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A brief profile of M. N. Larma (a leader of CHT people’s struggle)

Manabendra Narayan Larma was the main initiator of the Jumma nationalist movement in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). In the 1960s, when a pettite bourgeois educated class emerged in CHT it made an attempt to unite the people of different nationalities of the CHT into one single nation. They invented ‘Jumma Nationalism’ to this end. Mr. M. N. Larma played a vanguard role in this nationalist movement. He was also one of the main architects of the armed struggle that was directed against the deprivation and oppression unleashed by the then Government of Bangladesh. He led the struggle from 1975, until his death in a factional clash in 1983. The CHT people still remember him with due honour and respect.

 

Mr. Larma was born into a middle class family in 1939 at Mahprum Village, a few miles north of Rangamattya district of CHT. His father Chitta Kishor Chakma was a headmaster of a Junior High School situated in the same village. His mother’s name was Shubhasiny Dewan.

 

He had two brothers and one sister. His elder brother Shubhendu Probhas Larma alias Bulu was also a leader of the Jumma nationalist movement. His sister Jyoty Probha Larma, eldest of all the siblings, also took part in the struggle. His younger brother Mr. Jyotirindriya Bhodipriya Larma alias Santu Larma is leading the JSS (United Peoples Party). However, the JSS undergone many changes under his leadership and the JSS under his leadership is quite different from the JSS under the leadership of his brother M. N. Larma. Even temperamentally, they are different from each other. The JSS has now completely degenerated and does no more champion the aspiration of the Jumma struggle.

 

Education

 

In 1956, for the first time he took part in the struggle as a student activist in the student movement.

 

In 1957, he participated in the student conference of the CHT students.

 

In 1958, he passed the matriculation certificate exam from Rangamati Government High School.

 

In 1960, he passed HSC from Chittagong Government College.

 

After that, he took a leadership role in the student movement.  He played a crucial role in organizing a student conference in 1962.

এম এন লারমা

 

Kaptai Dam and his role against it

 

In the early 1960s, the Government of Pakistan initiated the Kaptai Dam project. The construction of the Dam was completed in 1962. It created an artificial lake and its socio-economic and political impact was felt immediately. Almost the entire old Rangmati town went under the lake water. More than 100,000 (one hundred thousand) Hill people had to be evacuated from their land. One-third of the cultivable land of the CHT was submerged. It destroyed the Hill people’s economy and disrupted their cultural life and heritage. This happened at a time when conscious and educated people were few and far between. None could predict the far-reaching implications of the Kaptai Dam and democratic mass protests were not so familiar back then the way it is today.

 

Only a handful of Jumma students under M. N. Larma’s leadership protested against the construction of the Kaptai Dam. They were conscious of the fact that the dam would bring disastrous consequences for the CHT people.

 

They circulated leaflets against the Kaptai Dam highlighting its dangerous effects on the Jumma society. The Government of Pakistan considered their actions to be against the security of the state and arrested M. N. Larma under the Security Act. He was incarcerated for more than two years, from 10th February 1963 to 4th march 1965.

 

He completed his graduation course in the same year he was freed from jail. The following year, i.e. in 1966, he joined a high school in Dighinala Thana as a teacher. In 1968 he left this school and joined another one in Chittagong as its head teacher. In the same year he passed B. Ed. and in 1969 completed his L.L.B.

 

In the national election of 1970 held in Pakistan he won in the northern constituency of the CHT. In 1971 the Bengali nationalist movement under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Awami League reached its high pitch in the then East Pakistan. But it is to be noted that though the Sheikh was made the leader of the struggle, he was only a symbolic leader. He was imprisoned by the Pakistani rulers and was freed only after the liberation movement had ended in success. In all practical purposes, it was Tajuddin Ahmed, the most practical and ideal leaders among the Awami Leaguers, who led and guided the war of liberation in the absence of Sheikh Mujib.

 

The CHT leaders were divided over the issue of participation in the Bengali liberation movement. One section led by the Chakma chief Tridib Roy and Bomang chief in Bandarban collaborated with the Pakistani Government. The other section joined the freedom struggle. However, many Jumma youths could not take part in the struggle because some Bengali nationalists did not wish them to participate and virtually obstructed their participation. Under such confusing situation, the majority of the CHT leaders kept silent. Mr. M. N. Larma was one of them. History is there to judge whether his decision was right or wrong, but it is a fact that the Bengali nationalist leaders too did little to persuade the Jummas to join the liberation movement. They were totally drowned in Bengali nationalism and no one was there to draw a programme to include the Jumma peoples on the basis of recognition of their separate identity and equal rights.

 

From hindside, both the leaderships committed mistakes. While the Bengali nationalist leaders undermined the CHT peoples ethnic aspirations, the CHT leadership failed to successfully analyse the events of the time and link the emerging Jumma nationalist aspirations to the larger struggle of the then East Pakistan.

 

After the successful conclusion of the war of liberation, the CHT leadership tried to get the CHT people’s rights recognised in the new-born Bangladesh constitution. A three member delegation of CHT leaders led by M. N. Larma met with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the undisputed leader of the struggle, and placed a charter of four-point demands before him. But it is a great irony of the history that the leader who had once fought against all kinds of deprivation and discrimination by West Pakistan, became supremely arrogant after the success of the war and assumed the same role of the West Pakistanis when it came to the issue of recognising the rights of Jumma people. History tells us that the Sheikh did not even showed gentlemanly courtesy to the CHT delegation. He rejected the demands outright and humiliated them. The Jumma leaders of CHT took it very seriously and began searching other means and avenues to achieve the rights of self-determination. They formed a party in the name and style of the Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS) and built an armed force to fight for the rights. After the tragic death of Sheikh Mujib in a military putsch in August 1975, the JSS went underground and the following year launched an armed insurrection to achieve self-rule.

 

In late 1982 the JSS split over strategic and tactical issues of the struggle, with one group led by Priti Kuman Chakma and Bhabhatosh Dewan advocating quick victory with the direct Indian military intervention and the other led by Larma brothers favouring a protracted war to achieve the goal. The former group is called Badi (short) and the latter Lamba (Long) in Chakma language. The insidious infighting weakened the JSS tremendously and cost the life of its star leader M. N. Larma. He was killed by his rival faction on 10 November 1983.

 

There is a myth that when the JSS headquarters was attacked at night he was lying on bed. So towering was his personality that no one among the attacker was daring to go and shoot him. At the last moment a man of unsound mind came forward and killed him. Thus the life of a genuine leader of the Jumma people was snuffed out. M. N. Larma is no more with us, but his dream for a CHT free from exploitation and repression will remain with us for ever. He will live in the memory of the Jumma people.

 

As we lead the Jumma struggle for FULL AUTONOMY in the 21st century in the wake of the JSS surrender, it is high time that we critically reassess and analyse the role of the JSS and of Mr. M. N. Larma in our national struggle. In order to find the correct path of the struggle, every new generation has to make a critical analysis of the past struggles. It is almost mandatory.

 

Note: I invite comments from the readers. If you happen to find any mistakes or think that some important information is missing in the article, please feel free to write to me. I will try to include it when I revise the article. My e-mail address is: mithuncht@gmail.com

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