Matiranga and Bengali racism

Published : 7 August 2013, 12:02 PM
Updated : 7 August 2013, 12:02 PM

Have we made the adivasis "disappeared" from our midst? A week after the Matiranga incident there is little stir and no major protests noted. Few writings have appeared to draw public attention to the matter. Even fewer know the details. It's as if we have had enough of the flat-nosed people, enough of their moaning and groaning and it's safe now to ignore their plight. Matiranga attack is one of the most deadly examples — in spirit not in scale — of our collective indifference to an entire people, a people as precious as any other Bangladeshi citizen.

The story of the attack is all too familiar. There was a rumour that a settler Bangladeshi had been abducted by the hill people. In retaliation the villages in the upazila's Taindang was torched, vandalised and looted by the Bengalis. Nearly 50 houses in six Chakma and Tripura villages were attacked.

Many adivasis crossed the Feni river and took refuge in the no man's land along Bangladesh-India border and returned only after the CHT Affairs Minister Dipankar Talukdar assured them that they would be safe.

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The motorcyclist, Kamal Uddin , who was rumoured to have been abducted was found and now arrested.

Seven others have also been arrested. Local police officials have said that Kamal's abduction story was fabricated and those involved in spreading the lies have been identified. The situation was stated to be under control.

Is the situation there ever under control or do we at all wish it to be under our control? Matiranga is a festering wound of our inability to handle a state with minorities and adivasis along with the majority. It's the kind of totalitarianism that is not only state sponsored as so many always say but socially sanctioned as well. It's an indicator of what we think of others who are not our ethnic or faith brothers. It's our shame.

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We appear to be going through a hyper nationalist phase of our life where we have become totally obsessed with foundational issues of our political birth. It's interesting how this discourse has overtaken all others and we seem to have become very satisfied that we have done the right thing and therefore don't have to question who we are or what we do. Our queries are all directed to political parties and believing that our problems should be resolved if we change the parties in power whether in or out of the governing seat. But we are not asking if the source of the problem could be us.

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There are two factors in the issue: the external factor of the quality of our governance that thinks that security matters can be settled by force and in this case demographic forces which the Bengalis there are. Whatever may be the reason for their problems now, it began as a way to pacify the area and diminish the burgeoning insurgency by having Bengali military allies in their midst. It's the inheritance of that military strategy that has given birth to the situation now. It's a military decision and a bad and futile one.

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But the deeper factor is the internal racism that we carry within us. While we ourselves were victims of Pakistani racism, we like most if not all South Asians are racists of many varieties. And for us Bengalis, that is a significant matter because we have a multi-layered identity. Just as we find an identity in every layer, we find our enemies too in them. So when we started the settlers policy, it never occurred to us that they were like us, our own if we will and that we wouldn't possibly do to any one of our brown skinned brown brothers what we were doing to them. If the settlers policy was a result of state policies unable to treat the problem of underdevelopment in a special zone, which had been ignored by the state for years, the rationale made sense because internally the hill people were never our equal, never ones who needed the consideration that we are ready to show to a Bengali.

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Racism is a reality but it must be combated at all levels and not just because it's a crime against humanity but in every run, long or short, everyone suffers. For that we need not only to examine our policies but also our psycho-social construct. Unfortunately, the CHT doesn't seem like it's part of the republic of Bangladesh but a lot more like the territory of the armed forces. At one time it was a completely hands off area but now it may not be that bad but still not subject to social concerns and reflection of our concern. As a result, there is no way of exerting any pressure on any of the responsible agents.

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But the issues of identity and the unresolved national question also prevents self-examination. The BNP uses the anti-India bogey to threaten anyone or brush any unpleasant topic under the rug and the AL uses the same tactics using the 'anti-liberation force' bogey. Both are devoid of any sensible reasoning and points to the deep rooted jingoism in our society. That society can't handle peacemaking and conflict resolution but only hate mongering. Anybody exploring our history will see that only violence and revenge inspires us and the recent campaigns which at some point insisted that people of the CHT were also Bengalis are our worst advertisements of our capacity or will to accommodate others.

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Societies as a whole move forward in stages. The "mango- people" must hear from the leaders, young or old, messages of reason, civility and rule of law. But that has not happened. The young and the old generations have no gap on this matter and both are equally bloodthirsty and seek enemies everywhere. In that environment, so easy to manipulate, the authorities have once again refused to go forward to establish peace and the CHT Peace Accord lies in tatters.

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Let's forget the hill people for the moment and remember that peace is in our interest. History shows that conflict can explode into clashes anytime and given our extremely weak governance structure, it might affect the peace and well being of Bengalis too. But it's also worth asking whether the civil authorities have any influence in the matter. For the moment let's not just ask for mending our national hurts, let's not hurt others too.

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Md. A Hossain is a HR activist teaching at a private university.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher