There is no international agreement or specific definitions of indigenous people. In the anthropological sense, there are many definitions of the indigenous peoples around the world. But the United Nations and international laws apply 4 criteria to recognize indigenous people:
- Indigenous people usually live within geographically distinct areas and 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 national society and
- They self identity as indigenous or tribal.
Indigenous people are seen almost every region of the world. Elements of Indigenous people include :
- Traditional life styles.
- Culture and way of life different from the other segments of the national populations.
- Own social organization and political institutions living in historical continuity in a certain area.
In Bangladesh indigenous people are known as ‘ Adibashi ’, ‘ pahari ‘ or ‘ Upazati ‘. They are living in the country for a long period of time. In many of the official documents of Bangladesh, indigenous people are documented as “ Tribal”, however, in some laws they have been documented as “indigenous” for example, Act 12 0f 1995 and rules 6, 34, 45 & 50 of the CHT regulation 1900. They also known as “ Aboriginal” in government documents. In the PRSP, government has recognized them as “ethnic minorities”. But the word Adibashi is using to address the primary program because it is very common and popular in the Country.
2.Indigenous People of Bangladesh:
In Bangladesh there are 49 different indigenous communities living in the plain lands and hilly areas. The indigenous People’s recognize 45 groups. Indigenous people constitute 2 % of the total population of Bangladesh. They exist and live in almost 23 districts of Bangladesh.
Historically and traditionally indigenous people have a love and respect for nature. They believe in the world of ‘ spirit’ that exercise control over nature and their lives. Their original animism pervades their thoughts and feelings. Religion is not a personal phenomenon for them. They generally express their religious feelings in a communal way rather than individual way. There is a deep interrelation between their religious belif and their social structure. The communal spirit is strong and according to their law and custom all land is the property of community.
3.Discrimination against indigenous people:
Generally the mainstream Bengali society thinks that the indigenous people’s religion and culture are inferior. The indigenous population of Bangladesh forms a marginalized and exploited minority who principally live isolated in pockets in different parts of the country. Presents practices and political environment among the politicians and parties has meant that there has been very little participation of the government and other development partners in the developments activities directed towards these communities. Lack of constitutional recognition, the pressure of Bengali population expansion and unfamiliarity in dealing with state mechanism has, led to progressive erosion of their economic status and cultural identity.
Some unfriendly projects have been taken in different regime that made them more vulnerable too. Often they are refused basic survival requirements in rural and urban areas. Sometimes the poor indigenous people are not allowed to have food, take tea, breakfast etc. in hotels and restaurants. On the other hand the Govt. of Bangladesh does not recognize the existence of indigenous and minority people in Bangladesh. The Govt. Often says, “ In Bangladesh, nobody is minority and nobody is majority, all are equal.” But unfortunately GOB adopted policies to discriminate, exclude, disintegrate and dispossess the minority and indigenous people. The change in the constitutions of Bangladesh of 1972 through 5th and 8th amendments curtailed the rights of the indigenous and minority people. These made them second- class citizens, disregarded and violated all international documents, covenants, treatise and treaties of the UN and other international organizations where Bangladesh is signatory.
4.Government does not recognize the existence of indigenous people :
In the constitution of Bangladesh, there is not clearly mentioned anything about the indigenous people so far. Although they have their own distinct culture, heritage, social custom, social organization, own language, rituals, norms and beliefs and they are living in Bangladesh from couple of century ago, they are comparatively less privileged than the mainstream community in the social, economic and political aspects. Their identity of nationalism is in question. In the first constitution of 1972, article6(2) all citizens of Bangladesh are treated as Bangali and that is amended further. Mr. M.N. larma raised the question on the parliament in 1972 that, if the all citizens are treated as Bangali, than what should be the identity of indigenous people. The president [ Sheik Mujibur Rahman ] said “ Tora Banglai Hoye Ja “. The Govt. of General Ziaur Rahman amended the constitution and wrote all citizen of Bangladesh will treat as Bangladeshi. As the citizen of Bangladesh it is true that identity does not recognize the distinctiveness of them.
The first constitute of Bangladesh include in its article 9 one language, Bangali and the one Banglai nation as the very basis of the state. The constitute also included the principle of secularism (Article 12) while accommodating free practice of religions and the script based of the minorities were mentioned. Actually inclusion of more Bangladeshi nationalism in the constitution making is unacceptable to the CHT leadership. Also article28(1) of the constitution, with its provisions of 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 nationalists principle.
Tone Bleie explained that the transformation of nationalism by General Zia from ‘Bengali’ to ‘Bangladeshi’ with emphasis on ‘ Islamization’ specifically ignored the political sensitivity on indigenous people’s issue. Often some people were trying to agree that, it has been mentioned about the indigenous people in the Constitution on article 28(4), 29(3,ka) as ‘ backward section of people’. Many persons were trying to interpret the constitute in such way. If we accept this logic, then it will raise the question about the term of ‘backwardness’. In the human rights perspective, the terms of ‘backwardness’ gives us a discriminatory perception and also raise the question of what the basis of backwardness, what is the criteria of backwardness, why would treat asbackward, who will be the judge to measure of backwardness. The term ‘backwardness’ itself is a discriminatory word. On the other hand there is not recognizing about the existence of indigenous people in the constitute of Bangladesh at all.
The lead author of the constitute of Bangladesh Kamal Hossain personally ageed many times that the issue of indigenous people did not get specific importance at that period. He also suggested incorporating their recognition as the Indigenous people in the constitute in clause number.
Indigenous people are demanding constitutional recognition since long. They believe that, without constitutional recognition government will not take any affirmative action as progressive realization to solve their problems. On the other hand it may inspire to violate to their rights frequently. But no government has shown minimum interest to take any step to include them in the constitution in any way. Even any government never formulated any policy paper or any official declaration to recognize them. Rather in many cases the government representatives or spokesman are declaring that there are no indigenous people in Bangladesh. Generally in some administrative documents they have been mentioned as ‘ Upazati or Tribal ‘.
Mentionable that, an online survey shows that 70.09 % people supports giving the recognition of the Indigenous people in the constitute of Bangladesh.
5. Meaningful participation of indigenous people are missing in development planning :
The indigenous people of Bangladesh have no meaningful participation in development planning, decision making bodies and overall development agenda as well. In the parliament there are number are fewer of less than five. But they have no way to contribute individually in the parliament at all as well as no power of voting against the party decision. So it is not possible to influence the policy matters by them.
A ministry has been formed named “Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tract “as the condition of peace treaty and the ministry is implementing some program in the CHT. The ministry has no individual power to take any decision because it has been working under the Prime Ministers always. On the other hand government officials, who have got posting in this ministry, feel it is a punishment posting to them. One of the major criticisms is that, the ministry is working only for the CHT district. But more than 32 groups of indigenous people are living in the plain areas who excluded from getting the benefit of the ministry. In every tier of government and local government bodies, inclusion manner is remarkably ignored. One sort of biasness and lack of sensitization make the non-Muslim people generally excluded from state services and decision making committees. Most significant issue is that, when they government took decision in any development project or program in the Adibashi living area, there is no discussion with them on whether it will bring any positive or negative benefit. Mostly the decision has taken from the top level of administration. Sometimes the local administration calls the adibashi leaders and imposes the central decision.
6.Discriminatory allocation in ADP:
Annual development Program( ADP) is the main development initiative by the government of any country. As adibhasis are specifically disadvantaged and marginalized community in terms of social, political & economic rights & achievements, their mainstream and right should be targeted by the government. Mitigation of economic inequality between adibashis and non-adibashis should become central issue of ADP allocation. Discriminatory allocation towards the indigenous people of plain land and more profound if we consider the per capita ADP allocation for overall Bangladesh, all indigenous people of plain and hill tracks. In FY2007-08, per capita ADP allocation for overall Bangladeshis was 18469.97 and at the same time 88.17 BDT allocated for the plain land indigenous people. The study shows that, no allocation directly for the education, empowerment of indigenous women and to increase market power of adibashi. The block allocation for plain land Adibashi are very insignificant. In the ADP documents plain land Adibashi are not mentioned as adibashi. Indigenous people get less land in spite of allocating 23 % of land by the ministry of CHT. Development assistance to the three hill district was 25 crore Taka less than in the budget of 2008-2009 and it is increasing.
Education status is below than the national average. Overall net enrollment rate is far behind whether the national rate is 87 %. Different study shows that, the access to education of the Adibashi has been doubled in 1990s in comparison to 1980s, but still it is far away than the desired level. 53.36 % of 6-10 are from CHT areas. Indigenous people are frequently faced the harassment situation by different Govt. officials especially in the land issues.
Govt. yet could not show little respect towards indigenous people in case of land commission, implementation of land treaty, bilingual education, recognition, access to justice, stopping harassment etc. Their identity in the constitution is not fully recognized. Peace agreement is in threat. Conflict are increasing between the Bangali and Adibashi. Even in the recent change of the 15th code of constitution, the indigenous leaders think they are being exploited and their recognition is just an issue of the politics and Govt. In October,2011, representatives from indigenous communities said the government had betrayed them with false hopes and promises of constitutional reorganization and implementation of the CHT peace accord. So the Govt. and policy makers should take special care on this regard.
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