The status of Indigenous people in the light of constitution and includes the recent change of provisions in the constitution of Bangladesh-illustrate and explains.


Bangladesh’s tribal population consists of about 1 million people, just fewer than 1 percent of the total population. They live primarily in the Chittagong Hills and in the regions of Mymensingh, Sylhet, and Rajshahi. The Tribals of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are part of a much larger tribal minority in Bangladesh. These groups live in the Bandaran, Chittagong Hill Tract and Khagrachari Districts along the eastern border of Bangladesh adjoining Burma and the Indian states of Mizoram and Tripura. The majorities of the tribal population (778,425) live in rural settings and most practice shifting cultivation[1]. Most tribal people are of Sino-Tibetan[2] descent and have distinctive Mongoloid features. They differ in their social organization, marriage customs, birth and death rites, food, and other social customs from the people of the rest of the country. They speak Tibeto-Burman languages. In the mid-1980s, the percentage distribution of tribal population by religion was Hindu 24, Buddhist 44, Christian 13, and others 19.[3]

The four largest tribes are the Chakmas, Marmas (or Maghs), Tipperas (or Tipras), and Mros (or Moorangs). The tribes tend to intermingle and could be distinguished from one another more by differences in their dialect, dress, and customs than by tribal cohesion. Only the Chakmas and Marmas display formal tribal organization, although all groups containe distinct clans. By far the largest tribe, the Chakmas are of mixed origin but reflect more Bengali influence than any other tribe. Unlike the other tribes, the Chakmas and Marmas generally live in the highland valleys. Most Chakmas are Buddhists, but some practiced Hinduism or animism[4].

 Tribal Structure and Demographic profile

Name: Chittagong Hill Tract Tribals
Alternative names: Chakmas, Marmas, Tripuras, “Jummas” (collective name)
Location: Chittagong Hill Tracts, south-western Bangladesh
Population: about 500,000
% of population: 0.5% of Bangladesh population, 0.66% of CHT population
Religion: Hinduism, Buddhist, animist, Christian
Language: various

 Until very recently, the majority of the population in the CHT[5] have been tribal people that since British times, have been identified in three circles (1) the Chakma circle consists most of the Rangamati district and one or two Thana in Khagrachari (2) the Bomong circle includes all of Bandarban and one Thana in Rangamati (3) the Mong Circle includes the Khagrachari district. The circles are divided into Mouzas[6] and the Mouzas into hamlets. There are 11 hill communities and they having their own language and culture. The Khasis and the Garos are predominantly Christian while the Chakmas and the Maghs are Buddhists. The tribes which live close to West Bengal have strong affinities with Bengali society but those in the CHT are more isolated and so retain a very distinctive culture. The peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts are composed of 13 main tribes of which the Chakmas, Marmas and Tripuras (Tipperas) total approximately 90%. The Chakmas are the largest single tribe in Bangladesh, with a population of 300,000 and they occupy for over half of the tribal population of the Hill Tracts. They are unique among the tribes in having sacred Buddhist texts written in both their own language and in Pali, the language of Buddhist scriptures. Their ancestors are believed to have migrated west from Arakan in present-day Burma and their alphabet is related to early Burmese alphabets. Culturally the Chakmas have affinities with the Chin tribes of western Burma. Most of the CHT peoples migrated into the area from the south from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, but, from the seventeenth century, when Bengali settlers arrived on the coast, they retreated into the hills. The changing composition of the population in the CHT is shown below.

Indigenous People and Bengali Population Statistics (1872-1991)[7]

Census Year 1872 1901 1951 1961 1974 1981 1991
Tribal People 61,957 116,000 261,538 334,594 345,575 441,776 501,144
Bengali 1,097 8,762 26,150 83,649 162,624 304,873 473,301
Total 63,054 124,762 287,688 418,243 508,199 746,649 974,445
Indigenous % 98% 93% 91% 80% 68% 59% 51%
Bengali % 2% 7% 9% 20% 32% 41% 49%

The rising problem:

The CHT indigenous people remained largely undisturbed by British rule. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation 1900 left them to govern themselves according to their traditions and non- indigenous people was not permitted to settle in tribal areas. After partition in 1947, however, the Pakistani government allowed Bengali Muslims to move into Chittagong and the CHTs and this caused anger among the indigenous people. There was a gradual movement of indigenous peoples into India and the proportion of non-indigenous people living in tribal areas grew, but after the establishment of military rule in 1958 non- indigenous people was once again barred from settling in the region. But after the liberation war of 1971 and the formation of Bangladesh their status became difficult again. Then the Chakmas demanded for autonomy and new government for the CHT thus their demand was rejected. During the liberation war some tribes supported the Pakistanis therefore the government raided into the CHT in 1972, as a result thousands of indigenous people escaped to India and their lands were occupied by Bengalis. To counter the situation and to protect their rights the indigenous groups formed The People’s Solidarity Association (JSS)[8] and its military wing, the Shanti Bahini[9], numbering between 2,000 and 15,000 to resist the government forces. It was mainly staffed by Chakmas, but also Marmas and Tripuras. Some human rights violations against Tribals by both military and government personnel and Bengali settlers were seen. The main reason behind the Shanti Bahini attacks is the continuing violation of Bengalis on the tribal lands. There have been attempts by the government to make a settlement with the Shanti Bahini. In 1987 a National Committee was formed to look into the problem and held talks with tribal leaders from the JSS and Shanti Bahini with the hope of creating a permanent settlement.

 The JSS made a number of demands to protect the interests of the Tribes. They demanded that

  • CHT will be an Autonomous Region with its own legislature;
  • For the safeguard of the rights of the Jumma people, a Statutory Provision must be guaranteed in the Constitution similar to the CHT Regulation of 1900;
  • Administrative set up of the tribal Chiefs be retained; and
  • There must be a Constitutional provision with a guarantee that no constitutional amendment[10]

 1972 constitution and indigenous people of Bangladesh

According to the constitution of Bangladesh-

The article 2.A says, “The state religion of the Republic is Islam, but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in the Republic”[11].

The article 6.2 says, “The citizens of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangladeshis”[12].

The article 8.1 says, “The principles of absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah, nationalism, democracy and socialism meaning economic and social justice, together with the principles derived from them as set out in this Part, shall constitute the fundamental principles of state policy”12. Also the article 8.1.A says, “Absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah shall be the basis of all actions”[13].

The article 23 says, “The State shall adopt measures to conserve the cultural traditions and heritage of the people, and so to foster and improve the national language, literature and the arts that all sections of the people are afforded the opportunity to contribute towards and to participate in the enrichment of the national culture”[14].

In the year 1972 Bangladesh constitution was framed. The Awami League government ceased the existence of separate status of CHT in its constitution. Under the name of Democracy, Nationalism, Secularism and Socialism the nationality for the people of Bangladesh was made to be as Bengali though there are various national minorities who are not Bengalis and have a distinct culture and language of their own.

 The 15th Amendment of Constitution and the Change of Provision

“BISMILLAH-AR-RAHMAN-AR-RAHIM” (In the name of Allah) in the preamble of the constitution retained.

Article 2.A

ISLAM retained as state religion but people from religion such as Hindu, Christian, Buddha and Indigenous Practices will get the same dignity and rights to practice their own religion.

Article 6.2

The People of Bangladesh shall be known as Bengali as a nation and the citizens of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangladeshis. Indigenous peoples of Bangladesh do not want to be known as Bengali

Article 9

The article 8.1 and 8.1.A will be altered by the Article 9 which says, “Secularism, nationalism, democracy and socialism meaning economic and social justice, together with the principles derived from them as set out in this Part, shall constitute the fundamental principles of state policy”

Article 23.A

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).

It is mentionable that as per verdict of Supreme Court, present government amended constitution of Bangladesh. For this purpose, the National Parliament passed Fifteen Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2011 on 30 June 2011.


The government did not provide constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples as indigenous peoples (Adibasi); rather, termed tribal, small nationalities, ethnic group and communities. These terminologies are not accepted by the indigenous peoples. Fifteen Amendment provides that the People of Bangladesh shall be known as Bengali as a nation and the citizens of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangladeshis. But the fact is the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh do not want to be known as Bengali. As per the constitution they are the citizen of Bangladesh so no objection to accept Bangladeshi as citizenship, but as a nation or community they are not “Bengali”. They all are a separate nation possessing separate identity, culture, customs, language and society. There is another problem of retaining “BISMILLAH-AR-RAHMAN-AR-RAHIM” (In the name of Allah) in the preamble of the constitution and ISLAM as state religion because Islam alone cannot be the state religion as there are people who practice and follow other religions such as Hindu, Christian, Buddha and Indigenous Practices. So, retaining “BISMILLAH-AR-RAHMAN-AR-RAHIM” (In the name of Allah) in the introduction of the constitution and ISLAM as state religion could turn people of other religions to second-class citizens.


While analyzing the status of the indigenous people of Bangladesh it was seen that, they are really staying in a measurable situation. They are not creating any harm to the people of Bangladesh and are used to live within their area. But general people of this country are disturbing the indigenous people every time. During the period regime of Zia he encouraged the general people of Bangladesh to migrate there and to live in the area with the indigenous people. If the general people were used to live friendly with the indigenous people then not demand from the indigenous people should come. But repeatedly the general people of this country abused the indigenous people in different ways. Therefore, they did revolt and the CHT became a terror zone day by day. The indigenous people formed a community and asked for the full autonomy. But, Bangladesh is a small country and is centrally controlled by the central government. So, making the CHT autonomous will make the CHT as a state of the country, which is not accepted anyway. So, making CHT autonomous will not be a good decision. Also the CHT people are demanding to be known as indigenous people. But if we look at the definition of the indigenous people then we will come to know that, indigenous people are those who are the original people of a place but when other nation occupied their lands then they have less rights and facilities. Like the original people of America and Australia. They are known as the indigenous people. But, in the beginning of this article it was clearly said that Bangladesh is a historical country and the people of this country have their own culture and norms. It is also stated the origin of the people living in the CHT. There is no chance to declare them as indigenous people rather stating them by, tribes (upajati), minor races (khudro jatishaotta), ethnic sects and communities (nrigoshthi o shomprodai) and the government shall take steps to protect and develop the unique local culture and tradition of them. Therefore it can be concluded with this statement that, the government shall take steps to protect and develop the unique local culture and tradition of the CHT people and they will be known as tribes (upajati), minor races (khudro jatishaotta), ethnic sects and communities (nrigoshthi o shomprodai). The government should also withdraw the general Bangladeshi people and additional Bangladeshi Army from that region to keep peace in that region. Though it is impossible to give the CHT people full autonomy, but the local government could be made and run the CHT community.

[1] The Sino-Tibetan languages are a language family comprising, at least, the Chinese and the Tibeto-Burman languages, including some 250 languages of East Asia, Southeast Asia and parts of South Asia. They are second only to the Indo-European languages in terms of the number of native speakers.

[2] Shifting cultivation is an agricultural system in which plots of land are cultivated temporarily, and then abandoned. This system often involves clearing of a piece of land followed by several years of wood harvesting or farming, until the soil loses fertility. Once the land becomes inadequate to corp production, it is left to be reclaimed by natural vegetation, or sometimes converted to a different long-term cyclical farming practice.

[3] 24 percent of the total tribal population is the Hindu believer, 44 percent of the total tribal population is the Buddhist, 13 percent of the total tribal population is the Christ believer and 19 percent of the total tribal population follows other religions,

[4] Animism encompasses the beliefs that there is no separation between the spiritual and physical worlds and souls or spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in all other animals, plants, rocks, and natural phenomena such as thunder, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment

[5] CHT means Chittagong Hill Tracts.

[6] Mouzas means areas or regions.

[7] Quoted in Roy R.D. (1997) The Population Transfer Programme of 1980s and the Land Rights of the Indigenous Peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In Subir Bhaumik et al (eds).Living on the Edge: Essays from the Chittagong Hill Tracts. South Asia Forum for Human rights, Kathmandu

[8] JSS means Jana Samhati Samhiti

[9] Force backed and equipped by Myanmar Army to counter the military of Bangladesh.

[10] Larma, JB, 2010. Brief History. Brief History and Struggle of the CHT, 01, 03-14

[11] Constitution of Bangladesh (1972), Article 2

[12] Constitution of Bangladesh (1972), Article 6

[13] Constitution of Bangladesh (1972), Article 8

[14] Constitution of Bangladesh (1972), Article 23