Bihari Chakma, Rangamati: High and low hills all around. A bamboo house hangs over him. Severe fresh water shortage. Electricity is a problem. Herbal treatmentis the hope in sickness and adversity. The way of travel is river or stream. The rest of the way is uphill. Parents of these remote areas never dreamed that their children would learn and go to school.
The hills have undergone drastic changes in the last two decades. Even in those backward hills there is a touch of development. Electric lamps are now burning in remote mountains. A wide paved road has been built. Cultivation has increased in the plains as well as in the hills of medium height. Tourist centers, improved road system – all in all, the life of the hill people has changed. Bangladesh army has made a big contribution behind this. In the three hill districts of Bandarban, Khagrachari and Rangamati, the development work is still going on under the supervision of the army.
Khumis have the lowest education rate and population among the eleven micro-ethnic groups in Chittagong Hill Tracts. This relatively backward Khumi community lives only in Bandarban district. However, the rate of higher education among people of other ethnic groups is increasing. Where there were no schools, colleges or universities in the remote hills, the total number of educational institutions in the hilly areas is 2800.
Basically, in the light of the peace agreement, especially as the rate of higher education has increased, colleges, universities and medical colleges have also increased. Before the treaty, there were no universities in the hilly areas. At present there are three science and technology universities in three hill districts. Besides, only Rangamati Medical College was established in Rangamati in 2014.
LinkuKhumi is a resident of Rungtan Para in Remakriprangsa Union of Ruma Upazila of Bandarban. He is a child of a poor family living next to Bagalek in Ruma Upazila. Ruma passed SSC from Tribal Residential School and HSC from Collectorate School and College in Bandarban city. This year, LinkuKhumi has been admitted to the Department of Philosophy of Chittagong University.
Singh Aung Khumi, president of Khumi Social Council, a social organization of Khumis, said, “In addition to being small in population, Khumis as a community are backward in terms of socio-economics and higher education. Although many people want to study, they do not get the opportunity to study in higher education due to obstacles. But now many are leaning towards higher education.
For ages the hilly areas of Chittagong were unprotected. A sanctuary for terrorists and extremists. The conflicting activities of the groups often resulted in casualties. State repression was attempted in an undemocratic manner. After the Awami League government came to power in 1996, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took the initiative to bring peace to the hills. Then on December 2, 1997, after several rounds of dialogue between the government and the Chittagong Hill Tracts People’s Solidarity Association, the Hill Peace Treaty was signed constitutionally in accordance with the laws and regulations of Bangladesh. It was a historic and landmark agreement.
Only one percent of the total population of Bangladesh lives in the three hill districts. The army is also doing welfare work for the small ethnic groups keeping the health and safety risks of the hilly areas at bay. That is why uniformed army personnel are very popular among the tribal minorities. After the peace accord, the social and economic development of the hill communities is now visible by bringing peace to the hill districts as well as building a network of physical infrastructure and communication systems. There were many places in the mountains where it was difficult to go. There is also a road now. Army is also involved in health, education and income generation activities.
There are 2,064 primary schools, 600 secondary schools and 51 colleges in the hilly areas. Besides, three science and technology universities have been established in three districts and a medical college in Rangamati.
Besides, the number of educational institutions established and managed by the army is 23. The number of educational institutions which they provide regular support is 58.
Talk to Anjulika Khisa, former headmistress of Rangamati Government Girls High School. When asked about the early days of teaching, he said that after completing his graduation in 1970, he started teaching in the present Kanthaltali Government Primary School on 22 February 1971. She was the only female teacher at that time. After that he taught for 35 years. Later, she assumed the responsibility of the head teacher and in addition to her duties as the head teacher, she also performed the duties of the district education officer as an additional responsibility. This education enthusiast retired as District Education Officer in 2007.
Speaking about the education environment in the hill town at that time, this woman said, ‘The population in the Rangamati hill district was very small at that time. Among those who lived there was little interest in learning. This township was very backward especially in female education. In order to advance the society and the country, women must be educated.
He also said, “I went to different houses in the hill villages and told the parents about the importance of women’s education and encouraged them.” While doing these things I had to face many social obstacles. But once I was able to overcome these obstacles. Gradually parents started sending their daughters to school.
Professor of Islamic History and Culture Department of Dhaka University. Md. Abdur Rahim told, ‘Road connectivity has brought speed to the slow mountain life. Life that depended on nature and destiny has been changed by the touch of science and technology. A mix of tradition and modernity has brought changes in the life of the hill community. Paharis are now studying in different universities of the country including Dhaka University. In the field of education and employment, the interest in education is increasing as the quota of Paharis continues.
Bandarban University Registrar (Acting) Omar Farooq Rubel told, “This university has been established to educate the backward people of the hill region in higher education.”
Rangamati Hill District Council Chairman AngsuiPru Chowdhury told, ‘The situation in the hilly areas has improved a lot. We Pahari-Bengali are living in the bond of mutual harmony. Mistrust among each other has decreased. We are much better than before. 30 departments and offices including education, health and land in three hill districts have been handed over to us by the government. We are working on them. The quality and rate of education has increased in the hilly areas.
Khagrachari District Commissioner Md. Sahiduzzaman told, “In terms of education, the problem in the hilly areas was dropout students. This number was countless. Children drop out of school suddenly due to various reasons. Now that situation has changed. Higher education institutions have been built in three hill districts. After completing primary, secondary, higher secondary and university, the current students are now trying for jobs.
Dipankar Talukdar, the former state minister of the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs told, ‘It has been 26 years since the Chittagong Hill Tracts Agreement. In the long 26 years, many educational institutions have been built in the hilly areas. Children from remote hills used to walk to school for two to three hours. Now it takes only 10 to 15 minutes. As a result, children are going to school more than before. Abhibhaks are also sending their children to school for education.
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