Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bangladesh: Human Chain Formed Across The Country Demanding Constitutional Recognition As Indigenous Peoples

On 19 March 2011 indigenous peoples of Bangladesh organised human chain across the country demanding constitutional recognition as indigenous peoples.

Human chains were formed at least 16 places through the country including Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban districts in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region; Joypurhat, Dinajpur, Naogaon, Sirajganj, Thakurgaon, Rajshahi and Bagura districts in North Bengal region; Barguna and Patualhali districts in coastal region; Sylhet, Moulabi Bazaar and Mymensingh districts and other parts of the country where indigenous people live.

The leaders of the country's indigenous communities called upon the government to seriously consider the issue of constitutional recognition as indigenous instead of small ethnic group; otherwise, the process of amendment of constitution will remain incomplete.

Bangladesh Adivasi Forum organised human chain in front of the National Museum in Dhaka where a number of organisations, including Kapaeeng Foundation, CHT Hill Students' Council (PCP), Bangladesh Adivasi Chhatra Sangram Parishad, Hill Women's Federation (HWF), Tripura Students Forum (TSF), Bangladesh Adivasi Odhikar Andolon and national level rights organisations took part in the human chain.

On the others, CHT Citizens’ Committee and Bangladesh Adivasi Forum (CHT Chapter) formed human chains in three hill districts of CHT where M N Larma Memorial Foundation, Jum Aesthetics Council, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, Marma Oikya Parishad and local CBOs and development organisations took part.

Human chains in North Bengal region were formed basically by Jatiya Adivasi Parishad while Rakhain Samaj Kalyan Samity, Bangladesh Adivasi Forum (local chapter) and Bangladesh Rakhain Students Association in coastal region.

Human chain was formed in Sylhet in the banner of all walk of indigenous peoples while at in front of Moulvibazar Press Club by Greater Sylhet Adivasi Forum, Tea Garden’s Adivasi Forum, Monipuri Social Welfare Association, Khasi Council and Khasi Student Union.

Thousands of indigenous peoples, political leaders, journalists, lawyers, university teachers, human rights defenders, indigenous rights activists, women rights activists had joined the human chains and rallies, raising their voices for the constitutional recognition of indigenous people of Bangladesh.

Expressing dissatisfaction at the recent speech of Co-chairman of Special Parliamentary Committee for Constitution Amendment (SPCCA) Suranjit Sengupta, MP, indigenous leaders accused him of not being aware about the proper definition of indigenous in the country's context. They said, the rights of the indigenous communities should be recognised incorporating their rights in the Constitution as indigenous peoples but not as small ethnic group.

Speakers at the human chain said ‘Adivashi’ word does not only mean who comes first in the land rather it means the communities who posses distinct identity from the mainstream. The ethnic communities hold different culture, history, heritages, land related culture and a tendency to solve their social and legal problems by their customary laws rather than the statutory laws. Speakers pointed out the existing laws including the State Acquisition and Tenancy Act 1950, The Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation 1900, The Finance Act 1995 where the ‘Adivashi’ term had been used. The speakers also pointed out the election mandate of the present ruling party and the constitution of the Awami league where the ‘Adivashi’ term also has been used.

The indigenous leaders demanded rights of the indigenous people with separate traditional socio-cultural-ethnic identity for their survival in different regions Bangladesh and full implementation of CHT Accord 1997.

It is mentionable that on 15 March 2011 after a meeting of the parliamentary special committee for constitutional amendment, its co-chairman Suranjit Sengupta said that the committee agreed to recognise the ethnic minority groups (Khudro Jonogosthi) in the constitution, although no minority community will be recognised as indigenous (Adibashi) people.

He said as the demand for recognising them as indigenous people could not be applicable in the context of Bangladesh, so it was more logical to recognise them as Bangladeshi, not indigenous. ‘The definition of indigenous people given by the ILO has no consistency with the situation in Bangladesh,’ said Suranjit, adding that it could be applicable for some countries like Australia where indigenous people were ousted from state power by others.

The indigenous leaders also condemned the comment of opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia in parliament on March 15 narrating indigenous leader Bangladesh Adibasi Forum president Sree Joytirindra Bodhipriya Larma (Santu Larma) as ‘terrorist’.

The indigenous leaders said that comment from a former prime minister and opposition leader was unexpected and unacceptable as communal and provocative and should be withdrawn.

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