chakparas were the center of interest. Around 20 of them joined the event to voice their grievances.
Before the event, in a short interview Bomang Raja U Cha Prue thanked the organizers for the event. He added that the displayed photographs are lively and gave his blessing. He believes that the event will create an impact on various communities in Bandarban.
Ex-officer of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board, Mong Mong Chak said, “Such event is immensely important – a tiny community like the Chak must be introduced to the rest of the country. Often by greed, small minorities become target of land grabbers. Such unwarranted acts must come into the light”.
Professor Osman Gani, President of Bandarban Press Club said, “Bandarban is a district of brotherly harmony. People are united and any community facing difficulty will be helped by all other communities in the district”.
After the event young computer teacher of Chak community Ong Jai Wei Chak said, “Building awareness to help the Chak community is essential and such event is just the first step. Before, no steps were taken to save the lands of the Chaks”. He also added that more peaceful protests methods can be utilized. He mentioned that a human-chain in front DC office could be arranged.
A volunteer of the event, Sharon, studying at Bandarban Govt. College mentioned that Bandarban is a prime example of ethnic social cohesion. A young determined young woman Sharon feels that the Chaks will overcome the recent difficulties and survive as a proud community.
Philip Gain, the organizer of the event and Director of SEHD was satisfied with the success of the event. He said that the event impacts greatly on the locals. All communities living in Bandarban will be aware of the unfortunate events that are affecting the Chaks. He added that a similar event had held in Dhaka 2011, which also was a success.
It must be mentioned that there is not more than 3,000 Chaks in Bangladesh. The expansions of rubber and tobacco plantation have already caused eviction two Chak villages. The Chaks depend on Jhum cultivation and uncultivated vegetation for food. Since the introduction of rubber and tobacco, their land is becoming a prime target. Rubber and tobacco farming not only forcing the Chaks to abandon their lands but also creates imbalance in the ecosystem, thus disables the land for any other cultivation.
In 2008 villagers of Longodujhiri (Khal) Chakpara, a remote Chak village had to flee in fear of bandits and intimidation. Now, again in Badurjhiri village, in the face of attack of bandits, the Chaks are in the process of eviction. They have taken shelter in Baishiri Chakparas – they are now living in appalling conditions. All who participated in the event hopes that local administration and law enforcement agencies will take appropriate measures to enable the evicted Chaks to return to their homeland.
The Photo exhibition is open for all to enjoy every day from 15 to 21 July between 3:00pm and 8:00pm.