Make your own free website on Tripod.com
FRIENDS OF THE CHAKMAS
Home | Chakmas | Our Purpose | Becoming a Member | Contact Us | Members Page | Projects | Newsletter | Links
Newsletter

Chakma News: From around the world

Need to promote multilingualism in Mizoram 


Language is not merely a means of communicating thoughts and ideas but it helps build friendships, cultural ties and forges social and economic relationships between communities. Language creates feelings of cultural kinship.


Author: Paritosh Chakma

LET ME begin by saying Mizoram is amulti-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious state. In short, it is a pluralistic society in character. But the real problem is with the state government’s policy, which favours a homogenous society or seems to project that way. Just take a look at the official website of the government of Mizoram, only the culture of Mizos is on offer. Anyone who has little knowledge of Mizoram will, after visiting the website, think that only Mizos are the residents of the state and the only language spoken is Mizo.

The problem is not only lack of official promotion of multi-cultural society. First, the majority (Mizos) will need to do away with their linguistic hegemony – both at personal level and governmental level. If we promote multilingualism, we have no loss but only to gain. I am in no way advocating that Mizos should not promote their language but only trying to say that other languages must be given space as well and we need to respect the differences. That is to say, Mizos must promote their own language but must turn bilingual or multilingual to promote communication and ties with other communities who do not speak Mizo tawng

Language is not merely a means of communicating thoughts and ideas but it helps build friendships, cultural ties and forges social and economic relationships between communities. Language creates feelings of cultural kinship. If we cannot understand what another speaker is trying to communicate, how can we put in practice the ethics of Tlawmngaihna by which the Mizo society is well known?

I do not have any problem with Mizo being the only official language but I am pained at how the state treats other minority languages with glaring neglect. In turn, this creates hardships and remains one of the reasons for feeling of alienation among the Mizo and non-Mizo speakers such as Chakmas. Majority of Chakmas cannot speak Mizo and few Mizos indeed speak Chakma. The communication gap and lack of understanding of each other’s culture have created feelings of alienation, suspicion and mistrust among the two largest communities in Mizoram, which is a stumbling block to the state's progress. Never has the Chakma culture been showcased in an official cultural programme outside the Chakma Autonomous District Council. It is critical that these gaps are filled for state’s integration.

Vis--vis the Chakmas, the state government can do this in two ways: by promoting the Chakma native tongue and helping the Chakmas learn the Mizo language. The rest will follow inexorably.

Promotion of Chakma mother tongue

One of the vital aspects is the preservation and promotion of the Chakmas’ scripts. Why should the Mizoram government promote the Chakma language and script? It must be promoted and protect because it is a unique language. With its death will die the identity of an ethnic group in the state.

The most fascinating thing about the Chakmas is that they are among the rarest tribal groups in the world having their own scripts to write their language and literature (in India, most tribal groups express their literature in either Roman or Devanagari scripts in absence of scripts of their own). The scripts of the Chakmas are called 'Aja Paat'. Chakmas’ folklore and folk music are inseparable from their culture and these are written in Aja Paat. The Chakma folk music includes romantic love songs known as Ubageet while the Genkhuli ballads narrate the bravery and romances of the Chakma princes and kings. These are played in blend with extraordinary traditional musical instruments.
 
There are also epic poems like Radhamon and Dhanapati. These are orally passed on from one generation to another and have survived centuries. Buddhists books, translated into Chakma and written on palm leaves, are known as Aghartara. The Tallik is a detailed account of medicinal plants, methods of their preparation, and their use in the treatment of disease. These have also been written in Chakma script. All these exhibit the extremely rich and invaluable treasures of the Chakmas. But all these are very much on the verge of extinction today. That is why Mizoram must be proud to include, preserve and promote these treasures of the Chakmas in the Aizawl Museum. Even if Mizoram does not feel proud, it has the obligation to protect all tribal treasures – language, music, art, literature, architecture, science, medicine etc belonging to all tribal communities in the state.

Regrettably, Mizoram is not doing that for the Chakmas. While in the Chakma Autonomous District Council, the authorities have take steps to impart Chakma mother tongue in Chakma script in schools up to primary level, the Chakmas residing outside the CADC are being deprived. It is pertinent to state that more Chakmas reside in Mamit and Lunglei district than in CADC which is in Lawngtlai district and their cultural antiques including the scripts are neither protected nor promoted by the state government.

As a result, the Chakma script is in peril. Today, the script is almost dead. No one accept the Chakma traditional medicinal practitioners/healers in rural areas use it.

There is no economic incentive for learning the script by the Chakmas. Neither will the learning land us a job nor is there any scope for higher learning or research simply because the Chakma language is not rich enough for that. And, sadly, there are not many amateur learners among the Chakmas.

One’s mother tongue is as important as one’s breath. The following poem by an Evenki poet, Alitet Nemtushkin summarizes this: 

If I forget my native speech,
And the songs that my people sing
What use are my eyes and ears?
What use is my mouth?
If I forget the smell of the earth
And do not serve it well
What use are my hands?
Why am I living in the world?
How can I believe the foolish idea
That my language is weak and poor
If my mother’s last words
Were in Evenki?

I am happy that in the Chakma Autonomous District Council in Mizoram, Chakma language is taught up to the primary level. That is inevitable if the Chakma script and language are to survive. And, teaching the Chakma mother tongue to the Chakma children in areas falling outside the CADC must be high on the agenda of the state government of Mizoram. Otherwise, Mizoram will be seen as treating its own minorities with neglect and apathy. As the poem above notes, it is a 'foolish idea' to believe that one’s language is superior to another.

Promoting Mizo among the Chakmas

I strongly suggest that the state government of Mizoram must take immediate and adequate measures to teach Mizo to the Chakmas. The idea is not to assimilate the Chakmas or to impose the ethnic/linguistic chauvinism of the majority over the minority but to promote integration. The teaching of Mizo should effectively begin at school level, may be from middle school onwards.

The older generation of the Chakmas have been inclined towards learning Bengali as an additional subject on, according to me, two primary grounds: it is a rich language, and alienation from the Mizos (because the Chakmas live within their communities in habitations far away from the Mizos). But now there is shift towards the Mizo language due to various factors. First, a lot of Chakma students study in Aizawl, Lunglei and other towns and the youths have been instrumental in shift of attitude. Second, Chakmas are beginning to understand the Mizos better as there is now more democratic space given to the Chakmas. Third, there are social and economic incentives to learn the Mizo language in terms of social mobility and employment opportunities within Mizoram.

But, I must say, the state government of Mizoram has been doing a great injustice to the Chakmas. One, it has legislated recruitment rules making knowledge of Mizo prerequisite for employment. But on the other hand, it has denied the Chakmas any chance to learn the official language in schools. Simply no teacher has been appointed in Chakma village schools to teach the Mizo language. I cannot understand this paradox in the government’s language policy. Such ill planned policy does not help. Is it basically intended to deny the Chakma educated youths jobs in the state machinery? If true, this could be dangerous for the future.

Recommendations


Today the Chakma script is in danger and Mizoram will suffer an irreparable loss if it becomes extinct. There is also need that all communities must come forward to forge unity amidst diversity for the betterment of Mizoram.

Therefore, I urge the Mizoram government to:
  • Frame a language policy which would respect the Chakma and other minority languages and promote them with priority;
  • Promote and protect the Chakma script and language, including by encouraging research and documentation;
  • Take appropriate measures to teach Chakma language in Chakma script up to primary school level in Chakma dominated villages within Mamit and Lunglei districts in similar line as is being taught in Chakma Autonomous District Council;
  • Do away with the language eligibility rules and therefore, suitably amend all such recruitment rules which insist on knowledge of Mizo at the time of recruitment. The selected non-Mizo candidates should be asked to learn the language during probation period or given some more time to learn the language; and
 
  • Provide training and scholarships to such Chakma teachers who are willing to learn Mizo and appoint them as Mizo language teachers in Chakma village schools.


IC praises CHT troops pull


Dhaka, Aug 16 (bdnews24.com)—The International Commission on Chittagong Hill Tracts has praised the government for withdrawing army camps as part of a peace process, and also expressed hope that the troops recall will not aggravate law and order in the region. 

"This is good decision of the government to withdraw army," Lord Eric Avebury, one of the three vice chairs of the commission, told journalists at the foreign ministry on Sunday after calling on foreign minister Dipu Moni. 

The International Commission on the CHT was formed in Copenhagen in the 1990s to create pressure on the then Bangladesh government to stop alleged human rights violation in the hill region. 

Avebury and members of his entourage this week visited the three hill tract districts—Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban—troubled by violence and counter-violence between the tribal people and the Bengali settlers since the 1970s. 

"I have told the delegation about the government's commitment to implement the peace treaty. The commission expressed satisfaction over the government's policy on the Chittagong Hill Tracts," Dipu Moni said after the meeting. 

"He (Avebury) hoped that the peace agreement, signed by the Awami League government in its previous term, would be fully implemented during the tenure of this government." 

The minister said the government was dismantling army camps as per the peace treaty. 

"Would any government take any action that would cost country's sovereignty?" Dipu Moni questioned, replying to criticisms aired in recent days of the opposition on the pullout of troops. 

Avebury also said, "We hope that there would be no deterioration of law and order in the Chittagong Hill Tracts after troops withdrawal." 

His comment follows the abduction of two rubber garden employees in Bandarban district earlier Sunday. 

Since the government's announcement of the withdrawal of a complete brigade, out of five stationed in the region, at least five people have been abducted in the area. 

CHT Regional Council chairman Santu Larma has said opponents of the peace accord might be responsible for the spate of kidnappings in an attempt to destabilise the peace process in the hill districts. 

The main opposition BNP and its allies, meanwhile, have said army pullout would threaten the country's integrity. 

The Awami League signed the peace deal with the Parbattaya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity headed by Santu Larma who at one time led a guerrilla war against the army. 

The peace deal was opposed by another faction of Chakma guerrillas, the UPDF, which continued with violence despite the peace deal. 

Army to begin 'biggest withdrawal' from CHT


Dhaka, July 29 (bdnews24.com) – The government has announced the "biggest withdrawal" of army troops from the Chittagong Hill Tracts since a peace accord was signed over a decade ago in an attempt to bring stability to the long-troubled region. 

The pullout of a complete brigade, including three infantry battalions and 35 security camps, will start immediately, said an official statement on Wednesday. The withdrawal will be completed by September. 

"This will be the biggest army withdrawal from the area after the [accord was] signed," said a press release of the Inter Services Public Relations Directorate . 

"The government is expecting that this army withdrawal would be considered as a milestone by the hill people to implement the pledges given by the government." 

Since the CHT peace treaty was signed 12 years ago, a total of 200 security camps have been withdrawn from the tracts in different phases, according to the statement. 

The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord was signed in 1997 in order to end insurgency and establish permanent peace in the region. 

Troubled region 

The army was deployed in the troubled region after indigenous communities, led by Chakma leaders, took up arms in the 1970s in protest against the government of a newly independent Bangladesh for its "inaction" over key demands. 

These included decommissioning the Kaptai hydroelectric project and restoration of traditional land rights. 

The Kaptai Lake, built in the 1960s, inundated the palace of the Chakma King and vast tracts of land displacing thousands of people. Many fled across the border to India to wage a campaign of insurgency against the Bangladesh Army. 

According to the peace deal signed with Pabatya Chattagram Janasanghati Saminit (PCJSS) in 1997, the government pledged to pull out army troops from the CHT in phases. 

The previous Awami League government, which signed the original deal, began implementing the peace accord. But the implementation came to a halt under the subsequent BNP-led government. 

'Further steps' 

The official statement of troop withdrawal on Wednesday also mentioned further measures to implement the peace accord. 

"To implement the treaty Bangladesh has taken some steps of which the highlights are (a) To form Peace Treaty Implementation Committee in national level to observe the Peace Treaty Implementation procedure. (b) To reform Parliamentary Standing Committee on Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs and arrange continuous meeting to resolve multifaceted problems of Chittagong Hill Districts, (c) To start reform process of land commission," said the statement. 

"The government is seeking all out co-operation and support of hill people and other population to ensure co-existence of all the people irrespective of religion and caste and to restore law and order situation and development activities to continue in the area," it added. 

Ricoh Chakma, president of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Chhatra Parishad, told bdnews24.com, "The government has promised so many things. But they are not believable unless they implement them in reality." 

INDIGENOUS PEOPLE UNDER ATTACK IN CHT, Bangladesh
 
In a sad reminder of the situation prevailing in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), indigenous people has come under attack in Bangladesh. There were reports of villages being burnt down, civilians being killed and girls being raped.

Read a report prepared by Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), New Delhi, India.

"LIFE IS NOT OURS": http://achrweb.org/Review/2008/215-08.html

Hunger stalks Mizoram – rat plague triggers food crisis

 Courtesy: ActionAid India

  31st March, 2008.

 

It evokes images of the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamlin, but for the tribal villagers living on the land that has been overrun by rats, it is time of hunger, disease and anxiety.

 

Hundreds of families in far-flung areas of Mizoram, in the northeastern region of India are facing food shortages. Some are barely eking out one meal a day. Crops including rice, maize and vegetables have been wiped out as flowering of bamboo in the region caused an explosion of rodent population.

 

All our crops were eaten by the rats. We couldn’t save anything,” says Binondo, who lives with eight family members in Bawngva village, Mamit district.

 

Relief too slow

 

Supplies are reaching villagers at an achingly slow pace due to inaccessible terrain and short supply of food grains within Mizoram.

 

An ActionAid, an Indian NGO’s assessment team reported in March that 80,000 to 100,000 people in the state are going hungry.

 

There are clear signs of a crisis unfolding. Reports of acute food shortages in pockets adjoining borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh are coming in.

 

Villages in Lawngtlai district are in a particularly bad shape, with people surviving by foraging in the forest since October last year," says Mrinal Gohain, Regional Manager North East, ActionAid.

 

The deputy commissioner of Lawngtlai district concurs that close to a 100 of the 156 villages are in a "serious crisis".

 

One rupee per rat tail

 

Flowering of bamboo brakes, which cover 31 percent of the state, occurs once every 48 years. Rats feast on these protein-rich flowers leading to massive increase in their population. But the rats soon turn to crops and food stored in homes and out houses.

 

The flowering that began in 2007 was preceded by media reports and seminars and the state government launched special "Bamboo Flowering and Famine Control Schemes". But measures including early harvesting of bamboo, diversifying to non-food crops, and announcing a reward of one rupee for each rat tail, had little impact.

 

Distress selling

 

Distress sales of land and property are being reported across the state as farmers exhaust their reserves. Buyers are usually traders and government officials.

 

"The local fishing pond provided seasonal income in our village but now even that is up for sale, at far below the market rate. Last year’s floods destroyed wet rice fields and dealt a severe blow to fishing stocks. Now it is desperate time," a man from Darlak village, Mamit district told the assesment team.

 

A large number of families who practice slash and burn cultivation say they cannot prepare for the next crop as the rat menace is still not past its worst.

 

People do not have food for tomorrow. We are afraid to plant anything because the rats consume everything, even cash crops like oranges and vegetables like pumpkins and chilies,” said J Rochunga, a man from the Lai community in Poithar village in the Lawngtlai district.

 

Related Reports:
The Hindu Newspaper
Rodents havoc triggers food crisis in Mizoram, http://www.hindu.com/2008/03/08/stories/2008030855071400.htm
 

 

jpn.jpg

Members of the Jumma Peoples Network-Korea (JPNK) protests the Bangladesh government's policies against the Chakmas and half a dozen other tribes collectively known as JUMMAS, during a rally at Tapgol Park, Seoul on 16th April, 2006.
 
 
FIFTY JUMMA PEOPLE INJURED AND TWO RAPED IN ATTACKS BY SETTLERS.

 

Fifty Jumma people were injured and two Jumma women raped when Muslim Bengali settlers attacked two villages in the northern Chittagong Hill Tracts on 3rd April, 2006.

The attack, which was carried out with the support of security forces, was sparked by a conflict over land. Settlers had occupied land belonging to a local orphanage.
Over the last fifty years, the Jumma people have gone from being practically the only occupants of their land to being almost outnumbered by Muslim Bengali settlers. The
Bangladesh government has often given the settlers the best land, and the army has violently repressed the Jummas.

 

Eight years after the CHT peace accords were signed between the Bangladesh government and the Jumma tribal peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, hundreds of military and paramilitary camps remain in the region.The camps were supposed to have been dismantled and soldiers withdrawn following the accords.

 

The deal, signed on 2 December 1997, gave the Jummas some control over their land, and was seen by most as a significant step forward. The worst atrocities against the Jummas have ended, but they still face violence at the hands of the settlers and the military.

 

Fifty years ago, the eleven Jumma tribes were almost the sole inhabitants of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Now, they are outnumbered by muslim settlers who have been moved onto their land by the government.

 

 

MIZORAM CHAKMAS WANT BORDER FENCING STOPPED

Even as the Centre steps up fencing of the Indo-Bangladesh border, Chakmas living in the western and southern parts of the state have demanded the discontinuation of the fencing programme until and unless rehabilitation schemes are put in place.

A delegation of the Indo-Bangladesh Border Fencing Affected Families Resettlement Demand Committee (IBBFARDCOM) led by their chairman, former state minister Nirupam Chakma, met chief minister Zoramthanga on 3rd April, 2006 demanding that the border fencing in their area be stopped until land acquisition is finalised and the affected families are “fully and properly” rehabilitated.

Also present among the delegation were MNF legislator Rasik Mohan Chakma and Congress legislator Nihar Kanti Chakma. According to IBBFARDCOM, a total of 5790 families comprising of 35,438 persons from 49 villages are affected by the fencing. These villages are located on the river banks of Thega, Karnaphuli, Harina and Sajeik which form the natural boundaries between India and Bangladesh.

Because of the fencing, which is being placed one hundred yards inside India, these villages are now outside the perimeter of the Indian border and in effect, living in no man’s land.

The organisation said since these rivers are the lifeline of the Chakmas living in the area, they just cannot leave these places as it would mean leaving already developed wet rice cultivation fields, horticulture gardens and means of marketing their agriculture produce.

It was also argued that apart from these losses, resettling these displaced families would mean the loss of not only individual properties, but community properties such as places of worship, schools buildings, community halls, health sub-centres, water ponds, water supply, market places, playgrounds and government office buildings as well.

The organisation accused the contractors for the border fencing, Engineering Projects India Ltd., National Projects Construction Corporation Ltd., Border Roads organisation and National Building Construction Corporation, of blatantly violating guidelines given by the Government of India where the contractors would be responsible for liaising with for acquisition of lands.

The representatives informed the chief minister that the contractors appointed for the fencing of the border had not bothered to acquire lands in their respective portion and had commenced fencing without any land acquisition being done.

The Committee demanded provision towards adequate compensation be made before the issue became too complicated and that a full and complete resettlement plan for all displaced families be drawn up.

It also demanded financial assistance in cash for affected families during the transition period for sustenance for at least one year as well as upgrading the Indo-Bangladesh Border Road into double lane economic road.

It was learnt that after hearing the petition patiently, Chief Minister Zoramthanga told the delegates that the state government did not have anything to do with the border fencing and that the Union Home ministry had not bothered to inform or have any formal consultation with the state government on the matter of border fencing.

Zoramthanga, however, assured the delegates that since the consequences of the fencing would be much adverse on the people living near the Indo-Bangla border, the state government in consultation with the Union Home Ministry would address the issue.

He also informed the the delegates that the chief secretary had already been instructed to constitute a state level co-ordination committee on the matter and to take up the issue with the Union home ministry immediately.

 Sign this petition and help them raise their voice,

 http://www.petitiononline.com/chakma/petition.html

 

Please also read "Chakmas, dams, migration & conflict" by Sanjay HAZARIKA , eminent journalist: http://www.thestatesman.net/page.news.php?clid=14&theme=&usrsess=1&id=112591 (Courtesy The Statesman, Kolkata).
 
 
 
 

BSF SHOT AT INNOCENT CHAKMA VILLAGERS : One killed, six others seriously injured.

 

The Border Security Forces(BSF) shot at a group of innocent Chakma villagers during a squabble between the forces and the civilians on the night of 15th April, 2006 in Bhulanchuri village of south west Mizoram, thereby killing one on the spot and injuring six others seriously.

 

Reports gathered give the following version of the incident:

 

In the evening of 15 April 2006, a Chakma Buddhist monk was going to deliver Mangala Sutra, a religious sermon of the Buddhist. One BSF commander, Mr U S Mehta and his driver from Khojoichuri camp who were traveling in a jeep intercepted the Buddhist monk. They manhandled the monk and asked unnecessary questions like whether he was a Bangladeshi citizen and whether he ate beef, and tried to tear his holy robes. As the Buddhist monk shouted for help, many Chakma villagers came for rescue and gheraoed the BSF jeep. The Chakmas prevented the BSF personnel from moving on until the Village Council President arrived.

 

However, before the Village Council President could reach the spot, a group of BSF personnel from Khojoichuri camp came there and began indiscriminate lathi charge and firing upon unarmed civilians without inquiring anything. Gubalya Chakma was hit by bullets at the belly and at the forehead and died on the spot. Four others have received life-threatening injuries and presently being treated at the Lunglei Civil Hospital. A 70-year-old villager Eganya Chakma was brutally beaten with lathi and rifle butts.

 

The deceased was shot on the forehead and others were hit on the belly which shows that the intention of firing was to kill the unarmed civilians and not control the crowd.

 

FOTC expresses its anxiety over such incidents of gross human rights violation against innocent Chakma villagers living in the bordering areas. The indiscriminate firing on unarmed villagers was unwarranted, and is a gross human rights violation.

 

 

 

 

CHAKMAS TURNED OUT OF TRIPURA FORESTS

 

Hounded out of Karbi Anglong district of Assam following ethnic violence, these Chakmas sought refuge in the state of Tripura. 17 families face homelessness again.

 

From the fire to the frying pan is what has happened to the Chakmas who have been displaced twice in a year. After an ethnic conflict in Assam’s trouble-torn Karbi Anglong district, the stringent forest laws have now led to their eviction from Tripura’s forest reserve areas.

Following the ethnic conflict in the Lumding area of Karbi Anglong, Assam in January last year, more than 40 Chakma tribal families were forced to flee their hearth and home. While most of the families dispersed after entering Tripura, 17 Chakma tribal families settled in the reserve forest area at Nabincherra under Kanchanpur subdivision of North Tripura.

The forest authorities objected to the settlement from the very beginning and had served notices to the 17 families asking them to move, but the tribals continued to live there.

Divisional forest officer of Kanchanpur Budhi Debbarma and SDO M.R. Chakma, accompanied by 50 jawans of the Forest Protection Force, yesterday went to the new settlement, and demolished the thatched huts that they were living in. The eviction has triggered serious resentment among the Chakmas of Tripura.

 The forest department and the state government should have been more humane in their approach because these people are totally hapless,” said Bharat Kumar Chakma, president of the Chakma Cultural Association.

This high-handed eviction will not go down well with the 70,000 Chakma tribal population living in Tripura and we will protest,” Bharat Kumar Chakma said. He added that they would meet the chief minister and governor of Tripura to press for safe repatriation of all Chakma refugees from Karbi Anglong.

Courtesy, The Telegraph, Calcutta 20th April, 2006.

 

CHAKMA BOY IS INDIA'S UNDER-12  TENNIS CHAMP

 

 

Chakma boy, Manab Kumar Chakma of Assam has won the under-12 boy's title at The Tata Steel AITA Talent Series Tennis Championships held in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand recently.

Manab thus created history as being the first among Chakma to win such a title.

Manab also walked away with a double crown as he took the boys’ singles under-12 title pairing with Calcutta’s Rajat Maeshwari against Shreedhar Gaggar and Shukrit Guha.

 Friends Of The Chakmas (FOTC) congratulates Manab Chakma on his feat and, it would love to follow his tennis henceforth with immense interest. Given the talent and promise he displayed in various tournaments, Manab is sure to break into the big league of Indian tennis in the coming years. So, here is wishing him all the best.

 

Congratulations, Manab!!!

 

 
 

 

Graphic of newspapers; Size=130 pixels wide

Each month the newsletter will include latest news, upcoming events, and articles by members and contributors. If you have an idea or would be interested in writing an article, please let us know. Please feel free to write for this page.

We may make past editions of the newsletter available for download.