Know the Chakmas

The Chakma tribe inhabits the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh, and in the Indian states of Mizoram, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh. The 1947 Partition of India divided them forever, politically. Historically, the Chakmas ruled the CHT.

The Indian Partition divided them but they are still very much emotionally attached and share the bonds of same history, language and culture. The Chakmas have their distinct culture, tradition and script.

Everywhere the Chakma tribals (known more popularly as ‘Jummas’ in Bangladesh) are under suppression and repression. They live in miserable conditions, entrenched by acute poverty, illiteracy and backwardness. 

The Chakma tribals are very simple people with simple minds and ambitions. In Bangladesh, they have been fighting to regain their own “homeland”; in Mizoram for basic rights and facilities, and in Arunachal Pradesh for a right to nationality.

Chakmas of Mizoram

There are about 80,000 Chakmas in Mizoram. A section of them have sort of self-rule within Mizoram in the form of Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC) constituted in 1972 under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India.

However, more Chakmas live in the western belt, along the India-Bangladesh borders and they have been excluded from the CADC jurisdiction.

Mostly, Chakmas like to live on the river banks. Hence, rivers are crucial for their livelihood, culture and survival.

Various modes of transportation are used by Chakma villagers to sail in the rivers – to visit relatives in other villages, to go to market and to go to Jhums. The only other mode of travel is on foot, although gradually motorable roads are also being constructed to link the inaccessible rural areas.

The Chakma tribals are peace-loving souls and they toil really hard in the hills. Their form of agriculture is called “Jhum”, popularly known to the world as “slash-and-burn” method of cultivation or shifting cultivation. Chakmas also call it “Duk Haam”, meaning “hard task”. Indeed, Jhum cultivation is perhaps the hardest of all the jobs in this world.

The Chakma villages are secluded and serene, where time still moves slowly. They are cut off from the hustle and bustle of life.

But they are economically very poor and their habitations lack development. This makes them vulnerable to diseases, illiteracy etc and makes them less relevant to the fast changing times. As their traditional means of livelihood, Jhum, is rapidly dwindling, they fear for their future.

 

Read SP Talukdar’s book, “The Chakmas – Life and Struggle” , published by Gian Publishing House, New Delhi, 1988

 

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