Discuss & analyze the status of indigenous people in the light of constitution & include the recent change of provisions in the constitution of Bangladesh?

1. Introduction:

In Bangladesh there are 45 identified ethnic communities[1] existing century after century. Indigenous people are communally known as “Adibashi”. They are one of the most underprivileged groups in many aspects of economic, social, cultural and political rights mostly due to their status of ethnic minority. Evidences prove that the indigenous people of the country have very limited contact to basic human rights including right to basic public services[2]. Their identity & rights are often violated in every level of the society but usually the state stays silent. Rather we have seen in the past that, the state also became the actor of human rights violator. Bangladesh has authorized all major international human rights treaties and conventions. Bangladesh is lawfully bound to obey with these treaties, but it does not obey with them so far as the indigenous peoples are concerned. The National Parliament passed the National Human Rights Commission Act on 9 July 2009. This research paper discuss about indigenous people, elements of indigenous people, Bangladesh perspective of indigenous people, the status of indigenous people under constitution and change of provisions in the constitution.

2.1 Definition of Indigenous People:

There is no international accord on the meaning of “indigenous people”. In the anthropological view there are many definitions of the indigenous peoples around the World. But United Nations human rights bodies and international laws apply four criteria to differentiate indigenous people such as:

  • Indigenous people usually live within geographically distinct inherited territories.
  • They lean to maintain distinctive social, economic and political institutions within their territories.
  • They typically desire to remain distinct culturally, geographically and institutionally rather than absorb fully into national society and
  • They self-identify as indigenous or tribal.

Indigenous or tribal is regarded as fundamental criterion for determining whether the groups are indigenous or tribal, sometimes in blend with other variables such as “language spoken” and “geographical location or concentration”[3].

 2.2 Fundamentals of Indigenous people:

The fundamentals of indigenous peoples includes[4]

v     Traditional life styles

v     Culture and way of life that is different from other segments of the national population, e.g. in their ways of making a living, language, customs etc

v     Own social organization and political institutions living in historical stability in a certain area, or before others invaded or came to the area.

In Bangladesh often using the term ‘adibashi’ for those who have settled in several areas of Bangladesh as first residents or early settlers which is very alike to the meaning of “adibashi’ and anthropological “Indigenous” term. The conventional people often refer to the Adibashi as “Pahari”, “Janglee” or “Upazati”.

 2.3 Bangladesh perspective of Indigenous peoples:

In Bangladesh there are about 49 different indigenous communities living in the plain lands and hill areas almost 23 districts. The Indigenous People’s Forum recognized 45 groups[5]. Indigenous people compose about 2% of the total population of Bangladesh.

Historically and conventionally indigenous people have a love and respect for nature. They believe in the World of ‘spirits’ that keep fit control over nature and their lives. Their novel animism pervades their thoughts and feelings. Religion is not a personal event for them. They generally utter their religious behavior in a communal way rather than an individual way. These religious practices exaggerate social unity through the feeling of belong to a specific cultural group. There is a deep interrelation among their religious belief and their social structure. The communal spirit is strong and according to their law and custom all land is the property of community. Public ceremonies celebrations and rites for the occasions of birth, marriage, death etc, reinforce their solidarity[6].

 2.4 The status of Indigenous people under Constitution:

The society of Bangladesh thinks that indigenous people’s religion and culture are mediocre. The indigenous population of Bangladesh forms a marginalized and subjugated minority who principally live remote in pockets in different parts of the country. In the social development inclusion frame the adibashi people of the country are not effectively included as development actors- whether as contributors or as bene?ciaries. Lack of constitutional recognition that led to a progressive attrition of indigenous people’s economic status and cultural identity.

The Govt. often says, “In Bangladesh, nobody is minority and nobody is majority, all are equal”[7]. But sadly Govt. of Bangladesh adopts policies which are discriminate, exclude, split up and deprive the minority and indigenous people. In the first constitution on 1972, article 6(2) all citizens of Bangladesh are treated as Bangali and that is amended in Bangladeshi on the subsequent regime. After our independence, the question is raise in the parliament, if everybody is treated, as Bangali then what should be about indigenous people. The president at that time Sheikh Mujibur Rahman replied without thinking deeply “Tora Bangali Hoye Ja” (you should become Bangali). On the subsequent government of General Ziaur Rahman amended the constitution and wrote all citizen of Bangladesh will treat as Bangladeshi. As the citizen of Bangladesh it is also true but this identity also does not recognize the distinctiveness of them.  The change in the constitution of Bangladesh of 1972 through 5th & 8th amendments curtailed the rights of the indigenous and minority people. These changes made them second-class citizens, overlooked and violated all international documents, covenants, and treaties of the UN and other international organizations where Bangladesh is a signatory.

 The first Constitution of Bangladesh enshrined in its Article 9 one language, Bangali, and one Bengali nation as the very basis of the state. The Constitution also enshrined the principle of secularism (Article 12) while accommodating free practice of religions and the script-based religions of the minorities were mentioned. Also Article 28(1) of the constitution, with its provisions of the so-called negative state obligation not to discriminate against any citizen of groups on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, contradicts Article 9, with its exclusively Bengali nationalist principle[8].

 The Indigenous people in the Constitution on article 28(4), 29(3), ka) as ‘backward section of people’. The term of “backwardness” this is a bigoted word.

 The lead author of the Constitution of Bangladesh Kamal Hossain personally agreed many times that the matter of indigenous people did not get specific importance at that period. He also suggested incorporating their recognition as the Indigenous people in the constitution in clause number 29[9].

2.5 The status of Indigenous people under International Human Rights:

International Human rights ensures the rights of the all citizens visibly. The different international human rights instruments are such as the Universal Declaration of Human Right (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic social and Cultural rights (ICESCR), International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) etc. These instruments are signed by Bangladesh.

 Convention Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Child rights Convention (CRC) and ILO 107 to declare and ensure more the rights of its citizens. Through these instruments the rights of the indigenous people alert along with the constitution in the existing pattern. As the party of these instruments the government of Bangladesh is indebted to ensure the rights of the indigenous people proactively.

 ILO was the first international body to address indigenous issues in an inclusive manner. It has been working to protect and promote the rights of indigenous and tribal people since the early 1920s. ILO’s activities in the area of indigenous and tribal people fall within two main areas of activity: the promotion and supervision of the two Conventions relating to indigenous and tribal people; and technical assistance programmes to improve indigenous and tribal people’s social and economic conditions. Bangladesh government has been ratifying this convention since September 1972. But still it has not rati?ed convention 169 that is the modi?ed form of convention ILO-107[10].

ILO is accountable for the only two international instruments involving exclusively to indigenous and tribal people:

  1. Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, 1957 (No. 107)
  2. Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169).

 These two Conventions establish minimum standards with respect to the civil, political, social and economic rights of indigenous and tribal people.

 2.6 Recent change of provisions in the Constitution:

 The 15th amendment to the National Constitution of Bangladesh, which was passed by the Parliament on 30th June 2011. The Constitution recognized the four founding values (democracy, socialism, nationalism and secularism) upon which the original 1972 Constitution.

The summary of the key changes of Constitution in the 15th amended are:

• The inclusion of the phrase “Bismillah?ar?Rahman?ar?Rahim” before the foreword to the constitution was added in the 5th 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’ (Art. 8). This has now been reinserted by the 15th Amendment.

• The 8th 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). This has been retained by the 15th Amendment, although a constitutional challenge to this provision is pending in the Supreme Court.

• Both these provisions resulted in the Constitution moving away from one of its founding pillars of ‘secularism’ and becoming manifestly more discriminatory and communal 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. Article 6(2) 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”.

• Article’23A’ now 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]”. These provisions have been inserted by the 15th Amendment despite sustained criticisms by thousands of citizens.

3.0 Conclusion:

Although there is not mentioned specifically about the indigenous people in the constitution of Bangladesh, but the article 28, 29 ensure the equal rights of all citizens. These articles also expressed not to take any biased measures at all. It means state must oblige to ensure equal treatment for all citizens. But it is not happening because those who are in the power they made as an actor of violating rights of indigenous people. That is creating disappointment from indigenous people in Bangladesh. They are discriminate by their identity, rights, lands etc. So government should focus on their problem and recognized their rights.


  1. Solidarity 2005, Bangladesh Adibashi Forum.
  2. Solidarity 2006, Bangladesh Adibashi Forum.
  3. Solidarity 2007, Bangladesh Adibashi Forum.
  4. Solidarity 2008, Bangladesh Adibashi Forum.
  5. ILO and Indigenous issues-IDISCO programme, ILO website.
  6. ILO convention 107 and 169, ILO website.
  7. Mohammad Rafi- Small Ethnic groups of Bangladesh- A mapping exercise, punjeree publications, Dhaka.
  8. Muhammad Kamal Uddin- Rights of Indigenous people and minority issues in Bangladesh.
    1. Henderson, G. A practitioner’s guide to understanding indigenous and foreign cultures. Springfield, Ill.,
    2. Heinz, Wolfgang S., Indigenous populations, ethnic minorities and human rights. Berlin : Quorum Verlag, c1988
    3. Burger, Julian. Report from the frontier : the state of the world’s indigenous peoples. London ; Atlantic Highlands, N.J., USA : Zed Books, 1987
    4. www.chtcommission.org
    5. Bangladesh: Human Rights Report 2009-2010 on Indigenous People, Kapeng Foundation
    6. Status of minorities in Bangladesh in 2009, Annual report from SAHR


[1] See “Solidarity” 2006 an annual publication of Bangladesh Adibashi Forum (BAF) page 88.

[2] See Human Rights Report 2009-2010 on Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh” on 10 December 2010” stated that

[3] See ILO Convention 107, www.ilo.org

[4] SeeILO, UN permanent forum on indigenous people, International working group for indigenous association mentioned their many documents that elements

[5] See Solidarity 2006 & 2007, an annual publication of Bangladesh indigenous people’s forum

[6] See Rights of Indigenous peoples and Minority of Bangladesh, Article presented by Muhammad Kamal Uddin, ED ARBAN, Dhaka

[7] See Rights of Indigenous peoples and Minority of Bangladesh, Muhammad Kamal Uddin, ED ARBAN, Dhaka

[8] See “Emerging issues of Indigenous Peoples Rights in Bangladesh: why application of international law remains an uphill struggle”- Professor Tone Bleie, University of Trornso, Norway.

[9] See “Biponno Adibashi jibon O Somaj”, Mithushilak Murmu, Kashbon Prokashani, Dhaka.

[10]  The standards contained in ILO Convention No. 169 establish a basic framework for the protection of indigenous and tribapeoples under international law. Many international organizations, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and The World Bank, refer to Convention No. 169 when developing their own policies or programmes affecting indigenous peoples. While ILO Convention No. 169 establishes the basic rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, in many respects, it sets out fundamental obligations, allowing each ratifying State to determine what specific measures it will take and, in keeping with the language of other ILO Conventions, setting minimum international standards. Many of the provisions in the Convention are quali?ed by terms such as “as appropriate”, “as necessary”, “wherever practicable” or “to the extent possible”. These terms give the Convention ?exibility, although some critics say that they may also have the effect of limiting or making vague the obligations of ratifying governments.