Rakhaines at Stake: Extinction is A Matter of Time

Civil society members reveal the harsh reality of the Rakhaines in Patuakhali-Barguna districts

A recent visit made by a group of civil society members reveals that the Rakhaines in the Barguna and Patuakhali districts are on the verge of extinction. Their findings shows that while indigenous peoples across the country are being minoritized in their territories, the population of indigenous Rakhaines of the southern districts of Bangladesh is under threat of turning zero.

This harsh reality has been shared in a press conference organized by civil society groups on 1 September 2015 at Dhaka Reporter’s Unity after an on-site visit made by them with the support of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum and Kapaeeng Foundation. As a follow up to a visit made by a group of civil society members in September 2014, a group of members of civil society led by Mr. UshatanTalukder MP visited several Rakhaine villages in Taltola and Kolapara upazilas of Barguna and Patuakhali district from 26-27 August 2015. The objective of the visit was to reveal the alarming state of the Rakhaines which they have been going through over past few decades before the citizens of the country.

The civil society group found that the first human settlement in Barguna-Patuakhali districts took place in the beginning of the 18th century. Rakhaines were the ones to do it, clearing the deep forests and turning this land of this area livable. Even a few decades ago the Barguna-Patuakhali districts were swamped with more than a hundred thousand Rakhaines. Now the population of the Rakhaines in this area came down to as low as two and a half thousand. In 1948, there were 144 and 93 Rakhine villages in Patuakhali and Barguna respectively. There remain only 26 and 13 villages now.

Majority of the Rakhaines were forced to migrate to Myanmar and some in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and Cox’s Bazaar as land grabbing spree by the land grabbers continued with absolute impunity. The places for worship, cremation ground, sacred pond and what not? Everything has been either expropriated or under process of being grabbed allegedly by the influential land grabbers, often in collaboration with the local government people. While there were 19 Buddhist temples in the area in 1906, there is now only one left. Most of the idols of lord Buddha made of brass, stone and limestone have been stolen. The cremation ground on 27 decimals of land in Kalachanpara remains under occupation of land grabbers. Land grabbers are now trying to 200-year-old sacred pond in Kabirajpara of Taltali upazila.

The civil society members urged the government to take immediate action to protect the Rakhaines of Barguna and Patuakhali district. In this regard, they made a list of recommendation in the press conference. The recommendations include: ensure land rights of Rakhaine people, rescue the land for temple, cremation ground and pond from the land grabbers; ensure security of the Rakhaines, stoppage of illegal housing business of the land grabbers; reserve seats at union and upazila local government councils for Rakhaine people in the Rakhaine inhabited areas; protect and promote the culture of Rakhaine people and so on.