60,000 Mros made gypsies of the hills

Posted: ফেব্রুয়ারি 3, 2009 in Uncategorized

Ranglai tells The Daily Star how his community was made to suffer over decades

He grew up chasing wild boars and working in the jhum filed. Walking for hours in the hilly paths was part of his usual but hard life. But that son of the hills, Ranglai Mro, is so weak now–his face is so pale–that he cannot talk for more than a few minutes at a stretch.

“This is not only about our land, not even violation of our rights. Our ancestors were cremated on that land and we preserve their ash at a certain place to pay homage. That is why we did not want to leave our village,” Ranglai says. He stops to take a deep breath.

Rangali Mro is a leader of the Mro, the fourth largest indigenous community in the country–after the Chakma, Marma and Tipra–with a population of 60,000 mostly living in Bandarban.

“People used to describe the Mro as ‘half-naked’ and ‘nomadic’ but in reality whenever and wherever we wanted to settle, we were always forced away, gradually towards the remote hills and jungles,” says Ranglai sitting on the bed of a clinic in the capital.

Ranglai, also the chairman of Sowalok union under Thanchi upazila of Bandarban, was arrested on February 24 last year although no case was lodged against him. Later he was charged in an arms case and an ammunition case and convicted to 17 years’ imprisonment.

Interestingly, the police probe reports of the cases stated that the pistol recovered from Ranglai’s house was non-functional and the bullets were used.

During his detention Ranglai was tortured so severely that he could hardly stand when he was produced in the court. Because of the torture internal haemorrhage blocked two of his arteries and needed stenting. Ranglai merely survived a senseless state for three days at the coronary care unit of Chittagong Medical College Hospital before being sent to jail.

He was released on bail on January 13.

Talking to The Daily Star, Ranglai describes how his community is lagging behind because of the negligence of the government, which is run by chiefly Bangla-speaking people, and also the larger indigenous communities.

Only 60-70 persons in the Mro community are in the government service, that too as police constables. Only three Mro students went to a university last year for the first time.

Ranglai says the Mro community did not get any position in the Chittagong Hill Tracts regional and district councils even after the peace accord. “We were given only one membership in the Bandarban District Council during the rule of the last Awami League government just a couple of months before the national election to attract Mro votes,” he says. The Mro community has 20,000-25,000 voters.

“We are not asking for much. We have been living in remote hills but we are being driven away even from there. We want to settle somewhere,” says Ranglai. “But the state is not helping us. We are being rather pushed away again and again towards the border of the country.”

Earlier, the Mro people were evicted from Kaptai when the Kaptai dam was built. Then they shifted to Bandarban.

“The Mro are peaceful people. We do not have the ability and mentality to fight against the state policy. What can we do if the government wants us to move from our village?” Ranglai says.

“People of my community asked how they would pay tribute to their ancestors at the new place since they had to leave behind the crematorium in the village. I could not answer them. Don’t we have the rights to pray for the departed souls of our ancestors?” says Ranglai, tears rolling down his cheeks.

He demands proper demarcation of the 11,500 acres of land the government acquired for establishing a training centre for the artillery in Sowalok union during the 1990s. Many indigenous and Bangalee people got compensation for that but the 11,500 acres of land was not demarcated at that time.

“Now after 16 years, they again tell us to move from our village without arranging any rehabilitation,” Ranglai says.

This time more than 200 indigenous and Bangalee families had to leave their villages including Devapara, Goyalpara, Bhaggyakul, Muslim para, Hindu para, Hati Dera, Pora Para, Dewai Headman para, Chini para, Kasabtali, Chhing-chhong para, Ramri para, Sankhai para, Baitya para and Udar Bonya para in Tongabodi and Sowalok unions under Thanchi upazila.

“It was just ahead of harvesting. They just drove away all the villagers who ended up under the open sky during winter,” he says.

Ranglai bargained with civil and military officials for not evacuating those villagers. “I protested that incident and I believe it was the reason for my arrest,” he adds.

Where are those villagers now? “Some people of my village and Dewai Headman para made houses near Y Junction on the way to Ruma Bazar from Bandarban. Others went to the jungle and hills,” says Ranglai.

The daily star 04.02.2009

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