Kaptai Dam: "Tear of Chittagong Hill Tracts" and Chakma Exodus

Kaptai Dam

By Nikhil Chakma

The Pakistani military regime occupied Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) on 20 August 1947. It built Asia's largest hydroelectric dam (in terms of land area inundated) on the Karnaphuli River at Kaptai in the Rangamati Hill District of CHT in the early 1960s without consultation with and compensation for affected local indigenous people.

The dam, a 'development project' for electricity and power in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), as it was called, submerged 40% of the best agricultural land of the region, including the historic Palace of Chakma Rajas, and permanently displaced and tore off indigenous people, especially the Chakma community, into three pieces: one settled elsewhere within CHT, one migrated to India and one to Burma (now Myanmar). It seems to be the single largest human rights violation perpetrated on the Chakma community as a whole. It is a tragedy. Its human cost is heartbreaking. Quite legitimately some call it the 'Tear of Chittagong Hill Tracts".

Chakmas settled within CHT continue to confront a vicious state (Bangladesh)-sponsored demographic invasion and ethnic cleansing campaign till today. Those who migrated to Myanmar and India got integrated with the concerned country and people peacefully.

Chakmas who migrated to India were rehabilitated in the State of Arunachal Pradesh by the then government of India headed by PM Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru for a strategic reason -- manning and defending the scarcely populated land of the State against 'Chinese invasion and occupation', as some call it. Prior to it, India and China, it may be mentioned, fought a war here in 1962.

In the 1980s some local students led by nationalist leaders started raising and politicizing the issue stating Chakmas as 'Bangladeshi illegal migrants' and practicing discrimination and marginalization against them and demanding their removal from the State. Tension continued amid security forces deployed by the government of India, and finally it forced Chskma leaders to knock the National Human Rights Commission and the Honorable Supreme Court of India for justice. Both the government statuary bodies gave judgments in favor of full human rights protection and full citizenship for Chakmas. In fact, prior to it, they had already naturally acquired Indian citizenship as per the Indian Citizenship Act, as they have been permanently living there for more than 50 years. They migrated to India in 1963-64 before the birth of Bangladesh in 1971.

Historically speaking, the Chakmas are among those peoples who lived in India for thousands of years and they are one of the most persecuted peoples in South Asia.

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