The Marma's are the second-largest ethnic community in Bangladesh's Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). The CHT are home to 1.5 million people – referred to collectively as the Jummas – and made up from 12 ethnic groups, that all have their own languages, culture, traditions and even religions.
Formerly nationals of the present-day Rakhine State in Myanmar, the Marma people migrated to Chittagong during the 16th and 18th century and had a rather peaceful existence for many decades. However, once Bangladesh achieved its independence from Pakistan in 1971, all of this changed.
In the 1960s and 70s, the country’s majority Bengali Muslims began strategically colonizing the Chittagong Hill Tracts, forcing thousands of the Jumma people (the collective name for all indigenous peoples in the region) of their lands, a displacement made worse by massacres, violence and social unrest. Marmas were forcibly converted from Buddhism to Islam by the government as a means of integrating them into Bangladeshi society. The words "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" have been used to describe the situation.
This all was supposed to change when the 1997 Peace Accord recognized the rights of the Jumma people over their lands. Although this accord has brought about prior inexistent opportunities for development assistance from the international donor community, the accord itself remains largely unimplemented and the Jumma people are not even acknowledged in the Bangladesh constitution.
Unfortunately, reports of systematic rights violations, religious and sexual violence, land-grabbing and killings continue to be documented by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations up to this day.
Economy and Education
Decades of conflicts, rough hilly terrain and the remoteness of the villages have hampered economic development in the region, resulting in a large number of unemployment and more than half of the population living below the poverty line.
Marmas mostly depend on agriculture, traditionally practicing slash-and-burn cultivation on the hills.
Access to healthcare is difficult, as is the access to education. This is mainly due to the lack of human resources and development assistance and a difficult topography that makes for long and unsafe journeys to school. More than half of the children enrolled in primary schools drop out in the first year because of lack of finances, distance to school, safety issues, not understanding the subject, or needing to stay at home to help their parents.
A small remote village located in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in South-East Bangladesh, on the border to Myanmar and Thailand. It's a stunning region of hills, ravines and cliffs covered with dense jungles of bamboo, creepers and shrubs, and dotted with tall, slender waterfalls.
Representing the second-largest ethnic community in the CHT, the Marmas belief is deeply rooted in Theravada Buddhism, with an emphasis on ritual practices in deities. They also practice animism.
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