chapter  4
22 Pages

Last attempts to reclaim authority by the Hill elites and the making of indigeneity, 1920s–30s

By the 1920s, the chiefs of the Chittagong Hill Tracts had come under tighter control of the government. As previous chapters have shown, the British administrators had imposed extensive measures to reduce the practice of jhumming and to increase land management. Strict regulations had been introduced not only for forests, but also over agricultural use of land in the Tracts. When it came to the chiefs, the local government saw little use for them and contemplated their elimination from Tracts’ governance altogether. As previously demonstrated, by this period chiefs wielded little real authority over the administration of the Tracts and had lost many of their ‘traditional’ powers. But in 1929, headmen and chiefs launched a protest against the government’s blatant disregard for their ‘traditional’ powers. In the process, they subtly modified and emphasised certain aspects of what they called ‘hill traditions’ in ways that supported their claims for a restoration of these powers. Petition followed petition, as these elites attempted to start up a conversation with the government in a bid to reclaim their rights and privileges. But there was very little real exchange between the two parties. Officials did not pay heed to these claims, so it was, in the end, a rather one-sided dialogue. Nonetheless, it is important to understand these petitions with care. This chapter examines them in some detail, and illustrates how claims to indigeneity were put forward through them.