Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh Must Be Respected


Girls of Bawm ethnic group at Ruma, Bandarban District
Photo (Ruma: January, 1987) © Jerome D'Costa

If Bangladesh is a people's republic and if Bangladesh is a democratic country, where all its citizens irrespective of their religious, ethnic and financial status are to be treated equally, the government of Bangladesh must ensure those rights now and in future.

People's republic, democracy and citizens' equality come by constant action and not by parroting those words only. It is now 40 years that Bangladesh became independent from autocratic rule, but it failed on the promises it made at the time of independence. There are ample proofs that the indigenous peoples, who have been neglected for decades, are still fighting for their rights, especially regarding possession of their lands all over Bangladesh.

Past Situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts Region

For centuries, the Chittagong Hill Tracts region had their own rajas (kings) to rule over themselves. From 1724, the Moghals started to control this region forcibly. In 1760, the Britishers got possession of this region after they defeated the Moghals. The Britishers, in 1900, promulgated the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation (CHTR), whereby they divided the region into three revenue circles to be headed by Chakma, Mong and Bohmong rajahs. Under this regulation, the Chittagong Hill Tracts region was declared "excluded area' where indigenous peoples could rule themselves and pay taxes to the British government without interference of or encroachment from non-indigenous peoples like Bengalees.

After the Britishers were gone on the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, the Pakistan government began to allow, although in small numbers, settlement and work of the Bengalees in those areas.

The Situation in Independent Bangladesh

After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation gradually began to vanish in the thin air. As a result, from 1975 onwards, the indigenous peoples, especially the Chakmas, began their resistance movement against the increasing encroachment of the Bengalees in their lands and they also started to demand independence. Consequently, frequent clashes, in many cases, violent armed attacks, came to the fore with the Bengalees and Bangladesh Army on one side and the indigenous fighting groups on the other. Thousands of people on both sides got killed, many houses burnt down, and millions of dollars worth of properties destroyed.

In 1997, the Government of Bangladesh signed the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord (CHTPA) with the indigenous peoples. The continuing armed fighting stopped but sporadic violence is still there from both sides. The human rights situation of these peoples did not improve.

Recently, The 3rd world view blog, in its "Bangladesh: Netizens Protest Human Rights Abuse in the Hills" post, mentions what bloggers and social network sites said in protest to the human rights violations in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region.

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