Life is not ours

Photo by Jashim Salam

This article was originally published as an op-ed article on The Daily Star on February 26, 2010. For the original link, click here.

CHITTAGONG is on fire. The scattered, burning charcoal is still warm. People say it takes a whole life’s work to save a little, ensure a roof above your head and have a family of your own to live with. As the shacks burn and people flee, the lives of the countless indigenous people are shattered in a single night!

The culprits are the Pakistani hanadar bahini — correction: the Bengalis. Is it because they are conveniently labelled as “indigenous” or Paharis? Or is it because only the Bengalis have a glorious history that makes us superior to them? Us and them — a convenient juxtaposition — as if it is an inevitable part of our identical jingoistic whims!

Let’s get to the hard facts. The CHT Commission presented “Life is not ours” report more than a decade ago. As concerned citizens, we are not unaware of its contents. The CHT Peace Accord never got implemented. As governments changed, so did the politics of rhetoric, promises and the game plan of blaming bohir shokti. Kalpana Chakma’s abduction, the brutal death of Choles Ritchil and others, are not isolated incidents. They have been the ethos of everything CHT people breathe in with their identity of indigenousness — our glorious Bengali’s gift to them.

Sajek is the culmination of all the problems we have been ignoring to leave behind unaccounted for. As Mahajan Para, Modhupur, Baghaicchori and many other villages burn, and violence continues and more lives are lost, our patriotism “Brand Bangladesh” breathes in complacency of muted media coverage. Going to office, amidst adda and cha, nasta, we might end up saying “we got the army to take care of things.”

The long-lasting military presence is a continuing problem. The government uses the tool, the opposition hurls blame and the political diatribe perpetuates. In the meantime, the CHT Accord breathes in locked-in-syndrome and the military takes pride for being desher shanty rokkhae ottondro prohori. As a result, the names that are carved in the hearts and minds of paharis are Buddhabati, Laxmi, Liton, Bana Shanti, and Nutunjoy Chakma.

However, we still have a Bangladesh where democracy is functioning. The voice belongs to us. It is no one but us who will dig out what is going on and will remember. If there is anything that we can look for to retain the pride of our country’s forefathers, then it is our words and actions. We are ready to take the onus, and today we are all Paharis for a day. We may not fully realise what they are going through, but they can only yearn for our symbolic support and active protest, because we are all Bangladeshis.We will make it clear that in Bangladesh citizens care for each other. We care for Paharis. We have a task to finish, which is to give them back their lives.