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Rangamati adivasis firm to resist medical college, tech university

Indigenous leaders and activists have expressed resolve to resist at any cost the government move to establish a medical college and a science and technology university in Rangamati.

They allege that the Awami League government did not consult the indigenous community leaders about its plan to establish the medical college, which violates the 1997 agreement known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord.

The government also did not pay heed to the voices that have been opposing the move in the following years. It rather started academic activities in a building of the General Hospital on a temporary basis after the prime minister on January 10 inaugurated it.

In the current academic session, as many as 51 students have enrolled; the authorities have also appointed a principal and two lecturers. Of the students, 12 were picked up after combined tests under CHT quota; nine of them belong to indigenous communities.

On January 10, several indigenous groups demonstrated against the medical college but faced resistance from ruling party men, which led to violence, communal attacks and the administration to declare curfew in the area for a couple of days. Around 30 people were injured in the clash¡es.

Talking to the indigenous peoples, it has been learnt that they are not against the technology university or the medical college; rather they seek sincere attention of the government in implementing the Accord first. They also demand improvement of the existing government colleges and schools in the area that lack adequate manpower and logistics.

Groups that favour the government plans are the ruling Awami League, its affiliated bodies and Bangali settlers’ organisations. They also want the proposed science and technology university near Kaptai of the district to be implemented smoothly.

The authorities have recently issued eviction notices to 74 families living inside the proposed site for the university. The project covering primarily around 40.5 hectares (100 acres) of land would finally require displacement of around 200 families, sources say.

PCJSS chief Santu Larma in the recent months issued warnings against such development projects, saying those would further increase discrimination against the indigenous people.

He has asked the government to execute the core provisions of the 1997 Accord, including elections to the regional council and the three hill district councils, and removal of the army camps, before taking such initiatives.

The Awami League government in 1997 struck the landmark agreement with Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) that ended a decade-long armed struggle in the CHT region.

However, the indigenous leaders now allege that they were fooled in the name of establishing peace since no significant progress is seen to solve the key issues of the Accord which also include making effective the land dispute resolution commission.

The three hill district councils, in which subsequent governments have been appointing people on ad hoc basis, have not seen election in a decade while the Land Commission could not solve a single case.

Rangamti lawmaker Ushatun Talukder said: “It makes no sense to establish a medical college and a science and technology university as the fundamental issues of the Peace Accord are yet to be implemented.”

Ushatan claimed that despite being a public representative, he had not been informed by the government of the large development projects. “Then for whom is the government going to establish the medical college or the university?”

He stressed that the government should focus more on the undergraduate public colleges in the three districts that require infrastructural development, qualified teachers and other necessary supports “before establishing another medical college and university.”

Women MP from reserved seat Firoza Begum Chinu said: “I do not understand why the indigenous people do not want such academic institutions in Rangamati. It will certainly be a great opportunity for all the hill tracts people including the settlers.”

The Awami League MP said: “I think a misunderstanding has divided the settlers and the indigenous people over this issue.”

CHT Citizen’s Committee President Gautam Dewan, on the other hand, pointed out that the Rangamati Medical College Act was nothing special. It would run like other government medical colleges even though the language, culture and tradition of the indigenous people are different.

“According to the act, we the indigenous people do not see the light of educational opportunities and other developments in the CHT area.

“As the adivasis are lagging behind compared to the Bangalis in other part of the country, students from this region do not fulfil the indigenous quota scheme for higher studies.”

He suggested that the government undertakes programmes to increase the number of teachers and facilities to ensure more enrolment of indigenous people.

In Rangamati College, there are 20 vacant posts against a total of 67 posts; 20 against 47 in Khagrachhari College; and 10 against 39 posts in Bandarban College.

He said: “When a college requires minimum six to seven professors, we have maximum two professors in every college.”

PCJSS chief Santu Larma in an interview with this reporter earlier gave two points why they had been opposing the medical college and the science and technology university.

“Firstly, the government did not discuss with us before taking such initiatives. We came to know about it, not from the government officially, but unofficially after the bill was passed.

“Secondly, the recent context in the CHT area is not appropriate to establish such institutions. There are not many qualified students in the indigenous communities who can study in the universities? How many experienced and qualified teachers do we have among the indigenous people? They can, at best, get the third and fourth class jobs in those proposed institutions.”

He also pointed out that a huge number of students, teachers, and other employees would come from outside the CHT area. “It will gradually create more pressure and complexity on the existing social and cultural crisis,” Santu said adding that political activities at the institutions would also affect the region adversely.

Gautam Dewan said the proposed Rangamati Science and Technology University is planned in an area from where the indigenous people had been evicted in early 1960s during construction of the country’s lone hydro power plant.

“Then they took shelter in the hilly areas but were again evicted because of land acquisition for tourism. Later the Kaptai locals had to leave the area as the law enforcement agencies wanted to build establishments there.”

Gautam mentioned that they had asked the government several times, not to establish any academic institution that may not bring any development for the indigenous people.

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