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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Repression is for lands: Conference on indigenous people

Repression is for lands

Conference on indigenous people calls for effective land commission in the hills

A demographic engineering was done in the Chittagong Hill Tracts over three decades since 1978, through settlement of Bangalees and forced acquisition of indigenous people's land, economist Abul Barakat said yesterday.

As a result, the traditional community land ownership of the hills people declined to 28.76 percent from 76.21 in between 1978 and 2009.

Over the same period, possession of land by the government agencies has increased to 25.77 percent from 5.22 percent, said Barakat citing his recent studies.

He was speaking at a two-day conference on land, forest and culture of indigenous people. The Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum organised the meet ahead of the International Day for Indigenous People.

The inaugural session of the conference, supported by Oxfam GB Bangladesh, was held at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the capital.

Speakers at the conference urged the government to establish an effective and comprehensive indigenous land reform commission to resolve the long-standing land disputes and end "repression and deprivation" of the indigenous people.

In a paper presented at the conference, Barakat, chairman of the economics department at Dhaka University, said since 1964 over two lakh acres of land has been forcibly taken from 10 indigenous communities living on the plains.

Small communities living in Sylhet and the northern regions including Patro, Santal, Pahan, Mahato, Oraon, Rakhain, Garo, Hajong, Khasi and Dalu faced extreme poverty and many of them fled the country being vulnerable due to such land dispossession, he added.

He said the current cumulative market value of the land of those 10 plain-land indigenous people lost could be up to $900 million.

Prof Barakat prepared the paper on the basis of his three studies conducted between 2008 and 2010 for Human Development Research Centre.

He showed in his studies that dispossession of land has left around 62 percent Adivasi families in "absolute poverty" and 32 percent below "hardcore poverty line".

On the other hand, the figures for the majority Bangalee community are about 39 percent and 17 percent respectively, he added.

The poor and easygoing smaller communities could not hold their ancestral land as the vested interest groups grabbed their land with political backing since the government has never formally recognised their land ownership, he explained.

Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal President and lawmaker Hasanul Haq Inu demanded formulation of "indigenous rights act" to protect rights of the indigenous people and establishment of a "national indigenous commission" to uphold their values, cultures, norms, customs and traditions.

Subsequently, at a technical session, Chakma Circle Chief Raja Devasish Roy demanded establishment of specialised land tribunals at district level.

His other demands include amendment of the East Bengal State Acquisition and Tenancy Act, 1950; directives to the deputy commissioners to consult the indigenous organisations or representatives before transferring land to non-indigenous people; and removal of Justice Khademul Islam as chairman of the CHT Land Commission.

Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum's General Secretary Sanjeeb Drong, CHT Regional Council member Gautam Kumar Chakma and Oxfam GB Bangladesh's programme manager MB Akhter, among others, were present at the conference.

The second technical session styled "Forestry policy: The need for a paradigm shift" was held in the afternoon. Executive Director of Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association Rizwana Hassan presented the keynote paper in the session.


courtesy: The daily star

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