Ethnic minority, not indigenous people
FM tells diplomats, editors
Briefing foreign diplomats and UN agencies in Dhaka, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said Bangladesh is concerned over attempts by some quarters at home and abroad to identify the ethnic minority groups as indigenous people in the CHT region.
Neither Bangladesh constitution nor any international laws recognise these people as indigenous, she said.
Dipu Moni also explained the issue to editors and senior journalists from print and electronic media in a separate briefing yesterday and urged them to take note of it.
She told the diplomats that the tribal people most certainly did not reside or exist in the CHT before 16th century and were not considered "indigenous people'' in any historical reference books, memoirs or legal documents.
Quoting the Oxford dictionary, the foreign minister said indigenous people are those who “belong to a particular place rather than coming to it from somewhere else”.
Rather, the CHT people were the late settlers on the Bengal soil and the CHT region compared to the Bangalee native ethnic vast majority residing here for more than 4,000 years, she pointed out.
Emerging from the briefing with diplomats, Dipu Moni told journalists there is a move to distract attention from the government's effort to implement the 1997 CHT peace accord by raising the issue that the tribal people are indigenous.
She said implementation of the peace accord is top priority of the government. But the process will be hampered if controversies are created over the tribal people's identity.
Dipu Moni told the diplomats, "We have noted with concern that the "tribal" people or ethnic minorities in the CHT region have been termed "indigenous peoples" of Bangladesh in two paras of the 2011 Report of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues-PFII, in the context of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord."
She asserted that there is no internationally accepted definition of "indigenous peoples", and there is no definition of indigenous at all in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the PFII in 2006.
Claiming that the CHT people are tribal and not indigenous, the foreign minister said it is well recorded, and recent history of the Indian subcontinent and the CHT region reaffirms that the tribal people of CHT migrated to Bangladesh between 16th and 19th centuries from neighboring countries and Mongoloid nations during the Mughal rule in Bengal, mostly as asylum seekers and economic migrants.
She said in all acts and laws on the CHT, including the Hill Tracts Act of 1900 and the Hill Districts Council Act of 1989, the CHT ethnic minorities have been identified as "Tribal" population.
Most significantly, in the CHT Peace Accord itself the CHT ethnic minorities have been categorised as "Tribal" and not "indigenous peoples.”
As per the census of 2001, the people of CHT account for less than 1.8 percent of the total population of Bangladesh.
Giving a special and elevated identity to enfranchise only 1.2 percent of the total population of 150 million by disentitling the 98.8persent cannot be in the national interest of Bangladesh, Dipu Moni said.
Reaction of the diplomats was not immediately known.
However, Chakma Raja Devasish Roy told The Daily Star, “The government probably is under the impression that recognising indigenous people might mean extra responsibility to bear.”
He went on, “The constitution does not say that there are no indigenous people in the country. It has not used the word indigenous, but it has not used the word minority either to identify anybody.”
Devasish Roy also referred to the small ethnic group cultural institutions act made in 2010 by the present government where the law itself stated in its definition part that small ethnic group would mean indigenous people.
courtesy: The daily star
In 2008, Dr. Dipu Moni attended a rally to celebrate UN's World indigenous day with country's indigenous leaders. Photo courtesy: Lina Lushai.
In a "candid and open meeting" with the ambassadors and other mission heads, Dipu Moni discussed the issues relating to tribal people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) from a historical perspective, her aides said.
"Unfortunately, Bangladesh and the ethnic Bangalee nation remain a victim of global misperception about the ancient anthropological roots, colonial history and our identity as a nation," the minister was quoted to have told the envoys.
The minister began her day addressing the deputy commissioners who have gathered in Dhaka for an annual briefing, then rushed for a meeting with the envoys, before arriving late for the luncheon meeting with the editors and media managers.
At the state guest house Padma, she faced and countered rhetoric from a history professor who sought to define the tribal people beyond the accepted terminology, but largely impressed upon the editors to accept her plea not to call them 'indigenous'.
"In the constitution, all minorities were recognised generically as minorities, and through the 15th amendment, the present government has categorised them as 'ethnic minorities' and no longer only as 'tribal' people," she said.
The minister told both groups Bangladesh was concerned that the 'tribal' people or ethnic minorities in the CHT region were being described as 'indigenous peoples' of the country.
She stressed that they were wrongly called 'indigenous peoples' in two paras of the 2011 Report of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues-PFII, in the context of Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord.
"There is a misplaced linkage between the term 'indigenous peoples' and the identity of the ethnic minorities in the CHT region or implementation of the CHT Peace Accord of 1997," Moni told the envoys.
"This record needs to be set right so that Bangladesh's friends and international partners have the right perception of our historical and ethnic roots as a nation."
"The misperception and misrepresentation of historical facts about the ethnic minorities in the CHT is proving counterproductive for the internal political process and spirit of the CHT accord," Moni added.
"The ethnic minorities in the CHT region have been clearly termed as 'Tribal' in the 1997 peace accord, but there are attempts by some vested quarters to establish them as 'indigenous' in some international and UN forums."
"This is solely aimed at securing a privileged status for an established and legally-accepted entity, at the expense of national identity, image and territorial integrity of Bangladesh."
Citing census of 2001, she said the people of CHT constitute less than 1.2 percent of the total population of Bangladesh.
"Giving a special and elevated identity to enfranchise only 1.2 percent of the total population of 150 million by disentitling the 98.8 percent cannot be in the national interest of Bangladesh."
The foreign minister said very well recorded recent history of the Indian subcontinent and the CHT region reaffirm that the tribal people of CHT migrated to Bangladesh between 16th and 19th centuries from neighbouring countries and Mongoloid nations.
"They came here as asylum seekers and economic migrants."
The original inhabitants or first nationals of Bangladesh are the ethnic Bengalees by descent that constitute nearly 99 percent of the country's 150 million people.
"They have all been original inhabitants of this ancestral land for 4,000 years or more according to archaeological proof found in the 'Wari Bateshwar' excavations."
"The ethnic Bengalees are not colonial settlers, neither are they foreigners or non-indigenous to their own native land and never will be," she stressed.
"We had a very distinct culture, ethnic heritage and language when our colonisation took place and we still uphold the same despite our subsequent religious conversions."
From an institutional and legal point of view, the 'ethnic minorities' or 'late settlers' residing in CHT region had been officially recognised as 'tribal' people in all historical documents and references of the Indian sub-continental and colonial documents, she added.