Tourism in the Hill Tracts has always been uni-directional, it has always played an aggressive role. If we introduce the issue of land, and of bhumiputras (sons of the soil) to the issue of tourism, it becomes as clear as daylight that tourism has been aggressively promoted without any consideration for the issue of land ownership, and of bhumiputras. Related to this is the issue of who controls tourism in the Hill Tracts, who runs it? Or, to put it another way, who is supposed to be in charge of the tourist industry here, who are supposed to be its beneficiaries?
It needs to be noted that wherever the army runs the tourism industry, it will be positioned uni-directionally, aggressively, because the military is not [a] democratic, or [a] pro-democracy [force]. It does not know the meaning of community tourism or eco-tourism, it only knows military tourism. That tourism [as practised] has impacted negatively on the Hills, is clearer with the passage of time. The bhumiputras are constantly losing their land, they are getting scattered, are becoming migrants, they are increasingly unable to maintain their existence due to the loss of their land. Besides, nowadays, one often hears of food shortage in the Hills, bordering on famine; we think that tourism has a role to play in creating food shortage at the local level.
It has been more than a decade since the Hills were opened up for tourism. Have relations improved between paharis and Bengalis? I do not think so. Let me say outright, most of those who come to the Hills are not eligible to be tourists. It is questionable how much importance they give to culture, religion, society, way of life, the uniqueness of adibashis, of bhumiputras, [I even doubt] whether they know that they should be respectful [towards others].
And besides, ordinary paharis are annoyed at the tourism industry, they are unable to lead their own way of life [because of the Bengali tourists]. They are unable to keep pace with aggressive military tourism which has made them captive, which keeps them imprisoned. Thus, even though, tourist spots in the Hills are the most attractive places in Bangladesh, the adibashis are faced with the risk of extinction.
Hill Blogger and Online Activist Forum
Let’s take a particular example, let me speak of tourism in Sajek. A large part of Sajek is reserved forest area. Since mouza areas are not as strictly protected as reserve forest areas, a sizeable number of paharis had lived there. And later, after the army helped settle Bengalis [in different parts of the CHT], thousands of hill people fled from Merung in Dighinala, Gulishkhali, Chongrachori, even from Alikadam-Lama areas, and from areas surrounding Khagrachari including Matiranga, Taindong, and took shelter in Sajek after their houses had been burned down and they had been subjected to attacks. Since their land has not been returned to them despite the Peace Accord, they have been forced to build homesteads and settle in Sajek.
Cleaving apart the forest land and constructing a several kilometres long-road is akin to thumbing your nose at the law. On top of this, the hill people have not benefited in any manner from the construction of Sajek as a tourist spot.
Sajek, as you know, was opened up for tourism in 2013. Before that, the Sajek road had not been fully-constructed. Large numbers of tourist began going to Sajek in 2015-2016. But the tourist-laden vehicles are stopped at Baghaihat which is a settler-dominated area; after many cars have gathered there, they are then escorted to Sajek by army personnel at 10:00-10:30 in the morning. The tourist-laden vehicles are not allowed to stop in areas where hill people are in the majority, such as, Ujo Bajar, Ladmuni Bajar, Majlong Bajar. The main tourist area [in Sajek] comprises of resorts and cottages owned by the army; there are also several privately-owned cottage resorts [owned by paharis] but those are run according to the wishes of the army. Hence, generally-speaking, hill people are not benefiting in economic terms. And of course, there are other attendant issues, cultural aggression, social problems, ecological onslaught, although I am not dweilling on them now, they are important, and we shouldn’t forget them.
Because of the manner in which the tourism industry [in the CHT] is being run, no normal relations are developing between paharis and plainland Bengalis. It would not be irrelevant to add, there was no particular tension between paharis and the bulk of Bengalis belonging to [and living in] the plainland. There were small misunderstandings. But because ordinary Bengalis are now travelling to Sajek, even though they are at a distance, we [would like to] think that they can see our pain and suffering.
It is not that we do not want a tourism industry in Sajek, but it must be developed in accordance with the happiness, the ways of life, and the values of the hill people. The paharis do not want to be treated like guinea pigs.
Hill Women’s Federation
Translated by Rahnuma Ahmed from Bangla.
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