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Decolonization, nation-states, and the emerging territoriality : indigeneity in a contested zone Chowdhury, Md. Nazmul Hasan

Abstract

The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is home to thirteen different indigenous groups in Bangladesh. An historical examination of the circumstances of indigenous peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts reveals that indigenes had a complicated relationship with the Bangladeshi state over the last few decades, and prior to that with the British and the Pakistani regimes that ruled them. In this paper, I show how the formation of indigeneity in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is shaped by colonialism, decolonization, and the relationship between nation-states and global powers. Thus, in addition to studying the relationship between the state and indigenous people within a single nation-state framework, my focus is on situating it into a regional and global context. It is often argued that in this age of increased connections, nationstates lose control over their localities. This paper, instead, shows that the state still practices authority. The state has become more flexible over the last decade and ultimately signed a treaty with the representatives of Hill inhabitants in 1997. Along with other factors, this process indicates the influences of transnational entities over the state. However, although the treaty guarantees a legal safeguard for indigenous people, their 'real freedom' has been undermined by the state's misinterpretation, or non-implementation of the treaty. This shows that the state can manipulate transnational entities' will and vigilance and reconfigure relationship with the local. This particular tactic of the state creates a procedural problem for indigenous people and draws them into administrative complexities, and often indigenous people do not have enough expertise to overcome this bureaucratic 'red-tape'. It is a puzzle for these people in which they can neither neglect the state and choose a path of renewed resistance, nor get equal rights and enough cooperation from the state. In such a situation, indigenous people are even more vulnerable to an internal conflict than they were during the period of their violent struggle against the state.

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