Discuss indigenous people In the light of constitution of Bangladesh?


Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system[1]

Indigenous Peoples[2]  world wide number between 300-500 million, embody and nurture 80% of the world’s cultural and biological diversity, and occupy 20% of the world’s land surface. The Indigenous Peoples of the world are very diverse. They live in nearly all the countries on all the continents of the world and form a spectrum of humanity, ranging from traditional hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers to legal scholars. In some countries, Indigenous Peoples form the majority of the population; others comprise small minorities. Indigenous Peoples are concerned with preserving land, protecting language and promoting culture. Some Indigenous Peoples strive to preserve traditional ways of life, while others seek greater participation in the current state structures. Like all cultures and civilizations, Indigenous Peoples are always adjusting and adapting to changes in the world. Indigenous Peoples recognize their common plight and work for their self-determination[3] based on their respect for the earth.

Bangladesh has been the dwelling place of different ethnic groups. In fact,35 smaller groups of indigenous people covering about 2 percent of the total population have been living in different pockets of the hilly zones & small areas of the plane lands of the country. Their historical background, economic activities, social structure, religious beliefs & festivals make them distinctive.


 Almost 98% people of Bangladesh are Bengalis[4] and they speak the Bangla language. The minorities include Chakmas, Khasi, Santhal[5] and other tribes numbering more than a million (about 1.2% of total population) who mostly live in the various hilly regions. Chakmas are ethnically Tibeto-Burman, and are closely related to the Himalayan tribes. According to history, they are originally from Arakan[6] (present Rakhine State of Burma) who hundreds of years ago wandered and settled in different parts of India and Bangladesh.
In recent months many Bangladeshi indigenous people have taken the streets holding meetings, human chains and rallies,[7] demanding constitutional recognition of their population. The ‘indigenous’ debate arose after some remarks of a special parliamentary committee working to amend the present constitution reverting back to the 1972 constitution. There was no reference of tribal or indigenous people in Bangladesh’s first constitution of 1972 where it was mentioned that Bangladesh would be the land of Bengalis.

The parliamentary committee said that it would recommend recognizing them as “small ethnic groups” and questioned: “Would Bangalees be termed ‘intruders’ or ‘invaders’ if the ethnic groups are called adivasi[8] .

 Members of indigenous communities demanded their recognition in the constitution as “indigenous people” instead of tribal or proposed “minority ethnic group” at central Shahidminar[9] in Dhaka, Bangladesh.


The total population of Bangladesh is about 160 million[10], and among those about 98 percent people speaks in Bangla, and among them minorities are about 20 million. The government has no language policy for the ethno-linguistic group of Bangladesh, for the other two percent speakers, even though they speak in about 39 living languages most of these do not have own alphabet. Like other ingredient of culture, each language is different from another. The Chakma community speaks a mixed language of Bangla, Pali, and Sanskrit written in Burmese script, the Marma community speaks Arakanese. The rest of the tribal groups speak a mixed language of Assamese and Burmese origins.

 Classification of Languages in Chittagong Hill Tracts

Linguistic Family Sub-Family Ethnic groups
Indo-European Indo-Aryan Bangali, Chakma, and Tanchangya
Sino-Tibetan Tibeto-Burman[11]:
(i) Burmese family Marma, Mro, and Chak
(ii) Bodo (Kokbrok) Tripua
(iii) Kuki- Chin Bawm, Pangkhoa, Lushai, Kheyang and Khumi

In the prevailing education system, the indigenous children doesn’t scope for getting education in their mother languages. From the early childhood they are to learn Bangla language to follow the national curriculum which based on Bangla and Bangali society and the instructors are mostly from among the Bangalis. Neither the students nor the instructions understand the contents due to their lacking in the alien Bangla language.


The Chittagong[12] Hill Tracts situated in the southeastern part of Bangladesh bordering Burma and India has been known as conflicted zone in South Asia. The conflicting situation between the indigenous peoples and Bengalis was worsened due to the immigration of Bengalis, displacement of the indigenous peoples, and military intervention in the Hill Tracts. At the end of the two- and half-decade-long bloody conflict, an agreement named Santi Chukti”[13] or peace agreement[14] was signed in December 02, 1997to remove the conflict; nonetheless, still the region is neither a peaceful nor a secured region to its inhabitants. However, the beginning of conflicting situation in the 1970s, the indigenous minorities are to adopt with the mainstream society and culture. Santi Chukti says that the indigenous peoples are communicating with the mainstream Bengalis, focusing on the situations of the indigenous languages among other resources of culture and not only to manage their fear, and conflict in Chittagong Hill Tracts, but also to negotiate the cultural dimension in which the Hill culture is schematized both in the Bengalis views toward Hill culture and the indigenous peoples views on their own culture.

 a)    Consequences of conflict

The indigenous people of Chittagong Hill Tracts[15]— the only extensive hilly area located in the south-eastern part of Bangladesh comprising 5,089 square miles[16] and the hill ranges contain limited cultivable land (3.2 percent)[17], most of it of low quality, in contrast to the fertile multi-cropped alluvial plains of Bangladesh. The Hill Tracts hosts about 11 different indigenous communities who are further divided into nearly a hundred different sects. These mongoloid populations of this region differ significantly from the mainstream Bengali populations (Bangalis) in terms of their physical appearance, language, religion, economy and socio-cultural organizations etc. It is one of the Asia’s most ignored mountainous belts where Southeast Asian meets South Asia, which forms a bridge between Bangladesh, Myanmar and India.

 b)    Santi Chukti or peace agreement

Given the situation above, the Paharis had been involved in a struggle for the self-determination which has been termed as “insurgency” and “secession” by the state, and in the name of counter-insurgency, huge military forces was deployed throughout the region who eventually committed a massive violation of human rights. However, after a couple of failed meetings, an agreement was reached and signed in December 02, 1997 between the state and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti [The Chittagong Hill Tracts United People’s Party], locally known as PCJSS (the sole political platform of the Paharis until 1997).


 Chittagong Hill Tracts, however, was not annexed to Bengal until 1860. It became a British tributary after the defeat of the Chakma king at the hands of the Company’s forces, in 1787, ending a decade-long guerrilla war. Since the early part of British rule in South Asia[18], areas inhabited by indigenous people were administered under special constitutional dispensations. Laws applicable to other areas were considered to be too complex to be suitable for these areas, and hence they were generally administered through special regulations that left the day-to-day administration in the hands of traditional chiefs and sub-chiefs, with supervisory authority being reserved for the colonial authorities, and exercised through residents, agents, superintendents or district officers (deputy commissioners). In-migration of non-indigenous people, and trading and money-lending by non-indigenous people, were strictly regulated. These special laws included the Inner Line Regulation, 1873, the Scheduled Districts Act, 1874, the Chin Hills Regulation, 1896 (Regulation V of 1896), the Government of India Act, 1915, and lastly, the Government of India Act, 1935 .Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS) protested against terming indigenous peoples as ‘Bengali’ and non-recognition of indigenous peoples and Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord of 1997 in the Constitution. PCJSS rejected the Fifteen Constitution Bill 2011 and asked the government for its revision. It is mentionable that as per verdict of Supreme Court, Awami League-led present grand alliance government amended constitution of Bangladesh. For this purpose, Jatiya Sangsad[19] (National Parliament) passed Fifteen Constitution (Amendment[20]) Bill 2011 on 30 June 2011.


 Indigenous people have their own culture, tradition, language and customs. The governments have no initiative for the Indigenous people to survive and revive neither the traditions of language nor their culture. Moreover, Indigenous people are being deprived. Few non-government organizations are working to teach the ethnic children in their own languages, though these are not sufficient. The region is a very hilly area, thus, it is difficult to go everywhere to offer the service by private sectors. Without governmental initiatives, the ethnic people have no way to save their own languages, culture and land in the near future. Although the agreement recognized the Hill Tracts “as a region inhabited by tribal people and also recognizes the need of preserving the characteristics of the region. But the irony is that the ethnic culture and languages are assimilating and disappearing gradually with the national and international development initiatives taken in the name of “advancement” of quality of ethnic life in the aftermath of the agreement. There is no code of conduct for post-agreement activities in the Hill Tracts to uphold the characteristics so that the agreement can be implemented without cultural clash. So the government should also give back their own lands, help to exercising their language and culture and make sure their security and existence through the constitutional recognition of adibashi[21].


  1. Dainik Prothom-Alo
  1. Ahmed, Aftab. (1993). Ethnicity and Insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts Region: A Study of the Crisis of Political Integration in Bangladesh.
  1. Chakma, Bhumitra. (2008). Assessing the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord. Asian Profile vol.36 (1), pp.93-106.
  1. Constitution of Bangladesh
  1. http://www.indigenousportal.com/Human-Rights/-Bangladesh-Human-chain-formed-across-the-country-demanding-constitutional-recognition-of-IPs.html
  1. Suranjith Deabnath, “No Books in Mother Tongue, Ethnic kids drop out of schools,”
  1. http://www.bpedia.org/C_0216.php
  1. M Saadat Ali, Parbattya Chattagram Shanti Chukti, Dhaka, 1998
  1. Amena Mohsin,The Politics of Nationalism: The Case of the CHT, Dhaka, 1997, Bangladesh
  1. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mukto-mona/message/11898
  1. http://www.ebangladesh.com/2011/06/27/indigenous-communities-in-bangladesh-want-legal-recognition/
  1. http://www.lawyersnjurists.com/resource/articles-and-assignment/%E2%80%9Cconstitutional-recognition-of-%E2%80%9Casdibashi%E2%80%9D-in-bangladesh%E2%80%9D/
  1. 13.  Adnan, Shapan, 2004. Migration, Land Alienation and Ethnic Conflict: Causes of Poverty in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, Research & Advisory Services, Dhaka.
  1. Ahmed, Imtiaz, Amena Mohsin and Bhumitra Chakma, 2000. “Administrative Reforms in the CHT: A Diagnostic Study of the Ministry of CHT Affairs”. Paper presented at the “Regional Workshop on Administrative Reforms in the CHT: A Diagnostic Study of the Ministry of CHT Affairs”, Dhaka, 11 May, 2002.
  1. Asian Development Bank, 2001. Chittagong Hill Tracts Region Development Plan, (ADB TA # 3328 – BAN), Final Report No.9, “Indigenous People of CHT”, KIT, in association with SODEV Consult, CDP, ARCADIS EUROCONSULT, DPC, Rangamati, February 2001.
  1. 16.  Chakma, Suhas, 2000.  “ADB Programs in Bangladesh: Identifying the Critical Issues”, in Indigenous Perspectives: A Journal of the Tebtebba Foundation, Vol. III, Number 1, Baguio City, Philippines, 2000, pp. 140-150.  
  1. Chakma, Advocate Susmita, 2001. Inheritance & Customary Laws”, Annexe to Social Dimension Report, “Chittagong Hill Tracts Region Development Plan”, Asian Development Bank, Rangamati, February, 2001.
  1. 2003. Gender Specific Human Rights Violation In Bangladesh,” in Salma Khan (ed.),  Role of NGO in Effective Implementation of PFA and CEDAW in Bangladesh,, NGO Coalition on Beijing Plus Five (NCBP), NARI.
  1. Susmita Chakma & Rajib Chakma, “Gender and Human Rights Violation in Chittagong Hill Tracts: The Post Accord Situation”, Freedom Foundation, Dhaka.
  1. Henriksen, John B, 2005. “Implementation of the Right of Self-Determination of Indigenous Peoples within Framework of Human Security”, in Sanjeeb Drong (ed), “Solidarity: 2005”, Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, Dhaka, pp. 103 -127

[1] The legal systems of the world today are generally based on one of three basic systems: civil law, common law, and religious law – or combinations of these. However, the legal system of each country is shaped by its unique history and so incorporates individual variation

[2] 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

 [3] Self-determination is the principle in international law that nations have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or external interference

[4] The Bengali people are an ethnic community native to the historic region of Bengal (now divided between Bangladesh and India) in South Asia. They speak Bengali (????? Bangla)

[5] Chakma may refer to: Chakma people , a Tibeto-Burman people of Bangladesh and Northeast India.

[6] Arakan State, former name of Rakhine State of Burma

[7] A human chain is a form of demonstration in which people link their arms as a show of political solidarity.

 [8] 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.

[9] The Shaheed Minar (Bengali: ???? ????? Shohid Minar lit. “Martyr Monument”) is a national monument in Dhaka, Bangladesh, established to commemorate those killed during the Language Movement demonstrations of 1952.

[10] The total population in Bangladesh was last reported at 164.4 million people in 2010 from 54.1 million in 1960, changing 200 percent during the last 50 years. Bangladesh has 2.35 percent of the world´s total population which means that one person in every 43 people on the planet is a resident of Bangladesh. This page includes a chart with historical data for Bangladesh’s Total Population

[11] The Tibeto-Burman family of languages, often considered a branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family, consists of languages spoken in various central, east, south and southeast Asian countries, including Burma (Myanmar), Tibet, northern Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, parts of southwest and central China (Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou and Hunan), northern mountains and middle hills of Nepal, eastern parts of Bangladesh (Chittagong Division), Bhutan, northern parts of Pakistan (Baltistan), and various regions of India (Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, the Ladakh and Kargil regions of Jammu and Kashmir, and North-East India). Note that while there are Tibeto-Burman languages spoken in these mentioned countries, some major languages in these countries, such as Vietnamese are not Tibeto-Burman (nor even Sino-Tibetan) languages.

[12] Chittagong is a city in southeastern Bangladesh and the capital of an eponymous district and division. Built on the banks of the Karnaphuli River, the city is home to Bangladesh’s busiest seaport and has a population of over 4.5 million making it the second largest city in the country.

 [14] At the end of the two- and half-decade-long bloody conflict, an agreement named “Santi Chukti or peace agreement” was signed in December 02, 1997.

[15] Henceforth, in this thesis Hill Tracts will be interchangeably used for Chittagong Hill Tracts.

[16] Ten percent of the total land area of Bangladesh, but population is about one percent (1.5 million out of 150million). The region comprises of three districts: Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachhari

[17] Recognized eleven ethnic groups are recognized in Hill Tracts: Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Mro, Tanchangya, Bawm, Pangkhoa, Chak, Kheyang, Khumi, and Lushai. There are also two unrecognized ethnic groups: Gurkha and Assamese who have been living in Hill Tracts since the British period. The mainstream populations Bangalis have been joined by transmigrations arriving since the late 1970s; together now form the largest ethnic group in the Chittagong hills (more than 50 percent).

[18] South Asia, also known as Southern Asia, is the southern region of the Asian continent, which comprises the sub-Himalayan countries and, for some authorities (see below), also includes the adjoining countries to the west and the east.

[19] Jatiya Sangsad (Bengali: ?????? ???? Jatio Shôngshod) or National Assembly is the national parliament of Bangladesh. The current parliament of Bangladesh contains 345 seats including 45 women reserved seats distributed on elected party position in the parliament, the occupants of which are called Members of Parliament or MPs.

[20] A change made to a pending motion or bill by a motion to amend

[21] Adivasi is an umbrella term for a heterogeneous set of ethnic and tribal groups claimed to be the aboriginal population of Bangladesh