Shifting Cultivator’s Land Rights and Livelihoods

Report from Sontosh Bikash Tripura, Master Programme in Indigenous Studies, University of Tromsø
Project 200700333-7

Financial support to the project:
“Shifting Cultivator’s Land Rights and Livelihoods: A Study on the Tripura and Chakma in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh.”

Photo: The researcher himself during the fieldwork in Khagrachari District in CHT

Photo: The researcher himself during the fieldwork in Khagrachari District in CHT

My research area is located in the Khagrachari District in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. The area is connected between South Asia and East Asia particularly Arakan State (Burma/Mayanmar) in South East, and North-east State of India called Tripura State (former Princely State) and Mizoram (Lushai Hills) and Chittagong and Coxs Bazar district in Bangladesh. The area of the CHT is 5093 sq.mile.out of 55,598 sq.mile. However there are 24% land are under the ‘Reserved Forest’. There are 1.3 million (including Bengali settlers .5 million) peoples in CHT out of 150 million. Thus the density of the population is 100 times less then any other parts of Bangladesh. However what is the real picture in the CHT I had conducted the research works in CHT especially on the shifting cultivators.

Thus I chose to do research work among the Chakma and Tripura peoples and there land rights situation among 11 ethnic groups. I conducted fieldwork by following the methods of participant observation, case study, Focus Group Discussion and interviews for the primary information. In my findings on the fieldwork on the present shifting cultivators they are facing the land crisis due to privatization of land. The main causes of the crisis of the land were Kaptai Dam project in 1960s and the Bengali settlement during the 1980s. There were 400,000 Bengali had settled from 1979 to 1983. As a result thus affected the indigenous people livelihoods due to creations of the land pressures. The impact of Kaptai Dam and the Bengali settlement there was 40,000 peoples migrated in India during the Dam and more than 100,000 people were internally and externally dislocated. Moreover the land to the private company and persons from the plain land for commercial plantation such as Rubber (for the tire), teak and tea etc. also created land crisis on the hill. The creation of the Reserve forest during the British Colonial period, Kapati dam and the Population settlement and the plantation programme strongly influenced on the shifting cultivator’s livelihoods. Whereas shifting cultivators land rights are not recognized by the state due to not having an entitlement. However the rights for shifting cultivation were recognized on the CHT Regulation of 1900 Act. Later on the CHT Accord of 1997 has recognized the land rights management and ownership system by the Indigenous people under the District Council Act of 64. However, the land management act has not transferred to the Indigenous people as yet. Moreover, Military also stilled commanded to control the land and the protection of the Bengali settlers. There are 150,000 army located in the 530 different camp has commanding since 1973. The withdrawn of the all camp has mentioned on the CHT Accord in 1997 except supposed to be withdrew from the hill except 6 brigade camps. Without withdrawing the military camp, military are continuing pressures on the Indigenous peoples from the ‘Operation Wildfire’ to ‘Operation Upliftment’. As ratified the ILO Conv. 107 in 1972 and the CERD (Convention of the Elimination of the Racial Discrimination) in 1979, Bangladesh are not implementing the continuing commanded by the ‘security forces’ shifting cultivators are mostly affected in the hill.

The rice field

The rice field

The positive change has found in the post-Accord regime NGO (Non Government Oraganizatation) are open up (including UN agencies like UNDP, WFP, ect and some Donor agencies, national and local organization). Therefore I consider the impact of the NGOs on the shifting cultivator’s livelihoods.

During my fieldwork I had visited on Tripura State in India for secondary data collection (such as Books and others publication). I had visited with the Tripura people (Students, teachers, cultural activist, and political leader as I did in Bangladesh) and also had visited to the Tripura Museum in Agartola (Capital of Tripura State). In the museum I was found about the history of the Tripura Rulers (Raja). Among the 185 rulers there was 12 rulers has mentioned in the Museum from the Ratna Manikya to Bir Bikram Manikya (1464 to 1949) upto the merger agreement with India in 1949.

Picture:  Tripura Royal Place in India established in 1900, collected by Sontosh

Picture: Tripura Royal Place in India established in 1900, collected by Sontosh

My duration of field work was May to August, 2007. During the fieldwork Bangladesh was running on state of emergency from the January 2007. Thus declaration of the state of emergency has effecting on the indigenous peoples. Many of indigenous leaders, NGO workers and civilian have been arrested by the military. Thus on the overall situation the livelihoods of the shifting cultivators has mostly influenced by the state agencies.

Finally I am grateful to the Centre for Sami Studies for supported doing the research on the most vulnerable and underprivileged section of the populations in Bangladesh, as well as I am grateful to the NORAD for given me the opportunity to study on Indigenous Studies in Norway. Thanks to my supervisor Tone Bleie, Academic Coordinator Bjørg Evjen, others professors and staff and community where I had studied.

Read the thesis online – Munin

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