Bangladesh indigenous peoples: We exist!

Tribal communities across Bangladesh on Aug. 9 observed the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People with rallies to demand their constitutional recognition as “indigenous people.” An especially large mobilization was held in Rangamati in the southeastern Chittagong Hill Tracts. (See map.) The protests were a reaction to recent statements by Foreign Minister Dipu Moni that the tribal peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts are “ethnic minorities” and should not be called “indigenous” to the region. Tribal leaders criticized the government for failure to fully implement Chittagong Hill Tracts peace accord, reached in 1997 to secure land rights for the region’s tribal peoples. “There is regular bloodshed in the hills,” said Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, chairman of Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council. “Either the peace accord in the hills will be implemented or the Jumma people will be extinct.”

But a counter-protest was held by the Samo Odhikar Andolan, an organization representing Bengali settlers in Chittagong Hill Tracts, formed a human chain around government administration buildings, urging the authorities not to recognise the Jumma community in CHT as indigenous people. The counter-protesters charged that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is incompatible with the Bangladeshi constitution, and called on the government to reject it. (Daily Star, Bangladesh Financial Express, Dhaka, Aug. 10; Asia News Network, Aug. 8; Daily Star, July 27)

The eleven tribes in the Chittagong Hill Tracts are collectively known as Jummas after their practice of “shifting cultivation,” known locally as “Jhum.” Hundreds of thousands of settlers have been moved into the Hill Tracts over the last sixty years, displacing the Jumma people and subjecting them to violent repression.