Chittagong Hill Tracts: Conference Calls Upon Government to Respect Indigenous Rights
Below is an article published by The Kapaeeng Watch:
The ethnic minority leaders and academics at a discussion on Tuesday [26 August 2008] called upon the government to be respectful to the ethnic minority people's customary rights to land and forest resources which provide them with livelihood supports.
'They have both the spiritual and material relations with the forests, but we are not giving any recognition to them,' Sadeka Halim, a professor of sociology at Dhaka University, told the daylong workshop organised to mark the International Day of the World's Indigenous People.
She urged all concerned to allow the ethnic minority people's rights to land and forest, and seek their opinion on any development plan involving the areas where they live.
Presided over by Mesbah Kamal, general secretary of the Research and Development Collective, the workshop was addressed, among others, by H K S Arefin, a DU professor of anthropology, Sanjib Dran of Bangladesh Adivashi Forum, and Zannat e Ferdausi, director of the RDC.
The Research and Development Collective and the Voluntary Service Overseas organised the workshop at the LGED auditorium, where Bangladesh Adivashi Forum leader, Mangal Kumar Chakma and Professor Ganesh Saren presented two keynote papers on the problems related to the land and forests in Chittagong Hill Tracts and plain land respectively.
Mangal Kumar Chakma's paper showed how vulnerable the ethnic minority people were now in the hills, while Gabesh Saren narrated their sufferings while living on the plain land.
They said the land of the ethnic groups was encroached upon by the influential quarters and the government and their access to the forest had shrunk with the depletion of the forest cover, declaration of new reserve forests and taking up of unsolicited development projects.
Mangal Kumar said land acquisition by the government in CHT, in the name of development, had displaced many people. With the influx of the Bengali settlers in CHT in late 1970s, the problem has been aggravated. The Bengalis also ousted many ethnic minority people from their homesteads.
He urged the government to make the land commission functional to settle the land related disputes in the areas. The commission has remained dysfunctional ever since it came into being after the signing of a deal between the government and the ethnic minority people in 1997.
The ethnic groups living on the plain land are more helpless than the people living in the hills, said Ganesh Saren.