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The Chakma Raja Who Gave Away A Kingdom !

In the highlands of Bangladesh called the Chittagong Hill tracts bordering Myanmar live a number of Tribes which are collectively referred to as the Jumma people by the majority Bangla population. The name derives from the term Jhum cultivation which is also referred to as the slash and burn type of Cultivation wherein a tract of Jungle was cleared by slashing and burning and cultivation was then done there. At the time of the Partition of India for some inconceivable reason these areas were ceded to “East Pakistan” though the population was mainly Tribal who practiced Theravada Buddhism.

The “Jumma People’ themselves are divided into various tribes all of whom have their own Religious practices though most have adopted Buddhism, there are still a few that are Hindu and Christian, and even Muslim. Most of them still maintain some level of their indigenous animist beliefs as well. The main Tribes of the region are the Chakma, Arakanese (Rakhine), Marma, Tripuri, Tanchangya, Chak, Pankho, Mru, Bawm, Lushai, Khyang, Gurkha, indigenous Assamese, Keot (Kaibarta), Santal, and Khumi as per Wiki.

Among these people, the most well-known ones and the most dominant ones are the Chakmas. The Chakmas are Theravada Buddhists and many of them live across the Borders as well in India and Myanmar. In India, they are found in almost all the states in the North East and even in West Bengal. The name Chakma is supposed to have been derived from the Sanskrit word “Shaktiman” as many Chakmas served in the Kingdoms of the Rakhine Kings and wielded great power. The Chakmas themselves are divided into various Clans and reigning over all the clans is the powerful Chakma Raja.

Some of you must be aware that there was a long-running dispute between India and Bangladesh as a number of Chakmas had taken refuge in India citing discrimination and harassment by the authorities in Bangladesh and this for long was a prickly issue with its roots going back to Independence. There still are Chakmas living in refugee Camps in certain areas of North East India.

At the time of Independence, the Raja of Chakmas was Raja Nalinaksha Roy. Though the Chittagong Hill Tracts had a 98% non-Muslim population they were still assigned to Pakistan by the Boundary Commission. The Raja had come into power in 1935 and had Ruled for 12 years at the time of Independence. He acceded to East Pakistan as there was little else he could do and was given Autonomy by the Pakistani Government to make him easier to win over. The Raja passed away in 1951 and after some time as in Chakma tradition his eldest son, Raja Tridev Roy was formally anointed as the 50th Chakma Raja in 1953.

Once the Mukti Bahini started its campaign in the 1960s the Chakma Raja decided that they will remain neutral as they didn’t want to rub the Mukti Bahini or the Pakistani Army the wrong way. But Raja Tridev Roy became increasingly inclined toward the Pakistani Government. In fact Sheikh Mujibur Rehman offered him a seat to fight on behalf of the Awami League but Raja Sahib disagreed and instead stood up as an Independent and won the Seat though overall the Awami League got a landslide victory in East Pakistan. And soon after a series of Events the Liberation War, as the Bangladeshis called it started. But once again Raja Sahib sided with Pakistan as I think he assumed that the Pakistanis would hold ground. But things went rather the other way and Raja Sahib found himself in deep trouble. With his Allies close to defeat the Raja Sahib knew that life would be hard for him in an independent Bangladesh due to the stands he had taken. So he decided to abdicate.

Raja Tridev Roy abdicated in 1971 in favor of his eldest son, the 12-year-old Raja Devashish Roy. The Raja knew that even Abdication would not be enough as people would come to settle scores with him. Also, he felt that the position of the Chakmas would become precarious in a new Bangladesh and their special rights and privileges would be taken away. He was in many ways right. The Raja had only one option now and he went over to West Pakistan or Pakistan as it came to be known thereon. He was welcomed very warmly on his arrival in Pakistan and conferred the status of a Federal Minister for life. But more was still to come.

The first task he undertook was to head the Pakistani Mission to the UN which opposed the admission of Bangladesh to the United Nations. In answer to this, the Bangladeshi delegation was led by the Chakma Rajamata Benita Roy who happened to be his Mother. I wonder what transpired between the Son and the Mother. Two Chakma Royalty Members, from the Hills of the North East, both devout Buddhists, headed important delegations from two countries that were overwhelmingly Muslim and with the largest Muslim populations besides Indonesia. It was indeed something straight out of a Thriller. Anyways Bangladesh became a Member of the United Nations and that was that.

However, Raja Sahib wasn’t done yet and he joined the Bhutto Government. And when Bhutto became the Prime Minister of Pakistan he offered the Presidentship of Pakistan to Raja Tridev Roy. This was a great opportunity but it came with a rider. As per the new Constitution of Pakistan, only a Muslim could become the President of Pakistan. And of course, this wasn’t acceptable to the erstwhile Raja Sahib of the Chakmas. So now after giving up the Kingship of the Chakmas, the Raja Sahib declined the Presidentship of Pakistan.

And then Gen. Zia came into power and Mr.Bhutto was hanged and all Bhutto loyalists came under the attack and none escaped the General’s wrath. Well, all except the Raja Sahib. Bhutto knew better than to let any harm come to Raja Tridev Roy. Raja Sahib stayed active in Politics and there was little that Gen Zia could do to him but after a couple of years, he decided he didn’t want him to be around. So a new Role was found for the Raja Sahib and he was appointed as the Pakistani Ambassador to Argentina in 1981 and off he went to South America. And at the same time, he was made the Ambassador to Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Uruguay. The Raja Sahib from what was considered the Himalayan foothills by many could now while his time in the Andes Mountains it seemed. And he stayed in South America for many years till the time Gen. Zia passed away.

After Gen Zia’s death, Raja Sahib was brought back to the sub-continent at least from South America and appointed as the Ambassador to Sri Lanka. Being a Buddhist he made a good choice as an Ambassador to a Buddhist majority country. And finally in 1995 Raja Sahib returned to Pakistan after his Ambassadorial assignments abroad. He now turned his attention to working for the Buddhist Community in Pakistan and decided to devote more of his life to Religious pursuits and also became the head of the Pakistan Buddhist Society.

Raja Tridev Roy finally passed away in 2012 (less than 7 years back) due to cardiac arrest at his home in Islamabad. His House in E-7 had a Plaque on the outside it said “Chakma House”. And he was largely alone when the end came. No one in Pakistan by that time had any recollection of the soft-spoken King of the Chakmas who gave up his Kingdom and declined the Presidentship of Pakistan. No one really cared.