Religious persecution in Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh

by CHT. P. Chakma, Secretary of World Jumma Buddhist's Council, HWHRF, January 11, 2008

Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh -- Military personnel here have ordered Jumma Buddhist villagers to stop renovation work on a Buddhist temple in Maischari under Khagrachari district in Chittagong Hill Tracts (Jumma Buddhists dominent region) of Bangladesh.

They have also briefly detained Aungjyo Karbari, the village head of Korngjyo Karbari Para and interrogated him about the temple work. About 50 Jumma men and women from Choudhury Para village were working when the army personnel came there.

Hundreds of Buddhist devotees from nearby villages such as Karallyachari, Jadugonala, Rangapanichara, Mubachari, Sabgujya, Manikchari, Bolipara, Bachchupara, Magistrate Para and Choudhury para have been working daily on the temple's renovation. The work consists mainly of leveling the ground, constructing a dining hall and living rooms for the Buddhist monks. The army said such activities cannot be carried out without prior permission of the Mahalchari Thana administration.

Army personnel from Kiang-ghat camp reappeared at the temple and briefly detained four Jumma Buddhist teenagers who had stayed in the temple last night to perform their share of the temple duties - mainly to prepare breakfast for the monks early in the morning.

One and a half months ago, the Bengali Muslim settlers from Maischari, Noonchari and Kiang-ghat cluster villages made attempts to capture these lands. The settlers have already taken away hundreds of acres of land belonging to the Jumma people in Maischari and its nearby areas with direct assistance from the army.

"We will not tolerate any Buddha house here; we want only Allah's house" says  Captain Shohel.

A  group of army personnel led by captain Shohel, commander of Indra Singh Karbaripara camp in Lakshmichari under Khagrachari district, ransacked a Buddhist temple-cum-meditation centre at Bhujulichuk hilltop run by one of Ven. Bana Bhante's disciples. Vev. Bana Bhante is a most venerated Buddhist monk in Bangladesh and is believed to have attained Arahathood.

The incident took place at around 8 a.m. on 31 December 2007. Captain Sohel and his 15 soldiers destroyed a cottage and smashed the thatched roof and bamboo-wall of the main temple while Shubhopriyo Sramana was in deep meditation inside, unperturbed by the sounds of the destruction. There was another cottage on the north side. The marauding soldiers smashed it too. The latrine, the bath house and the rest house were also demolished while the monk's robes shred to pieces.

To crown it all, the army personnel threw away the statue of the Lord Buddha into the jungle to the north of the temple. However, a few minutes later they picked it up again and kept it on the ground under open sky on the east side of the temple. Two fully ordained Buddhist monks and Shubhopriyo Sramana, a novice, live in the temple-cum-meditation centre.

Timeline: History of hassle by security forces

The army made its first foray into the Bhujulichuk temple on 17 July 2007. At that time army personnel led by captain Raihan, commander of Shuknachari army camp, demolished the Bhujulichuk meditation centre and briefly detained two Buddhist novices - Shasan Ujjal and Nykistic Sramana - who had been meditating there for months. They were forced to leave the temple. Devotees later rebuilt the temple-cum-meditation centre and invited the monks to live there.

On 10 January 2007, a group of army personnel from Lakshmichari zone raided Aryo Mitra Bouddha Vihara and harassed Rev. Sharadhatissyo Bhikkhu, the chief priest of the temple.

In August - September 2007, the settlers backed by the army made desperate attempts to capture 300 acres of land including 100 acres belonging to Sadhana Tila Bana Viahra in Dighinala, Khagrachari. They smashed the signboard of the Vihara and harassed the monks.

On 5 November 2007, Major Qamruzzaman, commander of Babuchara zone, called Sneha Moy Chakma and Santosh Jibon Chakma to his camp and threatened them not to use loudspeaker for public announcement of the Katin Chivor Danotsav, the biggest religious festival of the Buddhist communities in Chittagong Hill Tracts. The army also halted the car carrying the monks at Babuchara and released them only after the threat to hold a religious gathering in front of the camp.

On 12 September 2007, the Upazilla Nirbahi Officer of Mahalchari, Md. Abdul Matin, issued a public notice prohibiting construction of new religious institutions without prior permission of the authorities concerned. The notice was aimed at curbing Buddhist religious practice and facilitating illegal Bengali Muslim settlement.