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Parbatya Chattagram Jana-Samhati Samiti


Parbatya Chattagram Jana-Samhati Samiti a political organisation of the indigenous tribal peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). The organisation waged an armed resistance against the government in the 1970s with the object of safeguarding the rights of the hill people. The Jana-Samhati Samiti was established in 1973 with the aim of securing the hill people's right to autonomy. Soon after its emergence the military wing of the Samiti, shanti bahini, started its activities. Since then the Bangladesh Army and Shanti Bahini had been in confrontation until the peace accord in 1997.

The tribal peoples of the CHT had been associated with political activities since the second decade of the twentieth century. First of all, an association called Chakma Jubak Samiti was formed in 1915 under the leadership of Rajmohan Dewan. Chakma Jubak Sangha headed by Ghanashyam Dewan was founded in 1919. In 1920, Kamini Mohan Dewan established Parbatya Chattagram Jana-Samiti which conducted various social, cultural and economic activities for about two decades. In 1939, Jamini Ranjan Dewan and Snehakumar Chakma were appointed president and general secretary of this organisation respectively, and it was at this stage that Jana-Samiti started its political activities. In 1947, just before the partition of India Jana-Samiti attempted to get the CHT allied to India.

During Pakistan regime an organisation called Hill Students' Association was established in 1956 to deal with the demands of the CHT students. In December 1966, Parbatya Chattagram Upajatiya Kalyan Samiti was established under the leadership of Ananta Bihari Khisa and J. B Larma. With the support of this Samiti manabendra narayan larma contested the general elections of 1970 as an independent candidate and was elected a member of the Provincial Assembly.

After the emergence of Bangladesh a CHT delegation led by Charu Bikash Chakma met Prime Minister Bangabandhu sheikh mujibur rahman on 29 January 1972 and placed a number of demands. But they did not succeed in getting those demands fulfilled. On 24 April 1972, Manabendra Narayan Larma presented his four-point manifesto including demand for autonomy of the CHT to the committee engaged in drafting the constitution of Bangladesh. The four-point demands were: (i) declare Chittagong Hill Tracts as an autonomous zone with an Assembly of its own; (ii) inclusion of statute similar to the Regulation of 1900 in the Constitution; (iii) recognise and maintain the offices of the tribal kings; and (iv) incorporate provisions in the Constitution for safeguarding the autonomy of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

As this four-point manifesto was rejected by the government, it gave rise to resentment among the hill people and the concepts of Jumma nationalism and Jummaland took its genesis. With the object of securing the rights of the hill people, Parbatya Chattagram Jana-Samhati Samiti was founded on 15 February 1973 under the leadership of Manabendra Narayan Larma. The aims and objectives of Parbatya Chattagram Jana-Samhati Samiti were: humanism, nationalism, democracy, secularism, and establishing the rights of autonomy of the small tribes such as the Chakma, Marma (Magh), Tripura, Bohm, Murang, Pangkho, Khumi, Chak, Khiang and Lushei. The associate organisations of the Samiti were its armed wing called Shanti Bahini, Gram Panchayet, Juba Samiti and Mahila Samiti.

In the Constitution of Bangladesh adopted in 1972 no mention was made of Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation of 1900 which the indigenous tribal peoples used to consider as their magna-carta. Moreover, instead of recognising their distinctive tribal identity the entire population was defined as the Bangalis. This kind of state decision made the hill people doubtful about their independent existence. Considering that it would not be possible to have their demands satisfied in a peaceful and democratic way, Shanti Bahini, the armed wing of Jana-Samhati Samiti, was formed.

The headquarters of Shanti Bahini and Jana-Samhati Samiti were established at a place called Batti (a pseudo name) in Dighinala upazila under Khagrachhari district. The entire Chittagong Hill Tracts was divided into six military sectors, and the headquarters was marked as a special sector. Each sector was again divided into four zones, and each zone into a few sub-zones. After the fall of the government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 15 August 1975, Manabendra Larma moved to India secretly. Although Shanti Bahini was formed in 1973, it did not start any military activities during the early period of Bangladesh. It started its military operations in the Hill Tracts from 1976. Like many other guerilla organisations Jana-Samhati Samiti developed a complete political framework.

Two different schools of thought existed within Jana-samhati Samiti right from its inception. While there was a leftist Larma group headed by Manabendra Larma, there was another nationalist group called Priti Group under the leadership of Pritikumar Chakma. Ideological conflicts split Shanti Bahini into two parts on 24 October 1982. Manabendra Narayan Larma was killed by the rival group on 10 November 1983 and his brother Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma (Santu Larma) assumed leadership. 236 members of Priti Group surrendered to government in April 1985 which rendered this group non-existent. However, Priti Kumar Chakma kept himself from surrendering.

Instead of satisfying the basic demands of Jana-Samhati Samiti the military government of ziaur rahman marked the CHT crisis as 'economic problem'. In order to address these problems Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board was set up in January 1976. But this did not gain any acceptance from the hill people. A Tribal Cultural Institute was established in 1977. Chakma king's mother Binata Roy and later Ang Shu Pru Chowdhury and Subimal Dewan were appointed Tribal Affairs Advisers to the President with a view to resolving problems through discussions with the rebels. But they failed to gain acceptance from the CHT people as substitutes for Jana-Samhati Samiti.

Shanti Bahini intensified its agitation in the CHT since 1976. On 2 July 1977, Tribal Convention was formed with the aim of mediating between the Government and the insurgents. Although Jana-Samhati Samiti initially showed interest in cooperating with the government, they later backed away. In 1981, an opportunity for dialogue between the government and Jana-Samhati Samiti was created at the instance of Major General muhammad abul manzoor. However, the process was interrupted when Ziaur Rahman was killed in May in the same year. When the situation got more violent the government stationed armed forces in the CHT in order to resist Shanti Bahini.

When General hussEin m ershad came into power he initially tried to resolve the CHT problems the way his predecessor did. Moreover, Ershad government tried to make use of the internal conflict between the Jana-Samhati Samiti and Shanti Bahini. However, as these did not yield any notable results, political attempts were made to solve the problems. The first round of talks between Jana-Samhati Samiti and the government took place on 21 October 1985. During the period between 1985 and 1988, a total of six such meetings were held. However, armed confrontation continued in the CHT simultaneously. On 17 December 1987, Jana-Samhati Samiti submitted their 5-point manifesto to the government. These were: (i) granting autonomy of the Chittagong Hill Tracts together with its own legislative assembly, and recognition of Jumma people's right to self-determination; (ii) inclusion of provision in the Constitution in order to repeal amendments to the Regulation of 1900; (iii) removal of all non-tribal people who settled in Chittagong Hill Tracts after 17 August 1947; (iv) allocation of funds from the government for the development of the CHT; and (v) creation of a favourable environment for peaceful and political solution to the existing crisis.

These were followed by another 25-point supplementary manifesto. But on 20 February 1989, the Ershad government unilaterally placed three bills on Local Government Council to the jatiya sangsad and on 26 February, the Act of 1900 was repealed and instead, the Hill Tracts Act was adopted. Afterwards Local Government Council bills for three CHT districts were separately adopted in the Jatiya Sangsad. Although Jana-Samhati Samiti rejected the councils because of the fact that the demands of the hill people went unheeded, the government established Hill Tracts Council on 25 June 1989. In protest against this unilateral decision of the government Shanti Bahini augmented its military operations. Despite the declaration of general amnesty by the government a number of times there was no significant improvement in the situation.

The government of bangladesh nationalist party (BNP) led by begum khaleda zia attempted at finding political solution to the Hill Tracts problems. A Liaison Committee was formed on 15 April 1991 and a Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs Committee comprising members of Sangsad was constituted on 9 July 1992. The first meeting between the government and Jana-Samhati Samiti was held on 5 November 1992. A total of 13 points were discussed by both sides till 1995. In place of their original demand for full autonomy Jana-Samhati Samiti settled for a demand for regional autonomy. Besides, government's temperate position with regard to conducting military operations helped to establish stability in the CHT.

The awami league government under sheikh hasina started political process in 1996 for solving the CHT problems. An 11-member National Committee on Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs was constituted on 14 October 1996. With the demands of Jana-Samhati Samiti and government's positive attitude towards the rightful demands of the hill people and the eagerness of Jana-Samhati Samiti for avoiding the path of armed conflict and finding a political solution on the other, created a congenial backdrop for establishing peace in Chittagong Hill Tracts. On 17 September 1997, both sides reached a consensus on signing a peace treaty. The unstable situation in the CHT came to a close with the signing of the chittagong hill tracts peace accord between the Bangladesh government and Jana-Samhati Samiti on 2 December 1997. After the signing of the peace treaty Jana-Samhati Samiti emerged as a political party. [Shantanu Majumder]