Chittagong Hill Tracts: Communities Denied ‘Indigenous’ Status
The Bangladeshi state continues to systematically ignore the ethnic claims of its large indigenous community following its adoption of a new constitutional amendment imposing unilateral homogeneity upon the population and defining every citizen as a Bangalee.
Below is an article published by Bangladesh’s First Online Newspaper:
Indigenous community leaders have expressed anguish and frustration over the amended constitution not acknowledging their existence despite a pre-poll promise of the ruling Awami League.
The 15th amendment to the constitution passed on Thursday makes every citizen of Bangladesh a 'Bengalee'.
A press release signed by Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS) information and communications secretary Mangal Kumar Chakma said the amendment put the identity of Bengalee on indigenous people speaking different languages.
"Like in the past, the distinctive ethnic identity and the fundamental rights of the indigenous people have been denied," the statement said.
The amendment reflected 'intense pride, intense communalism and undemocratic attitude' of the rulers, the release said.
The terms 'tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities' are humiliating and insulting to the indigenous people, it said.
PCJSS in 1993 signed the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord with the then Awami League government, drawing an end to the decade-long bush war between the indigenous people and the army.
The 15th amendment could not convince the indigenous people, said Chakma Raja Devasish Roy.
"What could have been was not done. It cannot be said that on the whole we are happy. There is no proper recognition of indigenous people here," he said.
"Even though we do not appreciate state religion, at least the constitution speaks of giving equal treatment to people following other religions. But what about those speaking other tongues?"
Devasish said under articles 28 and 29, the government can make special provisions for the backward quarters. "But the indigenous people have not been termed as backward," he said.
"We demanded reserved parliament seats for the indigenous people. The government did not keep that request either. In future perhaps an indigenous MP will not be elected even from the hills. In the hills, we have karbaris and circle chiefs, but no such provision is there for the indigenous people in the plains. So they will remain unrepresented in the local governments."
Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, said no state can change the identity and culture of a community.
"We wanted to be recognised as indigenous, but the government has termed us tribal and ethnic minorities," Sanjeeb told bdnews24.com in his reaction immediately after the 15th amendment bill passage on Thursday.
"We're disturbed, hurt and aggrieved," he said.
The indigenous people have long been demanding that they be recognised as 'indigenous' constitutionally.
Several other indigenous leaders, including Chakma Circle head Raja Devasish Roy, Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti chief Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma and Santu Larma, have also been pressing for the recognition.
Rights activists and academicians also sought their constitutional recognition.
Sanjeeb also voiced his frustration saying that with the amendment, the ruling Awami League also "has backtracked from its election manifesto where it had termed us indigenous".
He said such a refusal was a violation of human rights and the United Nations laws.
The Awami League's election manifesto, published ahead of the 2008 polls, states, "Terrorism, discriminatory treatment and human rights violations against religious and ethnic minorities and indigenous people must come to an end permanently."
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