Place and contested identity: portraying the role of the place in shaping common sociopolitical identity in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh


  • H.M. Ashraf Ali PhD Graduate, University of Alberta



This research is about how a collective socio-political identity, the ‘Pahari’ (the hill people), is constructed by the ethnoculturally diversifi ed groups of indigenous people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. While conducting my PhD dissertation fi eldwork in the CHT, I experienced that most of the non-Bengali ethnicities use a common term ‘Pahari’ in their everyday conversations. This term derives from the Bengali word ‘pahar’, which means “hill”; and the term ‘Pahari’ is the term used by ‘the inhabitants of hills’ or ‘the hill people’ to introduce them to visitors, tourists, or in their everyday conversations. Of course, they have their own distinctive and individual ethnic identity marked by language, religion, kinship, and marriage system (e.g., Chakma, Marma, Tanchang ya). Thus, they have two different identities: the ethnic identity and the common socio-political identity. The infl uence of hills, land, forest, Kaptai Lake, and above all, the ecological system of this region on the economy and the lives of the people who live here is immense. In this research paper, I will refl ect on how a particular place, a different geographical setting, is used to bring group members of diverse ethnicities together in order to construct a common socio-political identity. Although the ‘place’ is central to the construction of this Pahari identity, social, economic, and political relations with the Bengalis appear as determining factors in adopting such collective identity by the culturally differentiating ethnicities in the CHT. Finally, I will describe how and why the Pahari identity is contested and contradictory in broader socio-political context in Bangladesh.