Three years ago, 15 families of Chak, a small ethnic community, were reportedly driven out of their homes in Shui Jaing Chak Para of Bandarban’s Naikhongchhari upazila, after a group of eight to 10 criminals, with firearms and sharp weapons, attacked them, ransacked their homes and threatened them to leave the village immediately. For these three years, the 81 members of the community have been unable to return to their ancestral home and are living in misery. The victims allege that two powerful leaders of the ruling party were involved in the forced eviction, and that their land was grabbed in the name of a tourism project of the government. They were too afraid to file a case because of how powerful the perpetrators were, they claim.
Last October, the State Minister Mahbub Khan, during a trip to the area assured a correspondent of this paper that action would be taken against the perpetrators, no matter how powerful they were, if they really did grab land using the name of the government. He further pledged that “no member of any small ethnic community will be evicted from their land if tourism flourishes there.” Meanwhile, the additional deputy commission in Bandarban said that they did not get any letter from the authorities regarding acquisition of land in Naikhongchhari area for tourism purposes. Obviously the land was forcibly grabbed on false pretence. Then, naturally, the question arises: why has no action been taken against those who evicted the 15 families from their ancestral land, especially if they did so in the name of a government tourism project? The allegations of involvement of powerful ruling party members cannot be taken lightly and the government must investigate whether the two accused misused their power in any way. We ask the state minister to intervene in this matter and honour his pledge that no ethnic community members would be driven off their lands for the sake of tourism.
Sadly, these are not the first, nor the last, families of this community to be evicted from their ancestral land for the purpose of building resorts and tourist spots for us to enjoy. Landgrabbing in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and eviction of marginalised communities occur too often given the nexus between the landgrabbers and powerful elites. We want to say in no uncertain terms that we do not want tourism on stolen lands; we do not want helpless communities to be driven to starvation and homelessness so we can enjoy five-star comforts and spectacular views of the plush green hills of the Hill Tracts.