Northern Ireland’s example for CHT 24/06/13

Niaz Alam, Dhaka Tribune op-ed 24 June 2013

“If you had the luck of the Irish / You’d be sorry and wish you were dead / You should have the luck of the Irish / And you’d wish you was English instead.”

So sang John Lennon in “Luck of the Irish,” a single recorded (before his Sunday Bloody Sunday protest song in response to the Bloody Sunday massacre in (London) Derry, Northern Ireland on January 30, 1972, where 14 unarmed civilians were killed by members of the Parachute Regiment during a non-violent civil rights march. Not to be outdone, his former partner Paul McCartney wrote and released “Give Ireland back to the Irish” which became a number one single in Ireland and a top five hit in the UK where it was banned by the BBC.

That the 20th century’s most famous and successful British songwriters should make such statements of solidarity with Irish nationalism, was not considered all that unusual in the politics of the time and of course represent only small footnotes in their legacies.

However the anger and sorrow expressed in these protest songs remains striking and reflects the fact that for much of the three decade long period from 1969, the so-called “Troubles” made Northern Ireland resemble a war zone with over 3,000 people losing their lives, including in infamous terrorist bombings carried out by the IRA in mainland Britain.

For all the long standing grievances among the divided Northern Irish Protestant settler and Catholic nationalist communities – which barring tragedies such as the Derry massacre and ill conceived internment policies, the UK and Republic of Ireland governments sought to handle cooperatively – the fact that all sides successfully laid down arms was eloquently illustrated last week by television pictures of the G8 summit at Lough Erne, near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland.

With its tranquil backdrop of rolling green hills surrounding the summit venue, media coverage resembled a dream tourist board video (and the inevitable security cordon was no different to what it would be anywhere else in the UK or Ireland). Given that the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) accord of 1997 is around the same age as the final signing of the Northern Irish Good Friday agreement (1998), it is a shame that ongoing hartals and ethnic disputes still reverberate around the hill tracts, often with deadly consequences.

Bangladeshi politicians of both the political parties that have been in power since the CHT accord was signed, must share blame for the failure to adequately implement the agreement’s intentions. In July 2011, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni drew flak from the Bangladesh Adivashi Forum and human rights campaigners after she referred to the Oxford dictionary while asserting the government’s position that tribal people living in CHT are “ethnic minorities” and should not be called “indigenous.” Whatever the political calculus underlying such remarks to international forums, with the government not wanting to alienate Bangali settlers in CHT, statements that can be read as toning down or sidelining the CHT Treaty’s aims are insensitive and only serve to give succor to chauvinistic elements among Bangali settlers in CHT, which accomplishes nothing to help further the Accord.

The fact is, though, that debate about correct semantics or terminology is an intractable feature of discussions about areas of the world where lands are disputed, and opposing communities will inevitably hold conflicting narratives. Ultimately it must be up to the peoples, Jumma (Adivasi,) and Bangali alike who actually live in CHT, to themselves resist ethnic divisions and violent actions.

Of course many among the two communities in Northern Ireland still send their children to separate schools and have conflicting national identities, but both sides have clearly and democratically elected politicians who have unequivocally rejected violence and jointly uphold equal opportunities and rights. Perhaps the peaceful backdrop pictures from the G8 summit can inspire CHT residents to look forward to an even better future than now, amidst their own beautiful landscape.   – See more at: