Land politics in Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh: dynamics of property, identity and authority

Alamgir, Fariba (2017) Land politics in Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh: dynamics of property, identity and authority. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Studies have revealed intense competition over land in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. This study examines land dispute processes within and between hill people (Chakma Community) and Bengali settlers (who migrated through government initiated settlement program in 1979) in CHT. By understanding property, identity and authority as relational; my study explores mutually constitutive processes between property and authority relations, and between property and identity relations. It investigates how property in land is claimed and defined in the context of dynamic authority relation in land control, multiple categorisations and identity claims in CHT. By carrying out a historical analysis of state-making, I argue that CHT remains a frontier because of- the distinctive legal and administrative systems, ambivalence in property system, ongoing processes of reconfiguration of institutional arrangements in land control and state’s territorial strategies to control its population and space. The study employs an ethnographic approach and data are collected by engaging with disputants, institutional actors, academics, members of political organizations and civil society. Working across communities has enabled to encompass differences in narratives, practices and claims based on varied rules, sources of authority, history and identities. Dispute processes reveal that competing property claims are based on various norms (customary and statutory), varieties of land documents (formal and informal) and wide number of authority sources (formal and informal). Property rules (statutory and customary) are negotiated, continuously interpreted and reinterpreted through practices and claim-making. The findings show that in different kinds of disputes (within and between communities), there are different sets of authorities involved in recognising property in land. The study draws out various political constellation of institutions and authority relations that are formed through competition for authorising land relation. State institutions- bureaucratic, judiciary, regional government, traditional institutions, military authorities; and non-state authorities (political parties, leaders, brokers), all partake and compete in the process of constitution of property relation in ‘post’ conflict/mid conflict zone, suggesting that state-making or control over land/territory and property claims as an active and contested process. While the state rules and institutional competition for authority matter in shaping dispute processes, this study finds that land contestations are evolving through contestation over dakhal i.e. physical or forceful occupation of land, which depends on local authority structure for endorsement, individual’s/disputant’s position in the local power structure, proximity of the army camp and people’s ability to exist on the ground by taking certain strategies and actions. The research findings show that identity formation and social positioning play significant roles in competition over land. Struggle over recognition of property in land is intricately linked to people’s struggle for recognition of certain identities. Religious identities of Chakmas (Buddhist) and Bengalis (Muslim) are increasingly becoming stronger. Besides, religious identities are mobilised in relation to contestation over land. The study provides an account of recurrent and interrelated processes of constitution of property, authority and identity relations in a frontier region, which has also been at the margin of the state historically. In the absence of tenure security, the existing stalemate situation regarding the formalisation process and non-recognition of customary land rights of hill people, it is crucial to understand existing land relations in order to plan and implement development policies, particularly those related to land and forest in CHT. My research has taken a novel approach in studying land conflicts by investigating the making of property, authority and identity relations in a contested territory. It contributes to existing knowledge regarding land relations and related processes of authority and identity formation in CHT, and in regions that can be characterised as frontiers or at the margin of the state.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Global Development (formerly School of International Development)
Depositing User: Jackie Webb
Date Deposited: 09 May 2018 09:15
Last Modified: 09 May 2018 09:15


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