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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ongoing conspiracy and media manipulation against the indigenous population of Bangladesh and an email from Raja Devasish Roy

Ongoing conspiracy and media manipulation against the indigenous population of Bangladesh and an email from Raja Devasish Roy

News on ongoing constitution amendment process aired yesterday (Tuesday), on all the major TV channels of Bangladesh created frustration among the indigenous population of Bangladesh.

The TV channels broadcasted Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Barrister, Shafiq Ahmed, declaring that the Indigenous populations of the country have stepped back from their demand for constitutional recognition and they don’t want constitutional recognition as ‘Indigenous’ people anymore.  He declared it right after having a meeting with Chakma King Debashish Roy, rights activist Mesbah Kamal, Prof Dr. H. K. Arefin, Sanjeeb Drong and Advocate Rana Dasgupta, at the secretariat.

The indigenous populations of the country were surprised and frustrated hearing that the two prominent indigenous representatives, Chakma King Devasish Roy and Bangladesh Adivasi (Indigenous) forum’s general secretary Sanjeeb Drong have changed their stance on the Indigenous issue.

However, when we asked Raja Devasish Roy regarding this, he confirmed that the Law minister’s statement is not true and there was no agreement on such proposal.

Well, this is not the first time Bangladesh Government plotted such conspiracy theory and created unnecessary debates on this particular issue. In addition to that, now days some anthropologists of the country are taking the side of the government and inflaming problems.  They are taking part in different TV talk shows and newspaper editorials, trying their best to prove that the Indigenous populations of Bangladesh do not deserve to be recognized as “indigenous” in the constitution of Bangladesh, thus misguiding common people-- as a part of government’s conspiracy theory-- against the Indigenous people of Bangladesh.

Following is the email from Raja Devasish Roy explaining his stance on Indigenous Issue:

From: devasish roy 
Sent: Wednesday, 29 June 2011 4:02 AM
Subject: Television Report on Adibashi Issues on 28 June, 2011

Dear Friend and Colleagues,
Thoughts on Constitutional Reform & Indigenous Peoples’ Rights
I take this opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts on the current issue of constitutional reform in Bangladesh and the inclusion of provisions on the identity, integrity and rights of the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh.

I enclose herewith part of an article on the issue that I had an understanding with the “Nee Age’, Dhaka, to publish. Since I sent the draft to them, some 3-4 days ago, they have been silent. I may send the draft for publication to another newspaper soon. Meanwhile, I send a part of the draft for your information and use, as appropriate;
Current Dynamics & Media Report: 28 June, 2011
Time is of the essence and the overall dynamics of the issue show a hurried process of constitutional reform in which our indigenous peoples are being sidelined again. Even today, 28 June, 2011, the electronic media – I am told (I had no time and opportunity to see or hear the news items myself, as I was busy in meetings with the Law Minister and members of Parliament, lobbying for our cause) – projected a slanted and inaccurate account of the meeting I had – along with General Secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, Sanjeeb Drong, Prof Dr. H. K. Arefin (Dhaka University, Dept of Anthropology) and Prof Mesbah Kamal (Dhaka University, Dept of History) – with the Law Minister, Barrister Shafique Ahmed. Please note: the minister faced the television cameras. We did not have that opportunity. We do not have the same or similar access to the electronic media as the minister does. But we will try to also address the media and press.
Current Expected Press Note on 29 June and Likely Press Conference on 30 June

Apparently, some sections of the electronic media reported that we had “moved away” from the demand on the recognition of Adibashi identity. This is incorrect, inaccurate and misconceived. We hope that the discrepancies will be corrected through a press statement that we will issue tomorrow (29 June), and through a press conference that we hope to address on the issue on 30 June. Raja Devasish Roy and Sanjeeb Dong are on record as having endorsed a set of demands – along with other indigenous leaders, including the five indigenous members of the Bangladesh parliament- who demanded recognition of adibashi identity, integrity and rights, that were presented to the Constitutions Reform Committee and to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. 
Discussions with Law Minister on 28 June

The meeting with the Law Minister was arranged by Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum. It was not on the invitation of the Government of Bangladesh, although we are grateful to the Law Minister for his time and attention. At the request of Sanjeb Drong, I agreed to join the group to discuss pertinent issues with the minister. It was not a formal meeting, and merely a forum to exchange ideas.

We wished to start the discussion with the proposals of the Constitutional Reform Committee, but at the request of the minster, we started the discussion with the justification of the indigenous and adibashi dentity.
Adibashi & Indigenous Identity

The minister asked us to explain the basis of our demands for indigenous and adibashi identity, since he said that he felt that these concepts – adibashi, indigenous and aboriginal – although relevant to Australia and the United States, had no application in Bangladesh, including within the context of the ILO Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (of 1989).

Our team explained to the minister, the following, among others:
Indigenous within the Context of ILO Conventions 169 and 107
The position that the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh, including those in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and in the plains, are indigenous peoples on the basis of the following:

§  That we are the descendants of “the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonization” {article 1(1)(b), ILO Convention No. 107};

§  That, “irrespective of [our] legal status, [we] live more in conformity with the social, economic and cultural institutions of that time than with the institutions of the nation to which [we] belong”. {article 1(1)(b), ILO Convention No. 107};

We explained to the minister - citing historical, legal, anthropological, and other evidence – that all the indigenous peoples of the CHT, and those in the plains,

·       are “descendants of the populations which inhabited the country (Bangladesh), or a geographical region to which the country belongs (South and Southeast Asia), at the time of conquest (1750-60s by the British East India Company) or colonization (1860, in the case of the CHT);

·       “live more in conformity with the social, economic and cultural institutions of that time than with the institution of the nation to which [we] belong {the institutions of chief, headman and karbaries (evolution of roaza, lal, dewan, dhamai, amu, etc), oza, baidya, in the CHT and majhi, myntri, nokma, gaon bura, etc in the plains.

Referring to a videographed interview of Bohmong Raja Aung Shwe Prue Chowdhury, in which he said that they [the Bohnong family?] were neither “uajati nor adibashi” but immigrants from Myanmar (Burma), it was pointed out that this ancestry may be true for the Bohmong family, but not applicable to the other Marma of the CHT (most of whom lived in the CHT at the time of conquest (1760s, by the British East India Company) and colonization (1860; by the British Indian Government), nor to the other ten indigenous peoples of the CHT. It was pointed out that the Chakmas, for example, were in the Chittagong-CHT region at least as early as 1550 (Joa de Barros’s map of 1550s, and references in the J. J. Campos’s History of Bengal). 

Outdated Concept of Indigenous Identity with Austro-American Orientation 
The minister’s stance was that there were indigenous or aboriginal people in Australia and the USA, but not in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, he reiterated, there were only tribal people. This was controverted with the explanation that the “Austro-American” orientation of indigenous identity was no longer relevant or valid in current human rights and indigenous rights discourses within United Nations and international human rights instruments (e.g., the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, ILO Conventions No. 107 and 169) or processes (the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of indigenous Peoples, etc.).  [We cannot expect the United Nations and the international processes to set the clock back and establish different forums for ‘indigenous’ and ‘tribal’ peoples. The ILO Conventions NO 107 and 169 clarify that the rights mentioned in the conventions apply to both indigenous and tribal groups, without distinction or differentiation]. 

Separate Forums for Indigenous & Tribal Peoples? 
It was pointed out that, if the Austro-American concept of indigenous identity were still relevant and valid, the United nations would have established (i) separate forums for indigenous (only Autro-American) peoples and ‘tribal’ (sic!) peoples. There would have been separate declarations for indigenous and tribal peoples. But that is not the case. The current discourse on indigenous identity includes both the Austro-American peoples and peoples in Asia, Africa and Europe (the UN Permanent Forum and Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has members from Asia, Africa and Europe, as well as from Australia and the Americas).

It was pointed out to the minister that when Bangladesh ratified the ILO Convention No. 107 in 1972, under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Government of Bangladesh did not state that there were “tribal” people in Bangladesh but no “indigenous” people. Having not done so in 1972, to do so in 2011, is discriminatory, and unacceptable (as was done by the representative on the Un Mission of Bangladesh in New York at the UN Permanent Forum’s session in May, 2011).

It was pointed out to the minister that national terminology cannot change international law, whatever term national governments employ to address or identify indigenous peoples. The example of the Indigenous Peoples Policy of the World Bank was cited, in which the Bank clarified that it would regard as indigenous, all those peoples who were termed ‘hill tribes’, ‘scheduled tribes’ ‘ethnic minorities’ and so forth.  

Problems with terms: ‘Upa-Jati’, ‘Khudro-Nri-Gohsthi’ etc. 
It was pointed to the minister that the term ‘upjati’ is incorrect, derogatory and unacceptable. In the ‘Khudro-Nrigoshthi Sanskritik Protishtan’ Act, 2010, the government replaced the term ‘upajati’ with ‘khudro-nrgoshthi’ (although this term too is unacceptable to the indigenous peoples) and ‘adibashi’. To re-insert the rejected term of 2010 in 2011, and in the national constitution, is discriminatory, mala fide, and inacceptable. The term ‘upjati’ is an incorrect translation of ‘tribal’. It was also pointed out that ‘khudro’ or ‘small’ cannot be a distinguishing feature of a people, because of the hierarchical and discriminatory implications of big (“brihottor’) and small (“khudrotor”).

The team pointed out that other terms may be acceptable, but not desirable or those that meet the inspirations of the peoples concerned, and urged him to engage in discussion (pointing out that the Constitutional reforms Committee did not see fit to invite even one indigenous person to consult!). It was not a compromise formula for negotiation. The fact that he did not have the mandate to negotiate on behalf of the government was made clear when he declared that he could not do much (although he agreed with the logic of several explanations offered by the team) while advising the team the that the only way to get the issue on the agenda brought to the forefront, and to the attention of the prime minister, was to have the issue tabled in parliament through a proposal from an MP seeking to amend the constitution. And we were engaged for the better part of the late evening of 28 June in dialoguing with MPs belonging to some small numerically small opposition parties (hen I could not attend to several telephonic calls, SMSs and emails!).    

Friends and Colleagues, we now have to try to influence the ruling party and its leader, the Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

The bill, and hopefully also the opposition member amendment bills, are expected to be tabled in parliament on 29 or 20 June, 2011.

Please do what you feel is right at this moment.

We stand by our demands for indigenous identity, integrity and rights! We have not changed our stance on adibashi/indigenous identity, integrity and rights!

Let’s work on this together.

Warm regards,

Devasish Roy

Raja Devasish Roy
Chakma Raja
Barrister & Advocate
Supreme Court of Bangladesh
UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Rajbari, Rangamati 4500
Chittagong Hill Tracts

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