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 2011 census, the country’s Indigenous population numbers approximately 1,586,141, which represents 1.8% of the total population. Indigenous Peoples in the country, however, claim that their population stands at some 5 million. The majority of the Indigenous population live in the plains districts of the country, and the rest in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).
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.
Indigenous women and girls frequently experience violence in Bangladesh.
“If I lose my land, I am no one. I have nothing”: A voice from the Indigenous Mro facing eviction from their land.
The Mro People of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh are under threat of being evicted from their ancestral lands with nowhere to go and everything to lose.
The hills around Chimbuk are steep. They are part of the ancestral lands that stretch across the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh, which are, and have been, home to the Indigenous Mro community for centuries. But a large area of that land on that hilltop they cannot get to; not because it’s too steep to climb, the Mro are used to climbing hills – this is their ancestral land, and they have lived off it for generations. The reason they cannot get to the area is because it is fenced off – and not by the Mro.
BY DEVASISH ROY FOR DEBATES INDÍGENAS.
With almost 24 years passed since the signing of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord, its lack of implementation has reached alarming levels and human rights violations persist. In addition to the ongoing deployment of military and paramilitary forces, land grabbing of Indigenous territories continues apace. Communities have no possibility of complaining about non-compliance because the agreement does not have the status of an international treaty.
Photo: Devasish Roy
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 2011 census, the country’s Indigenous population numbers approximately 1,586,141 which represents 1.8% of the total population. Indigenous Peoples in the country, however, claim that their population stands at some 5 million. The majority of the Indigenous population live in the plains districts of the country, and the rest in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).
The state does not recognise Indigenous Peoples as “Indigenous”. Nevertheless, since the 15th amendment of the constitution, adopted in 2011, people with distinct ethnic identities beyond the Bengali population are now mentioned. Yet only cultural aspects are mentioned, whereas major issues related to Indigenous Peoples’ economic and political rights, not least their land rights, remain ignored.