The Bangladesh Government has taken some corrective actions to improve the status and position of indigenous people –illustrate and explain.


 Bangladesh has been the home place of different ethnic groups. In fact, 35 smaller groups of indigenous people or in Bengali Adhibashi covering about 2 percent of the total population have been living in different places of the hilly zones & small areas of the plain lands of the country. Their historical background, economic activities, social structure, religious beliefs & festivals make them distinctive. The terms “indigenous people[1],” “indigenous ethnic minorities,” and “tribal groups” are used to describe as social groups that share similar characteristics, namely a social and cultural identity that is distinct from dominant groups in society.

Who are indigenous people

According to Wikipedia “Indigenous peoples, or Natives, are ethnic groups who are native to a land or region, especially before the arrival and intrusion of a foreign and possibly dominating culture. They are a group of people whose members share a cultural identity that has been shaped by their geographical region. Varieties of names are used in various countries to identify such groups of people, but they generally are regarded as the “original inhabitants” of a territory or region. Their right to self-determination may be materially affected by the later-arriving ethnic groups.” Therefore, they are the oldest resident in the country. United Nations human rights bodies, ILO, the World Bank and international law apply four criteria to distinguish indigenous people:

  • Indigenous peoples usually live within (or maintain attachments to) geographically distinct ancestral territories.
  • They tend to maintain distinct social, economic, and political institutions within their territories.
  • They typically aspire to remain distinct culturally, geographically and institutionally, rather than assimilate fully into a national society.
  • They self-identify as indigenous or tribal.

For instance, an undercounting of indigenous people has been reported in the national census. The challenge for liberal groups is to alter this political culture and promote multiculturalism and diversity. Several organizations are working together to protect the rights of indigenous people and to correct the discriminatory policies. The Bangladesh Government has taken some corrective actions to improve their status and position. In recognition of this, in 2009, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a US Congressional body dropped Bangladesh from its Watch List of countries deemed to violate minorities’ rights to religious freedom[2].

 Indigenous people and the constitution of the Bangladesh:

It is unfortunate that our constitution has been changed many times. Now it is 15th amendment to the National Constitution of Bangladesh. However, there is no clear Article about the indigenous people. For example, Article 6(2)[3] of the Constitution now says “The people of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangalees as a nation and the citizens of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangladeshis”. So here, the identity of the indigenous people is ignored.  Another article (Article 23)[4] says, “The State shall adopt measures to conserve the cultural traditions and heritage of the people, and so to foster and improve the national language, literature and the arts that all sections of the people are afforded the opportunity to contribute towards and to participate in the enrichment of the national culture”. In here, the traditional culture and heritage of indigenous people is not mentioned. Those are some example that in the constitution there is nothing about indigenous people or adibashi. There are also some debatable Articles. For example, The insertion of the phrase “Bismillah?ar?Rahman?ar?Rahim” before the preamble to the constitution was added in the fifth amendment to the Constitution in 1979 by military ruler, General Ziaur Rahman along with the phrase inserting ‘trust and faith in almighty Allah’ in place of ‘secularism[5]’ (Art.8)[6]. The eighth amendment to the Constitution, adopted under the military ruler, General Hossain Mohammad Ershad, in 1988, purported to make Islam as the state religion (Article 2A)[7]. Both these provisions resulted in the Constitution moving away from one of its founding pillars of ‘secularism’ and becoming clearly discriminatory and public in nature. It is a direct rejection of the full citizenship rights of the hundreds of thousands of people from diverse religions and beliefs who are Bangladeshis. There are estimates of 50?60 indigenous peoples living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and in the plain lands all over the country. They should be rightfully recognized as ‘indigenous peoples’ in line with the United Nation’s modern accepting of the term based on self?identification, historical continuity with pre?colonial and/or pre?settler societies, strong link to territories, distinct social, economic or political systems, distinct language, culture and beliefs, and their no authority in society.

 Indigenous people and the new constitution of Bangladesh:

30th June 2011, the 15th amendment to the National Constitution of Bangladesh, which was passed by the Parliament. This new constitution changes some articles for the indigenous people. For example, the old Article 23[8] is now changed. The new Article 23A says “The culture of tribes, small ethnic groups, ethnic sects and communities? The state shall take steps to protect and develop the unique local culture and tradition of the tribes [upajati], minor races [khudro jatishaotta], ethnic sects and communities [nrigoshthi o shomprodai]”. By this for the first time the word indigenous use in the constitution of Bangladesh. Therefore, the government finally recognized them. However, this is not enough for their identity.

 Their status now in Bangladesh:

The status of the indigenous people is not so well. The most populous indigenous peoples in Bangladesh are the Santal (200,000), Chakma (195,000), Marma (66,000) and Mandi (60,000). Of these, the first and last are considered plains-dwelling Adivasis, with the Mandi living in north-central Bangladesh and the Santal in the north-west. In comparison with Bengalis, Adivasis are generally viewed by Bengalis themselves as more open, friendly, generous and honest. They have a strong relationship with the land and there is a deep interrelationship between their religious beliefs (animism) and their social structure. These indigenous people differ in their social organization, marriage customs, birth and death rites, food, and other social customs, from the people of the rest of the country. In the mid-1980s, the percentage distribution of tribal population by religion was Buddhist 44, Hindu 24, Christian 13, and others 19. Time has changed and now we find some disturbing news in newspaper. A report in the Daily Independent, ‘Tribal leaders divided over indigenous issue (30 May 2011), claimed that the indigenous peoples of the CHT (Chittagong Hill Tracts) are ‘divided’ over their identity as indigenous people. The report, wrongfully pointed out that the different indigenous peoples are divided over using the term ‘indigenous’ to be recognized in the Bangladesh Constitution. On 29 April, a demonstration was held in Dhaka with participation from indigenous peoples from all over the country, including the plains where indigenous peoples consistently demanded that they should be recognized in the constitution in a respectful manner and that unacceptable identity be imposed upon them. Although the provisions of the Peace Accord, the Indigenous peoples of CHT continue to suffer from violence, discrimination and exclusion. On 12 July 2006, the army tortured and brutalized a shopkeeper in Mahalchari. Similarly, there are reports of assaults and rape of indigenous women by the settlers or by the army men. A woman from Marma tribe was gang-raped on 30 June 2006. The issues’ relating to land rights of the CHT peoples remains unresolved and indigenous people continue to face further land grabbing by the settler-population. Problems faced by the indigenous population of Bangladesh may be categorized as follows:

  • In addition to facing discrimination due to their ethnicity, members of indigenous communities face hardship in education, employment, and everyday life.
  • Lands of the indigenous peoples have been violated upon and settled by newcomers. With little legal protection, indigenous peoples can rarely recover the lands they traditionally occupied. Sometimes government agencies in the name of development work take over lands belonging to the indigenous people.
  • All over the north of Bangladesh, indigenous people say they are concerned about what they call violation onto their traditional homelands by Bengali settlers.
  • Indigenous communities are mostly situated in remote, rural areas, where they lack infrastructure and access to larger markets and proper facilities.
  • Indigenous communities have also played a historically important role in environmental protection. Traditional livelihoods in indigenous communities may depend upon agriculture and raising animals. Environmental damage, therefore, is having a severe impact on their economies.
  • Land reform and property laws have restricted some indigenous groups like Khasis at Moulvibazar or Garos at Modhupur, making their traditional occupations untenable.
  • As they are, mostly marginalized, indigenous and tribal peoples lack influence in national and even in most local governments, with the limited exception of local governments of Chittagong Hill Districts. Their interests and needs are often ignored by decision-makers.
  • Years of discrimination have cast the indigenous people into poverty, thus further damaging their chances at empowerment and opportunities to improve their situation.

Each indigenous community, however small it may be, has a distinctive culture and heritage. The leaders from those communities express concern that those are fading away due to lack of government concern and aggressive activities by sections of local people. They complain that their rights are often violated both by the government and by Bengalis. These can be protected only if the government shows more awareness and sensitivity to indigenous causes, comes forward, and take steps.


Bangladesh is a poor country, but it may not be wrong to say that, with very few exceptions, Bangladesh’s indigenous peoples are mostly the poorest among the poor.  They face undeniable discrimination in education, employment, and civil rights. Decades of violence between indigenous revolts and government security forces in the Chittagong Hill Tracts gave rise to social tensions there, which persist despite the signing of a peace accord nearly fifteen years ago. Accusations of serious human and civil rights abuses against members of indigenous communities surface every now and then. The diversity of our culture due to the presence of indigenous communities is providing extra strength to the national fabric of Bangladesh. Moreover, indigenous people are the original inhabitants of our country. Therefore, they have the same right we have over Bangladesh, if not more.


v      “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (A/RES/61/295)”United Nations. UNPFII. Retrieved 2009-10-23.

v      Quader, G. M. (2008, July 17). Indigenous people of Bangladesh. The daily star, Retrieved from

v      Staff Correspondent (2008, June 11). Form nat’l commission to ensure indigenous people’s rights   The daily star, Retrieved from

v      Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples –   Bangladesh : Adivasis, 2008, available at: [accessed 15 October 2011]

v      Islam, Kabirul. (n.d.). Indigenous people of Bangladesh. [Web log post]. Retrieved from


v      Indigenous peoples. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2011, from

v      Secularism. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2011, from

[1]. The adjective indigenous has the common meaning of “from” or “of the original origin”. Therefore, in a purely adjectival sense any given people, ethnic group or community may be described as being indigenous in reference to some particular region or location. Key to a contemporary understanding of “indigenousness” is the political role a cultural group plays, for all other criteria usually taken to denote indigenous groups (territory, race, history, subsistence lifestyle, etc.) can, to a greater or lesser extent, also be applied to majority cultures. Therefore, the distinction applied to indigenous groups can be formulated as “a politically underprivileged group, who share a similar… identity different to the nation in power”, and who share territorial rights to a particular area governed by a colonial power. However, the specific term indigenous peoples has a more restrictive interpretation when it used in the more formalized, legalistic, and academic sense, associated with the collective rights of human populations. In these contexts, the term is used to denote particular peoples and groups around the world who, as well as being native to or associated with some given territory, meet certain other criteria (such as having reached a social and technological plateau thousands of years ago).

[2] UNHCR Report,2009



[5] Secularism is the principle of separation between government institutions and the persons mandated to represent the State from religious institutions and religious dignitaries; the principle that the state has no religion and there is no state religion; persons elected to its legislative, nominated to official functions or in the administration(s) and person nominated in the judiciary cannot hold religious beliefs in their function but have to keep their religious beliefs exclusively for their private life persons holding a religious office cannot be elected or nominated to public office. Western European secular states also define secularism as the freedom to worship, or to hold any religious belief or philosophical and ethical reference frame of thought.



[8] The State shall adopt measures to conserve the cultural traditions and heritage of the people, and so to foster and improve the national language, literature and the arts that all sections of the people are afforded the opportunity to contribute towards and to participate in the enrichment of the national culture.