MUSLIM AGGRESSION AGAINST INDIGENOUS BUDDHIST COMMUNITY IN BANGLADESH
Posted on March 18th, 2011

  Dr. Daya Hewapathirane  Vancouver, Canada

  GLORIOUS BUDDHIST HISTORY

Buddhists of Bangladesh are among descendents of the earliest Buddhists of the Indian sub continent. They inherit an illustrious Buddhist culture and civilization of ancient India. Buddhism thrived in this region  from the early 3rd century BCE or over two thousand three hundred years ago, from the time of Emperor Asoka (304-232 BCE) until the 12th century CE,  making the Bengal region the last stronghold of Buddhism in the Indian sub continent. In the 5th century CE, or more than 1500 years ago, Fa Hsien the famous Chinese pilgrim visited this region (Tamralipti-West Bengal), and reported the existence of many well-established Buddhist monasteries. In the 7th century CE, Huen-Tsang visited different parts of Bengal and reported of many hundreds of monasteries with several thousands of Buddhist monks. Some of these monasteries were great seats of learning and are considered among the most ancient universities of the world.   

THE PALA BUDDHIST DYNASTY

  Ancient Bengal had a glorious Buddhist civilization during the Pala Empire as far back as in the 8th century CE. This was the first independent Buddhist dynasty of Bengal. Between 750 and 1150 CE Buddhism reached the pinnacle in the history of Bengal under the guidance of Pala Kings who were devout Buddhists. This Buddhist Empire ushered in a period of stability and prosperity in Bengal. Many temples, monasteries and places of learning equal to universities were built during this time. The Pala Empire can be considered as the golden era of Bengal. Never had the Bengali people reached such height of power and glory. Palas were responsible for the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet, Bhutan and Myanmar. It was during the Pala period Bengal became the main centre of Buddhist as well as secular learning. Universities such as Vikramshila, Jagadala, Somapura Mahavihara, Shalban, Paharpur, Vickrampuri Mahavihara, and Pandit Vihara prospered under the patronage of the Pala kings.

  In 1125 CE, the Sena dynasty who were Hindus invaded and ousted the Pala dynasty. The Sena rulers brought a revival of Hinduism but neglected and in fact, harassed Buddhism. Buddhist shrines and places of learning including the universities were neglected. Some Sena rulers forced Buddhists to convert to caste-based Hinduism. Buddhism suffered and was subject to serious decline in Bengal with the ascendency of the Sena dynasty. Buddhists were harassed and killed by the armies of the Sena rulers. This led the surviving Buddhists to retreat to the Chittagong area. 

 MUSLIM INVASION AND ATROCITIES

  The Muslim invasion of India, including Bengal, came in the early 13th century. Under the leadership of Ikhtiar Uddin Muhammad Bin Bakhtiyar Khilji, Muslim invaders defeated the Sena king Lakshman Sena and established their rule in the entire region. During the early Muslim period, the former Sena kingdom became known as the Sultanate of Bengal. Muslim rule led to widespread harassment of and violence against Hindus and Buddhists and extensive destruction of Buddhist shrines, monasteries and places of learning. Many Buddhist monks were killed and violent means were used to forcibly convert many Buddhists and Hindus to Islam. Most Buddhists who survived this onslaught moved to the Chittagong Hill Tract areas in order to escape harassment and violence. This resulted in the general concentration of Buddhists in the Chittagong Hill Tract areas.  

BRITISH RULE AND DIVISION OF BENGAL

The British East India Company was encroaching Bengal in the 17th century and towards the latter half of the 18th century they were in control of most of the Bengal region. On September 1760, the British East-India Company established their rule in Bangladesh. The population of Buddhists which has reduced substantially by the time of the British was largely concentrated in the Chittagong Hill Tract areas. They were severely affected by the “ƒ”¹…”Great famine in Bengal’ in the 1769-70 period which killed nearly 10 million people among whom were many Buddhists. The Indian Mutiny of 1857 replaced rule by the Company with the direct control of Bengal by the British crown.

Known as one of the most active provinces in “freedom fighting”, in 1905 Bengal was divided by British rulers, seemingly for administrative purposes into an overwhelmingly Hindu west (including present-day Bihar and Orissa) and a predominantly Muslim east (including Assam) which included the predominantly Buddhist occupied Chittagong Hill Tract region. 

Hindu Bengalese disagreed with the partition saying that it will divide Bengal which is united by language and history. But the Muslims supported partition stating that it was a big step forward for Muslim society where Muslims will be majority and they can freely practice their religion and way of life. The views and attitudes of the Buddhist community were not sought by the British. But owing to strong Hindu agitation, in 1912, the British reunited East and West Bengal.  

In the 20th century, partitions of Bengal occurred twice. The first partition occurred in 1905 and the second partition was in 1947. As partition of British India into Hindu and Muslim dominions approached in 1947, Bengal again split into the state of West Bengal of India and a Muslim region of East Bengal under Pakistan, renamed East Pakistan in 1958.  East Pakistan later rebelled against Pakistani military rule to become in 1971, the independent republic of Bangladesh.

BUDDHISTS OF BANGLADESH

In 1959, a Buddhist religious association named “Parbatya Chattagram Bhikkhu Samiti” or the Chittagong Hill Tracts Bhikkhu Association under the leadership of Venerable Aggavansa Mahathero was formed which played a significant role in unifying Buddhists and reinforcing Buddhism in Chittagong. 

Buddhists flourished during the Pala kingdom as the predominant Bengalese population with a highly advanced culture and civilization. Today, the originally large Buddhist community of the Bengal region has dwindled substantially and live among a Muslim majority in Bangladesh, confined to the south-east part of Bangladesh, or the Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) which is known as Jumma or Hill. Until the British period, the Chittagong Hill Tracts functioned as an independent region dominated by Buddhists. The Buddhists of the Chittagong region are popularly known as Jumma people or Jumma Buddhists. They form four small indigenous Buddhist communities –   Chakma, Marma, Tanchyangya and Chak.  Anthropologically they are all of Mongolian origin and a peace-loving farming community.  The Chittagong Hill Tracts covers areas comprising the Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban districts of Bangladesh and is flanked by two international borders, on the southeast by Myanmar and on the north by India. In recent decades Catholic and Christian missions have been active in fishing in troubled waters in widespread proselytization work among impoverished and problem-stricken Buddhists in the Chittagong Hill Tracts area and many Buddhists have been subject to unethical conversion.     

AGGRESSION AGAINST BUDDHISTS

  Between 1957 and 1963, the then Pakistan government overlooking the opinions and objections of the Jumma Buddhists built a massive hydroelectric dam in the Chittagong Hill Tract region. The dam flooded 54,000 acres of productive farm lands of Jumma Buddhists and resulted in the loss of about 40% of land available for farming by Jumma Buddhist farmers. About 100,000 Jumma Buddhists were adversely affected by this so called development. About 40,000 of them had to be moved out of their traditional land as a result of this hydro dam project. Some of these people moved to India and are now living in Arunachal.  The Jumma people allege that successive Muslim rulers of the former East Pakistan and later Bangladesh have discriminated against and undermined the Jumma Buddhist community in the Chittagong Hill Tract and were instrumental in imposing a tyrannical rule upon the Jumma people.

VIOLENT ENCROACHMENT OF LAND OF BUDDHISTS

 Among the most horrendous acts was the settling of many thousands of Muslims from outside in the traditional lands of Jumma Buddhist people creating a highly volatile situation resulting in constant clashes among people. According to Jumma Buddhists, successive governments of Bangladesh were engaged in implementing a policy of ethnic cleansing to eradicate the indigenous Jumma Buddhists. The government has settled more than 400,000 Muslim settlers in the ancestral lands of Buddhists in the Chittagong Hill Tract region. This encroachment of land owned and occupied previously by Buddhists is said to be continuing on a rapid scale even at present. In addition, more than 100,000 military and paramilitary personnel have been stationed in the Chittagong Hill Tract making life insecure and miserable for the Jumma Buddhist community. The region today is crime prone, characterized by arson, killing, rape, land grabbing, and destruction of Buddhist temples, extra-judicial arrest and detentions. Between 1986 to1989 more than 70,000 Jumma Buddhists have fled Bangladesh and sought refuge in the Tripura state of India.
ARMED STRUGGLE AND PEACE ACCORD

Violence centering on land issues has been going on in this region since 1978, when the government decided to settle Muslim people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts which is land traditionally owned and occupied by Buddhists.  Many Buddhists were harassed and were forced to leave their traditional land.  Owing to continued harassment the Buddhists collectively protested and launched an armed struggle during the early 1980s, demanding full autonomy for the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Later the government signed a Peace Accord with the Buddhists. Expecting a peaceful situation following the Peace Accord, many Buddhists who had fled to refugee camps in India during times of violence started returning home, only to find their land encroached upon by Muslims.


During the early 1980s, Buddhists launched an armed struggle to safeguard their rights, demanding full autonomy for the Chittagong Hill Tracts. This continued for two decades and an Accord was signed between the Jumma People’s political party of the Buddhists and Bangladesh government in December 1997, to withdraw the new settlers and the military from Chittagong Hill Tract. Expecting a peaceful situation following the Peace Accord, many indigenous people who had fled to refugee camps in India during times of violence, started returning home, only to find their land encroached upon by Muslims. The Buddhists allege that the Accord was not respected by the government. 


BUDDHIST RIGHTS VIOLATED BY MUSLIMS

  The thousands of Jumma Buddhist families who were displaced have not been rehabilitated and the number of poverty-stricken Jumma refugees have increased substantially. Among them are thousands of children who are deprived of their education. Human Rights violations continue to occur with the military resorting to violence against Buddhists. On 20th April 1999, the military and Muslim settlers attacked the Jumma Buddhists at Babuchara bazaar killing and wounding many Jumma Buddhists. 

            In recent years Muslim extremism and violent tendencies appear to have intensified. According to a Congressional Research Service Report of 2008, authorities in Bangladesh have expressed concern about the use of madrasas or Islamic religious schools by a network of Islamic activists being investigated in connection with a number of attempted and successful bombing attacks across the country. A number of madrasa students were detained in connection with the investigation (CRS Report January 2008).

   In the early part of 2010, the Chittagong Hill Tracts region was rocked by violence, flaring up decades old ethnic-religious tensions, as Muslim settlers set fire to hundreds of homes of indigenous Buddhists resulting in many deaths and many injuries. Thousands of Buddhists have been left homeless. These attacks were meant to forcibly grab land and properties of Buddhists. This violence was committed in the presence of law enforcers including soldiers who were Muslims. According to Jumma people, Muslim military personnel have been involved in gross human rights violations with impunity, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts for many years. Many indigenous Buddhist people of affected villages continue to live in hiding, in dense forests and some have abandoned their ancestral land and had moved to other villages and are leading desperate lives.  

 A Press Release on March 08, 2010, by the CHT-American Jumma People’s Association of The Indigenous Jumma People’s Network, USA, strongly condemns the continuous atrocities and arson to which the indigenous Jumma people in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs) have been subject to and the illegal Bengali Muslim settlers backed by Bangladesh army personnel who had burnt down houses and public buildings.  Since 1980 there have been 14 major instances of massacre of thousands of Jumma people by the illegal Bengali Muslim settlers and in co-operation with the law enforce agencies of Bangladesh.  More than 80,000 Jummas have fled across the border to India. Villages have been burnt down completely (www.jpnuk.org.uk, www.achrweb.org). The attacks on the indigenous Jumma people shows that the government of Bangladesh has failed to change its policy of indiscriminate killings of indigenous Jumma people in order to occupy their lands and implant more illegal plain settlers instead of implementing the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997.

 Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

Vancouver, Canada

One Response to “MUSLIM AGGRESSION AGAINST INDIGENOUS BUDDHIST COMMUNITY IN BANGLADESH”

  1. Dham Says:

    Similar thing happening is Sri lanka. Muslims with drug money started buying land in Colombo and elsewher for huge over market prices. By the time of american invasion of Afganistan 40% of land in suberbia have been bought over by muslims from the poorest areas of Sri lanka. They also started producing kids at a rate of to 3 times national average.
    Now they have started complaining about Buddhist way of life.
    More than the Indian invasion we need to be vigilant about Muslim religious agression, starting at 5.30 am in Colombo. Loud spearker transmission of calling should be banned rather than starting temple bell ringing to counter.

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