Indigenous issues: Need PM's intervention
Identity crisis and only partial implementation of the 1997 CHT Accord are the most important issues for the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh at the moment. They want to be identified as "indigenous" and not as a "small ethnic minority" because the term "small ethnic minority" is an imposed identity and a violation of the "right to self-identity." On the other hand, that the CHT Accord has not been fully implemented is an issue parallel with the identity crisis. Thus, the issues have become very controversial in the local, national and international arena and are a matter of great concern.
Many political and social organisations representing indigenous peoples of Bangladesh have arranged roundtable discussions, talk shows, workshops, seminars, held demonstrations and had dialogues with concerned officials at the local and national levels with the help of many pro-indigenous organisations and people. The issue has also recently been discussed at the 10th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York.
The indigenous representatives of Bangladesh who attended the Permanent Forum last month urged the international community, including the Chair of Forum, to raise their voice so that the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh are recognised in the constitution of Bangladesh as "indigenous" and not as "small ethnic minority."
However, the government representative to the UN, directed by the government, claimed at the Forum that "there are no indigenous people in Bangladesh, but some small ethnic minorities." This is not a surprise for the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh, or for those who are aware of the current standpoint of the government on indigenous issues.
After the claim of the representative, international indigenous participants and experts at the Forum told him that "indigenous peoples have rights to self-identity," no government can impose any identity on any community of its country. Following his claim, the indigenous people of Bangladesh formed a human chain in Dhaka on the June 3, protesting against the statement that "there are no indigenous people in Bangladesh but some small ethnic minorities." We are not sure if the government has any answer to the statement that "indigenous peoples have rights to self-identity" and to the human chain formed in Dhaka protesting against the statement made by the government representative!
A few weeks ago, an article was published in the Naya Diganta (a daily Bangla newspaper) regarding indigenous issues, saying that the foreign ministry of Bangladesh is against constitutional recognition of the indigenous people as "indigenous."
It is not only the general indigenous peoples of Bangladesh who are demanding recognition as "indigenous" in the constitution but five indigenous parliament members, many leftist politicians and many national and international organisations are also now strongly standing on the side of the term "indigenous" despite many anti-indigenous politicians, bureaucrats and intelligence groups being against it.
Perhaps there may be some people who are against constitutional recognition of indigenous people as "indigenous," and one feels that that particular stance goes against the interest of the indigenous people.
We, the indigenous people of Bangladesh, know that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been very sympathetic towards us. Otherwise, her government would have never signed the CHT Accord. Indigenous leaders do not claim that the prime minister has ever been against the interest of the indigenous peoples.
We hope that under the leadership of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina the government will show love and sympathy, and intervene to save the indigenous peoples of the country by giving us constitutional recognition as "indigenous," recognising our traditional customary laws, traditional land management system in the constitution, and fully implementing the CHT Accord.
There will always be suspicions of conspiracy from many sides against the existence of indigenous peoples until and unless the prime minister intervenes in these matters. We look forward hopefully to her positive intervention in preserving the existence of the indigenous people of Bangladesh.
The writer is a development activist.
courtesy: The daily star