A socio-political analysis of the indigenous and the return of the Columbus-By Nree Raha Adrija

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On 12 June 1996 Kalpana Chakma working for the rights of the indigenous people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts was abducted from her own house. She was blindfolded along with her two brothers and was forcibly picked up by the Bangladesh army in plainclothes . She was abducted for exposing the dreadful conditions of the indigenous woman who were relentlessly raped , tortured and abducted by the Lieutenant , Police constable of that district and members of the Village Defense Party. After 23 years of her disappearance we still do not know about her whereabouts and whether she is dead or alive. Was she murdered instantly? Did they rape her? Was she brutally tortured? We know nothing. After gaining our independence in 1971 as an independent state, between 1971 to 1994 , 2000 indigenous women were raped . In 1997 military force moved into their territory in the Chittagong Hills area, displacing the local population subjecting the indigenous civilians to abuses including forced evictions, destruction of property, arbitrary arrests, torture, and killings and all this never came to an end. Usurpation of the indigenous people has always existed in greater or lesser extent in Bangladesh. The Bengali settlers routinely attacked the indigenous homes, shops and properties whether we talk about the incident that took place in June 2014 when the Jumma people was subjected to extreme violence through killings, rape or seizure of their lands or about the 2017 incident when a Muslim Mob attacked their villages in Rangamati District reportedly leaving seven villagers killed, dozens injured and 300 houses destroyed. Today the dispossession of the indigenous people takes place in the name of Tourism , for the expansion of capitalism in the areas which are still out of it’s grip . The proposal of building a new five star hotel “Marriott Hotel and Amusement Park” on the lands of the indigenous people by displacing the local population in the Chimbuk-Thanchi route is nothing but the remoulding of the old structure of expropriating the indigenous people.

What we see from the history of abuse on indigenous people in Bangladesh is that it is a process of dispossessing the indigenous whether by Bengali settlers , Bangladesh military or the corporate predators and that the process is constantly being modified depending on the socio-political economic structure of the State. Colonizing the indigenous people or the natives has far existed before the emergence of capitalism but the question that has been devouring me up is that why after hundred years after the formation of civil society , expulsion , land grabbing , animal like degradation are still carried out on the indigenous people ? Why the spectres of colonization is still haunting us today ? To answer this question I felt the dire need to investigate the roots of colonizing the indigenous people , how capitalism emerged through the dispossession of properties and Durkheim’s sociological theory which explains the conscience of the collective consciousness of the majority of the people and the juxtaposition between mechanical and organic solidarity . First I have taken an attempt to elucidate these three concepts after which I will try to explain the answers of these questions which is a mere analysis stemming from the truths of History .

History of Indigenous people

To begin with I must first describe how the word indigenous or to be more precise the word Aboriginal derived and it’s meaning. Aboriginal meaning ” first , earliest from the beginning” derived from the Latin word aborigines ” original inhabitants” . The first people who lived on the land before colonizers , settlers, capitalists marched into their territory and seized their lands and properties. Aboriginal people are the first group of people who are native to their land or travelled because of natural disasters or other environmental conditions , in search of food or for hunting from one end of the earth to the other and began living on the land which was suitable for their living and for maintaining subsistence. This way of living was as a means of subsistence. “subsistence” is understood as supporting oneself at a minimum level. They collected their food through hunting and it was equally distributed among all the members of that society .This type of economy is known as subsistence economy. Equal distribution of property , tools , materials played an important role in this type of societies . In Durkheim’s language the major characteristic of this form of societies is mechanical solidarity . Mechanical solidarity is the solidarity of resemblance . Individuals differ as little as possible from one other . They are connected by the same emotions , cherish the same values and hold the same things sacred. This type of society is called segmental societies. A segment designates a social group in which individuals are tightly incorporated , locally situated and relatively isolated from the outside world.

Émile Durkheim

The Father of colonization “Christopher Columbus” 

To begin with the expropriation , dispossession and usurpation of the indigenous people we must first recall history and the greatest Christopher Columbus who is nevertheless celebrated as a Hero worldwide ironically for his discovery of America. What a notorious tale of history! What these historians mistakes is that he did not discover America but the aboriginal people and their valuable possessions which they originally possessed by birth on their homeland. This discovery took the greatest turn in history towards colonization. Columbus made three observations about the natives that they could easily be brought under control , they wore gold around their necks and they were generous in nature and can be good servants . He wrote in his personal journal ” They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane. They would make fine servants. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” Columbus made a business contract with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain assuring them 10 percent of all profits he makes of this voyage. Columbus enslaved the natives for the material riches of the colonizers and for himself and practiced the murderous process of colonization and enslavement on the Mother Earth. Nonetheless we know him as an explorer for the discovery of America not as the father of colonization. Indeed what a glorification of a vicious tragedy! His voyages on behalf of the Spanish Crown brought diseases and bloody conquest against the indigenous people from the tip of South America to all the way to Alaska.

Genesis of the indigenous in Bangladesh and the emergence of the new Columbus

Now if we go back and look at the history of indigenous people of Bangladesh then they are the first people residing on the land of Bangladesh before the settlers came and seized their land through forced evictions , killings and torture. The Chakmas and Marmas migrated to Bangladesh in the 15th century before the British period from modern Burma. Others migrated from Central India . The Mro people are considered the original inhabitants of the Chittagong Hills where they migrated from Arakan of Burma in between 14th–15th century. Afterward the settlers came and started grabbing their lands and properties in a similar way Columbus dispossessed the indigenous. They first discovered the natives and their trusting nature in people. They had no arms and lead a very simple life within their community. The new Columbus expanded their territory by expropriating the natives. The perennial practice of colonization by then has begun.

Indigenous People of Bangladesh after the Partition of 1971

After the partition of Bangladesh , India and Pakistan , the practice of colonizing the indigenous still continued. What was still visible is that the Bengali settlers constantly carried out inhumane measures on the indigenous people of their own country. At this point the expropriation , dispossession of the indigenous in Bangladesh differed to that of Columbus. If we now look at the time of Columbus, inhumane measures were taken to enslave the indigenous people , to bring them under the dominance of the colonizers , to seize their valuable possessions like Gold and other materials . They were kept as servants for their labor power which increased the accumulated wealth of the Europeans but the Bengali settlers not only colonized the indigenous , they brutally burnt their houses , raped their woman and killed their man as we have seen in the case of Kalpana Chakma. All of this was seen in the colonial period when colonies were under the dominance of the mother country . Animal like degradation was carried out on the colonial people. But the question that strikes here is that why after gaining independence as an independent state from the mother country , the majority of people of the State carried out the same measures of Violence on their own people due to their different set of beliefs and rituals. Why there was a rebirth of the colonial period ? The difference is that this time violent measures were taken under the veil of Bengali nationalism and religious sentiments.

Previously I have mentioned segmental societies and the indigenous people of Bangladesh are a part of segmental societies. Within themselves they feel the same emotions , follow the same traditions but are isolated from the majority Bengalis. There can be different types of segmental societies residing together peacefully. For example there are 13 indigenous ethnic communities living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and each group has their own traditions and follow different religion and customs but altogether they are separated from the outside world. The other kind of solidarity that Durkheim mentions in his “De la division du travail social” is organic solidarity . The individuals are no longer similar but different in a certain sense and this type of solidarity is born out of modern division of labor. Organic solidarity is one in which the coherent unity of collectivity results from or is expressed by differentiation. In certain societies with advanced forms of economic division of labor , organic solidarity binds the people together, in our example the Bengalis. They are unlike the indigenous people or to be more precise this type of societies is not a pure form of segmental society as the indigenous people. But according to Durkheim , certain societies where organic solidarity has taken it’s form , segmental structure may still persist in part but not in it’s pure form. The economic division of labor may be highly developed , major industries , big businesses , the so called civil society but the honeycomb structure is still very much evident when it comes to religion, traditions, or the dominant ideology of the majority of the people. These type of societies is dominated by the collective consciousness which is a body of beliefs and sentiments common to the average of people. In segmental societies , collective consciousness plays a greater role. In societies characterized by modern division of labor , collective consciousness embraces a lesser part but it does exist. In the case of Bengalis the segmental structure persists through Bengali nationalism , religious prejudices and certain traditions, to go back to Durkheim which is nothing but a honeycomb structure. Collective consciousness of a society where organic solidarity exists, predominates that society and it’s actions. After the independence of Bangladesh , Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (president of Bangladesh at that time ) promoted Bengali Nationalism based on the Bengali ethnicity leaving the indigenous people of Bangladesh dejected. Sheikh Mujib, rejected the demands of constitutional recognition for the tribal culture and identity and urged upon the indigenous peoples to become Bengalis. In the first constitution of 1972, the new nation accepted religious pluralism but denied ethnic and cultural diversity. The indigenous people of Bangladesh are mostly Hindus , Christians and Buddhists which results into a collision with the religious sentiments of the Bengali Muslims. As mentioned above in June 2017 , a Muslim mob attacked the houses of the Jumma people leaving hundreds of Jumma people homeless. This segmental honeycomb structure existing within organic solidarity affects the collective consciousness to this extent that it results into violent aggression and savagery against the indigenous of Bangladesh who are a part of segmental society completely separated from those of the Bengalis. The rage of the Bengali people against the indigenous is because of this collective consciousness which is haunted by Bengali Nationalism and blind religious faiths.

Dispossession of the Indigenous for the expansion of Capitalism.

“History is nothing but the succession of the separate generations , each of which exploits the materials , the capital funds, the productive forces handed down to it by all preceding generations and thus on the one hand continues the traditional activity in completely changed circumstances and on the other , modifies the old circumstances with a completely changed activity ” – Karl Marx. To understand the dispossession of the indigenous for corporate profits , we first have to go back to the origin of capitalism or primitive accumulation . Marx says in Volume I of Das Kapital that Capital came into power by carrying out usurpation , robbery , thievery and fraudulence on the mass of the people by depriving them from their access to property and through privatization of the Land. What the capitalist system demand is a degradation of the servile conditions of the mass of the people which act as a process of creating laborer . If we look at the history of primitive accumulation , then it is nothing but the expropriation of the agricultural producers , of the peasants from the soil for the means of transforming it into capital. By the end of 15th century , forcible usurpation of land and state property was carried out by means of an individual’s act of violence against which legislation ( Act 25 of Henry VII 1849 ) fought in vain , but Marx says as capital is centralized and assumes power the illegality becomes legal within the domains of Capitalism. The advance made by 18th century shows itself in this that the law itself has become now the instrument of theft of the people’s Land. Enclosure of land and turning them into private property. Now how is this relevant to the seizure of the land of the indigenous? Of course this is relevant for the last example that I gave of expropriation was displacing the local population for Tourism , for a five star hotel project. My question in the beginning was why this process of usurpation , violence , fraudulence still exists today . The answer to this question is , as Marx says that as soon as capitalist production is once on it’s own legs , it not only maintains it’s separation but reproduces it on a continually extending scale. What we are seeing here is the expropriation of land for the reproduction of capital and this reproduction of capital not only makes the indigenous homeless but makes them laborer. In the Black Hills (a small and isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America in western South Dakota) the native Sioux work as low-wage laborers in a white-owned tourism industry that promotes their culture and lands. In Burma some are forced into labor to build hotel accommodations by a government well known for its abuse of human rights. Today the corporate predators are following the same colonial policy to expand their territories and for the material riches . Are they any different from the predacious Christopher Columbus ? Who enslaved the people and seized their land to make a profit out of it ? Columbus made a business contract with the Queen and this small capitalist makes big contracts with the giant business tycoon. As Rosa Luxemburg says ” The expansion of the system which is required for capital accumulation could not only be orchestrated through process of accumulation which are internalized within the dynamics of capitalism but by having a place outside the dynamics of capitalism upon which capital accumulation will feed and that outside is actually registered through either colonial or imperialist policies. ” .

Today what we see is the return of colonial policy and the return of the Columbus. The brutality of the Bengali people for the sake of Bengali nationalism , Religious sentiments or for the increase in the accumulated wealth of the capitalist is nothing but a repetition of history whereas the indigenous are constantly fighting for their rights, for their lands and for their lives.

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