The constitution of Bangladesh has already accorded preferential treatment to the backward sections of the people

The constitution of Bangladesh has already accorded preferential treatment to the backward sections of the people which also include indigenous people or ethnic minority.-Discuss

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”. On an individual basis, an indigenous person is one who belongs to these indigenous populations through self-identification as indigenous (group consciousness) and is recognized and accepted by these populations as one of its members (acceptance by the group. In Bangladesh people prefer to call tribal people rather than indigenous people. Bangladesh’s tribal population consists of about 1 million people, just less than 1 percent of the total population. They live primarily in the Chittagong Hills and in the regions of Mymensingh, Sylhet, and Rajshahi. The majority of the tribal population lives in rural settings, where many practice shifting cultivation. Most tribal people are of SinoTibetan 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. The four largest tribes are the Chakmas, Marmas (or Maghs), Tipperas (or Tipras), and Mros (or Moorangs). Many indigenous communities have been living in the country for centuries in Bangladesh. The constitution of Bangladesh has already accorded preferential treatment to the backward sections of the people which also include indigenous people or ethnic minority.

I. The Indigenous People of Bangladesh

The issue of the identity of the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh has led to much debate and controversy, and on occasions has brought indigenous leaders and government officials into sharp disagreement. The aboriginal groups in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are generally known as ‘Pahari’ (meaning hillpeople), or as Jumma (from the common tradition of swidden or ‘jum’ cultivation). The plains aboriginals, particularly those in the north-western greater Rajshahi region, used to be generally known as Adivasi, meaning aboriginal or indigenous. However, ever since 1992, when the International Year of the Indigenous Peoples was declared by the United Nations, more and more indigenous peoples, both from theCHT and the plains, have started to increasingly refer to themselves as indigenous in English, and as Adivasi inthe national language, Bengali. Government perspectives on the issue, however, are varied. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for example, has at times preferred the terms ‘tribe’ and ‘tribal’ (“upajati in Bengali) to ‘indigenous’ and ‘adivasi’. Non-indigenous functionaries at the district and sub-district levels too were generally seen to prefer the terms “tribe and “tribal;” ortheir Bengali equivalent, ‘upajati’, but the term Adivasi is being used more widely, especially in the plains districts. The legal situation, on the other hand, is quite pluralistic, and reflects, in its totality, the currency of all the termspreferred by government officials and indigenous peoples combined. Recent legislation seems to favor the terms“tribe/tribal”. A 1995 law – primarily a finance law, but also containing specific references to the exemption ofincome tax payments by indigenous people in the CHT – uses the term “indigenous hill men”. In the National Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper adopted by the Government of Bangladesh in 2005 (“PRSP-I”), the term “Adivasi/ethnic minorities” was used. In the PRSP-II, adopted in October 2008, the terms “indigenous communities” and “indigenous people” were both used.In a proposed amendment to the Union Councils Ordinance, 2008, a provision was sought to be introduced to maintain reserved seats for Adivasis in union councils (“union “parishads”) in areas outside the CHT where there was a significant Adivasi population. Regards the terminology used, the private press and media too display divergent attitudes, but on the whole, most tend nowadays to be respectful towards the views of the peoples concerned, and ‘indigenous’ and ‘adivasi’ are generally preferred over ‘tribes’ or ‘tribal’. Similarly, more and more prominent figures of Bangladeshi civil society are being seen to use the terms indigenous or Adivasi. For example, a political party leader and now Member of Parliament and government minister, recently wrote; “The diversity of our culture due to the presence of indigenous communities is providing extra vigor 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.” This is also consistent with current discourses in the progressive development of human rights law, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

II. The Constitution & indigenous people

After the independence of Bangladesh, the ruling government overlooks the rights of the indigenous people when national constitution adopted and suppressed their quest for identity and autonomy. The 1972 constitution of Bangladesh does not include any provision for recognizing the distinct identity of the indigenous people or accord the hill tract any special status, despite their lot of effort. And today’s constitution also says that the people of the hills are not indigenous people. As constitution of Bangladesh applies everywhere, Bengalis have equal rights to lands in the hills. The people of the hills are also citizens of Bangladesh (not indigenous) – that is also reminded in the constitution.

III. Recent constitutional provision and Demands for Constitutional Recognition:

At 29 August 2005 High Court verdict that declared the Constitution (Fifth Amendment) Act, 1979 (Act 1 of 1979) ultra vires and illegal, the government of Bangladesh took initiative to amend the constitution. To pursue the government of Bangladesh for constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples, the leaders of indigenous peoples raised their voices for recognition of their rights to existence, identities, culture, participation and consent, self-government, land and territories in the constitution. 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 (National Parliament) passed Fifteen Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2011 on 30 June 2011.Then the government did not provide constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples as indigenous peoples (Adibasi); rather, termed tribals, 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. Indigenous peoples of Bangladesh do not want to be known as Bengali. Indigenous peoples rejected it saying that they are Bangladeshi as citizens, but they are not “Bengali” as nation/community. They (indigenous peoples) all are a separate nation possessing separate identity, culture, customs, language and society. Indigenous peoples also protested against retaining of “BISMILLAH-AR-RAHMAN-AR-RAHIM” (In the name of Allah) in the preamble of the constitution and ISLAM as state religion. They argued that Islam alone cannot be the state religion as there are people who practice and follow other religions such as Hindu, Christian, Bouddha and Indigenous Practices.


Bangladesh government is thinking to give them constitutional recognition for the betterment of indigenous people. If Bangladeshi government gives them constitutional recognition then the long cherished demand of indigenous people will be fulfilled. So it will ensure greater opportunities and wider participation of indigenous people in national activities that we can take this country forward. In recent years, fairly good number of people from these communities has made an entry into such professions as the armed forces, civil service and elsewhere. Yet there needs to be more emphasis on such advances being made. There are the relatively backward indigenous groups, such as the Garos, Khassias and Santals, who are in need of affirmative action in order to be recent years, efforts made by academics and social groups to bring indigenous problems into focus through rallies, publication of books and research have greatly sensitized people to indigenous issues. But these efforts need to be made more substantive through a continuous process of integrating indigenous people into national developmental activity and thus mainstreaming them in the economy. Care must be exercised, though, to ensure that their distinctive heritage is not only maintained but also promoted –because the customers and mores of these communities’ add color, content and diversity to our national culture.


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Dr. M. Shoukat Ali,” personal interview” November, 2007

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and goodwill messages of the present and former prime ministers in favour of their arguments, as published in the Daily Amar Desh, Dhaka, 13 May, 2006. See also the editorial of the same paper of 14 May, 2006.

Moving Ahead: National Strategy for Accelerated Poverty Reduction II (FY 2009 – FY 11), General Economics Division, Planning Commission, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, October, 2008., pp. 142-146. This Strategy, among others, supports the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the ratification of the ILO Convention No. 169 (p. 145). It also supports the implementation of the unimplemented provisions of the CHT Accord of 1997 (p. 145).

PCJSS with introductory comments from Mrinal Kanti Tripura, Trinamul Unnayan Sangstha (TUS), 10th july 2007.

Roy, Rajkumari Chandra, 2000. Land Rights of the Indigenous Peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh, IWGIA

Statement of the representative of the Permanent Mission of the Government of Bangladesh to the United Nations at the Fifth Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, UN Headquarters, New York, on 26 May, 2006

The Finance Act, 1995 (Act XII of 1995), paragraph 27.

The Draft Declaration is contained in UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1994/2/Add.1 and is currently under consideration by a Working Group of the Commission on Human Right.

Unlocking the Potential: National Strategy for Accelerated Poverty Reduction, General Economics Division, Planning Commission, Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh, October 30, 2005 (hereafter “PRSP”).

UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1986/7 and Add. 1-4. The conclusions and recommendations of the study, in Addendum 4, are also available as a United Nations sales publication (U.N. Sales No. E.86.XIV.3). The study was launched in 1972 and was completed in 1986, thus making it the most voluminous study of its kind, based on 37 monographs

________________, 2000c. “The Land Question and the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord”, in Victoria Tauli Corpuz et al (eds.), The Chittagong Hill Tracts: The Road to a Lasting Peace, Tebtebba Foundation, Baguio City, pp. 31-54. Also published in Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury, (ed) Land: A Journal of the Practitioners, Development & Research Activists, Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD), Vol 11, No. 7, June, 2004, Dhaka, pp. 43-65.