Chakmas: The Original Citizens of India

 

By Nikhil Chakma

Chakmas were inhabitants of a country extending from Lumbini (Nepal) to Eastern India (Bihar, West Bengal, Assam) during the time of the Buddha (6th century BCE). The generic term 'Chakma' was derived from Sakya, the clan in which the Buddha was born. Sak became Chak. Ma means people or men. Chakma means people who are descendants of the Sakya.

During the Buddhist period (6th BCE - 12th century CE) in India, areas now called Nepal, Eastern India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia were one cultural and geographical zone. Buddhism was the living and connecting culture in that zone. Some Sakyas migrated to Burma following a massacre perpetrated by Vidudhava on the Sakyas during the lifetime of the Buddha. They are called Sak or Thet in Myanmar.

Champa of Magadha (now in Bhagalpur District of Bihar) was a great center of activities of Chakmas. They were invaded and persecuted by an Arab (Turkish) Muslim invader Bakhtiyar Khilji in the 12th century. It led to a mass exodus of Chakmas and allied peoples like Briji (now Barua) to remote hinterlands like Tripura and Chittagong. Chakma Rajas built their Palace in Rajanagar, not far from Chittagong, in the 16th century. Later Muslim invaders invaded East Bengal, including Chittagong, also. They converted Buddhists and Hindus of the area. Thus today we find Bengali Muslims in this area. It forced Chakmas of Chittagong to move into Chittagong Hill Tracts subsequently.

The people of Chittagong Hill Tracts led by Sneha Kumar Chakma joined India on 15 August 1947 when India gained independence. However, Pakistani military occupied their country on 20 August 1947. Chakma fled to India along with his retinues and died there.

Chakmas belong to those peoples who lived in India for thousands of years. They are one the most persecuted peoples in South Asia.

It is an irony that today Chakmas are struggling for Indian citizenship!

Further readings:
1. Rise and Fall of Buddhism in India.
2. History of Nalanda University and its destruction.
3. History of Islam in Bengal (present West Bengal and Bangladesh) and how Buddhists and Hindus of Bengal were persecuted and converted into Islam.

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