Mother Teresa urged Ven. Bimal Bhante to build a church for Chakma Buddhist refugees in Tripura , 1986

Most respected Chakma Buddhist monk Venerable Bimal Bhante working as a young social worker for racially and religiously discriminated people.

Unarguably the most respected Venerable Bimal Tissa Mahathero (Bimal Bhante) is the most well known religious figure and social worker among our Chakma community. From the time of his early college life inherited from  his teacher, the present Sangha Supreme Patriarch most respected Venerable Gnanasri Mahathero, Ven Bimal Bhante engaged in various social and religious works for the tribal people in India and Bangladesh since early 1970s. Ven. Bimal Bhante, Ven. Praggananda Bhikkhu, Ven. Shraddhalankar Bhikkhu, Ven. Praggalankar  and Ven. Priya Tisso (Now Mr. Sajjan Chakma) were 5 disciples of Venerable Gnanasri Mahathero. Today most of his discples established several orphanage schools and temples across India and Bangladesh.  When the Great Britain divided Great India in 1947 based on Muslims and Hindus along with other non Muslims, with whole heart and high expectation, tribal people specially the largest tribe, Chakmas in Chittagong Hill Tracts wanted to join with northeast India. Unfortunately, instead annexing CHT with India, the inhabited lands of Chakmas were divided into two countries. This unfair and injustice had been happening from centuries that Chakmas became stateless in their own ancestral lands. With India’s partition, Chakma inhabited lands along with population were reluctantly separated into different country boundaries where 40% (~350,000)  of Chakma population belong to India, 50% (~440,000) in Chittagong Hill Tracts and 10% (~80,000) in Myanmar.

Map Source:  Anonymous

Dark chapter and cursed lives started for Chakma Buddhists and other non Muslim tribal indigenous minorities in CHT. In 1964, 100,000 people were displaced within nights and they lost everything they had including their ancestral homes and lands that gone under the Kaptai lake which devoured 40% of only cultivable lands of CHT. 45,000 Chakma Buddhist and Hindu Hajong population were settled to North East Frontier Agency (now Arunachal Pradesh) by then Indian government of Indira Gandhi but for 3 generations, they still waiting for their citizenship right, birth certificate right, schedule tribe certificate right, voter rights in the state and yet to achieve their rights. Even after two supreme court’s orders, they are still neglected and isolated from getting their rights and documents that made them impossible for studying or getting any state government related jobs. Without birth certificate, permanent resident certificate, schedule tribe certificate, voter card; is impossible to get higher education and decent jobs to make a better life. For 3 generations and more than a half century, they have been facing alienation and racial discrimination.

A raped victim survival showing her scar of cut by Bengali muslims

Despite raising the Indian flag at Chakma capital in Rangamati on the day of partition in 1947 didn’t work out and it was taken down by Pakistani Islamic force and declared as a territory of Islamic state Pakistan. Again, East Pakistan fought against West Pakistan resulting another Islamic state as Bangladesh in 1971. More troubles and ethnic cleansing started in Chittagong Hill Tracts where Chakma Buddhists and other indigenous minorities fled for lives with different groups at different periods since 1980. Thousands of Chakma Buddhist people took shelter along with already inhabited Chakmas  in Tripura and Mizoram between 1980-1995 (Read more Chakma took refuge in Tripura and Mizoram). More than 13 genocides  (read more Massacres in the CHT) occurred in Chittagong Hill Tracts by Muslim Bengalis with direct and indirect support from Bangladesh military.

This is when Venerable Bimal Bhante played the biggest role to stand by own Buddhist minorities and raise voice against atrocities that they face from radicals. There were uncountable times when he was targeted to be killed or captured by Bangladesh military and even by own separatist community who did not support his social and religious works for the community. Through his daring dedication and sacrifice for the Buddhist community and other indigenous tribal minorities, he brought broad international attention on silent mass genocide of Buddhist minorities in CHT.  He traveled worldwide beginning in 1980 for international conferences and working with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Survival, United Nation and few other human rights organizations. He built good relationship with France and other European nations and also with USA. When hundreds of Chakma Buddhists were massacred in Kaokhali, CHT on 25th March in 1980 (read more Massacres in the CHT), he was the one who brought up that silent genocide to the world. Hundreds of Buddhist and Hindu families fled CHT and took refuge in Tripura.

Selected 72 children from Tripura refugee camps to be adopted in France., 1972
Refugee life in Tripura, 1986
Traumatized faces of lost family members.Traumatized Chakma Buddhists in Tripura, 1986

Venerable Bimal Bhante met Mother Teresa in 1987 when other Buddhist Chakma groups arrived in Tripura refugee camps. Thousands fled for lives and came with nothing! Many of those Chakmas camped in Karbook, Gandhacherra, Pancharatan and other places in Tripura. Many others also took refuge with other Chakmas along with India-Bangladesh borders in Mizoram where Chakmas were already there in their ancestral lands but separated during the India partition in 1947. Mizoram is the only state in entire world where Chakma people have their own administered territory. Chakma Autonomous District Council is the only piece of land where Chakma people can claim as their “Chakmaland”.

Chakma population in India (approximated)
Chakma population in Bangladesh (approximated)

After meeting with Mother Teresa, most respected Bimal Bhante with respectfully requested from Mother Teresa to help Buddhist refugees in Tripura. Ven Bimal Bhante praised her as the kind Mother of all and should stand by these traumatized refugees as their Mother. But Mother Teresa demanded an unexpected condition from Ven. Bimal Bhante that he must build a church first, and then she can send 4 sisters to take care of the church and support the refugees. Being a Buddhist monk, it was hard for Ven. Bimal Bhante to fulfill Mother Teresa’s request and explained to her that, these Buddhist people have nothing and they can’t even afford any bamboo and other materials to build a church. Meantime, when Ven. Bimal Bhante was negotiating with Mother Teresa’s organization, there were other Buddhist and village leaders blamed and branded Bhante as a Christian Broker who is trying to convert Buddhist people into Christianity. Eventually that support did not happen and Venerable Bimal Bhante had to find another way to support helpless own Buddhist community in Tripura. 

Venerable Bimal Bhante with sister Fabienne

At the same time in 1986, Venerable Bimal Bhante founded “Shishu Koruna Sangha” based in Kolkata. Before that, his another orphanage was occupied and destroyed in Boalkhali, CHT at the same time in 1986. Then Venerable Bimal Bhante along with another senior monk the Chakma Rajguru (Chakma royal Sangha Patriarch), Saddhammajotika honored by Myanmar  most respected Venerable Agravamsa Mahathero established  Shishu Koruna Sangha, a non profit organization to support underprivileged children and families in education and basic necessities. At the beginning the land he purchased with the help of some foreign donors, was dry and isolated property; nobody was nearby. Even for this land, he was blamed and accused as ignorant person who bought a land with no neighbors and people. But today, his Bodhicariya Senior Secondary School is one the best schools in West Bengal where hundreds of underprivileged children built up their life and future.

Venerable Bimal Bhante recalled another story about a Seven years old poor child who got leprosy. Due to lack of facilities and accommodation at his center in Kolkata in 1987, Ven Bhante again approached Mother Teresa’s headquarter to take care of the leprosy infected kid. Mother Teresa advised Bhante to contact with sister Fabienne (from France) and take necessary steps for the kid. Then Ven. Bimal Bhante was consulted that he has to take good care of the kid and give him medicine for 5 years continuously! This was impossible for Bhante as he had other kids to take care of and decided to send the kid to the Mother Teresa’s center. The kid’s name was Iman Chandra Chakma and was the youngest kid among the others. After he was confirmed that he had leprosy, Bhante ordered all the other kids to never share their personal belongings with another kid.

When the kid was accepted by Mother Teresa, the kid was sent to Chitra Ranjan in Asansol. From the beginning, Ven. Bimal Bhante had contact with the kid for few years but later on the kid was converted to Christianity by Christian missionary. Bhante learned that he studied well and became director to a company in Orissa. But sadly, the kid forgot Chakma language and his parents too. His parents tried to contact with him several times but he neglected and ignored. He believes the sister who took care of him is his mother. It is also true that his parents had an unhealthy family life which affected the child’s mind in his early age which influenced him to deny his own parents. Now he is living in Orissa and leading a good life. His both parents died without seeing their biological child. Today hundreds of students of Ven Bimal Bhante spread all over the world. We will be always in debt to our most respected Venerable Bimal Bhante for his tireless hard works throughout his entire life. At his 70s, still he thinks of his community and still working for them. 

May beloved Bimal Bhante always be well and healthy to spiritually guide us for a better world!

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