Identity construction in Diaspora: A comparative case study of Indigenous Minority Chakma immigrant women from Bangladesh in Melbourne

Year: 2019

Author: Chakma, Urmee

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Arguably, education plays a crucial role in improving individuals’ socio-economic circumstances and is the key to reducing poverty and accessing lines of social mobility. This is particularly true for indigenous peoples around the world, especially when they are deprived of even the very basic education, resulting in lower performance levels, higher dropout rates in formal education and even lower representation in higher education.

However, despite suffering ongoing human rights violations, including ethnocide (Chakma, 2010) and genocide (Chowdhury, 2015), the indigenous Chakma minority in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh have shown great resilience in achieving an inspiring 71% literacy rate. In the face of systematic land grabbing by Bengali Muslims, as well as political and social oppression by the nation state, for the Chakma, education has become the sole vehicle of retaining their Chakma identity through raising social awareness and self-determination. In particular, since the early 90s, the Chakmas have seen an upward mobility in pursuing higher education in Australia by securing Australian Development Scholarships. Some of these Chakmas later immigrated to Australia, calling it home. This study compares the diasporic identity formation of two Chakma women, one of whom grew up in Rangamati, a district in CHT, and the other in Dhaka, the capital city.

Using a phenomenological approach involving in-depth, semi-structured interviews, these women shared the lived experiences of their spatiotemporal transnational journeys from CHT to Melbourne and how they see themselves as (dis-)connected to CHT, Bangladesh and Australia. The women displayed a strong and overt sense of Chakma identity both as individual and as part of the diasporic Chakma community. However, their attachment to Bangladesh appeared to be complex and often shifted from a construction of ethnic Chakma identity to national Bangladeshi identity and the immigrant Australian identity.

Keywords: Education, ethnicity, minority, immigration, diaspora, identity