Deprivation in the life of ethnic minority communities a reality

Eminent persons attend the inauguration of the fifth national conference of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum (Bangladesh Adivasi Forum) at the Conference Room of Liberation War Musieum in Agargaon, Dhaka on 29 April 2023.
Prothom Alo

Speakers at an event in Dhaka said the lives of the ethnic minority people have been pushed to the limit of marginalisation in the country, in face of multifarious aggression over the past 50 years with their existence being threatened.

Members of the ethnic minority communities are being oppressed and crushed. They live in a state of deprivation and suppression in every sector of their lives and that is the reality now, the speakers observed.

The speakers came up with these observations during the inauguration of the fifth national conference of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum (Bangladesh Adivasi Forum) at the Liberation War Musieum in Agargaon, Dhaka on Friday.

Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti president Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, known as Shantu Larma, presided over the inaugural ceremony.

He said the reality of Bangladesh is the members of minority communities are oppressed and persecuted; they live in deprivation and suppression, even driven to commit suicide due to the shortage of water, and that the is reality.

“Where will we go now to live? To whom will we go? We must find ways through our political vision today and we must march forward with our ideology,” he added.

Shantu Larma recalled the late veteran politician Pankaj Bhattacharya saying, “Today we needed Pankaj Bhattacharya for the struggle for the rights of ethnic minority communities.”

Addressing the event, Workers Party president Rashed Khan Menon said it is a national shame not to recognise ethnic minority people during the formulation of the constitution.

“We had asked the ethnic minority communities to become Bengalis during our nation building and we have long been carrying this shame,” he said adding, there had been an opportunity to resolve this crisis after the 2008 election and efforts had been taken too, but when the question of recognising the ethnic minorities came to fore, it was said there are no ‘indigenous’ people in the country.

To date, names of 50 ethnic minority communities have been included in constitution, but more minority communities are still left out of it and they are being deprived of state privileges, Rashed Khan Menon added.

Parliamentary Caucus on Indigenous Affairs convener Fazle Hossain Badsha said members of ethnic minority communities living on plain land do not get water for irrigation and if proper steps are not taken, the ethnic minority communities in the plain land will be extinct.

Actor Mamunur Rashid said looting is done in Bangladesh in the name of communal politics, and when any issue arises, properties of ethnic minorities are looted and efforts are being made to grab their properties.

A history of deprivation

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) executive director Iftekharuzzaman observed that the history of the past 50 years is the history of deprivation, stripping of rights, marginalisation of ethnic minority communities.

The lives of ethnic minority people has arrived on arrived at the end limits of marginalisation, causing a crisis of their existence, he said adding, the movement to establish rights of ethnic minority communities must be turned into a movement for establishing rights for all.

Bangladesh Environment Lawyers' Association (BELA) executive director Syeda Rizwana Hasan said leaving the country is not a solution for members of ethnic minority communities. These people must fight for themselves staying here. Those with dissenting views outside of power, face various challenges always, she added.

Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum general secretary Sanjeeb Drong said the country has made much economic and infrastructural advancement, but ethnic minority communities cannot keep the pace with this.

The problem of ethnic minority communities is the problem of all people of the country, and no solution including constitutional recognition will be resolved unless a political decision is taken, Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) general secretary Ruhin Hossain observed.

NGO Nijera Kori coordinator Khushi Kabir, Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council member Kajol Demnath, Oikya National Awami Party (Oikya NAP) general secretary Asadullah Tarek, Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal (BSD) general secretary Bazlur Rashid Firoz, Dhaka University teachers Mesbah Kamal, Robaet Ferdous and Khairul Islam Chowdhury, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) general secretary Sharif Jamil, and Bangladesh Adivasi Forum vice presidents Rabindranath Soren and Ajay A Mri, among others, spoke at the event.

12-point demand

A 12-point-charter was placed at the conference. It includes recognising ‘indigenous’ people in the constitution; legally recognising ethnic minority communities’ traditional and heritage rights to land; implementing Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord properly by announcing a time-based roadmap; making Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Dispute Resolution Commission effective immediately; undertaking or implementing no further projects including eco-park, social afforestation, tourism project and export processing zone without the prior consent of ethnic minority communities; forming separate ministry and land commission for ethnic minority people living in plain lands, and reserved quota for ethnic minority communities in parliament and the local government council.