Chittagong Hill Tracts, on the one hand, are becoming a major tourist attraction in Bangladesh and on the other hand, parties with business interests and power are usurping natural resources further destabilising the relationship between the hill people and the surrounding forests. Ridwanul Haque condemns the non-contextualised narrative of development
SAJEK, a very well-known tourist spot in our country, is now witnessing ever increasing number of tourists every year. Four or five years ago, I went to the village Kong Hlak Para, which is within the vicinity of Sajek and situated on a hilltop. I saw a group of tourists sitting on a tombstone engraved with a name, birth date and date of death of someone buried there. They were having food there. I wrote some letters on my palm and asked them to read. They felt offended and said that they were studying in the country’s one of the most prestigious colleges, and the way I was treating them was disrespectful. Then I pointed out to them — how it feels when someone disrespects other’s rituals.
On another trip to Bandarban, a group of Bengali travellers led by a Bengali tourist guide was unloading travel packs in the room beside mine. The guide was telling them, the tourists, ‘they can do whatever they want; they can order alcohol and sing loudly.’ I was so tired that I had to go to bed early. Before midnight arrived, their noise soared and I had to wake up. Nearby villagers could not sleep and some were sitting on their yards grudging in silence.
A very highly referential example can sum the whole scenario up: there is a waterfall four miles away from Bandarban city called ‘Shaila Prapat’. One and a half-decade ago, the nearby indigenous village women used to take bath and collect water from there whenever they want. But as tourism gained popularity, the influx of tourists is rising every year bringing ‘disturbing elements’ to such sites.
The site has seen some infrastructural development to facilitate tourism and it is open all day long all around the year. Tourists go there, capture photos and take baths. Their lenses capture the place’s features which even includes indigenous women taking bath and collecting water. So, privacy concern comes into play. The women now have changed their bathing and water collection schedules.
Recently, news of stone collection in the CHT went viral. The collection of stones from Ruma canal’s rock-bed has already curbed the canal’s catchment area. Mono-plantation, including teak and rubber plantation, is also reducing soil’s capacity to hold water and triggering soil erosion as well as destroying habitats of different life forms. These plant varieties are not eco-friendly for monkeys, deer and birds. Many streams and canals are already dead, so are the sources of water upon which many indigenous villages were formed and found homeostasis.
The state, its agencies, and the trahison des clercs — who give such activities intellectually treacherous legitimacy, have formed a classic union in ensuing predatory development — that is orchestrating development in a way that resembles ‘what is game for the cat is death to the rats’ like cognition in their hidden scripts which got unfolded in many literatures.
The government uses the CHT as a dumping ground for corrupted and underperforming government officials who used to make public life more miserable. Add country’s most corrupted recruitment system in recruiting school teachers there to this and see the future becomes gloomy and pessimistic.
The development has made Chyongbot Para ‘Chimbuk’, Ka Pru Para ‘Nilgiri’ and their original dwellers were uprooted to make room for tourist spots. Every road crisscrossing the depths of the CHT turns into ‘via Dolorosa’ for the indigenous inhabitants. Deforestation of reserve forests is taking its toll every day. As I go to sleep at night, I can hear engines of heavy trucks roaring and I know these are overloaded trucks. These are carrying big trees.
The old man who underwent treatment (cited in an article published in the New Age Youth by the author titled ‘The ghost in the CHT’s opera’; March 1, 2020) has been living with a trauma that was also inflicted upon many hill people throughout the later half of the last century. Many people have lost their lands and resorted to alcohol abuse since their right to protest got muffled by demographic engineering devised by the state that triggered influx of Bengali settlement in the CHT. Ethnographer Oestreich Lurie famously piqued, as she said of Indian drinking ‘the world’s oldest on-going protest demonstration’. Who knows the hill people of the CHT has already joined the procession with the Maori of New Zealand and the Australian Aborigines of incessant colonisation process.
Even an incumbent parliament member remarked that the investment the government is making in the CHT is not producing return as expected. Just a few days ago, a national non-government organisation published a report saying that the rate of poverty among hill people is disconcertingly higher than the national average. Their lifestyle and mode of production of the hill people do not go with the development plan the government and its cronies make.
Very few of them are reaping the benefit of such predatory development and others are getting perished with time. Scrutinising the overall scenario from the majority Bengali’s apologetic view can produce the impression made by Irish-born amateur Anthropologist Daisy Bates’ view of ‘smooth the pillow of a dying race’. As I do not believe in racial views from biological or genetic viewpoint, I will put ‘ethnicity’ in lieu of ‘race’. The curse of the Kaptai Lake is still felt; building more hydro-electric power plants is under consideration now, which, if gets implemented, will trigger misery tantamount to the draconian past.
I can remember from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown where an US senator said to the part First Nation protagonist ‘Assimilation………, or extinction’. Every society has the right to develop by itself. In biology and in its sub-branches, the impacts of imported species are frequently studied; these species are also sometimes called ‘Ghost Species’. In most of the cases, imported species act like the catalyst of ecological imbalance.
In the CHT, the state policy and subsequent effects feel like such species. The opera that once used to hold harmonious events, has now turned into a haunted ground by the ghosts.
I deplore this process.
Ridwanul Haque is interested in political economy and cultural anthropology
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