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. 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 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. In the CHT, the indigenous peoples took up arms in defence of their rights in 1976. In December 1997, the civil war ended with a “Peace” 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, which has resulted in continued widespread human rights violations, violent conflicts and military control.
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 was voted on in the General Assembly in 2007.