I believe, soon you read the long title, you’ve already assumed the context and contain. Yes, you are right! It’s about a story that we all need to know and share among kind hearted people. I will try to elaborate and expand your visual imagination that you’ve already built up. But before that, let’s know about something about history and present situation.
This is my second time writing this topic as I have lost my first writing which I believe was the better one than this. I felt sad but decided to write again. The loading of photos made my $200 phone so hot that it suddenly blackened and restarted. Then I lost everything I wrote. It was just about to publish but didn’t happen! Sad!
Anyway, let me give you a little geographical lesson before I jump on the story. But definitely related to Assam Bodhicāriya Elementary School and Chakma people. Chakma people are native to 3 countries…..India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. It’s not because they are a big population but mainly because of displacement, forced migration, fleeing from invasion and other persecution since decades and decades. Injustice started soon when CHT was annexed with Pakistan during the division of India. Since then 1947, struggling and statelessness of Chakma people became worse. But however, at present, Chakma people inhabited in 5 states in India, 3 hill tracts in Bangladesh and 1 state in Myanmar as their native territories. Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Mizoram, Tripura, West Bengal are the 5 states where Chakma people mostly inhabited in India. Khagrachari Hill District, Rangamati Hill District and Banderban Hill District are the 3 hill tracts in Bangladesh where Chakmas are inhabited. Rakhine state and Yangon capital city where most of Chakmas are in Myammar where they are known as Diangnet by other local tribes. Total population might be approximately ~1 million combined in these 3 countries. 80-90 thousands live in Myanmar and 8-9 hundred thousands live in India and Bangladesh where 55%-60% are in CHT, Bangladesh and rest in India.
Chakma people in Assam might be over 30,000 population, of whom only 21% are literate as per 2011 census. It’s no surprise why Assamese Chakmas are branded as orphans of Indian Chakmas. Chakma people are recognized as an indigenous tribe to Assam. They are registered as Scheduled Tribe in the state legislature. Most of Assamese Chakma people depend on shift cultivation where they burn top hills and grow rice and other plantations. Due to harsh livelihood, many of them migrated to Tripura or Arunachal Pradesh or Mizoram wherever possible for survival.
Since long time ago, Venerable Bimal Tissa Mahathero, the founder of Shishu Koruna Sangha extremely felt the need of a school for these underprivileged and deprived children who know nothing but just follow the step of daily routine of their parents. Meantime, Venerable Sadhanananda Mahathero also was fond to the community in Barlangfer, Lumding, Assam where his community brothers and sisters live. Ven, Sadhanarama Bhante had been visiting back and forth for a long time to Barlangfer. He even built a Buddhist temple there with bamboos for their spiritual needs. Being Buddhists but knowing nothing about Buddhism is another issue. On the other hand, Christian Missionaries are very active in Northeast India. Many Chakma Buddhist families converted to Christianity to get educational benefits and other necessities.
|Group of former Buddhist Chakmas who converted to Christianity in Mizoram.|
Converting to Christianity to receive benefits is not new here. Since the time of British colonization, Christian missionaries are serving the communities very well and they became successful too. Today, northeast India is a Christian dominated region. It’s not only northeast India but also Bangladesh too. Dozens of poor Buddhist and Hindu families were converted to Islam after their children are taken to Madrasas or after receiving a tin sheeted home instead of their hut that thatched with coconut leaves. But, anyway, thanks to Christian missionaries who are genuinely working for the society and providing high quality education. On the other hand, Islamic missionaries bear different stories in CHT, Bangladesh. There are plenty of revelations of human trafficking, forceful conversion, abduction of poor tribal children including Buddhist, Hindu and Christian to train them as radical Islamists in madrasas. If you search for news in Google, you will get many sources for that.
This is the biggest weakness of our Buddhist community. We really need some Buddhist missionaries who not only build huge pagodas but also schools, colleges, clinics, orphanages, elder homes for needy and helpless people. A Bodhisatva also must fulfill 3 practices…Ñāta cariyā, Lokatta cariyā, Buddhatta cariyā. Duties of relatives and community, duties of the common world and duties that needed for Buddhahood.
And that’s how the vision of Bodhicāriya Elementary School was born. With the immense blessings and spiritual guidance from Venerable Bimal Bhante, Venerable Sadhanananda Bhante started the school in 2017 with his own costs and expenses that he received from his random invitation and donations. He did all he could to maintain 3 years by himself with basic teaching fees from Ven Bimal Bhante. Rest, for foods, accommodations, cloths….everything he did by himself. He ploughed the field to grow food, planted vegetables to feed the residential novices and students, he cut the road to the school/vihara, went from hut to hut to propagate Buddhism……so many other charities.
But COVID-19 attacked the world and millions got affected. Bias and discrimination rang higher on the air. I shared a post in Facebook how Chakmas are being discriminated in Arunachal Pradesh in receiving local government reliefs and the story of Venerable Sadhanananda Bhante’s struggles in Assam. More worstly, the bamboo school he built was blown away in April-May 2020 in the strong storm. Hundreds of homes also flooded in Assam. So many natural disasters! Venerable Sadhanananda Bhante was lost at nowhere and almost gave up the school continuation. The school is located 12 km away from main Barlangfer rain station. It’s a remote village where villagers fetch drinking water after walking 20-30 minutes in each round. There is no vehicle accessible roads. People are extremely poor and uneducated. They don’t have proper environment to send their children to school or didn’t have money to do so. Some of them even don’t have birth certificates, ID cards, ration cards. They were socially unaware, undeveloped but very innocent and hard working. Thanks to Venerable Priyopal Mahathero, the abbot of Chakma Buddhist Temple in Bodhgaya who is also well aware about laws and legalities. Only after his legal appeals to the government, dozens of Chakma families got their legal rights of obtaining mandatory documents and understood the importance of their documentations.
I shared my Facebook post in April-May 2020, a very generous and kind hearted Buddhist monk,
Ven. Saddha Yongjun from Malaysia saw it and decided to fundraise for COVID-19 affected people as well as for the school. The power of Dana, the Generosity is really incomparable and powerful. 1-2-3 thousands of people donated who are also his devoted followers and practice Dhamma. Donors from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, USA, poured their compassion and generosity on Assam and we shared it to other places too. Individual donors from India, France, Japan, Sri Lanka also participated after seeing Ven Sadhanananda Bhante’s dedication and hard works to uplift the society. Thus, we distributed COVID-19 reliefs in 4 states of Northeast India to more than 3000 families, more than 1500 in Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh and also helped a teenage Chakma girl for medical expenses who lost her leg in mortars in a conflict between Arakan army and Burmese army in Rakhine state. Today, because of all of those generous people, a hundred children will able to make their dream come true…A New School for their life and for their future. This is not the final….please keep supporting even in future for their daily foods, accommodations and other necessities. Also visit them one day in future. Assam is beautiful and northeast India is incredibly beautiful!
Let’s encourage our brothers and sisters to engage more in social activities and charities. Let’s spread love and compassion with practical action. Even the Buddha showed us that example by helping the helpless. He treated Ven Putigata Tissa, a sick monk who was abandoned and neglected by his brother monks due to his rotting body full of wounds and unbearable smells. But the Buddha with his unlimited compassion, cleaned him, bathed him, put him on new robes, cleaned his messy room and preached him until he become enlightened and liberated from suffering.Then he advised others that we should look after each other. Helping the helpless one is same as helping the Buddha. Buddha is not a person but an ocean of great qualities.
Let’s follow the Buddha and his teachings of loving kindness and compassion with actual actions.
Let’s follow the kindness and compassion.
Let’s all fight against illiteracy, poverty, hunger, discrimination, racism, ignorance and mostly against violence.
Let’s do it practically rather than just verbally.
May loving and living beings be freed from sickness, danger, hunger, poverty, illiteracy.
May they be well, happy, peaceful and prosperous.