Indigenous peoples in Bangladesh

The majority of Bangladesh’s 142.3 million people are Bengalis but approximately 3 million are indigenous peoples belonging to at least 54 different ethnic groups speaking at least 35 different languages.

These peoples are concentrated in the north, and in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in the south-east of the country. In the CHT, the indigenous peoples are commonly known as "Jummas" for their common practice of swidden cultivation (crop rotation agriculture) locally known as jum.

The term "indigenous" in Bangladesh

The government of Bangladesh does not recognize indigenous peoples as “indigenous”. The Small Ethnic Groups Cultural Institution Act 2010 uses the term “khudro nrigoshthhi” (small ethnic groups) to refer to the indigenous peoples.

However, in the definitions section, when explaining the meaning of the term “khudro nrigoshthhi”, it uses the term “adibashi”, the Bengali equivalent of indigenous or aboriginal. A 2011 amendment to the Constitution refers to the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh as “tribes”, “minor races” and “ethnic sects and communities”.

Indigenous peoples remain among the most persecuted of all minorities, facing discrimination not only on the basis of their religion and ethnicity but also because of their indigenous identity and their socio-economic status.

The CHT Accord

In December 1997, the civil war ended with a “Peace” Accord, or the CHT Accord, between the Government of Bangladesh and the Parbattya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS, United People’s Party of CHT), which led the resistance movement.

The Accord recognizes the CHT as a “tribal inhabited” region, its traditional governance system and the role of its chiefs, and provides building blocks for indigenous self-determination.

The CHT Accord, however, remains largely unimplemented, and at present, major issues of the Accord, such as the Land Commision, devolution of power and function to the local bodies, militarisation, rehabilitation of internally displaced people, ect., remain unaddressed. Thus, human rights violations, violent conflict and military control continues to be widespread.

Legislation concerning indigenous peoples

Bangladesh has ratified ILO Convention 107 on Indigenous and Tribal Populations but not ILO Convention 169 and it also abstained when the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was voted on in the General Assembly in 2007. 

Yearly Update

Download the 2016 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in Bangladesh to learn about major developments and events during 2015.