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“We are the True Citizens of This Country”

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Vernacularisation of Democracy and Exclusion of Minorities in the Chittagong Hills of Bangladesh

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Democracy has generally been understood the best remedy to prevent societal violence, as it gives different groups a channel to voice their interests and grievances. However, in this article, that focuses on the Chittagong Hills, which for many decades has formed one of the most violent spaces in Bangladesh, we argue that, in reality, democracy and violence can be two sides of the same coin. This is not to say that in Bangladesh, where full liberal democracy is not in place, ordinary citizens have no values and idea(l)s of democracy and citizenship. On the contrary, in order to make sense of the intricate connection between democratic idea(l)s, and violent imaginations and practices, we focus in particular on the process of what we call the vernacularisation of democratic politics. We connect this process to the appropriation of citizenship and nationalism, by ordinary but radically differently-positioned people, in their daily realities. We demonstrate that widely shared imaginations of Bangladeshi-ness, as Bengali-ness or Muslim-ness, and of Bengalis/Muslims as the true nation and citizens of Bangladesh, are intimately connected with popular understandings and practices of democracy, which are based on the exclusion of the not-genuine-Bengalis, with the legitimisation and continuation of violence, and the exclusion of ethnic minorities in the Chittagong Hills.

Affiliations: 1: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


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