Programmes of the United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF)
The people of Chittagong Hill Tracts have been waging a struggle for emancipation from internal colonization, exploitation and repression unleashed by the ultra-nationalist ruling elites of Bangladesh. Prior to British aggression, the ethnic nationalities inhabiting the area were unfettered by external intervention and enjoyed freedom. After colonizing the whole of India, the British imperialists began invasion of Chittagong Hill Tracts (known as Karpas Mahal at the time) which led to a fourteen-year long armed resistance waged by the people of the area against it. Subsequently, in 1787 a treaty was signed between the two parties at FortWilliam in Kolkata ending the war. The treaty acknowledged the sovereign entity of the Raja (chief) of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. However, the cunning British colonialists reneged on the treaty and gradually brought the CHT under their control. Thus ended the sovereign entity of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and British colonial rule was established. In order to serve imperial design, the status of the Chittagong Hill Tracts was downgraded from an independent kingdom to the level of a district (of Bengal).
In 1947, direct British colonial rule ended in India and two states – India and Pakistan – came into being on the basis of a two-nation theory, which was communal in nature. In total disregard of the opinion of the Hill people, the British awarded Chittagong Hill Tracts to Pakistan. Afterwards, when in 1971 the East Pakistan seceded and a new independent state Bangladesh was born, the CHT became a part of it. Thus in the whole process, the CHT, which are inhabited by the Chakmas, the Marmas, the Tripuras, the Murungs, the Bawms, the Chaks, the Khiyangs, the Pankos, the Lusais and the Tonchongyas, have changed hands, but the long lost rights of the people have not been restored yet. During the period of British rule, thanks to the introduction of settled farming method and modern education, a middle class emerged among the hill people in general and the Chakmas in particular. However, after the construction of Kapatai dam in the 1960s, during the period of Pakistan, the CHT witnessed an unprecedented spread of education that was necessitated by an urge to change profession. This in turn had expedited the growth and development of this new class and resulted in the emergence of nationalist ideals. In the 1970s and 1980s, nationalist movement led by this class reached its peak. But due to inherent class limitations, ideological and theoretical weakness and above all the stagnant situation prevailing over a long period in the progressive democratic movement in the country, this nationalist movement led by the Jana Sanghati Samiti came to an end with the signing of a peace deal in 1997. As the accord between the government and the Jana Sanghati Samiti failed to address the issue of the right to self-determination, the people of Chittagong Hill Tracts felt the need for a new party, which would be guided by a modern outlook and formed by an army of well disciplined activists. Just in this background Hill Student’s Council, Hill People’s Council and Hill Women’s Federation met in a party preparatory conference in Dhaka from 25 – 26 December 1998 and founded the United Peoples Democratic Front or UPDF, the Party of a New Era. The Party will lead the movement to implement the following programmes: Short-term programmes:
- To build a genuine democratic society free from exploitation and oppression on the basis of equal rights and dignity for all nations and peoples through the establishment of self-determination in the Chittagong Hill Tracts;
- To oppose extreme Bengali nationalistic chauvinism and the policy of ultra communalism on the one hand, and narrow nationalism of the ethnic Jumma nationalities on the other.
2. The military
To end military rule in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and emancipate the people from military repression.
3. The settlers
To oppose the use of the settlers as a tool of national repression and maintaining ultra nationalist domination. To ensure their basic minimum needs until they are rehabilitated in the plain land.
- To achieve recognition to the traditional land right and to the full right to land management in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. To distribute among the landless peoples all the communally owned lands other than the individually owned lands and to hand over to the local self-governed institutions the management of land leased out to individual entrepreneurs in the name of creating tea, orange and rubber plantation.
- To put an end to illegal occupation of land and eviction of Jumma people from their lands.
5. Language, education, culture and religion
- To establish the right to language of all the national minorities and take effective measures to promote their language. To prepare textbooks and impart education up to primary level in the national minorities’ own languages.
- To resist aggression of hegemonic culture. To root out anachronistic feudalist culture and thoughts to pave the way for the growth and development of democratic culture. To preserve and promote whatever humane and progressive is found in the ethnic nationalities’ societies.
- To eliminate religious discrimination and ensure the right to practice one’s own religious belief.
- To spread education in remote hilly areas and take special measures to eradicate illiteracy.
6. Women’s rights
a. To stop all kinds of repression on women in Chittagong Hill Tracts including military repression on Jumma women. b. To establish equal rights for women in all spheres of life including land and property provided it does not impair the culture and tradition of the ethnic nationalities.
7. Microscopic nationalities and physically challenged persons
- To take special measures for the overall development of microscopic nationalities residing in the CHT other than the Chakmas, Marmas and Tripuras.
- To establish dignity for the physically challenged persons and take appropriate measures to rehabilitate them.
8. Old settler Bengalis
To accord permanent resident status to the old Bengali settlers in Chittagong Hill Tracts and to ensure that they enjoy their civil rights.
9. Trade and industry
To take effective steps to expand small and cottage industries and promote trade and commerce. To this end, a cooperative bank with local capital investment shall be established.
10. Agriculture and Jum farming
- To meet the demand for loan for agricultural production and ensure availability of agricultural implements. To control usury in the interest of the poor peasants.
- To strictly control jum farming (slash and burn cultivation) and take steps to introduce modern farming in the hills. To rehabilitate Jum farmers with alternative means of livelihood.
- To provide incentives to the people to create various kinds of fruits gardens.
- To prevent wanton destruction of forests for commercial purposes and to prohibit import and cultivation of non-local species of plants, fishes and other marine life that is harmful to the local environment and bio-diversity.
- To take effective steps to preserve bio-diversity and to ban and put a stop to the killing, trading and export of endangered species of wildlife.
12. Mineral and natural resources
To prevent the plunder of mineral and natural resources of Chittagong Hill Tracts and to establish local people’s rights to and control over these resources.
13. Health care
- To ensure the right to free medical service; to take effective measures to eradicate malaria; to take steps to reach the medical care to the doorsteps of the people by increasing the number of hospitals and healthcare centres; to establish medical college, homeo-medical college and nurse training centres in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
- To provide recognition to the traditional Medicare system based on herbal medicine and to take effective measures to mordernise this system.
14. Sports and entertainment
- To arrange for healthy recreation for the people and to ban the exhibition of vulgar films and the sale and distribution of obscene books, CD, DVD and magazine.
- To establish a regional sporting institution for the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
To organise the promotion of tourism industry in such a manner that it does not put at risk the tradition, culture and survival of the ethnic nationalities.
To take local defence initiatives in order to complement the democratically built up national defence system and to involve the people in it.
- To strictly control the activities of the NGOs and stop the activities of those NGOs which are engaged in deception and espionage in the name of conducting development programmes;
- To stop exploitation of poor people in the name of providing micro credit.
18. National development
To take all out efforts to build Chittagong Hill Tracts as a model for national development and to play an effective role in national development.
19. National minorities in plain land
To support the just causes of the national ethnic minorities of the plain land in the country and to forge unity with them in order to achieve and defend the rights of all the ethnic nationalities.
20. Democratic struggles home and abroad
To support the progressive democratic struggles of the people home and abroad.
The implementation of the abovementioned programmes requires political power. Initiatives would be taken to implement these programmes through the regional autonomous institution to be set up with direct participation of the people after the establishment of self-determination in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The achievement of full right to self-determination is dependent upon the victory of the genuine democratic and progressive forces of the country. Therefore, the Party will take initiative to link the struggle of the CHT people with the revolutionary movement of the country.
[Adopted unanimously at the first national congress of the Party held in Dhaka from 26 – 28 November 2006]