The Myth of Colonial ‘Protection’ of Indigenous Peoples: The Case of the Chittagong Hill Tracts under British Rule

in International Journal on Minority and Group Rights
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Through a critical examination of British colonial policies in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh, this article challenges the conventional wisdom that colonial administration had a benevolent strategy of ‘protecting’ indigenous peoples. To this end, this article specifically dispels three examples of such protectionist rhetoric advanced in the CHT by the British colonial administration: protection of hill peoples from external invasions, from the exploitation of dominant Bangalee groups, and from their own oppressive chiefs. I conclude that these protectionist policies were in fact motivated by self-interest and, therefore, often proved to be counterproductive for hill peoples by further empowering dominant Bangalees and tribal chiefs. Therefore, in engaging with the question of ‘protection’ of ordinary hill peoples in the CHT from ongoing oppression and marginalisation, we must consider new paradigms, beyond the colonial isolationist and seclusionist model of protection.

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