A representative of the Bawm people, Laldawnsang Amlai testified of the violent repression faced by his people before British MPs and Peers at House of Commons in a reception hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tribal Peoples and Survival in London last Wednesday.
Amlai, Chairman of Bawm Literature Forum, highlighted land confiscation without relocation and various ethnic-cleansing oppressions inflicted upon ‘Jumma’ tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh by the Bangladesh army. He recalled one incident where his entire village had been evicted and forced to live in an army ‘grouping centre’.
His testimony included how the Bangladesh soldiers used to torture the villagers and forced them to work for them [soldiers] as free labour.
Hundreds of thousands of Bengali settlers have been moved into the Hill Tracts over the last sixty years, displacing the Jumma tribes. The government signed a peace accord with the Jummas in 1997, and made a commitment to remove military camps from the region and to end the theft of Jumma land by those settlers and the army. But military camps remain in the Hill Tracts and violence and land-grabbing continue. Abuses have escalated since the declaration of emergency rule in Bangladesh in January 2007.
“The army has been bringing in more settlers, even though they were supposed to have stopped this years ago. This is making Jummas a minority in their own land and is leading to conflicts, resulting in the recent burning of seven Jumma villages and the beating of Jumma men, women and children by settlers in Sajek, while soldiers watched,” said a father of a three-year-old son, Amlai.
Laldawnsang Amlai, who is studying Master of Laws, also spoke at the UN’s 3rd session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2004 and is the only Bawm to have visited the UK.
As one of eleven Jumma tribes living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the Bawm people have got their own literature, customs and land. Their language is very much similar to Lai Holh which is spoken in Hakha, Thantlang and Falam areas in Chin State, Burma.
Van Biak Thang
23 May, 2008