State, Development and Indigenous People of Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh

Author: Mya Ching

Ching, Mya, 2019 State, Development and Indigenous People of Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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The relationship between the indigenous people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and Bangladesh state has been a long standing issue. After two decades of conflict between the indigenous people, manifested in the ethno-nationalist movement, and Bangladesh state, the peace agreement of 1997 promised a new era in the state-ethnic relation. Most studies on state and development in the CHT view the state-ethnic relation as a dichotomous relationship characterised by domination from above by the state, and contestation from below by the indigenous people. Less attention has been paid to the ways in which it is also a social relation of domination and subjugation which is produced and reproduced in the everyday life of the indigenous people.

The present study is an attempt to address this gap. It examines the relationship between the indigenous people of the CHT and Bangladesh state within the context of their everyday encounters in the setting of basic development provisions, such as health and education services. In particular, it assesses the impact of development on indigenous people’s capacity to (re)negotiate the relation. By employing postcolonial, development and critical citizenship approaches, it focusses on a long-term development project entitled ‘Integrated Community Development Project’ (ICDP). Through critical discourse analysis of ICDP documents, in-depth interviews with ICDP officials, and interview and focus group discussions with indigenous project participants and non-participants, the study examines the impact of the ICDP in enhancing indigenous people’s ability to articulate their citizenship rights, and in particular, their rights to education and health services of the government. In relation to education, the findings show that indigenous people viewed the opportunity of ICDP pre-schooling very positively, as an opportunity for their children to access formal education. However, the indigenous people were unable to claim their citizenship right to health through the ICDP because in the absence of any formal agreement between the government health department and ICDP, the implementation of the ICDP’s health programme was sporadic and partial. In the absence of state provision, indigenous people’s citizenship practices emerged out of everyday livelihood struggles resulting in adoption of practical strategies of resilience.

This thesis breaks new ground in analysing indigenous people’s citizenship practices in the CHT by demonstrating that development is not just a determining force that controls the life of the indigenous people. A key finding is that indigenous people’s citizenship practice primarily constitutes practical engagement with the state to access basic service provisions to improve their material condition. By using development to claim their citizenship rights, the indigenous people demonstrate that resilience is a citizenship practice that challenges the discursive practices of the Bangladesh state. However, they also articulate citizenship in ways that stretch the existing boundary between Bangladesh state and indigenous society. This involves complex and sometimes contradictory processes through which the state-society boundary gets reworked, reconstituted and reinforced. Thus, indigenous people’s citizenship practices in the CHT underpin a politics of contingency and contestation.

Keywords: Bangladesh, CHT, Indigenous People, State, Development

Subject: Development Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2019
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Prof Susanne Schech