Constructing the Jummas as ‘criminals’

July 30, 2015

by Hana Shams Ahmed

[This article was first published on June 12, 2015 in a special issue commemorating the 19th year of disappearance of Kalpana Chakma in the New Age]

The colonial world is a Manichaean world. It is not enough for the settler to delimit physically, that is to say with the help of the army and the police force, the place of the native. As if to show the totalitarian character of colonial exploitation, the settler paints the native as a sort of quintessence of evil.
— Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

December 1997 began with great hope for a large section of Jummas in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. More than two decades of bloody, armed struggle with the state of Bangladesh for their recognition was finally coming to an end. During armed insurgency and counter-insurgency, allegations have it, the Bangladesh military carried out massacres against the Jumma people, villages were burnt down, women were raped and the area went under near-total media blackout. Of course not all Jummas were happy about the ‘Peace’ Accord. To begin with, the Accord did not acknowledge or offer reparation for state-led oppression on its own citizens. Nor did it explicitly say how its demographic engineering program to displace Jummas with Bengalis from the plainlands would be stopped.

Read the rest of this entry »

Joli No Udhim Kittei! (Why Shall I not Resist!)*

July 30, 2015










Hana Shams Ahmed

[This article was first published on May 26, 2015 at]

Kalpana Chakma was only two years older than me. We had a couple of things in common. We were born in the same country and we both kept personal diaries about our individual struggles in life. But that’s where the similarities in our lives ended. In the year 1996 as I was preparing for my A-level exams and arguing with my mother about my right to go out alone and wear the clothes of my choice, Kalpana was struggling against militarization, against a national suspicion of the ethnic ‘other’, against Government hypocrisy, against the militant-nationalism of the state of Bangladesh. In 12 June 1996 army officers abducted Kalpana Chakma in front of her two brothers, a sister-in-law and mother late at night from her home in Rangamati in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). 18 years on and many protests, meetings, roundtables, CID investigations and court appearances later, Kalpana Chakma still remains missing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Can the Jummas of Bangladesh speak?

July 30, 2015

Hana Shams Ahmed

[This article was published on February 17, 2015 at the Dhaka Tribune]

Although Bangladesh shares a 4,096km border with India, only the 1,036km-long border with India and Myanmar raise questions of sovereignty

Decisions taken by the government about the Chittagong Hill Tracts can at best be described as doublespeak. While the actual sentiments of the government indicates an urgency for increased securitisation, surveillance, discrimination and suspicion of the Jummas, the background and context provided for taking the decisions speak of maintaining “the law and order situation” and upholding “peace.” Read the rest of this entry »

Bangladesh Media: Caught in Censorship’s Crossfire?

December 17, 2012

By Hana Shams Ahmed

[An edited version of this article was published in the December 2012 issue of Forum magazine, The Daily Star]


Wahid Adnan/DrikNEWS


While media blackouts have been a common phenomenon in post-independence Bangladesh, and they have been seen more frequently during military regimes, it would be an error to think democratic periods grant full media freedom. However, we see that media ownership and new technology have had a larger impact on the media landscape than censorship. Newer digital media platforms have increasingly played a part in overcoming censorship where the mainstream media has failed. Although economic limitations play a part here, bloggers have started to fill a void left by the mainstream media. This paper discusses how the state has used various means to suppress media freedom, leading to violations of the rights of journalists, of rights of the people to have a free media, of rights of minority communities to be represented in the media and also the use of religion by the state to suppress free cultural/political movements.

Read the rest of this entry »

Stop sending them back!

July 10, 2012

by Hana Shams Ahmed

[This article was published on the Jun 28, 2012 issue of the  New Age]

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu — the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our inter-connectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality ‘Ubuntu’ — you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.
Bishop Desmond Tutu (2008)

OUR xenophobia is reflected in the words we use — ‘malus’ to talk about Indians or Hindus, ‘mauras’ to talk about Urdu-speaking communities in Bangladesh, ‘chinkus’ to talk about indigenous communities, ‘phiringee’ to talk about Christians, and so on. Anyone who is slightly different from us needs a name that is derogatory and we put all our venom and spite into the name and spit it out. And this spite does not stop with national, religious or ethnic identities. We also pick on our other favourite targets — the gender minorities. The hijras have many names, effeminate men are referred to as ‘half ladies’, homosexual men don’t need names because they can just be beaten up in public, and then there are the women, who have many different names, we can pick and choose from the various terms to harass them on the streets, abuse them inside the homes or publicly humiliate and torture them and justify it using the convenient term ‘fatwa’. Let’s face it, we are a pretty intolerant society. If you don’t fit into the majoritarian formula you better watch out! Read the rest of this entry »

Kalpana and the Jumma women’s movement today

June 16, 2012

Hana Shams Ahmed

[A shortened version of this piece was published in the Kalpana Chakma Special page on 12 June 2012, New Age]

Feminist researcher Bina D’Costa and I were recently discussing a range of obstacles faced by the Jumma[1] women’s movement as well as all indigenous women’s movement today. D’Costa observed that one of the challenges that confront women’s political activism and rights based movements is to forge meaningful alliances and re-build linkages with indigenous human rights and women’s groups that the latter could also embrace as their own. Although in recent years a lot of mainstream Bengali women’s rights activists have spoken out about violence against indigenous women, there are still some communities, like the tea plantation workers and Saotal and Khasi women, whose issues have only been very sparsely addressed. And this is reflected in a lot of the national and international reporting on women’s rights.

The other side of this is of course how the indigenous leadership, including women leaders, has persistently failed to include women’s voices in high level forums. This year, despite the increasing number of cases of violence against women and girls in the indigenous areas in Dinajpur and in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, there were no indigenous women representing at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). Also, of course the debate is much larger than the Forum itself. It is just a symptom of the crisis in the women’s movement, a crisis that plagues all nationalist or even issue-based movements. It reminds me about how some men, demonstrating for their own democratic rights at Tahrir Square during the  ‘Arab Spring’, had swooped on women journalists and sexually assaulted them, about how, questions about race and gender marginalization continue to be raised at present in America’s Occupy Wall Street movement. Read the rest of this entry »

The ‘Indigenous’ Experiment

February 16, 2012

Hana Shams Ahmed

[This article was published in the February 2012 issue of the Forum magazine, The Daily Star]


Photo: Mahmudul Hasan


The nation as understood by the nationalist, is a substitute god, nationalism of this sort might be called ethnolatry.” – Hugh Seton-Watson (Nations and States, An Enquiry into the Origins of Nations and the Politics of Nationalism)

Ever since I started working with indigenous peoples’ rights activists, I have come to expect a broad range of reactions when I talk about my work — from a very blank look to one of complete contempt and a list of reasons why the activists are doing barabari (overindulging) about issues that go against the state.

Why advocating for the rights of people who are citizens of the same country equates to ‘anti-state’ activities is anyone’s guess. But anyone who thought that Bengalis, after having struggled for the right to self-determination based on their ethnic and linguistic identities from the start of Partition until the birth of Bangladesh, have learned to treat the minorities of the new country with special care and understanding, has been completely wrong. And the very government that has always promised to bring harmony in ethnic relations and respect, and to ensure the rights of minorities with swanky peace accords, election manifestos, UNESCO awards, and cravings for Nobel prizes, has in fact been doing the exact opposite. Read the rest of this entry »