Indigenous People are group of people who have inhabited in a country for thousands of years-illustrate and explain.

Who are Indigenous People?

Indigenous People are group of people who have inhabited in a country for thousands of years. Which often contrast with those of other groups of people who reside in the same country for a few hundred years .Indigenous people are widely known as tribes or in this Indian subcontinent they are known as ‘Adivasis’.

Most indigenous people live in the rural settings of Chittagong hills and the regions of Mymensingh, Sylhet and Rajshahi. Most of the tribal people are of Sino-Tibetan descent, and have distinctive Mongolian features. This indigenous people differ in their social organizations, 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 Buddhist 44, Hindu 24, Christian 13 and other 19.


The term Adivasis , in not confined to any particular geographical or political boundaries but in generally used in the Indian- subcontinent to denote indigenous peoples. Like India , Bangladesh has its Adivasis, Though proportion in the population is much smaller, perhaps 1.5%. The Adivasis of Bangladesh, again like those of India, represent a broad category in capsulation at least 27 different indigenous people. Despite their many differences Bangladeshi Adivasis share major ethnic, Culture, religious and linguistic distinction from the majority Bengalis.

Both prior to the creation of Bangladesh and afterwards, successive government have been reluctant to take a census of the Adivasis population on the basis of language and religion. It is widely believe that the Bangladesh government has deliberately undercounted the Adivasis population to emphasize its marginality. Lower numbers mean that their legitimate demands can be more easily dismissed or ignored by governments and thus excluded from belief aid or development programmes

A Glimpse of Indigenous People of Bangladesh

 Bangladesh has quite a few varieties of indigenous communities living in various parts of the country. Though the total Indigenous population is about 1 million, or less than 1% of the total population, it consists of 45 Indigenous communities using about 26 different languages. Almost all Bengalis, including many Adivasis, speak bangle, and indigenous languages have assimilated many bangle words as their own. Adivasis who have been formally educated through the school system, mostly males are more likely to speak bangle than illiterates. By religion Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Inhabitants are mainly Buddhist, while Kasi and mandi are predominantly Christian. Other Indigenous people have retained their original animism or have affiliated Hinduism.

The most popular indigenous people are Santal (200,000) , Chakma (195,000), Marma(66,000) and Mandi  (60,000). Of these the first and last are considered claims-dwelling Adivasis, With the Mandi living in the north centre of Bangladesh and Santal in the North West.  They have strong relationships with the lands and there is a deep interrelationship between their religious believes. The CHT covers 10% of the total area of Bangladesh. Sometimes Tribal’s are known collectively as JUMMA, because of their traditional method of cultivation which is known as Jum. These groups belong to the Tibeto-Burmese language group[1].

When and How the Conflict Had Started and CHT Accord 1997

 Background of CHT Accord

Communal land ownership was the vital element of their life pattern. The major problems by all the Adivasis was land –grabbing by Bengalis. Although all indigenous land is theoretically considered to be communal land, they were fortunate enough that they got their land under British rule. Their land has been threatened in many ways; one of the main reasons is seizure by trickery or force.

Most of the CHT people migrated into the area from the south between the 16th and the 19th centuries. Although the arrival of Bengali settlers forced many CHT people to retreat further into the hills. The British colonial period was a less disturbing time for the CHT indigenous people and saw the promulgation of laws grunting a major of autonomy, Most prominently reflected by the promulgation of the CHT regulation of 1900[2].

At the time of the partition of India in 1947 the award of the CHT to east Bengal, despite the fact that it contains almost no Muslim population, rest considerable opposition among the people of the CHT. Soon after the Pakistan government allowed Bengali Muslims to move in to the CHT, Causing resentments among the Indigenous people. Two successive governments have actively pursued this CHT as well as depriving them from their lands.

Prior to the creation of Bangladesh, The Kaptai hydro-electric project had a devastating effect on many indigenous people. Built in the 1960s, the hills Kaptai dam flooded large tracks of cultivable land. More than 100,000 people- a quarter of the population of CHT-were displaced. It is estimated that 40,000 environmental refugees fled to India , where many of them are currently living in the north-east state of Arunachal Pradesh, neither citizens of India nor of Bangladesh, having no rights either.

The civil war of Bengali people against the west Pakistan military and its ultimate success, with the overt support of the Indian forces, gave a new hope to the hill people. They had a dream that they will get their right. A delegation representing Adivasis petitioned the new government for a restoration of autonomy for the CHT but it received an unsympathise response. The government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Considered the request to be a sessionist. And the government launched raids in to the CHT in 1972. As a reaction to this the Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS) united people’s party, and their military wings, Shanti Bahini (Peace force) were formed to resist government force.

During its discussions with the govt. Between October 1987 and February 1988, the JSS put forward a number of demands. These demands included-

  • Withdrawal of Bengali settlers and the prohibition of future settlements by non-indigenous people.
  • Withdrawal of all Bangladesh military forces from the CHT
  • Retention of the CHT regulations of 1900
  • A specified degree of autonomy within the CHT
  • Guarantees that these provisions could not be changed without plebiscite within the CHT
  • Economic development to benefit  Adivasis
  • Govt have to release JSS prisoners
  • And the involvement of international agencies such as United Nations Hi commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or international committee of the red cross (ICRC) in the implementation of such an agreement.

 Successive governments have failed to accept such terms, particularly where the issue of autonomy is concerned.

Although an apparent cease fire was in operation and the government begun negotiation with the JSS in November 1992, massive human rights abuses continue to take place in the CHT. The most serious threat to the people of the CHT remains the policy of depriving them of their lands.

Peace Accord 1997:

A major breakthrough in the enduring conflict came through the signing of the peace accords on 2nd December 1997 between the government of Bangladesh and JSS. Accord provides a number of rights to indigenous people including limited autonomy. A land disputes commission was to be established to deal with land related issues.

According to the peace accord 1997 it is stated that: EQUAL BANGLADESH FOR ALL THE CITIZENS. The demonstration will be focusing on two issues of crucial concern to the indigenous people of Bangladesh

1)      Full-implementation of the 1997 CHT accord, which ended the civil war in Chittagong hill tracts.

2)      Recognition of the indigenous people in the Bangladesh constitution, rectifying omission in the 1972 constitution

Status of indigenous people in the light of the constitution of Bangladesh

Bangladesh constitution has taken necessary steps to give indigenous people a full legal right. Bangladesh constitution mentioned clearly about the indigenous people.

Article 6(2)[3] of the Bangladesh constitution says that, “The people of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangalees and the citizen of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangladeshis”.

According to this article it is clearly visible that Bangladesh constitution has been told about the equal opportunity for all the citizens reside in the country regardless religion, minority, race etc.

Article 23(A) [4]says,” The culture of tribes, small ethnic group, ethnic sects and communities-the state shall take steps to protect the unique local culture and tradition of the tribes (upajati), minor races (khudro jatishatta), ethnic sects and communities (nirgoshthi o shomprodai).

According to this article it is clearly stated that the cultural tribes are not indigenous people, they are small ethnic group.

Whether indigenous people exist in the country or not:

 This is a very controversial topic that whether indigenous people exist in the country or not. Few days ago in a press conference our foreign minister DR, Dipu Moni said that[5]” the tribal people living in the CHT are ethnic minorities” and they should not be called “indigenous people” In the region. She also said “neither Bangladesh constitution nor any international laws recognized these people as indigenous people”.

She told the diplomats that” the tribal people most certainly did not reside or exist in the CHT before the centuries were not considered indigenous people in any historical reference books memories or legal documents. Rather the CHT people were settlers on the Bengal soil CHT region compared to Bengali native ethnic vast majority residing here for more than 4000 years, she pointed out,

Dipu Moni told to the diplomats, “In all acts and laws on the CHT including the CHT ACT of 1900 and the Hill District Council ACT 1989[6], the CHT ethnic minorities have been identified as tribal population”.

As per the census of 2001, the people of CHT account for less than 1.8% of the total population of Bangladesh. Giving a special elevated identity to in franchise only 1.2% of the total population of 150 million by disentitling 98.8 percent cannot be in the national interest of Bangladesh, Dipu moni said.

On the other hand the Chakma raja “devashish roy “also referred to the small ethnic group cultural institutions act made in 2010 by the present government. Where the law itself stated in its definition part that small ethnic group would mean indigenous people.

Recent Changes in the Provision in the Constitution of Bangladesh:

 On 30th June 2011 there was 15th amendment of the constitution where there were four changes in provision.

1)      The insertion of the phrase “ Bismillah-er-rahman –er –rahim” before the preamble to the constitution 5th amendment in 1979 by military ruler general. Ziaur rahman[7] with the phrase inserting” trust and faith with almighty Allah in place of secularism. (article 8) has now been reinserted by 15th amendment[8].

2)      The eighth amendment of the constitution by General Hussein Md. Ershad purported to make Islam as state religion. (Article 2A) has been retained in 15th amendment[9].

A recent constitutional amendments mandates “Everyone in the nation to be identifies as Bengalis”. Although it may not be problem with nation’s majority ethnic group, the Bengalis, the indigenous people living in different corners of the country find the amendment (article 23) constitution stripping them of their ethnic identity.

In view of the above discussions, the CHT Commission makes the following recommendations:

  • • The Government should take immediate steps to respond to citizens concerns and to repeal the 15th amendment to the Constitution.
  • • The Constitution of Bangladesh should not include any religion as a state religion.
  • • The Constitution should not have ‘Bangalee nationalism’ as its foundation.
  • • The estimated 50?60 indigenous peoples all over Bangladesh should be recognized as ‘indigenous’ (adibashi) by the Bangladesh Constitution.

Conclusion and recommendation

Bangladesh is a poor country .But, it may not be wrong to say that with very few exceptions, Bangladesh’s indigenous people are by and large the poorest among the poor. It cannot be denied that they face discrimination in education, employment and civil rights. Allegations 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 vigour to the national fabric of Bangladesh. Moreover, indigenous people are the original inhabitants of our country. So, they have the same right we have over Bangladesh, if not more.

The newly elected Australian prime minister recently apologised to the indigenous people of Australia. Prime minister Kevin Rudd told in parliament:”we apologise for the laws and policies of successive governments and parliaments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering, and loss on these our fellow Australians”.

Should we continue to neglect our fellow Bangladeshis, the indigenous people, and continue not doing what should be done for them, and be compelled by our conscience to offer similar apologies in future? Would asking for apology in future absolve our irresponsible acts today?


  1. Devashish, R.,Chakma, p.(2011.)Compendium on National and International Laws and Indigenous People in Bangladesh. Dhaka. Southern Publishers

2         Phroo,k.z.(1999) Tribal’s of Bangladesh.

3         Brauns,Claus-Dieter,”The Mrus: Peaceful Hillfolk of Bangladesh”,National Geographic Magazine,February1973,Vol143,No1

4          Chakma,S.S. Ethnic cleansing in Chittagong hill tracts.p.38

5         Ponette,p.(ed):The Munda World.Hoffmann commemoration volume,Ranchi,1978

6         Majid,M.(2001)The Rakhaines.Dhaka.Mawla Brothers. P.225-227

7         Chakrabarti, Dr. Byomkes, A Comperative Study Of Santali And Bengali,KP BAGCHI, Calcutta, 1994

8         Tanchangya, D. K.(N.D) Retrieved from “

9. No indigenous people in Bangladesh.(2011,july)The Daily Star .Retreive from:

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[1] 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

[2] Chittagong Hill Tracts manual is a manual enacted by the then British Government describing how to administer Chittagong Hill Tracts of present day Bangladesh

[3]  Bangladesh constitution article 6(2)

[4] Bangladesh constitution article 23(A)

[5] Source: the daily star

[6]The law is to improve more of the political, social, cultural, educational and economic rights of all people of Chittagong Hill Tracts including the tribal people of the region.

[7] Former president of Bangladesh

[8] Bangladesh constitution article 8

[9] Bangladesh constitution article 2(A)