This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Richu Sanil. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Tortured, Raped, Massacred: Indigenous Tribes Continue To Suffer 69 Years After Partition

More from Richu Sanil

By Richu Sanil Chemmalakuzhy:

Tribal women with their children wait outside a market in Rangamati, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts where a 23-year separatist tribal insurgency has killed over 8,000 people. The Hill Tracts, bordering India and Burma, is home to 13 tribes. - RTXGFW2
Tribal women. Image Credit: Rafiquar Rahman/Reuters.

“There has been no easing
of the full weight of night.
Parched eyes, aching hearts are yet
to find their moment of deliverance.
Move forward;
the destiny we seek has still not yet arrived.”
– Faiz Ahmed Faiz

It was the time when like air, water, and food, ‘nationality’ had also become quintessential for existence. A ‘nationality’ was required and when they thought they could choose one, they had another thrust upon them, one they did not wish for. From then on, the ‘whirlwind of hatred’ (an expression used by Tagore in his poem ‘The Sunset of the Century’) brought about by nationalism struck them like wild thunder storms day after day, year after year.

The indigenous people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in modern-day Bangladesh have only tales of suffering to narrate. They have been killed, tortured, raped and massacred. Their ancestral lands were confiscated following which they were forcefully evicted. Some of them became refugees in India, in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, where they are treated as unwanted elements and considered a threat to the native population. Still, the injustices have not been over and done with. They continue to be treated as ‘fallen’ people whose only fault was being less in number, a minority; and they couldn’t ‘imagine’ the ‘nation’ like the majority did. The majority Bengalis called them ‘traitors’ when they demanded to become a part of India.

In his book, Stateless in South Asia, the author Deepak K. Singh described the concept of freedom as “a condition of being in which the members of a given political community enjoy a genuine autonomy in terms of organising and reorganising their lives to help them pursue their determined aims and goal”. This idea of freedom has been denied to them for the past six-seven decades. Their aspiration of belonging to a community which would respect and treat them like humans was curtailed brutally.

According to Benedict Anderson, a nation is an imagined political community. A nation exists when people of the nation identify themselves as part of one particular community. The indigenous people of CHT imagined themselves to be a part of the Indian nation when the National Movement was at its peak and the Partition was imminent. But the politics of partition claimed them, and they were made to co-exist with a community with which they had nothing in common. Hatred and persecution followed, by the majority community and the State itself, who were determined to exterminate these people from their nation.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts

The Chittagong Hill Tracts lie at the border of southeastern Bangladesh. The region borders India to the north and north-east and Myanmar to the South. The region is home to more than ten indigenous tribes. Before the advent of the British, they collectively owned land in the hilly region and practiced Jhumming cultivation (In this, land is temporarily cultivated and then abandoned allowing natural vegetation to grow back). In 1860, the region was annexed by the British and they brought in many administrative changes.

The British decided to rule the region indirectly by retaining the three rajas who were the original rulers; also, large tracts of land were placed under the control of the forest department. The British cleared forests and converted them into a mono-plantation of teak to help them generate revenue. The British passed the CHT Regulation Act of 1900 which was a landmark legislation in the region, as stated in the report of Chittagong Hill Tract commission, ‘Life is Not Ours‘, published in 1991.

This law gave the rights over the land to the British state, regulated and administrated now by the Deputy Commissioner (DC). The rajas were sub-ordinate to the DC and the lands were locally administrated by concerned officials and bureaucrats. And also, the law had a provision which prevented outsiders from migrating to the hills. Despite all this, the law indirectly recognised the customary rights of indigenous people over their land and allowed them to continue with their Jhumming cultivation, as cited the said report.

The Partition Woes And East Pakistan

The woes of indigenous ‘Pahari’ people of Chittagong started with the Partition of the sub-continent. After the misfortune of the political divide, these people became a minority in the newly emerged East Pakistan. At the time of Partition, there were only three to five percent Muslims in the CHT region and it was only reasonable to place CHT with India. The Chairman of the Boundary Commission, Cyril Radcliffe, did not give any explanation for the rationale behind this move. The people in the region were looking forward to joining India, described as a ‘secular’ country in the Constitution of the newly freed nation.

“The three tribal chiefs in the region demanded recognition as a ‘native state’ from the British, the Congress and the Muslim league. Failing to obtain this they proposed a confederation with Tripura, Kuchbihar, and Khasia states that would be administered under central authority,” according to the paper, ‘Problems of National Integration in Bangladesh: The Chittagong Hill Tracts‘. Another section suggested a constitutional monarchy like that of the British, as described in the Ph.D. thesis ‘The Tragedy of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh‘, by Md. Ashrafuzzman. More radical sections suggested joining the region with Burma, as Ashrafuzzman writes. But there was an overriding belief that joining India would fulfil their demands. However, they failed and CHT became a part of Pakistan against the will of the local people.

The newly emerged leaders in Pakistan sensed dissenting voices in the Hill Tracts and this caused trouble as the indigenous population was branded as ‘traitors’ who wanted to join India. Professor Wilhelm van Schindel, author of the book A History of Bangladesh is interviewed in the documentary Life is not still ours, made on the issues and concerns related to CHT, and he admits that this discourse about the hill people wanting to join India has been on since then.

The relation between the Pakistani State and people in CHT was of distrust and trouble. The government failed to appease the tribal people, leading to their alienation from the so-called mainstream. The special status of Hill Tracts was preserved in the beginning but later on, the government tried to repeal it in 1955; the people resisted and the move failed. The Constitution was amended in 1964 which repealed the special status of this region, leading to the dismay of the people as they felt it akin to losing their autonomy. When the special status of the “excluded area” was intact in the region, any non-tribal could be expelled from the area by the local government citing violation of law, but when it was relegated to ‘tribal state’ following the 1964 amendment of the Constitution, this power was also forfeited. This allowed the migration of non-tribals from the plains to settle in the hills.

The Pakistan Government was least concerned with the lives of indigenous people and the detrimental effects their policies would have on their environment. Between 1947 and 1971, the Pakistan government with the help of United States Agency for International Development built a hydro-electric dam across the river Karnafuli. This unmindful developmental activity took a huge toll on the Chakma population. Forty percent of their prime cultivable land was submerged and one lakh people lost their home and livelihood, as cited in the book, Land Tenure and Human Rights Violation In the Chittagong Hill Tract, Bangladesh: An intricate Road to Peace, by Shaikh Mohammad Zakir Hossain.

A large population of hill people migrated to India and other places during this time. As they depended on the land for the Jhumming cultivation, their lifeline was cut off and their only chance of survival lay in migration. Many of them migrated to Arunachal Pradesh in India where they still live as stateless refugees, according to Singh’s book, cited above. This is also causing problems to the natives of Arunachal where they feel threatened by these ‘outsiders’.

The New State Of Bangladesh And Bengali Nationalism

The Partition of India along religious lines did not succeed as linguistic identity began to overwhelm the religious identity of people in Bangladesh. Bengali was the language of East Pakistan Muslims and Urdu was spoken by the people of West Pakistan. Despite this, the official language of both East and West was Urdu, giving rise to discontent among the people in Bangladesh. There was also a language movement in East Pakistan in 1952. Apart from language, the other causes that instigated the separatist movement included low importance given by the Lahore administration to the development of East Pakistan. After a nine month long separatist war, the state of Bangladesh came into existence.

During the time of the Liberation war in 1971, some sections of Hill people of CHT were supporting the Pakistan government despite the ‘unwanted’ attitude shown by the State towards them. After nine months of the Liberation war, they became a part of Bangladesh. Much to their woes, their nationality changed again when the new State came into being. The Bengali nationalists accused the hill people of lending their support to the Pakistan government.

“On December 5, 1971, the Bengali freedom fighters killed 16 tribal people in Pan Chari, denouncing them as collaborators of the war with the Pakistani regime,” as stated in ‘Problems of National Integration in Bangladesh’.

The people in CHT were not sure what would be the best outcome for the people in the new State. The elected representatives from CHT started making claims for their area in the new Parliament. They pushed the resolution for granting them an autonomous state. But they didn’t have much support in the Bangladeshi Parliament and were defeated. A delegation from CHT went to meet the Prime Minister Mujibur Rahman and set forth the demand for autonomy and special rights for the people. But he disappointed them by asking them to forget their demands and merge with the greater Bengali nationalism.

M. N. Larma, the leader of CHT people formed a party in 1972 by the name of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS). In the later pre-election period in 1973, Mujibur Rahman declared that the tribal people would be called Bengali and would have no separate identity. Also, during his time, more Bengali settlers from the plains were allowed to migrate to the CHT Hills by “expelling tribal people from their ancestral homeland”, according to the book ‘Problems of National Integration in Bangladesh’. The agricultural land in the possession of tribal people was also confiscated and distributed among the Bengali settlers. All this caused great agony to the hill people in CHT but more was about to come.

The Present Times

To this day, the Bangladesh State has not recognised the people of Chittagong Hill Tracts as indigenous and, therefore, their rights to be protected under International Instruments on Protection of Indigenous People’s Rights. Even a peace treaty signed by the State and the people in CHT in 1997 is yet to implemented or we can say the state has deliberately not implemented it. Today, their land, trade and all other affairs are dominated by the Bengali settlers and all positions in local power are also controlled by Bengali settlers. The political parties are vying for power by trying to tap in the vote base of Bengali settlers. No one is interested in indigenous people anymore. But they continue their struggle and assert their demands while the State is keen on suppressing their dissent.


The indigenous people of CHT have come a long way. The destiny they are seeking has still not arrived. They are waiting for their moment of ‘deliverance’. Right from the time of Partition, they have been fighting for the freedom to uphold their distinctiveness. It is clear from the example of Chittagong that one clear mistake or a deliberate act during the Partition of India, one ugly political mistake, has claimed and crippled the lives of generations of people living in these hills. They are forbidden to imagine becoming part of a community which would respect their rights and treat them as equals. The future appears bleak now; with fingers crossed, let’s hope the people in CHT one day find the destiny they seek.

You must be to comment.
  1. Ali Abbas

    Nicely written Richu… It highlights the tragedy of unknown community in the hills. God knows how many such communities are struggling for survival.
    Good work,, thanks to ppl like u, who uncover or bring notice to issues, otherwise not known. Keep writing

  2. Kabita Chakma

    An interesting perspective re situation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) using Anderson’s thesis of ‘imagined community’. Good to see young researchers like Richu Sanil Chemmalakuzhy’s work. Please keep up with your work.

  3. Bappi

    Thank you, Richu for good write up.

More from Richu Sanil

Similar Posts

By Anshul Abraham

By Rimsha Khan

By Rimsha Khan

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below