Dhaka, July 27 (bdnews24.com) – Raja Devasish Roy has termed the foreign minister's statement on the status of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) inhabitants 'incorrect' from various angles.
Reacting to the foreign minister's observations made on Tuesday, Chakma Circle Raja Devasish, in a CHT Commission press statement, says Dipu Moni's reference to the Constitution of Bangladesh, including its 15th amendment, is flawed.
He points out, "There is no reference to 'ethnic minorities' in the 15th amendment. In addition to 'indigenous', the new article 23A also refers to 'small races/peoples' (Khudro Jatishotta), 'ethnic minorities' (Khudro Nirgoshthi) and 'small communities' (Khudro Shomprodai)."
The statement says that the foreign minister's statement on the "enfranchisement" of 1.2 percent of the national population leading to the "disentitlement" of 98.8 percent of the national population is also incorrect and misconceived.
Raja Devasish says, "Constitutional recognition of the indigenous status of the excluded, marginalised and disadvantaged 1.2 percent of Bangladesh's population will provide a firm platform and legal basis to address the marginality of the members of these populations. It will not provide any privileged status to these groups or to their members.
"Recognition of the indigenous status of population groups in other countries, including Nepal, the Philippines, Scandinavian countries and Latin American countries did not disentitle non-indigenous groups. It is inconceivable to think that the mere recognition of the 'indigenous' status of some citizens would 'disentitle' or otherwise disadvantage other citizens in governance, political, economic or social status."
The foreign minister's statement about the CHT indigenous people being "asylum-seekers and economic migrants" may equally be applicable to other Bangladeshi citizens who are of Bengali- or Urdu-speaking origin.
The expert member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) said, "The status of Bangalees as natives of Bangladesh is not challenged or questioned by the assertion of the indigenous identity of other ethnic groups. Non-indigenous does not mean 'settlers', at least not in Bangladesh and in several other countries of Asia.
"The indigenous people of the CHT meet the criteria of being 'indigenous' as (i) they are descendants of pre-colonial or pre-conquest societies and (ii) adhere to pre-colonial or pre-conquest political, social and cultural institutions' norms and customs, among others."
'ETHNIC MINORITIES', 'LATE SETTLERS'
Devasish Roy said, "The FM's reference to the CHT indigenous people as 'late settlers' and their recognition as 'tribal people' is substantially incorrect."
"The Chakma people, for example, are recorded in history as having lived in a country called 'Chacomas,' which was separate from Bengal, Arakan and Tripura, at least since the 1550s, within the boundaries of present-day Bangladesh, such as in the accounts of Portuguese geographers and historians."
"They may have lived in their present territories centuries before that date as did other indigenous people of the CHT and elsewhere in Bangladesh."
"In the CHT, Bangalee people are not known to have permanently resided in the region before the 19th century. No where in Bengal is there a record of the indigenous people or Adivasi settling at a place after displacing Bangalee people."
He asserted, "Wherever the indigenous people may have settled, those territories were not inhabited by Bangalee people at the time of their settlement.
"The CHT accord of 1997 and some laws of the British period and of the period after the signing of the accord do regard the indigenous people as 'tribal' or Upajati."
"However, the terms 'tribal' and 'indigenous' or 'aboriginal' have also been used interchangeably," says Chakma Raja.
The word 'indigenous' was used at different times such as in 'CHT Regulation 1900', 'Finance Acts of 1995 and 2010', 'Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP-2008, 2019-10)' and 'Judgment of the Hon'ble Supreme Court of Bangladesh in Sampriti Chakma vs Commissioner of Customs & Others'.
The word 'Adivasi' was also used in the statements of Sheikh Hasina, Khaleda Zia and Fakhruddin Ahmed, in goodwill messages on Indigenous Peoples' Day, he adds.