Jun 23, 2011

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Santu Larma Rejects Charter Review Proposals

PCJSS rejected amendment to constitution on grounds of failure to recognize indigenous communities. 

The following article was published by bdnews24:

Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS) has rejected the proposals made for amending the constitution and demanded constitutional recognition of the indigenous or Adivasi people. 

Chief of the pro-peace accord group Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma alias Santu Larma declared the organisation's stance on the issue at a press conference at a city hotel on Thursday. 

He, however, did not elaborate what he would do if the demand is not met. 

The indigenous people have long been demanding their recognition in constitution to safeguard their existence, which the government has so far refused. 

Law minister Shafique Ahmed at a June 8 programme said: "Article 23 (Ka) will be added to the constitution during the current constitution amendment process". 

"The state will preserve culture and tradition of the tribal and ethnic groups towards their development," the provision states. 

Santu demanded that the proposed provision to label all the people of Bangladesh as Bangalee be withdrawn. "It's valueless, motivated and can never be accepted by the indigenous people." 

He said the special parliamentary panel ignored the 14-point charter of demands provided by the indigenous communities. 

"Instead, the proposal for insertion of a provision on culture and heritage is disgraceful and contrary to the indigenous people's identity." 

Santu said indigenous people are Bangladeshi by citizenship, but not by a community. "All the individual groups must be recognised in the constitution," he demanded. 

"The way Bangalees will not want to be treated as Chakma, thus Chakmas won't want to be Bangalee," Santu reasoned. 

The matter of recognition of the indigenous people came to the fore recently following denial by Bangladesh's first secretary in the United Nations. At a session of the UN Forum on Indigenous Issues he had claimed there were no indigenous people in the country. 

The law minister defined indigenous as being "those who have been forced out by a foreign conqueror, which was what happened after Christopher Columbus had discovered America. The same did Britain and Australia. Our situation is different." 

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Apr 27 at a press conference said the same thing — "no indigenous", but the Santals. 

However, many other government officials have been using the term 'indigenous' or 'Adivasi', while people in general also do the same. 

The laws which bear the word indigenous include the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation of 1900, the Finance Act of 2010, the Small Ethnic Groups Cultural Institutes Act of 2010 and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper of 2010. 

Santu also protested the government move to retain Islam as the state religion. "A state can't have a religion." 

He demanded that Bismillah should be dropped from the constitution terming it discriminatory. "It'll turn people of other religions to second-grade citizens," he observed. 

Pointing at the 1997 peace accord, Santu said the deal and other related laws must be implemented immediately.

The accord signed between PCJSS and the Awami League recognises the CHT as a region inhabited by tribal people, acknowledges its traditional governance system and the role of its chief,s and provides building blocks for regional autonomy.