Conflict and coexistence in the south-eastern Bengal borderland: Reflections on migration, boundaries, connectivity and disconnection in Bangladesh

Nasrin Siraj Annie

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD-Thesis - Research and graduation internal

205 Downloads (Pure)


This dissertation is about the strained relations between an immigrant national majority (Bengalis) and indigenous ethnic minorities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (in short, the CHT), a traditionally minority inhabited borderland in the south-east of Bangladesh. The borderland links Bangladesh with Northeast India and Myanmar. The national government considered the borderland as a risk for integrity because it was originally inhabited by an ethnic minority population. Furthermore, it found in that assessment a reason for an intervention involving the migration of people from the majority community into the borderland. The immigration of Bengali Muslims into the CHT, not surprisingly, has been marked by conflict and violence. The local ethnic minorities, or the highlanders, were one group responsible for the conflict. The other group were the settlers, and standing beside them, the Bangladesh army. This dissertation focuses not so much on political developments of the CHT, but on the question: How do people with different ethnic identities and positions of power connect and disconnect in their venture to share a political space? I divided the main question into the following sub-questions: 1) What is the socio-economic and political background of the migrants, who are part of the national majority population, that migrate to the minority populated borderland? 2) What strategies have the migrants taken to grapple with the unfamiliar place, people and situation after they arrived there under the conditions of being subjugated to military directions - allegedly to protect them? 3) How do diverse politics of labelling in the region intersect and shape the migration and settlement processes and perceptions thereof? 4) How are recent developments, pretending to pacify the conflictive and violent situation of the region, in reality, impacting the immigrants’ perceptions of security and insecurity and the way they respond to these? This dissertation is mainly based on extensive literature review, and on the ethnographic materials that have been collected through a yearlong field research in the CHT from August 2013 to September 2014, particularly in a settler’s village in Khagracchari. Overall, this dissertation has argued that when states make categories and labels and boundaries and borders with the intention to govern its populations and territories, people make use of those limits, classifications and identities, sometimes even by breaking and remaking them, to ensure their survival and smooth living. The CHT of Bangladesh is not an exceptional space. Here also, over a long period of time, the state has taken numerous measures with the intention to create territorially bounded homogeneous and loyal citizens. The measures, however, did not always bring the intended results. Different people reacted to the measures differently. At times there were unities, but also divisions, hierarchies and competition. For a long time, there were hostilities, but also initiatives of appeasement. This dissertation approached all these processes from a people’s point of view and has taken into account the experiences and perceptions of individuals with different backgrounds, identities, positions, intentions and desires. The people’s accounts by and large encourage us to reject binary ways of thinking and highlight that state borders do not always create disconnectivity and immobility, but also connection and mobility; the idea(l) of democracy does not always mean inclusion of all people, but also exclusion and violence; identity is not static and isolated, but fluid and is the production of careful assessment of the socio-economic, political and cultural context. These different, ambiguous, complex and sometimes apparently contradicting aspects of the minority-majority-dynamics in the CHT are the topics in the various chapters that make up this dissertation.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Bal, Ellen, Supervisor
  • Salman, Ton, Co-supervisor
Award date14 Sept 2022
Place of Publications.l.
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sept 2022


  • Conflict
  • Coexistence
  • (Im)mobility
  • Vernacularisation of Democracy
  • Majority-Minority relations
  • Connectivity and Disconnection
  • Breaking and Making of Belonging
  • Bengal Borderland, Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.


Dive into the research topics of 'Conflict and coexistence in the south-eastern Bengal borderland: Reflections on migration, boundaries, connectivity and disconnection in Bangladesh'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this