Aug 08, 2011

Chittagong Hill Tracts: It's Indigenous or Adivasi

Leaders of the non-Bangalee indigenous communities reiterated their demand for constitutional recognition as "indigenous" or "adivasi" people instead of "tribal" or "small ethnic" groups, as according to them they fulfil all the United Nations' criteria to that end.

Below is an article published by The Daily Star.

The leaders made the demand at a press conference in the National Press Club organised by the Bangladesh Forum for the Indigenous People, ahead of the International Day for Indigenous People.

The forum leaders said the position of Bangladesh government at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) that there are no indigenous people in the country actually "ruined the country's image".

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni yesterday said the constitution recognises all "ethnic minorities" and the government is pledge-bound to protect their distinct uniqueness either in hills or in the plain land.

"We need to preserve and protect the uniqueness of the minorities because these distinct identities are part of the nation's beauty," she said emerging from an inter-ministerial meeting held in her ministry.

The two-and-a-half-hour-long meeting discussed how to face the recent debate that arose over the issue of "indigenous people" and "ethnic minorities".

Law Minister Shafique Ahmed, Information and Cultural Affairs Minister Abul Kalam Azad, Primary and Mass Education Minister Afsarul Ameen, Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister GM Quader, State Minister for CHT Affairs Dipankar Talukder, and high officials of different ministries attended the meeting.

Not very far from that meeting, at the press conference in the press club Secretary General of the Bangladesh Forum for the Indigenous People Sanjeev Drong said, "Whatever we say in our country, the United Nations has its own criteria to identify indigenous people. They would not change it whatever we say or do here."

The leaders raised a 10-point demand including immediate implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord, protection of "indigenous people's" rights to ancestral land, saving their languages and cultures, and ensuring their economic, political, social and basic rights.

Referring to the current debate between the government and the non-Bangalee minorities over their "indigenous" identity, the leaders said the position of the government is not right as they fulfil all the UN criteria required to be recognised as "indigenous".

Sanjeev Drong criticised the statement of the foreign minister where she said the "tribal people" living in CHT are "ethnic minorities" not "indigenous people".

Sanjeev said her remark was not correct and acceptable, as the "adivasi" people have been living in Bangladesh from the time immemorial with their own distinctiveness, language, culture, and identity.

He cited the ILO Convention (169), article 1 that says, "Self-identification as indigenous or tribal shall be regarded as a fundamental criterion for determining the groups to which the provisions of this Convention apply". He said Bangladesh ratified that ILO convention.

The leaders demanded that the government amend the article of the constitution that says, "People of Bangladesh are Bangalee by nation," saying while amending the constitution, the government ignored all their recommendations.

Pointing to the recent killings of three Marmas in Bandarban and one Santal in Dinajpur, the leaders said organised attacks on the "indigenous" people have increased to "eliminate" them from their ancestral land.

They also mentioned felling of over 5,000 trees at Nahar Khansi village in Srimangal and said Rakhains in Patuakhali, Garos in Madhupur, Santals in the north Bengal are facing land ownership problems.

The government did not address these issues in the last two and a half years although the ruling party pledged in its election manifesto to do so, they added.

The speakers said more than 70 countries are going to observe the International Day for Indigenous People on August 9 with a focus on "Indigenous designs: celebrating stories and cultures, crafting our own future".

They requested the government to observe the day at state level.

Shaktipada Tripura, organising secretary of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS), Garo community leader Ajay A Mri, Santal community leader Rabindra Nath Soren, among others, were present at the press conference.