ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Population settlement and territorial control: Muslim Bengali settlement in the Adivasi lands of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh


Chakma Bhumitra - University of Hull, School of Politics and International Studies, Hull, United Kingdom


38 – Adivasis and Adivasi Studies


 Population settlement in disputed territories has occurred in various parts of the world, i.e. Israeli settlement in Palestinian territories, Indonesian settlement in Western Papua etc. Three inter-related issues are intriguing in such settlement initiatives: state motivation and strategy, how and under what conditions settlement is undertaken, and consequences of settlement. Given the above context, this paper explores the settlement of Muslim Bengalis in the Adivasi lands of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government undertook a Bengali settlement program in the CHT in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Its key aim was to restructure the demographic composition of the CHT and establish territorial control over the contested ethno-territories. The CHT today is a Bengali-majority area which is a massive demographic shift from an overwhelmingly Adivasi land in 1947 (98.5%).

The paper starts by surveying the global context of population settlement in disputed territories. Then, it analyses the process and patterns of Bengali settlement in the CHT in order to understand the motivation and strategy of the Bangladesh state, how and under what conditions the settlement was undertaken and with what consequences. The paper adopts the process-tracing method in which causal mechanisms or processes are carefully examined in order to understand the population settlement in the area.