Unlike other countries in the region, Bangladesh has been an example for its integration of minorities. While the CHT region, the mountainous region that hosts the bulk of the minorities, had been plagued by longstanding grievances and insurgencies, holding back the development and hindering the integration of the minorities into the national fabric; however the Peace Pact, which had been signed under the helm of Sheikh Hasina on 1997, ushered in an era of development and prosperity of the CHT region, uplifting people from the deplorable poverty and imbuing them with education, thus integrating the minorities into the state machinery through according privileges. This can be termed a stunning success in national integration and remains a template for other countries that are similarly grappling with minority discontent.
Ethnic Minorities in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is largely homogenous, as Bengali ethnolinguistic groups account for 98% of the country. However, the demographics of the country are still marked by considerable diversity. The Chittagong Hill Tracts, Mymensingh, North Bengal, and Barisal host much of the ethnic minorities, as these minorities, inhabit these regions, are inextricably associated with the land for livelihood and sustenance, and invariably trace their origin to antiquity. While the rights of ethnic minorities are trampled on across the world, their integration is obstructed, and their contribution to the country disregards; however, Bangladesh is an anomaly in that it has made laudable strides in integrating the ethnic minorities into the mainstream society, thus elevating these people through inclusion in the mainstream society.
The Turbulent Past
The Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT), is a mountainous region, that hosts the bulk of the ethnic minorities that resides on the hill. However, the region had been mired in the protracted insurgency, which at the time verged on secessionist tendencies. The movement had been premised on the goal of autonomy, on the ground that due to distinct topographical features and remoteness from the mainstream society, the development in the hill had been hindered, widening the gap between Bengalis and their ethnic minority counterparts. Besides, the settlement of the Bengalis in the hill region was distorting the demographic balance in the region, posing a challenge for the minorities to remain the majority in the hill region.
Path to Reconciliation
Under the helm of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the government of Bangladesh mollified the grievances of the minorities, according to a series of exclusive prerogatives to the CHT region, which is termed as Chittagong Hill Tracts Agreement or the Peace Accord. The landmark accord has put an end to prolonged insurgency in the region, restoring a semblance of stability and tranquility in the region, expediting the development, and catalyzing the integration of minorities into the national fabric.
The agreement has ushered in an era of enhanced development in the region. While on the eve of the agreement, the tourists were wary of visiting the hill districts, tourism has flourished and a deluge of tourists pour in every year to luxuriate in the pristine ambiance of the hill. The tourism sector enhances the economic opportunities for the ethnic minorities, offering them opportunities for economic upliftment, and diversification of economic activities beyond their traditional agricultural economy.
Besides, before the signing of the accord, rickety infrastructures and woeful communication hindered the development of the region, which reinforced the grievances of the minorities, triggering insurgency and discontent from the minorities, However, the signing of the peace treaty has profoundly improved the communication of the region, ensuring rapid trade and commerce.
Besides, there have been considerable efforts undertaken by the government to facilitate education in the region. In fact, education remains the prerequisite for the mainstreaming of these minorities. The schools and colleges have proliferated in the region, consequently, the education of the children of the ethnic minorities has been boosted, providing them with the opportunity to integrate with the mainstream society. This has resulted in laudable improvement in the participation of the ethnic minorities in government services, which is secured through according privilege with quota provision, which was unfortunately annulled in 2018. Nevertheless, the presence of ethnic minorities in the civil service and their contribution to the country’s development is evident.
Thus, the development in the region has consolidated, cementing the inclusion of ethnic minorities in the national life of the country.
A Success in National Integration
Bangladesh’s successful integration of the ethnic minorities into the mainstream societies, and steady accordance of numerous benefits to ethnic minorities, in the form of enabling policy and distinct prerogatives, has catalyzed the development of the ethnic minorities. This epitomizes a successful national integration process, far from the pre-peace pact era where the development of the region was hindered and the integration of the region was obstructed. In this context, Sheikh Hasina deserves plaudits for her prudence and deft management of the conflict in CHT, transforming the region from restive backwater to sprawling tourist destination.
Wile the minorities in neighboring countries are subjected to unconscionable persecution, Bangladesh remains am example for its treatment and upliftment of minorities. Moreover, minorities are now integrated into the national fabric of the country, which is far from the turbulent days of the 1990s marked by internecine insurgencies.
*Kazi Asszad Hossan is a Researcher at Central Foundation of International and Strategic Studies(CFISS). The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author