Raja Devasish wins key backing
A former caretaker government advisor, Raja Devasish renewed the demand at the cover unveiling of a book on indigenous laws that he edited at the Supreme Court premises on Monday.
An enlisted barrister at the Supreme Court, he said the word 'tribal' or 'Upajati' was in all government documents before the Small Ethnic Groups' Cultural Organisation Law-2010 had been enacted.
"With that, we threw the word 'tribal' in the dustbin. But the government is now trying to retrieve that word from the dustbin."
The government has been declining to recognise the indigenous people of Bangladesh. Law minister Shafique Ahmed recently said there were no indigenous people in Bangladesh and the marginalised communities 'are tribal'.
The prime minister at a press conference on April 27 said there were no indigenous people in the country but the Santals.
The former advisor to the previous caretaker government differed with the use of 'tribe' and suggested that the words scheduled casts and Janajati, used in India, would be more appropriate.
The indigenous people have long been demanding their recognition to safeguard their existence.
Rights activist Sultana Kamal and National Human Rights Commission chairman Mizanur Rahman are among those advocating for the recognition.
Raja Devasish also criticised the special parliamentary committee on constitution amendment for not inviting any indigenous to the talks.
He also demanded that the 1997 Peace Accord be recognised in the constitution.
"Many laws have been enacted after the deal was signed and those have been questioned in the High Court and more questions may be asked in future," he reasoned in defending the demand.
Senior judge S K Sinha hoped the government would take an initiative for the recognition, "since the country is going to amend its constitution".
"Indigenous people have been recognised in many countries across the world," he said.
Habibur Rahman, a former caretaker government head, favoured discussion for resolving the problems rather than creating conflicts anew.
"We should not be frustrated and don't need to get angry too as problems centring indigenous people are present around the globe," he added.
Shafique at a programme on June 8 said that the constitution review panel in their recommendations included a provision for the indigenous, which says: "The state will preserve culture and tradition of the tribal and ethnic groups towards their development."
Raja Devasish at a press conference last month in New York had said: "The Bangladesh government is one of the few in the world which officially denies the existence of indigenous people within its borders."
He led a 12-strong team of indigenous people to the 10th session of the UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues, where Iqbal Ahmed, first secretary of the Bangladesh Mission in the United Nations, said Bangladesh had no indigenous population and claimed that the forum did not have any standing in discussing issues related to the peace accord.