The government of Bangladesh does not fully recognize the existence of indigenous people in Bangladesh- illustrate and explain.



In constitution making, Bangladesh was more fortunate than other countries in the south-east Asia and specially Pakistan. It is a proud for us that, Bangladesh was prepared and adopted its constitution in nine months’ time where Pakistan took nine years to fully adopt its constitution. And the history says, no other countries in this region are fast as Bangladesh to frame their constitutions in a short time. The constitution of Bangladesh was an improved and modern constitution compare to other constitution available in the sub-continent[1].

After the nine months long war of liberation, Bangladesh was liberated and got its independence on 16th December 1972. Having release from Pakistan jail, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned to Bangladesh 10th January 1972 and next day as a president of Bangladesh, he declared the first provisional constitution of Bangladesh order 1972. This provisional constitution was provided for the parliamentary form of government and the constitution of People’s Republic of Bangladesh has been amended several times after its birth.

Modern day constitutions or codes of written laws have antecedents which can be traced back thousands of years. From the history it is found that, constitution is basically for the citizens of the country. It protects the rights of the citizens, the protection of the pure from usury of the rich to that of non-payment of taxes by widows and orphans. But essentially the constitution of a state guarantee its citizens certain clearly laid down rights and entitlements. The constitution of Bangladesh which came into operation in 16th December 1972 which is divided into 11 parts and containing 153 articles.


 In Bangladesh there are about 45 recognized different indigenous communities living in the plain land hill areas. Indigenous people are basically known as “Adibashi” in Bangladesh[2]. According to the study in 2008, the indigenous people constitute roughly 1.2 percent of the total population of Bangladesh. Some Adibashi forums are demanding that, the total population of indigenous people in Bangladesh is approximately 25 lakh. But unfortunately no government was solely serious about the problems of the indigenous society. Bangladesh government has signed many international instruments of human rights but the violation of human rights toward indigenous people is increasing day by day. Many political parties and leaders commit to address the issue before election but after getting power they ignore the issues and problems of indigenous society.

A)    Indigenous people in the constitution: Constitution of Bangladesh clearly ensures the rights of the all citizens. In spite of constitution, Bangladesh has ratified some international human rights instruments such as the universal declaration of human right (UDHR)[3]. But in the reality, the government of Bangladesh does not fully recognize the existence of indigenous people in Bangladesh. The government often says in Bangladesh, nobody is minority nobody is majority, all are equal. But most of the government taken steps to discriminate indigenous people[4]. The change in the constitution of Bangladesh of 1972 through 5th and 8th amendments curtailed the right of the indigenous and minority people[5]. These changes made them second class citizen in Bangladesh. The lands of the indigenous people are still forcibly being taken away by the government for making eco-parks, national parks, protected and reserved forest, mining, reserved forests, and settlements of government-sponsored non-indigenous migrants, establishments of military bases and for developments program. So the live of the indigenous people is shrinking day by day[6]. After the liberation war, a large number of Adibashi foundations are established to present their rights to the government. But as said earlier no government till now recognized them one survey it’s found that, in “Bandar ban” district alone, around 50,000 acres of land for lease, 118,000 acres of land for protected and reserved forest and 71,711 acres of land for military purpose were grabbed from the indigenous community.

B)    Overall justification against “Adibashi” rights in the constitution:

The demand for the constitutional recognition of Adibashi or indigenous identity is based on a number of premises, justification and context. Firstly, Adibashi is the word that was and is used by Bengalines to refer to the indigenous people of northwestern Bangladesh, including Santal, Munda, and Oraon. Secondly, the term Adibashi is its English equivalent Indigenous. And the most important fact is the Adibashi and indigenous is used in the context of international law even Bangladeshi laws policies judicial decisions and statements. Some of the changes in 15th amendment which is rejected by indigenous community are discussed below:

  • Retaining of BISMILLAH-AR-RAHMAN-AR-RAHIM” (in the name of Allah) in the preamble constitution[7].
  • Retaining of Islam as state religion. The indigenous communities think Islam cannot not be a state religion because a different part of indigenous community is following different religious, like Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and indigenous practices.
  • Non-recognition of indigenous people as indigenous (Adibashi). The constitution is recognizing the indigenous community as Upjati (tribes), “Khudra Janaghosti”[8], or “Nrigosthi”[9]. This terminology is not accepted by the indigenous community.
  • In the 15th amendment of constitution, it is declared that, people of Bangladesh shall be known as Bengalis as a nation and the citizen of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangladeshis. Indigenous community disagreed with this change. In their point of view, they should be known as their own identity as Adibashi otherwise in the long run they will lose their own identity.
  •  Freedom of Association: There is every possibility for the political parties/organizations/associations of the Indigenous Peoples to be stopped terming them communal. Basically the in indigenous community is demanding their own identity. Most of the government treats indigenous community as one group. But the reality is there are several groups in the indigenous community and government should recognize them separately.

     C) Supplementary reforms on enforceable parts of the constitution: it is unfortunate that, the government s present rejection of Adibashi rights is based upon incorrect interpretation of international law and Bangladeshi history. Most of the government was unable to understand the importance of the indigenous community and always avoided the issues of the indigenous community. Recently, the chakman raja Devasish Roy Wangza highlighted[10] some of the flaws of the constitution in case of indigenous people. He said “The new Article 23A on Adibashi culture and heritage is included within the section on Fundamental Principles of State Policy (Part II) of our constitution. And, fundamental principles, according to Article 8(2), ‘shall be a guide to the interpretation of the Constitution and of the other laws of Bangladesh, and shall form the basis of the work of the State and of its citizens, but shall not be judicially enforceable [emphasis added]’. These are, therefore, provisions ‘without teeth’. This means that, among others, advisees may not seek remedies in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh for violation of their rights to religion, heritage and culture; unless they are also included in the Fundamental Rights section (Part III).

 Our fundamental principles of state policy, including on the ‘[emancipation] of the toiling masses, the peasants and workers and backward sections of the people from all forms of discrimination’ (Article 14), have remained substantively under-addressed, if not totally un-addressed, in the last thirty-nine years. Similar is the case with the provision of basic necessities (Article 15), free and compulsory education (Article 17) (numerous communities in the CHT, including members of the numerically small hill peoples, still have no access to primary education), and on public health (Article 18) (numerous CHT communities go without any state healthcare facilities)”[11].


The first step in making the constitution of independent Bangladesh was the formation of the constitution assembly, which was created under Bangladesh order on March 22 1972[12]. During that time constitution assembly was given only one power and function to execute and it was to make a valuable constitution for is notable that the assembly committee had no power to make law and even to exercise control over the executives.

A)    Assembly members: the assembly was formed by the elected representatives of the peoples of Bangladesh who were elected as MNAs (member of nation assembly) and MPAs (member of provincial assembly). In the election held in December, 1970, January, 1971, and March that time, the total number of members including MNAs and MPAs were 469[13]. But in the later time it was decreased by 430 members[14]. After running the assembly for few days the members of the assembly was decreased in the second time. So finally the numbers of assembly members were 403. These 403 Members manned the constituent assembly to the last of its life.

B)    Sessions of the Assembly: the constituent assembly held its first session on 10th April, 1972 for two days. The main action of the assembly was, first they elected their speaker and deputy speaker and on the second day the assembly created a constitution drafting committee. The committee was containing 34 members under the chairmanship of Dr. Kamal Hossain and the law minister. It is highly noticeable that, all the members (including one woman) but one (Scramjet Sen Gupta) of this committee were from Awami League. The committee held its first meeting on 17th April 1972. In this meeting a resolution was adopted and by this the committee invited proposals and suggestions from all section of the people. But unfortunately the committee didn’t have enough response form the people. The poor response can be explained two reason. One is short time and another one is, most of the people thought that, this new constitution will be a copy of proposed parliamentary constitution by the Awami League during 1970-71.  The drafting committee completed its task at its 70th meeting. The total work hour of the drafting committee was 280 hours.

C)    Recent changes in Bangladesh Constitution (15th Amendment): Bangladesh constitution was amended several times in its history. The last amendment was by present Awami league government on 30th June 2011[15]. It is noticeable that, in the past most of the amendments were made by the military government but the 15th amendment is made by elected government. So naturally the citizens of Bangladesh had much more expectation from these changes. Some of the important changes that was brought in 15th amendment is highlighted below:

  • Islam as state religion and Bismillah-Ar-Rahman-Ar-Rahim’ retained. The word,” absolute trust and faith in the almighty Allah deleted.
  • The provisions of consolidating, preserving and strengthen friendly relationship with the Muslim countries from the constitution repealed.
  • Secularism restored
  • The provision of caretaker government on the eve of election abrogated
  • The people of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangalees as a nation and citizen of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangladeshis.
  • Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared as the father of the nation[16] and it is made mandatory to display his portrait at the offices of the president, the prime minister, the speaker, and the chief justice and in head and branch offices of all government and semi-government offices, autonomous bodies, statutory public authorities, government and non-government educational institutions, embassies and missions of Bangladesh abroad.

In my point of view, the change in the 15th amendment wasn’t needed because the changes failed to get back our 1972 constitution. The government declared as Bangladesh secular nation but retain Islam as the state religion which is contradictory with each other. Another important part is, before the amendment, the government created the “constitution reform committee”. This committee talked several indigenous communities to reflect their expectations in the constitutions changes[17]. But the changes didn’t satisfy the indigenous community. Bismillah-Ar-Rahman-Ar-Rahim’ and states that Islam is the State religion but the expression ‘absolute trust and faith in the almighty Allah’ stands deleted! So it lacks faith in Allah but proclaims Islam as its religion in the name of Allah. Another point is that the constitution as it now stands has not put an embargo on the religion-based politics, much against the expectation after a recent remark of the apex court.


The failures in bringing in all the intended amendments have placed the ruling group led by Awami league in a precarious situation. It is itself not satisfied with the amendment and is saying that other pending amendments shall be done if it gets another victory in the next general election. So it needs another overwhelming majority of two-thirds for clarity of its own blurred vision.

The above analysis has been pointed out how insensitive the bureaucracy as well as politicians toward indigenous community. So we expect from government to formulate an in detail policy for indigenous communities of Bangladesh. Government should ensure effective reflection of all the human rights instruments in the government policy and actions. And last is effective allocation of national budget and resources for indigenous community.


  1. MD Abdul Halim, Making Constitution of Bangladesh, October 2010
  2. Muhammad Kamal Uddin. Rights of Indigenous People and Minority Issues in Bangladesh. [Paper presented at Commission for the Rights of Indigenous People held in the University of Calgary, Canada, from 29th June – 3rd July 2006.]
  5. Prashanta Tripura. The Colonial Foundation of Pahari Identity. Journal of Social Studies 58. 1992
  6. Raja Debashis Ray, constitutional provision and Adibashi in Bangladesh, Solidary 2006
  7. AMM Shakhwat Ali, Eco-park ethics and development, Ex- Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Advisor Care taker government of Bangladesh.
  8. Raja Debasis Roy, Perspectives of Indigenous people on the review of the Asian development Banks forest policy.
  9. The Daily Star. The Suppression of Violence against Women and Children Bill 1998, Some Suggestions for Changes. Dhaka. 23 April 1998.
  10. David Hardiman. The Coming of Devi: Adivasi Assertion in Western India. 1995. Delhi. Oxford University Press.
  11. Anwara Begum. Magical Shadows: Women in the Bangladeshi Media. New Delhi, South Asian Publication. 2008. xiv, 282, ISBN 81-7003-316-05.
  12. Barrister sadia Arman and Mesbah Kamal, Constitutional recognition of indigenous people-national and international perspective.
  13. Mithushilak Murmu, Biponno Adibashi Jibon o Somaj, Kashbon Prokashoni, Dhaka.
  14. Sadeka Halim, Violation of Adibashi Women’s Right-Challenges Ahead-Solidarity2006
  15. Constitution of Peoples Republic of Bangladesh.(with 15th Amendment)
  16. Daily ittefaq, Article on ‘Contemporary debates for fundamental changes of the Constitution’, [online, retrieved on November 27, 2011], available at:                                                                     <>
  17. Bangladesh Strategic & Development Forum, Article on ‘Strategic Relations Between Bangladesh And India’, [online, retrieved on October 9, 2011], available at:                                        <>
  18. Council on Foreign Relations, Article on ‘Islam: Governing Under Sharia’, [online, retrieved on October 5, 2011], available at:
  19. RESDAL, Article on ‘The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh ’, [online, retrieved on October 12, 2011], available at:  <>
  20. Daffodil University, Article on ‘THE CONSTITUTION OF THE PEOPLES REPUBLIC OF BANGLADESH’, [online, retrieved on October 11, 2011], available at:;wap2
  1. Wikipedia 1, 2011, Indo-Bangladesh enclaves. [online retrieved on October 8, 2011], available at: <
  1. YUDU, Article on ‘Current Changes in Constitution’, [online, retrieved on October 11, 2011], available at:
  1. Bangladesh: Constitution, Law and Justice by Nagendra Kr Singh
  2. Kamal, M. Bangladesh Constitution: trends and issues.1994
  3. Islam, M. Constitutional law of Bangladesh. 1995
  4. Rahman, L. The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh: with comments & case-laws.1994
[1]The Constitution of Bangladesh (Bangla:?????????? ??????? Bangladesh Shongbidhan) is the supreme law of Bangladesh. It declares Bangladesh as a secular democratic republic where sovereignty belongs to the people; and lays down the framework defining fundamental political principles of the state and spells out the fundamental rights of citizens. Passed by the Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh on November 4, 1972,

It came into effect from December 16, 1972, the day commemorated as Victory Day in the country, marking the defeat of the Pakistan Army in the Bangladesh Liberation War. The constitution proclaims nationalism, democracy, socialism and secularity as the fundamental principles of the Bangladeshi republic. When adopted in 1972, it was one of the most liberal constitutions of the time

[2] Different indigenous communities living in the plain lands and hill areas, They are : 1. Garo, 2. Khiang, 3. Mro/Murong, 4. Bom, 5. Chakma, 6. Chak, 7. Pankhu/Pankhua, 8. Lusai, 9. Marma/Mog, 10. Tripura,11. Tonchonga, 12. Rakhain, 13. Khashia, 14. Monipuri, 15. Kuki, 16. Ushai, 17. Lauua, 18. Khumi, 19. Hajong, 20. Banai, 21. Koch, 22. Dalu, 23. Shantal, 24. Paharia, 25. Munda, 26. Mahato, 27. Shing, 28. Kharia, 29. Khondo, 30. Gorkha/Gurkha,      31. Pahan, 32. Rajuyar, 33. Mushar, 34. Hodi, 35. Palia, 36. Mikir, 37. Rai, 38. Bedia/Bede, 39. Bogdi, 40. Kol, 41. Rajbongshi, 42. Patro, 43. Muriar, 44. Turi, 45. Mahali, 46. Malo, 47. Khatria Barman, 48. Gondo, and 49. Kachhari

[3]It briefly explains the legal and other differences between human rights treaties and declarations. It compares the scope of work of the three specialized UN agencies dealing with indigenous peoples’ rights – the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

[4] The existing clause in the constitution on non-discriminating against any citizen on ‘grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth’ (Article 28) has remained as mere hollow words for countless Bangladeshi women, Bangladeshi members of minorities groups and Adivasi.

[5] See change in 5th and 8th amendment in the constitution.

[6] USA, Canada, Bolivia, Mexico, Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador, Venezuela had recognized the rights of indigenous community in their Constitution. Not only constitutional recognition of their rights but also traditional land rights and ownership of territory were recognized in the constitutions of these countries.

[7] See the changes in 15th amendment of Bangladesh constitution.

[8]THE terms ‘khudro jati-shotta’ is more respectable towards the separate cultural entity of the non-Bengali peoples, but is nevertheless compromised by the problematic of the greater and lesser hierarchical division of peoples (‘khudro o brihottorotar boishommomulok sreni-binyash’).

[9] Khudro nri-goshthi’ (small ethnic groups) and ‘khudro-shomprodai’ (small communities) may be preferable to ‘upajati’ or ‘tribe/tribal’, they too are problematic. In the first place, the indigenous peoples and the Bengali people are both ethnic groups or ethnic communities, and the ‘smallness’ of the indigenous peoples (in population?) should not be the basis to distinguish between the different ethnic groups or communities

[10]Devasish Roy Wangza is the Chakma raja and Chakma circle chief, advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and member, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

[11] Quoted from new age by Devasish Roy Wangza, chakman Raja

[12] See Making the constitution of Bangladesh, Barrister Abdul Halim, page 18

[13] Jahan, Rounaq, Bangladesh Politics: Problem and issues,Dhaka,2005 at page106

[14] Among them 10 died in the meantime (5 killed by Pakistanis, 2 were disqualified and 4 others were imprisoned under the collectors order).

[15] The new political administration led by Sheikh Haseena Wajed tried to undo the amendments in the constitution done by Ziaur Rahman and H.M. Ershad. It has been partly successful and partly unsuccessful. Both success and failure are marked

[16] On January 25, 1975, incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman passed the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution in 13 minutes, banning then all political parties and formed a one-party rule.

[17] Co-chairman of Special Parliamentary Committee for Constitution Amendment (SPCCA) Mr. Suranjith Sengupta, MP, said the rights of the indigenous community would be recognized incorporating their rights in the Constitution