Songs echoing from the hills

In the context of most recent arson attack in Langadu, where many houses of Pahari people were burnt to ashes, leaving many students living under the sky, Shabab Tahsin investigated how such incidence of violence and discrimination influenced and shaped the relationship between Pahari-Bengali students in educational institutions.


YOuth-coverMy new roommate is the best roommate I have ever got. On the first day, she decorated the whole room alone. She set all of our beds, cleaned the room and cooked for all of us. During my examination, she cooks for me so that I do not have to worry about it and I can concentrate fully on my studies. She would say she does not mind doing the chores; she is very used to with it since she has been living in hostel since class seven. Sometimes, when her parents called her from their home, she would become gloomy. We live together, but somewhere there is a subtle difference. One day, she cooked biriani for us. We all sat together to eat our festive meal. But she looked sad. I asked her, if something happened. She said, people of her community, many of them have have been evicted. My roommate, Jharna Chakma (pseudonym), was saying, ‘It is not uncommon, quite often we live under the threat of being evicted because we are ethnic minority. I lived in a hostel because since childhood because the nearest school was about three miles away from home. I was separated from my mother for the sake of education. I had to do all the works alone. We use wifi here, but in my village there’s no electricity.’ Many ethnic minority students like her study in different universities of Bangladesh. There is often a supposed good relation between ethnic majority Bengali and ethnic minority students. But the long history of violence and discrimination against the ethnic minority community in Bangladesh also influenced the Pahari-Bengali student relationship in different educational institutions.

03-06-17-Star-Mail-DistrictRecently, a violent communal and arson attack on four Jumma localities was carried out by settlers in Longadu, Rangamati. Following the death of a local Jubo League man, on 2 June communal tension prevailed in the area. While the administration — both civil and military — were aware of the situation as reported in New Age and other media, but could not preempt or prevent the attack. Over 200 homes and shops belong to pahari people were looted, vandalised and burnt. Kulin Mitra Chakma, chairman of Longadu Union Parishad told to a national daily that ‘Friday’s attack by Bangali settlers in three villages of Rangamati’s Longadu upazila was a planned one to drive indigenous people out of the areas. If it was not a planned attack, they wouldn’t have brought petrol and other flammable materials with them and burnt down our houses.’

I spoke with Meghoboti Chakma (pseudonym), she studies Odissi Dance at an university in India. I asked her about the relations between Bangali and Pahari people in her own district Rangamati. She responded, ‘The settler’s main motive is to turn us into minority groups in our own area and to take possession of our lands. Their perspective is different. They don’t want us to progress. Their thinking and activities are often communal. You may have seen on Facebook or other social media about the cruelty of settlers in Longadu. However, perpetrators are never brought to justice. Such attacks are happening in the past four decades, but never get the media attention it deserves. Media didn’t publish the news. There was no social networking system then. Now we get to know everything through social network. I don’t want to say anything about the army and administration. Their activities don’t prove that they are with us. I am just a simple Pahari girl who understands very little politics. But I can feel the pain.’

04-06-17-Star-Mail-DistrictI asked Meghoboti if she thinks something different about Bengali people. She said, ‘Yes, everybody is not the same. There are many Bengali people who feel for the ethnic communities living in the hill. They become happy in our joy, cry in our sorrow. They help us, struggle for our justice. We respect them. There are researchers and intellectuals who protest against the injustice committed by settlers and administration. But they are often interrupted by state security forces.’ Meghoboti says about the Longadu arson that she can’t sleep at night thinking of that incident. Her heart aches for her relatives she left in the country. She says, ‘In 1984 settlers hewed and killed my grandfather during Bhushanchora massacre. Later, they attacked my uncle, aunt and my little brother. The whole house was flooded with blood. I was really young then. We could only save our young brother. My uncle and aunt died.’

Bipul Chakma (pseudonym) studies in Jahangirnagar University. I asked him about the relationship among Bangali and Pahari students. I asked him if they hold the grudge and disbelief from their childhood or it grows gradually in themselves as they grow up. Bipul says, ‘I grew up with many Bangali friends. My first school was a missionary school. I had many Hindu and Muslim friends. But the scenario was changing with time. Our play grounds began to get occupied in front of our eyes. The empty places beside our school were being occupied by them. As we grew up because of many untoward incidences we grew apart. Bipul thinks, the derogatory attitude of settlers responsible for such divide between Bengali and Pahari. There also a group emerged from settlers who consider ethnic minority girls as object, Bipul adds. ‘They tease girls and women and says bad words to them. Believe me, neither any pahari girl nor anyone like you, Bengali would feel safe to travel alone by CNG in Chittagong-Rangamati route. Their dirty looks and attitude will frighten you,’ Bipul continues. So, there are historical reasons that grew the two communities apart. Settler students often tease minority students – boy or girl – as ‘chammo,’ ‘happo,’ or ‘khappo.’ Due to the mistreatment of minority women by settler boys, constant teasing quite often there are fights between pahari and Bengali students in CHT because of these teasing and everyday discrimination.   He says that after school there was often a fight among bangali and Indigenous students. However, Bipul confirms, ‘The teachers did not discriminate between Bengali and Pahari students.’ I wanted to know if he had faced any of the odd situations in his university. He says, ‘To be honest, I did never face anything like that in Jahangirnagar University. But, the situation would be opposite if I were in Chittagong University. About 90 per cent of the people hold a discriminatory attitude towards the paharis in Chittagong area.’

I talked to some Bengali travelers who love ‘Pahar’ from their heart. All of them are concerned about the contemporary incidents, specially the latest ones like the death of Romel Chakma and the Longadu arson. They are against the injustice to the people in the hill. One of them, Navanita Hridy says, ‘Bengali people want to oust the ethnic minority people for ages long. I was astonished when the army asked me why I travel with ‘these’ in spite of being a Bengali. They asked me how I know them. They suggested me not to travel with them, because they are ‘unsafe’. At last they advised me not to travel the area! This remark of army personnel exemplifies the discriminatory attitude of the Bengali that Bipul and others were talking about.

Another student named Abdul Basit, who is studying law at the University of Dhaka says, “There is an evident division between the Bangali and Pahari. The total circumstance remains cloudy most of the times.’ Basit sees political solution as the most fruitful way to solve this problem. I asked some of the university students about what they want to do for the ethnic minority people in the country. Hridy says that she supports them against all dehumanizing acts. The administration should help them and consider their demands.

When I was talking to Meghoboti, she says, ‘some days ago, I returned home to Bangladesh. I felt like an alien when some people were staring at me strangely. But I was wearing proper dress. I stopped hearing that. This young lady has already made to take her traditional dress as ‘improper’ being compared with ‘normal’ and ‘proper’ dress of Bengali people. Who will bear the liability of this alienation?

‘Pahar’ has been represented as exotic for tourists and travelers for ages. It has been romanticised by artists, poets, singers and lovers. But no one sees the grief hidden inside the peaks and valleys of it. The song echoes from hill to hill:

‘No sang jebar ei jagan sari

(I don’t want to leave this place)

idu agong jono maan pori

(I have been living here perennially)’


Shabab Tahsin is a student of Jahangirnagar University.

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