Bangladesh has been blessed with multicultural heritage as well as history. There are about 57 ethnic minorities in Bangladesh. According to the survey of 2011, the country’s ethnic minority population is around 1,586,141 which comprise 1.8% of the total population though they claim they are 3 million. Ethnic minorities like to address themselves as indigenous people and they are demanding for indigenous status for many years. On the other hand, our constitution does not recognize them as indigenous people rather they are recognized as tribes, minor races, ethnic sects or backward section of citizens. let’s see the constitutional review of the Indigenous status of ethnic minorities in Bangladesh:
Article 23A of the constitution states-
‘‘The state shall take steps to protect and develop the unique local culture and tradition of the tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities’’
Article 28(A) says-
‘‘Nothing in this article shall prevent the state from taking special provisions in favor of women or children or for advancement of any backward sections of citizens’’
Bangladesh indigenous peoples forum frequently demands the constitutional recognition of indigenous status. There are many persons in the civil society who support this claim and they urge the government to recognize the tribal people but there are different options also. Serious opposition comes from the nontribal Bengali living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. They do not identify the ethnic minorities as “adibashi” or indigenous rather think that these groups of people are actually refugees and these groups of people have been living in Bangladesh for 200-300 years.
The ILO convention no-169 defines the term indigenous. According to the convention those people are indigenous who live in an independent country, and who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the population which inhabited the country on a geographic region to which the country belongs at the time of conquest or colonization or the establishment of present state boundaries and who irrespective of their legal status, retain some or all their own social, economic, cultural and political institution. Actually, above mentioned definition is followed to recognize indigenous. The ethnic minority peoples of Bangladesh who claim them to be recognized as indigenous people should be assessed in the light of the definition provided by the International Labor Organization (ILO). If only the major points satisfy the ILO convention then they should be recognized as indigenous people by the constitution.but, here can be a question that why Bangladesh constitution didn’t recognize them as indigenous people? there is a logic infavour of Bangladesh constitution that if Bangladesh recognize them as indigenous people, Bangladesh has to obey the claim of autonomy by the various ethnic minorities whichstrongly articulated in the declaration of indigenous people’s right of 2007 Article 4 and 5, ICCPR 1966 article 25, UN Charter-based mechanisms such as 1235 and 1503 and the universal human rights declaration 1948 also thatstated the right of self-determination in the sense of the right to autonomy, or self-government in the matters relating to their internal and local affairs, and right to maintain their distinct political, legal, cultural, economic and social institutionsmay go against the national security and interest of bangladesh. already, they had a bad record during the time of our liberation war 1971 when they took part in favor of Pakistan on the basis of giving the assurance to make their autonomy in this region.However, not to recognize them as indigenous peoples can’t be the solution, Bangladesh should critically analysis this issue to find out an effective and peaceful way.
We, Bengali fought against the injustice of Pakistani ruling class and at last got independence in 1971. Various ethnic minorities groups were beside us at the time of our liberation war and many of them also actively participated in the war. So, any kinds of feelings of injustice should not be kept in the mind of any group of people in our country. Already, we have a bad history of arms conflict with the ethnic minorities of Chittagong Hill Tracts and still, there are some aggrieved groups in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. We should be more careful in handling this issue. It is our duty to keep our country peaceful and exploitation free.
Misbah ul Hoque Masud
student, Dept. of International Relations
University of Chittagong
- The constitution of the people’s republic of Bangladesh.
- William van Schendel, Wolfgang Mey, and Aditty Kumar Dewan, “The Chittagong Hill Tracts, living in Boreland” The university press limited, Dhaka.
- ShahadatHossain Khan “ParbottayUpajatiderAdi-nibash”,NourujkitabistanBanglabazar, Dhaka.
- Abul Barkat, the political economy of indigenous people in Bangladesh, survival or extinction? In “Adivashi Rights in Bangladesh’’.
- Zia Uddin Ahmed “Constitutional recognition of ethnic minorities: Issues haunting in Chittagong hill tracts” published law vision, Faculty of the law university of Chittagong.
- DR.ShahjahanMondol, Recognition of Indigenous people: A different thought” Published in daily star in August,27,2014.