Bangladesh is home to more than 54 Indigenous Peoples who speak at least 35 languages, along with the majority of the Bengali population. Bangladesh has not adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the economic and political rights of the country's Indigenous Peoples continue to be ignored.
The government of Bangladesh does not recognize Indigenous Peoples as indigenous. However, since the amendment of the 2011 Constitution, peoples with different ethnic identities than the Bengali population are mentioned. However, only cultural aspects are mentioned, while issues related to the economic and political rights of Indigenous Peoples, in particular their rights to land, continue to be ignored.
Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh
According to the 2011 census conducted by the Government of Bangladesh, the country's Indigenous population comprises approximately 1,586,141, 1.8% of the country's total population. However, Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh claim that their population is approximately 5 million.
Approximately 80% of the Indigenous Population lives in the flatland districts of the north and southeast of the country, while the rest reside in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Indigenous Peoples are commonly known as Jummas for their crop rotation agriculture, known locally as Jum.
Along with the official language of Bengali, the Indigenous Peoples of Bangladesh speak at least 35 languages. Measures have been taken to include teachers from Indigenous groups and texts in Indigenous languages at the pre-primary school, and the government has distributed books for the nursery school in five Indigenous languages, namely Chakma, Garo, Kokborok, Marma and Sadri.
However, the government has not yet taken any action to train an adequate number of qualified teachers with the necessary linguistic skills in these languages and has not yet presented a plan for native education in the later stages for the pre-primary level, nor for other Indigenous languages.
Main challenges for the Indigenous Peoples of Bangladesh
The land rights of Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh continue to be one of the alarming issues and a key factor in serious human rights violations in the country. Indigenous Peoples' organizations have protested against the growing number of human rights violations and demand protection, promotion and respect for their human rights.
Although the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Agreement was a constructive agreement between the Indigenous Peoples and the Government of Bangladesh, after 19 years, the main problems of the Agreement remain unresolved. Indigenous Peoples still face challenges in areas such as the return of power and functions to the Chittagong Hill Tracts institutions, the preservation of the characteristics of the tribal area of the Chittagong Hill Tracts region, the demilitarization and rehabilitation of the internally displaced.
The situation of Indigenous women continues to be alarming. Sexual and physical attacks have become a common means of being used against Indigenous women and girls, while none of the alleged perpetrators have been brought to justice. In 2016, Bangladesh was revised by the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The concluding observations highlight that the government should: "effectively investigate all reports of gender-based violence against indigenous women related to land grabbing and take steps to bring those responsible to justice." In 2017, at least 56 Indigenous women and girls were sexually assaulted
Advances in land disputes and education for Indigenous groups in Bangladesh
The Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act of 2001 was amended in August 2016. The amendment is expected to pave the way for the proper resolution of land disputes and the return of dispossessed lands belonging to native populance.
The Government of Bangladesh undertook initiatives to fulfill its responsibility to ensure primary education for indigenous children, including a measure in 2017 to nationalize 210 primary schools in Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Ministry of Primary and Mass Education produced pre-school textbooks in 5 indigenous languages and distributed around 25,000 books.
On the other hand, Indigenous activists identified the lack of adequate, competent and qualified teachers in Indigenous languages. In addition, children belonging to many remote Indigenous communities still can not realize their right to education due to the lack of educational institutions in those areas.
The International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission (CHTC) is deeply concerned about the ongoing unrest in Bandarban and demands that civilians are protected. According to media reports1, on 8 May 2023, 3 Bawm men were allegedly killed at Paingkhong Para of Rwangchari Upazila by the same vigilante group that killed another 8 Bawm men last month on 6 April 20232. Local leaders informed the media that none of the deceased had any affiliation with any armed groups3, and one of them, Nemthang Bawm (43), was the president of Number Five Ward of the Awami League (the current ruling party of Bangladesh), Rwangchari4.
Bangladesh is a country of cultural and ethnic diversity, with over 54 Indigenous Peoples speaking at least 35 languages, along with the majority Bengali population. According to the 2022 census, the country’s Indigenous population numbers approximately 1,650,159 or 1% of the total population. Indigenous Peoples in the country, however, claim that their population stands at some five million. The majority of the Indigenous population live in the plains districts of the country, and the rest in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).
On 2 December 1997, the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord was signed, giving hope for lasting peace and development for the Indigenous Peoples of the CHT. However, today, as we mark the 25th anniversary of the peace accord, Indigenous Peoples in the CHT in Bangladesh have experienced little to no peace or development.
The International CHT Commission (CHTC) is grimly disturbed to learn that Lama Rubber Industries Limited has perpetrated another arson attack upon the Mro indigenous community in Rengyan Mro Para of Lama, Bandarban.
The International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission (CHTC) is deeply concerned to learn about the government introducing a new unit of the Armed Police Battalion (APBn) to replace the vacant army camps in CHT. The Commission believes this is a direct violation of the CHT Accord, which stipulates that temporary military camps will be withdrawn, but does not mention anything about the camps being replaced by APBn.