Shanti Bahini

Shanti Bahini an armed unit of the Parbatya Chattagram Jana-Samhati Samiti. Shanti Bahini was declared to have been formed on 7 January 1973. The circumstances leading to the emergence of Shanti Bahini as an armed organisation dates back to the colonial and Pakistan period. At the initial stage of the establishment of British colonial rule the chakmas were engaged in a resistance movement for nearly ten years. The movement was aimed at getting recognition of the hill tracts as an autonomous region within the British kingdom. At the end of the nineteenth century, the people of Chittagong Hill Tracts again started armed struggle when their autonomy was interfered with. In pacifying the hill people the Chittagong Hill Tract Ordinance was promulgated in 1900 in which the Chittagong Hill Tracts was declared as a special administrative area.

The sufferings of the hill people, consequent upon the implementation of the Kaptai Hydro-electric Project in 1960, created resentment among the Chakmas, who were the worst sufferers of the project. This resentment continued for a long time, and ultimately gave rise to the formation of a political party of their own to safeguard their interests. This party, styled as parbatya chattagram jana-samhoti samiti, was founded on 15 February 1972. But the immediate cause of the establishment of this party appears to have been the emergence of Bangladesh on the basis of Bangali nationalism. The hilly people called themselves Jumya and not Bangalis. They demanded autonomy and placed before the awami league government the following 4-point demands in this regard: (i) declare Chittagong Hill Tracts as an autonomous zone with an Assembly of its own; (ii) incorporate provisions in the Constitution of Bangladesh similar to the Chittagong Hill Tracts Ordinance of 1900 AD; (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.

In the light of these demands, manabendra narayan larma MP placed a demand in writing to the government to grant special administrative status to Chittagong Hill Tracts. But the Constitution did not provide any special political and administrative status to the Chittagong Hill Tracts. After having lost constitutional methods in mitigating the demands of the hilly people, Jana-Samhati Samiti under the leadership of Manabendra Narayan Larma resolved to solve the problem through armed struggle which was followed by the creation of an armed unit called Shanti Bahini.

Operationally, Shanti Bahini divided the Hill Tracts into several military zones (north and south), and each zone was divided into three sectors and the sectors into different areas. The headquarters of Jana-Samhati Samiti and of the Shanti Bahini was situated in the dense forest of Dighinala upazila of the present Khagrachhari district. By 1974, a considerable number of hill-people were given military training and were enrolled with the Shanti Bahini. Besides the regular force, a militia was formed with short training. In addition to the village panchayets a number of youth organisations and women associations were formed to help the Shanti Bahini and the militia. Shanti Bahini began its armed operations in early 1976 and had been able to disturb the peace of the area. Their activities included killing of the Bangalis settling in the hill areas, raids on government security forces, killing of tribal people unsympathetic to their ideology, demolition of government properties, kidnapping and extortions of money by force, etc. Manabendra Narayan Larma continued to lead the Jana-Samhati Samiti and Shanti Bahini till his assassination on 10 November 1983.

After the assassination of Manabendra Narayan Larma, the Shanti Bahini split into two factions (Larma group and Preeti group) and were engaged in fatricidal conflicts. The government tried to restore peace by declaring amnesty and full governmental cooperation to the members of Shanti Bahini provided they decided to lead a normal life, surrender their arms and stop insurgency. Most of the leaders and members of the Shanti Bahini belonging to Preeti group surrendered to the government on 29 April 1985, while the Larma group continued its rebellious activities. Meanwhile, Bodhipriya Larma, field commander of the Shanti Bahini, was elected president of Jana-Samhati Samiti (1985), and under him attempts were made for a reconciliation between the Shanti Bahini and the government. The elected government for the period 1991-96 continued the peace process initiated by all previous governments. Finally, the following elected government (1996-2001) signed a peace accord with the Shanti Bahini on 2 December 1997. The Shanti Bahini was formally abolished by a declaration in the sixth convention of Jana-Samhati Samiti held in 1999. [Rozina Kader]