Published:  01:15 AM, 09 August 2018

Thoughts on International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples

Thoughts on International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples

Today is International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. Along with the 40 crore indigenous people living in different countries of the world, a number of 3 lakh indigenous people of Bangladesh are observing the day with various colorful and traditional events. 

This year the theme of International Day of the World Indigenous Peoples is "Indigenous Peoples Migration and Movement". Since 1993 the indigenous peoples of the world are observing the Day on 9 August. On this day they gather together, greet each other and share their happiness and sorrows in life. In addition they try to look back to the past year's progress, overall human rights situation and life and livelihood.

Even though the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh talk about the oppression, deprivation they went through in the past and hope for better future, their expectations are not fulfilled entirely.

Especially to the present democratic government that is established on the foundation of the Liberation War ideologies the adivasi people have more expectations. They hoped the government must take adequate initiatives to develop the poor human rights situation of the adivasi people of Bangladesh, however, it clear from various recent incidents that there are still a lot to do in this respect.

Due to unlawful and mindless grabbing of their lands by non-adivasi people the adivasis have significantly lost their life and livelihood. The adivasi people of Chittagong Hill Tracts, greater Mymensingh, North Bengal, Moulv-ibazar, Shylhet and Patuakhali have now become outcast people in their motherland, which is so painful.   

The indigenous people of Modhupur, Tangail now fear eviction from their ancestral land due the implementation of Shuphal project by the Forest Department and declaration of the Modhupur area as an eco tourism forest. On 15 February 2016, the Forest and Environment Directorate Office declared a total area of 9,145.07 acres of land as reserve forest and the Forest Department has taken up a plan to implement the Shphal  project in declared reserve forest area.

But, more than 25,000 Garo, Barmon and Coach People are living in the area which has been declared by the forest department as reserve forest. As a result, the adivasi people have become concerned fearing that when the Shuphal project will be implement they will be evicted from their land, and even if they are not evicted their privacy will be destroyed due to the coming of a huge number of tourists, which will decrease security of girls and women drastically. So, they urge the government to cancel the plan of Shuphal project taking into consideration the human rights of the Modhupur adivasis.

The north Bengal's adivasis are being evicted regularly from their ancestral lands. Here I mention some major violence against adivasi people of north Bengal.  In 2017, land grabbers evicted 13 adivasi families from their 30 acres of ancestral land at Modannagor village in Naldanga upazila of Natore district.

Besides, land grabbers occupied a pond of Santal people at Godagari upazlia of Rajshahi district and in the same district 7 Santal families were evicted from their 76 acres of land at Sundarpur Jogipara village of Gudahari upazila.  Furthermore, 100 mango trees of adivasi people were slashed on 20 October at Sapahar in Naogaon district.

Not only the indigenous communities living the CHT and the plains of North Bengal are enduring violence but also the adivasi people of Moulvibazar, especially 700 Khasi people from 72 families, fear eviction from Nahar Punjee of Srimangal upazila from their homestead and betel jum.

On 30 May in 2016, Khasi people received eviction notice form Moulvibazar district administration. Since then they are under fear of eviction from their land. Tea estate authorities are destroying betel plants of the Khasis in order to evict them from their lands. It's mentionable that the Khasi people have been living at Srimangal Moulvibazar from pre-British regime and they had Khasi Zaminder and they used to pay tax to their Khasi Zaminder for land use. So, their eviction from Nahar Punjee will be an immense human rights violation against them. 

Adivasi people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts often get victimized by communal violence. People are aware of the fact that a massive communal attack was made on them on 2 June 2017. We saw how settler people burnt to ashes 218 adivasi houses at Tintila and Manikjorchara villages of Langudu upazila in Rangamati district. But it was not expected even 21 years after the signing of CHT Peace Accord.

The condition of adivasi women and children is not good either. In 2017, a number of 48 women and children were victimized by multiple forms of violence -- gangrape, killing after rape, physical assault, rape attempt, abduction and sexual assault. Even in current year many women have already been victimized by various forms of violence.

It's mentionable recently on 29 July a girl student of grade five was killed after being raped at Dighinala area of Khagrachari. Moreover, on 22 January two Marma girls were raped at Farua union of Bilaichari in Rangamati districts. On 18 June, two girls were killed after being gangraped at Sitakunda in Chittagong.  On 21 June, a student was gangraped at Khagrachari.  On 17 June, a girl was killed after being gangraped at Lama in Bandarban. On 27 June, an adivasi woman was raped at Birgonj in Danjpur district.

The adivasi people of Bangladesh want to live with dignity having full rights of land and life. Hence, the government should take earnest initiatives to solve their land--related problems. I therefore call upon government to ensure proper application of law in order to protect the lands of adivasi people from being grabbed unlawfully.

In order to resolve land disputes of plain land adivasis a separate land commission has to be formed; also effective execution of the Land Commission of CHT has to be made sure. Besides, the government should apply existing laws in effective manner to ensure the security of life of adivasi women and girls.    

The writer is a human
rights worker

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