• Indigenous peoples in Bangladesh

    Indigenous peoples in Bangladesh

    Bangladesh is home to more than 54 indigenous peoples speaking at least 35 languages, along with the majority Bengali population. Bangladesh has not adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the economic and political rights of the country's indigenous peoples remain ignored.
  • Peoples

    54 indigenous peoples speaking 35 languages live in Bangladesh
  • Rights

    2007: Bangladesh abstains from voting for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Current state

    53 is the number of cases of human rights violations against indigenous women in Bangladesh in 2016


Indigenous peoples in Bangladesh


Bangladesh is home to more than 54 indigenous peoples speaking at least 35 languages, along with the majority Bengali population. Bangladesh has not adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the economic and political rights of the country's indigenous peoples remain ignored.


Abstained from voting for UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Bangladesh abstained from voting for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on 13 September 2007, and the Government of Bangladesh does not recognise indigenous peoples as “indigenous”. 

Since the 2011 amendment of the Constitution, peoples with distinct ethnic identities other than the mainstream Bengali population are mentioned. However, only cultural aspects are mentioned, whereas issues related to indigenous peoples’ economic and political rights, not least their land rights, remain ignored.

Indigenous peoples in Bangladesh

According to the 2011 census made by the Government of Bangladesh, the country’s indigenous population is approximately 1,586,141, or 1.8 per cent of the country’s total population. However, indigenous peoples in Bangladesh claim that their population is about 5 million.

Approximately 80 per cent of the indigenous population live in the plain land districts of the north and south-east of the country, whereas the rest reside in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the indigenous peoples are commonly known as Jummas for their crop rotation agriculture, locally known as Jum.

Indigenous peoples in Bangladesh speak at least 35 language

Alongside the official language of Bengali, indigenous peoples in Bangladesh speak at least 35 languages.

Measures have been taken to include teachers from indigenous groups and texts in indigenous languages in the pre-primary school, and the government has distributed books for pre-primary school in five indigenous languages, namely Chakma, Garo, Kokborok, Marma and Sadri.

However, the government has yet to take any measures to train an adequate number of qualified teachers with the necessary language skills in these languages, and has not yet presented a plan for mother-tongue education on the subsequent stages for pre-primary level, nor for other indigenous languages.

Main challenges for Bangladesh’s indigenous peoples

The land rights of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh continue to be one of the emergency issues and a key factor of gross human rights violations in the country.

Indigenous peoples’ organisations have been protesting against the increasing number of human rights violations, and are demanding protection, promotion and respect for their human rights.

Although the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997 was a constructive agreement between indigenous peoples and the Government of Bangladesh, after 19 years, major issues in the Accord remain unaddressed.

The indigenous peoples are still challenged on areas such as devolution of power and functions to the Chittagong Hill Tracts institutions, preservation of the tribal area characteristics of the Chittagong Hill Tracts region, demilitarisation, and rehabilitation of internally displaced peoples.

The situation of indigenous women remain alarming. In 2016, Bangladesh was under review by the UN 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 connected with land grabbing and take measures to bring those responsible to justice.”

From January to December 2016, there were 53 cases of human rights violations against indigenous women in Bangladesh, in which a total 59 indigenous women and girls were the victims of sexual and physical violence.

Progress in land disputes and education for Bangladesh’s indigenous groups

The Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2001 was amended in August 2016. It is hoped that the amendment will help pave the way for proper resolution of land disputes and restitution of dispossessed lands belonging to the indigenous peoples.

The World Bank recently decided not to move forward on the construction a 123-kilometer road in Rangamati in Chittagong Hill Tracts after indigenous peoples and civil society organisations, traditional leaders, elected public representatives and human rights activists of Bangladesh submitted a letter of concern to the World Bank raising serious concerns about the Government of Bangladesh’s lack of meaningful engagement of indigenous peoples in the project.

The Government of Bangladesh has recently undertaken a few measures to improve the state of education of indigenous children and youth. In relation to The Education Policy adopted in 2010, measures have been taken to ensure the availability of teachers from ethnic groups preparing texts in their own languages and include the respective indigenous communities.

Case: Another government land grab

In 2016, the government of Bangladesh decided to acquire 9,145 acres of land in Modhupur in Central Bangladesh where the Garo and the Koch indigenous peoples, the owners of this traditional land, live. The purposes of the land grab are to preserve the biodiversity to establish amusement facilities and prospective tourist spots in the national forest, to stop the illegal poaching, hunting and wildlife trade, and to “settle the clashes” between the wildlife and the population.

This government move would adversely affect more than 15,000 forest-dependent indigenous peoples who have been living in this area for generations, and their livelihood, culture, and tradition will be extremely compromised, as their life is entirely dependent on the forests.

Bangladesh: Attack on CHTC chairman part of an ‘alarming trend’ in the area

The International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission (CHTC) released a press statement on Monday condemning the recent attack on its chairman and the violence in Babuchara, Dighinala, which allegedly left six indigenous people and four army personnel injured.

The convoy of CHTC Chairman, Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, who is also president of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), was attacked on 11 March 2015. In anticipation of Larma’s visit, a 72-hour strike was called by various anti-CHT Accord groups, uniting under the banner of ‘Jago Parbattyabasi’ (Rise Hill Dwellers) in Bandarban. The attack allegedly took place in the presence of police and other law enforcement authorities, and the Jago Parbattyabasi may have been involved.

Continue Reading

Bangladesh: CHTC condemns attack on its Coordinator in Bandarban

Press statement

Dhaka, 27 August, 2014. The International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission (CHTC) strongly condemns the brutal and cowardly attack upon Hana Shams Ahmed, Coordinator of the Commission, and her friend, a woman academic, during a private visit by them to Shoilopropat in Bandarban in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, by 8-10 members of the so-called Somo Odhikar Andolon.

Continue Reading

Bangladesh: Attack on CHT commission car in Rangamati

Three people including a member of CHT (Chittagong Hill Tracts) commission were injured on 5 July as its vehicle came under an attack by Bangalee settlers, who have been protesting the visit of the commission members in Rangamati today.

Commission member Dr Iftekharuzzaman, also executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), Monu Sohel Imtiaz, officer-in-charge of Rangamati Kotwali Police Station, and Ilira Dewan, a researcher of CHT Commission, were injured when the protesters threw brick chips on their vehicles.


IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Download here.

Contact IWGIA

Classensgade 11 E
DK 2100 Copenhagen
Phone: (+45) 35 27 05 00
E-mail: iwgia@iwgia.org
CVR: 81294410