Ethnicity and environment : 'tribal culture' and the state in Bangladesh
This thesis investigates the current predicament of the people of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh, a population with significant cultural differentiation from the mainstream Bengali population. Dealing with the issues of their survival in the forest and their quest for identity, the research explores how their ethnicity and environment are intertwined. This is examined in the context of state policies towards non-Bengali ethnic minorities in the CHT. The study identifies sources of diversity at the micro level and the forces that create conditions for 'unity in diversity' at the macro level. One is the assertion of 'self-image' on the basis of cultural polarity within the confines of a multi-ethnic locality. The other is the assertion of 'collective image' as unifying forces stemming from the notion of shared deprivation and marginalisation generated by conditions of the State and State institutions. This ethnographic study is based on two years fieldwork between January 1999 and December 2000 among three ethnic groups, Marma, Bawm and Tanchanga in Banderban district of southern CHT. The thesis is divided into three main parts. Part one deals with research context, the historical development in CHT and the main theoretical issues concerning the relationships between ethnicity, social movement and indigenous land rights. The second part looks at local perceptions of settlement, locality and village organisation and at the dimensions of linguistic identity at both group and collective levels. The third part examines broader issues, events and processes concerning ethnic mobilisation around the traditional land use system, jhum, and the politics of khas land, based on case materials of how jhum lands are leased out to Bengalis. This is followed by analysis of local electoral processes and a concluding discussion of 'ethnic mobilisation', 'multi-ethnicity', and 'social movements'. The study promotes a deeper understanding of the multi-ethnic nature of the Bangladeshi State and provides a more balanced assessment of the relationship between ethnicity, environment, development and the state. It also contributes to the wider anthropology of forest-dwelling peoples of South Asia. It challenges the political use of environmentalism and anthropological knowledge in national and regional disputes over the control and use of natural resources.