INTRODUCTION TO THE CHAKMAS
The Chakmas are one of the Buddhist communities in the Indian sub-continent. Chakma tribe is also one of the few tribes which have preserved Buddhism in the North East as well as the whole part of India. They are also the largest tribe in Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh and one of 135 recognized tribes in Myanmar where they are known as Diangnet. Chakmas pronounce themeselves as ‘Changma (chang-ma)’. They have their own age old culture, language and scripts. They practice shifting cultivation called JUM. They grow paddy, maize, cotton, sesame etc. in their JUM along with vegetables and spices. They also know the art of low land cultivation.
They primarily live in the Chittagong Hills Tracts of Bangladesh, Chin and Arakan provinces of Myanmar (Burma), in the North-Eastern Indian states of Mizoram (along the international boundary with Bangladesh), in the northern and southern districts of Tripura, in the Tirap, Changlang, Subansuri and Lohit districts of Arunachal Pradesh, in the Langsilet area of Karbi-Anglang and north Cachar Hills districts and Cachar districts of Assam and a few families in West Bengal. The present population of the Chakmas is about 5-6 lakhs in Bangladesh, 80,000 – 100,000 in Mizoram, 60-70 thousands in Arunachal Pradesh, 40-50 thousands in Tripura and about 30 thousands in Assam. The regions in which the Chakma population lives fall between 21⁰ to 28⁰ north latitude and 89⁰ to 94⁰ east longitude.
Prior to the British Rule in India, the Chakmas had an independent kingdom which consisted of the present Chittagong Hills Tracts, the portion of Chittagong district of Bangladesh up to Dhaka Trunk Road (Nizampur Road) and some areas bordering the southern parts of Mizoram. As per Harry Barrylast, the Chief of Chittagong district – the Chakma Kingdom extended as follows in 1768:
After a prolonged war with the Mughals, the Chakmas King was required to pay in eleven mounds of cotton annually as tribute to the Mughals in return for trade and peace as per Business Treaty signed in 1715. (Source: Chakma Jatir Itibritta by Biraj Moha Dewan). After the British East India Company took over the administration of Bengal in 1757, the tribute was transferred to the British. The British did not interfere in the Administration of the Chakma Kingdom until 1777, when they demanded more tribute. When the Chakma King refused, the British led two expeditions under Mr. Lene in 1777 and Mr. Turman in 1780 into the Chakma Kingdom. The British Expeditions were not successful. The Chakma Commander Ronu Khan attacked them at every opportunity with the assistance of the Kukis. The British then blocked all supplies to the hills and sealed markets to force them to surrender. As a result the common subjects suffered miserably. When the misery of the subjects went beyond tolerance, the King Jan Bux Khan was forced to the negotiating table with the Governor General, Lord Cornwallis at Calcutta in 1787. The Chakma King signed an agreement to pay 501 mounds of cotton. In the year 1791, the British revised the tribute to 1,815 Rupees in lieu of cotton. It was again revised to 2,822 Rupees in 1832 and 2,584 Rupees in 1837.
The British however did not interfere in the internal administration of the Kingdom until 1861, when they built an administrative office at Chandraghona. From the year 1866 Capt. T. H. Lewin was transferred to Chittagong Hills Tract, the powers and the boundary of the Chakma Kingdom started decreasing day-by-day. Twenty six places of the Chakma Kingdom were ceded to Chittagong Plain district and the Chakma Kingdom was transformed into a mere Circle dividing it into three Circles – Maung, Bhomang and Chakma. Many of the power of the Raja were striped and the title ‘RAJA’ was reduced to ‘CHIEF’. And in 1891, Demagiri and adjoining areas were merged to the North and South Lushai Hills for Administrative purposes. As a result, the Chakma Kingdom had to forgo its land and subjects beyond the rivers Thega and Sajek. Such a treatment on the part of Capt. Lewin is said to be due to personal misunderstanding between Capt. Lewin and Chakma Queen Kalindi Rani.
At the time of India’s partition on religious lines, the Chakmas petitioned senior Indian leaders including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Saradar Vallabhbhai Patel for the inclusion of Chittagong Hill Tracts into the Indian Union. Chittagong Hill Tracts had a 98% non-muslim population and the Indian leaders assured the Chakma leaders that there was no question of the CHT being awarded to Pakistan. At the hearing of the Bengal Boundary Commission, Mr. Sneha Kumar Chakma passionately argued for the inclusion of CHT into the Indian Union. Ironically, the Chairman of the Bengal Boundary Commission Sir Cyrill Redcliff was absent in the meeting and later awarded the Chittagong Hill Tracts to Pakistan. Lord Mountbatten the Governor General of India was aware of this controversial award but did not disclose this to senior Indian leaders before Independence for fear of the celebrations being marred by protests. He recounts in his Autobiography that he feared the senior Indian leaders would boycott the celebrations completely had he disclosed the controversial award before Independence. The people of Chittagong Hill Tracts hoisted the Indian flag in Rangamati in celebration of India’s Independence completely unaware that the CHT was awarded to Pakistan. Three days later the Indian flag was pulled down by the Pakistani Army.
THE ORIGIN OF CHAKMA PEOPLE
There’s a lot of debate amongst the scholars about the origin of this ethnic group. The cultural and linguistic affinity of the Chakmas are still debated and a conclusive decision hasn’t been made as yet. Many theories with regard to their origin have been put forward. Many Chakma and non-Chakma writers like Biraj Mahon Dewan, Capt. T.H. Lewin, have written about the origin and lifestyle of this ethnic group. Capt. T.H. Lewin, the then Deputy Commissioner of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, also mentioned briefly about the origin of the Chakmas in his book, “The Hill Tracts of Chittagong and the dwellers therein”. He spelt the name as Chukma, Tsakma, or Tsak.
The origin of the Chakmas is obscure and is very difficult to locate their origin due to paucity of historical evidence. Animesh Ray opines that the Chakmas came from Champa in Cambodia. According to R.H.S.Hutchinson, the Chakmas are the offspring of the union between the Moghul soldiers and the Arakanese women. It is a deniable theory since the existence of the Chakmas can be traced back to the Arakan region before the establishment of the Mughal rule in India. He further states that the Chakmas are undoubtedly Arakanese origin. Besides, there is another theory that the Chakmas belong to the eastern group of Indo-Aryan family.
From the above discussion, we can derive four theories regarding the origin of the Chakmas:
- Cambodian and Malay Origin theory,
- Mixed origin theory,
- Arakan origin theory and
- Indian origin theory
The majority of the Chakmas are followers of Buddhism and some of them were converted to Christianity, specially in Mizoram and CHT. Majority of this ethnic community is present in the Indo-Bangla sub-continent residing mainly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of present day Eastern Bangladesh. Many of the Chakmas have even settled in parts of Tripura, Mizoram, Assam, West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh with some even residin g in Arakan in Myanmar. After the Karnafuli Hydro electric dam in the 1960’s and the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, a large number of Chakma population migrated to India, Burma, Australia, Europe and North America.
The Chakmas do not believe in the caste system. They are divided into three major groups viz. Anokya Chakma, Tongchongya Chakma and the Doinakya Chakma (Diangnet). The Anokya Chakmas are the main group of the Chakmas living in Chittagong of Bangladesh, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Assam of India. The Arakanese called the Chittagong area of Bangladesh as Anok and the dwellers of Anok area known as Anokya. The Tongchongya Chakmas are the second group of the Chakmas living in Bangladesh, Arakan, Tripura and Mizoram. They first settled on the bank of the Toingang River to join with the mainstream Chakmas. The dwellers of Toingang are known as Toingangya and from Toingangya to Tonchongya or Tontongya. The Doinakya Chakmas are the third group of the Chakmas living in Arakan. They are descendents of those 10,000 soldiers who were made slaves by King Minthi and settled them at the Yangkong place. They were renamed as Doinnak and allowed to marry with the local girls. Here Doinnak means shield holder or warrior in Burmese language.
The Chakma history, called BIJOK also seems self-contradictory sometimes. However, all the writers exaggerated of the originality of their manuscripts and that the original manuscript was written in Chakma script Awjhapat (derived from Brahmi) on Palm Leaves which have been handed over to them by their elders stating those were recorded by their forefathers. The legendary folklore singers, Geingkulees also fail to give a consistent account of the origin of the Chakmas. All these historical accounts and the folk songs based on traditional beliefs which have been transmitted from generation to generation. However, all the writers of Bijok and GEINGKULEE singers mostly agree on the following points on the origins and history of the Chakmas that
1. Chakmas are Suryo Vangshi and Khattiya(Kshatriya or warrior clan in Sanskrit),
2. They are the descendants of the Sakyas,
3. Their original capital was Kalapnagar,
4. Their second capital was Champaknagar,
5. They conquered new land to the south-west of Champaknagar (Around 5th CE?) by crossing the river Lohita and named it KALABAGHA after the General. The capital of this new land was also named Champaknagar after the previous Capital. From this Champaknagar the prince and the Governor of Kalabagha, Bijoygiri led expedition against the MOGAL or Moghal (Mongol?) with the help of the Hosui Troops, provided by the King of Tripura.
During this expedition, Radha Mohan and Kunjha Dhan were his commanders and they conquered many countries which include the Magh, Kukis, Axas, Khyengs, Kanchana Desha, and other kingdoms making Chadigang(Present CHT and parts of present Tripura, Mizoram and Arakan) as their base. These expeditions said to have lasted for twelve years for Radha Mohan and Khunja Dhan. Receiving the news of conquering new lands by Radha Mohan and Khunja Dhan, Chakma Prince Bijoygiri went forward up to Safrai Valley to receive the commanders and returned back to Chadigang with them. Here, he learnt the news of his father’s death and of his younger brother ascending of throne. After seven days of mourning for his father, he decided not to return to the Kingdom but establish a new Kingdom at Safrai Valley. He also gave option to his men to return to the old Kingdom or live with him. Radha Mohan is said to have returned and Khunja Dhan remained with him. He also permitted his men to marry girls from the defeated Kingdom. He himself married an ARI girl and thus established a new Kingdom named RAMPUDI (Ramavati?) at the Safrai Valley. Afterwards, Kalabagha Kingdom was annexed by the Tripura King and communication with the old Champaknagar was totally cut off. The capital of the Chakma kingdom was later named Manijgir.
In 1333, Burmese king Mengdi or Minthi with the help of the Portuguese attacked Manijgir or Moisagiri through deceitful means and brought its downfall. He made King Arunjug his captive along with the subjects and settled them in different places. After a hard attempt a group of the Chakmas could somehow make a habitation at MONGZAMBROO. After sometime they had to flee again to CHOKKAIDAO of Kaladan due to unbearable atrocities of the Maghs (Chakmas refer Maghs to Burmese). From Chokkaidao, they sought permission for settlement in Bengal and Nawab Jalaluddin, the son of Raja Ganesh granted them settlement in twelve villages at Chadigang. It was only in 1418 they could flee to Bengal and settle in twelve places leaving behind the group of Doinaks and the followers of the second prince, in Burma. From these twelve villages, after many ups and downs, the Chakma Kingdom was established at Chittagong Hills Tract, which lasted there until the British transformed it into a mere Circle. Then unfortunately Chittagong Hill Tracts was awarded to Pakistan in 1947 during India’s independence, though there were 98% non-Muslims.
#Other names: Changma, Daingnet, Chacomas, Tsak-ma, Ca-ga-ma, Tsa-ka-ma, Tsakma, Chukma, Tsaks, Sak, Thek, Theiks, Thet, Khyoungtha as mentioned in different books written in 15th, 16tg, 17th, 18th, 19th century.
Also Chakmas are classified in three main groups in their different circumstances in the history. They are 1. Anok (First group that migrated to present CHT and surrounding regions of northeast India in 5th-6th CE), 2. Tonchongya (Second group that migrated to CHT in 15th-16th CE. Also known as Ton-Nyongya by Anok Chakmas) 3. Doinak (Those Chakmas who remained in present Myanmar)
Chakma (Indo-Aryan just like other Indian languages such as Pāli, Sanskrit, Hindi, Assamese, Punjabi, Bengali etc.) and almost all Chakmas are multi-lingual. They speak more than 2 languages in average. All Indian Chakmas speak Chakma, Hindi, Assamese, English while CHT Chakmas speak Chakma, Bengali, Hindi, English and Myanmar Chakmas speak Chakma, Rakhine, Burmese.
#Literacy: Approximately 65%-80% (Combined India, Myanmar and Bangladesh). Those in overseas are 100% literates.
#Script: Chakma Script Awjhapat
#Religion: Theravada Buddhism
#Native Countries: India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
#Overseas Diaspora: USA, Canada, France, Australia, Japan, South Korea, UK, Singapore, Malaysia.
Worldwide Population: 0.8 million.
1. India: 300,000-350,000 (In Northeast India)
Tripura: 92,000-100,000 (Their main concentration in Tripura could be located at Belonia, Subroom and Amarpur in South Tripura, Dhalai and North Tripura District at Chamanu, Gandacherra, Kanchanpur, Machmara, Unakoti district, Agartala and other parts of the state. )
Mizoram: 96,000-100,00 (Chakma Autonomous District Council territory and nearby regions)
Arunachal Pradesh: 60,000-70,000 ( Changlang, Papumpare, and Namsai in these three districts respectively of Arunachal Pradesh)
Assam: 20,000-30,000 ( In the Langsilet area of Karbi-Anglang and north Cachar Hills districts and Cachar districts of Assam)
West Bengal: 500-1000
New Delhi: 200-600
Maharashtra: 100-200 (Mumbai, Nagpur)
2. Bangladesh: 450,000 (Mostly in Three Hill districts of Chittagong Hill Tracts:- Rangamati, Khagrachari, Banderban)
3. Myanmar: 80,000-90,000 (In Rakhine State)
4. Overseas: 3000-4000
South Korea: 100-400
Chakmas are Indians in mind, in body, in thoughts, in linguistic sense, in cultural value, in religious value. Chakmas are the only community that followed Buddhist since their known history. Chakma is the only Tibeto-Burman ethnic tribe that speak Indian IndoAryan unlike other Northeasteen tribes who speak migrant languages from China, Tibet, Myanmar. Their migration root started from ancient India and Himalayan territory, then migrated to Myanmar via Kamarupa(old name of Assam), in Myanmar they are the ancient Indian descendents with Indo-Aryan language being Tibeto-Burman ethnic group and known as Thet who are descendents of Buddha’s Sakya clan of Himalaya, and again due to various political, geographical reasons, they were pushed back to Arakan and CHT, Tripura, Mizoram, Assam at modern time. And again group of them were taken to Arunachal Pradesh by Indian government in 1964.
British failed to convert Chakmas to Christianity unlike other tribes in Northeast India. Even after 200 years in Indian subcontinent, only a tiny number of population who are mostly with poor family background converted to Christianity in Mizoram as well as in CHT. And instead being part of Northeast India, CHT was given to Pakistan in 1947. On the other hand, whoever embraced and converted Christianity got a territory or a separate state divided by British. As an example, now Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and many tribes in Northeast India and even Bangladesh and Myanmar were converted to Christianity by British Missionary and that plot is still going on.
Chakmas remained with Indian origin Buddhism because they are devoted to their Sakya root of Buddha and India.