Chakma Buddhists are the most prominent Theravadi followers among the Theravadi Buddhist tribes living in the Himalayan mountain range. They came to prominence as they attempted to establish a Buddhist State launching the Shanthibahini outfit in the predominantly Muslim Bangladesh. Presently, Chakma Buddhists are settled in Bangladesh, India and Burma (Myanmar) and are religiously, culturally and linguistically bound together as a single ethnic group.
Chakma Buddhists lived in Chittagong mountain range, faced severe hardships when the Britishers divided the mainland Bengal between India and Pakistan as West Bengal and East Pakistan respectively in 1947. Chakmans engaged in their struggle since 1947 to 1971 against Pakistan and then onwards continue against Bangladesh to date for their rights.
Chakmans generally called ‘Rakita’ or ‘Raakshsha’ in Sanskrit are descendents of Arakan (Burma). At present they have settled in Mishoram, Arunachal and Thripur states as Indian citizens and are oppressed by Hindu followers. Indian Chakmans still pride themselves of their ancestry of Therevadi identity.
During the Mogul periods Chakmans as well as Hindus were converted to Islam by force. In 17th Century, Mogul emperors invaded the Chittagong mountain range and named their capital, Raj Nagar, Islamabad. But the Moguls were able to rule only the low lying areas of the Chittagong mountain range. Chakmans retreated from Chittagong mountain range and often battled against Mogul rulers as Kandyans fought against Europeans.
Following the truce between Moguls and Chakmans in the latter part of the 17th Century, peace prevailed for a brief period.
But in the 18th Century, the East India Company wanted to conquer the Chakman settlements in the Chittagong mountain range to acquire their cotton plantation. Following the industrial revolution, Britishers badly needed cotton for their textile industry and hence wanted to grab the cotton plantations of Chakmans.
The majority of male population was lost during the first two quarters of 18th Century due to wars waged against Britishers and made them weak in warfare. A similar fate faced Kandyans during their 450-year battles against Europeans. In 1860, the British army succeeded in conquering the land of Chakmans.
East Pakistan ceded from West Pakistan and formed Bangladesh in December 1971 with the assistance of the Indian army. Buddhist Chakmans literally fell from the frying pan to the fire when independent Bangladesh was formed.
Disheartened by Muslim oppression Chakman Buddhists established the Chittagong People’s Association or Chittagong Mountain People’s Campaign in 1972 led by Manamendra Lama. They started a guerilla warfare against the oppression by forming the Shanthibahini army – the first ever Buddhist guerilla movement in the world.
In the long-drawn warfare Chittagong Buddhists received no support from any nation in the world and ended up with their leader being assassinated by the Bangladesh army in 1984. Due to the intervention of Indian government in 1997 a peace treaty was signed between the Bangladesh government and Chakmans. Disarmed by this treaty, Chakmans were made to face much harassment from the Bangladesh government.
Today, Chakman Buddhists are scattered in India, Bangladesh and Burma (Myanmar). They have only the voting right to elect representatives to the State Assemblies in Mishoram, Himachal and Thripur States in India. Even today the fate of Chittagong Buddhists is miserable.