Feature Img
Dipu Moni, as the Special Guest speaking for Adibashi rights. 9 August 2008. Courtesy: Adibashi Forum Photo
Dipu Moni, as the special guest speaking for Adibashi rights; 9 August 2008. Courtesy: Adibashi Forum Photo

Once upon a time, the British called us ‘blacks’, and then later the Pakistani Army called us ‘inferior race.’ Time passes, it is 2011. As International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples approaches again this year, Bangladesh is stuck in a quicksand ditch trying to figure out ‘who’ the Adibashis or indigenous of our land really are in the first place! This goes back to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party era, when ministers were first heard saying “Bangladesh has no indigenous people”, but somehow that ideology has leaked into a few heads in the Awami League as well (we hope they are the minority within the party).

The past year saw an intense amount of debate on this issue, with its finale being delivered at the 10th session of the UNPFII (United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues), when the First Secretary of the Government of Bangladesh, Iqbal Ahmed, declared in his speech, surely vetted and pre-approved by the home and foreign ministry in Dhaka: “There are no indigenous people in Bangladesh.”

And as the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the parent body of UNPFII, gathers in Geneva as I type, certain government officials are again raising this issue. On 26th of July, our honourable foreign minister Dr Dipu Moni, held back-to-back meetings with senior diplomats and media editors to “deal with ‘misperceptions’ both at home and abroad about the ethnic minorities.”

“The ethnic minorities in the CHT region have been clearly termed as ‘Tribal’ in the 1997 peace accord, but there are attempts by some vested quarters to establish them as ‘Indigenous’ in some international and UN forums. This is solely aimed at securing a privileged status for an established and legally-accepted entity, at the expense of national identity, image and territorial integrity of Bangladesh.” She said.

Promises and reality

Here is a question for our honourable foreign minister. If this is truly what she believes, why did she accept an invitation as the ‘Special Guest’ to World Indigenous Day, both in 2008 and 2009 (see picture)? Let us extend the question wider than our foreign minister, and ask the same question to our honourable prime minister as well.

Madam prime minister, did you forget the promise, in the 20-points Awami League election manifesto of 2008 (1), based on which the indigenous people and their Bengali supporters put their trust on you on the election day?

That manifesto included the following declaration: (Under “Our Promise, Work Programme and Declaration,” number 18.): “Terrorism, discriminatory treatment and human rights violations against religious and ethnic minorities and indigenous people must come to an end permanently.” The manifesto further stated: “Their entitlement to equal opportunity in all spheres of state and social life will be ensured. Special measures will be taken to secure their original ownership on land, water bodies, and their age-old rights on forest areas.”

The 2008 Awami League manifesto further stated: “All laws and other arrangements discriminatory to minorities, indigenous people and ethnic groups will be repealed. Special privileges will be made available in educational institutions for religious minorities and indigenous people. Such special privileges will also apply for their employment.”

And reading further in the same manifesto, we see: “The 1997 Chittagong Hill Tract Peace Accord will be fully implemented.”

“Thakur ghorey key rey? Ami kola khaini!”

It is, of course, no secret that Bangladesh government’s requests have been ongoing since the UNPFII in May, to remove some portions of the report published by the UNPFII, which called on the government, among others, to undertake a ‘phased withdrawal’ of temporary army camps from the CHT, declare a timeframe for implementation of the peace accord, and establish an independent commission to inquire into ‘human rights violations perpetrated against indigenous peoples’ as per the 1997 CHT Accord that this government signed. We would understand all these steps if it was a BNP government in power, but why are these actions coming from the same party that signed the Accord?

Furthermore, the UNPFII recommended that the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO) review the military personnel and units who are being sent on UN missions (a source of great pride to all of us as Bangladeshis) to make sure no personnel or units are taken from any that are accused by indigenous Jumma people of violating human rights in the CHT (2).

According to an email I received from one official contacted by GoB, we hear that our government, after having challenged and questioned the locus standi or legal standing of the UNPFII to deal with issues related to the CHT Accord of 1997 on the ground that the peoples of the CHT are “not indigenous”, is reportedly going to request the UN ECOSOC  (i) to “delete paragraphs 102(a) and 103 of the report of the tenth session of the UNPFII”; (ii) to “drop mentioning of the term ‘indigenous peoples’ from Para 102(c) and (d) as they are not indigenous peoples’”; (iii)  to “scrutinize the procedural aspects of (asking for such a study) the Report by PFII as well as the contents of the report; and (iv) to refrain from “adopting” and/or “endorsing” the report of the UNPFII. And thus we understand the timing of our foreign minister’s session with journalists and foreign missions.

Let me remind our readers that out of the 16 independent experts at the UNPFII, eight are government-nominated and eight are indigenous-nominated. The members nominated by governments are elected by ECOSOC based on the five regional groupings of states normally used at the United Nations (Africa; Asia; Eastern Europe; Latin America and the Caribbean; and Western Europe and other states) (3). When one is questioning the Permanent Forum’s work, it is also questioning direct Government Representative’s work, as expert members! The country representatives, or Permanent Forum members that are government-nominated for this term, represent the following countries: Estonia, Iran, Australia, Russia, Congo, Guatemala, Guyana and Finland. So the GoB has challenged the above-mentioned governments of the countries involved, in addition to the expert mechanism of UNPFII!

What does the UN term as “indigenous?”

The UN system has developed a modern understanding of the term indigenous (4), the first clause of which says: “Self- identification as indigenous peoples at the individual level and accepted by the community as their member.” Aside from this, ‘Historical continuity with pre-colonial and/or pre-settler societies,’ ‘Distinct social, economic or political systems,’ ‘Distinct language, culture and beliefs,’ ‘Form non-dominant groups of society,’ are just some highlights — all of which apply to the inhabitants of CHT as well as the Adibashis of the plain lands of Bangladesh.

According to the UN the most fruitful approach is to identify, rather than define indigenous peoples and hence there is no set definition of indigenous peoples in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Similarly, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to Ethnic, Linguistic or Religious Minorities contains no definition of “minorities” groups. This is the usual custom and practice of the UN when dealing with such population groups. This is based on the fundamental criterion of self-identification as underlined in a number of human rights documents.

The aforesaid UN declaration is also based on the premise that “the term “indigenous” has prevailed as a generic term for many years. In some countries, there may be preference for other terms including tribes, first peoples/nations, aboriginals, ethnic groups, Adivasi, janajati. Occupational and geographical terms like hunter-gatherers, nomads, peasants, hill people, etc. also exist and for all practical purposes can be used interchangeably with “indigenous peoples.”” Tribal and indigenous are often used interchangeably, although in current discourses the term ‘indigenous’ is clearly favoured on account of disparaging connotations of ‘tribal’ in many cultures and contexts, Bangladesh included.

Our foreign minister was quoted as saying “Giving a special and elevated identity to enfranchise only 1.2 percent of the total population of 150 million by disentitling the 98.8 percent cannot be in the national interest of Bangladesh.” We, the Bengalis, the so-called intellectual, ‘superior race’, the MAJORITY and overwhelming politically, socially and economically dominant elite, are afraid of giving the just title to 1 percent of the population?

So what the foreign minister is saying is that by addressing the ‘historic wrong’ of NOT including the excluded, by recognising indigenous status, would ‘elevate’ their status? Actually, such an exercise would not ‘elevate’ their status, but merely draw attention to their historic and current exclusion and marginalisation. The international understanding of the term, ‘Indigenous peoples’, does not provide any status to indigenous peoples, that is superior to that of other peoples. Such a status merely outlines the context of providing citizens of indigenous descent with true equality and non-discrimination in context-specific ways.

We find it derogatory that an honourable minister of a country can say about indigenous people: “They came here as asylum seekers and economic migrants. The original inhabitants or first nationals of Bangladesh are the ethnic Bengalees by descent that constitute nearly 99 percent of the country’s 150 million people.” The above stand of the GoB is discriminatory.

Irrespective of the terminology used in the laws of Bangladesh to refer to the indigenous peoples of the CHT, it is established beyond doubt that the peoples of the CHT are indigenous in accordance with the provisions of the ILO Convention No. 107 on Indigenous and Tribal Populations, which was ratified by Bangladesh in June, 1972, the ILO Convention No 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

As a Bangladeshi, a Bengali, I protest against such statements. As a Bangladeshi working for this country, I protest on behalf of all my Adibashi sisters and brothers, and other friends and colleagues, who continue to work for and with Adibashis towards the development of our Motherland.

On reflection, the government’s attempts to belittle the term “indigenous,” is helping the Adibashi cause in the bigger picture. At the end of the day, the UN (and all its relevant bodies) will still uphold its progressive understanding of indigenous peoples, but now every Jodhu, Modhu, Ram & Shaam is getting to know about the cause – of discrimination and exclusion of Adibashis and acute human rights violation perpetrated against them – that received very scant attention in the last 40 years or so in the international arena!

Now the average citizen of Bangladesh is getting to know about the cause. When the average citizen looks deeply into this issue, I am confident they will reach a conclusion that is very different from that of our foreign minister and our government.

* The author is indebted to research & e-debates amongst IP and progressive Bengali circles.

Wasfia Nazreen is a development practitioner, a multi-disciplinary researcher and a member of DRISHTIPAT Writers’ Collective.

(1) Election Manifesto of Bangladesh Awami League-2008 http://www.albd.org/autoalbd/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=367&Itemid=1

(2) http://jummacommunity.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/unpfii-10th-session-recommendations-on-bangladesh/

(3) Members of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/en/members.html

(4) Who are the Indigenous? www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/5session_factsheet1.pdf

37 Responses to ““I ain’t indigenous” – reflection of a Bengali”

  1. Riten

    Actually we all hilly of CHT are astonished specsh of honorable foreign minister of Bangladesh Dr.Dipu moni that Bangladesh has no Adibasi or indigenous people.However what did she stated on occation of world indigenous people day in 2008? I think that it is a discrimination for the indigenous people of Bangladesh.

  2. Muhammad Nurul Islam

    Once upon a time many people, like me, in this country used to consider AL as a pro-people party. However when AL came to power that perception could no longer remain tenable. The transition from a pro-people character to pro-particular person-family-interest group character has been swift and ruthless.

    The objectives which I have been used to propagate before, during and immediately after the War of Liberation of Bangladesh as one of its humble organiser and fighter, I observe nowadays with pain, are no longer the realities in the present GoB context. Ideals have been replaced by ‘get-rich-quick-no-matter-what’ or ‘grab-anything-belonging-to-weak-and-disadvantaged-by-hook-or-crook’. Lying is now the norm, shamelessness is more appreciated. Like the poet said, ‘In silence one can hear the dripping sounds of profits of the rich piling up; one can hear too, in between the low sobs of the destitute, a sharper sound, like a knife being sharpened’.

    In the hills of greater Chittagong one can hear what the poet heard.

  3. Mohammad Zainal Abedin

    It is a pity that a group of vested interest deliberately tries to prove that the tribal people of Chittagong Hill Tracts are ‘indigenous’, i.e., first settlers in the region. This group to meet their ulterior design for a long time uses India and European Union segregate CHT and form a so-called ‘Jummaland’. Very recently ‘the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues-PFII’, an organ of UN Social and Economic Council tuned to this propaganda and branded the CHT tribal as ‘indigenous’ (first settlers) of CHT. Such claim is untrue and completely baseless. None should forget the fact that the CHT is an integral territory of Bangladesh since the Maurya dynasty and was separated from it.

    Originally CHT was a subdivision of Chittagong district of Bangladesh. The British government turned it into a separate district and ex-Bangladesh President Earshad divided CHT into three districts – Bandarban, Khagrachari and Rangamati.

    All the tribal people belonging to 13 tribes now living in CHT migrated from foreign soils and took shelter and settled in the area in between 16th and 19th century. BG Verghese says, “The CHT tribes migrated in to the area between the 16th and 19th century with Bengali settlement along the coastal plain,” (BG Verghese, North East Resurgent: Konark Publishers, New Delhi, India, 1996, p. 374). All the tribes differ from one another in respect of dialect, culture, physical stature and what not, as they came from different locations in different phases of time. Let us see what history says about their migration to CHT:

    Marma: Historically, the Marmas are popularly known as Moghs in Bangladesh. Now they claim themselves as Marma to distance them from the Arakanese pirates and robbers of Burma. It is mentionable that the military rulers renamed Burma as Myanmar. Myanmar, Maima and Marma are identical terms. The term Marma has been derived from the term ‘Maima’. (Koyashaprat: The Credential of the Marma Tribe, The Ankur 1st issue, Rangamati, Bangladesh, 1981). It means, the Moghs, or modern Marmas were the inhabitants of Myanmar. During the Mughal period, the Arakanese Moghs often used to attack the coastal areas of Bangladesh, particularly Chittagong and Noakhali. To contain their attack and plunder, the Mughal rulers launched repeated military expedition against the pirates. Quoting R. H. S. Hutchinson, Sugata Chakma wrote: The Moghs being repulsed and driven by the Mughals took shelter in Arakan. They again returned to Chittagong region in 1774 and settled down at Ramu, Eidghar and Matamuhuri valley. Later they entered CHT and settled down in Bandarban in 1804.

    In the same book ‘The Tribes And Culture of Chittagong Hill Tracts’ Sugata Chakma mentioned, “In 1974 Burmese soldiers sent by king Bhodfra invaded and captured Arakan. During that time thousands of Marma refugees fled away to Cox’s Bazar, CHT and Patuakhali from Arakan and settled down in those places. (Sugata Chakma: The Tribes And Culture of Chittagong Hill Tracts: Rangamati, Bangladesh, p. 40)

    Tripura: The name of this tribe unequivocally proves that they were the inhabitants of Indian state of Tripura, which was actually a district of Bengal (today’s Bangladesh). Their ancestors migrated to CHT for a secured life, when they were routed out by their opponents. (Sugata Chakma: Ibid, p. 57).

    It is historically true that some of the kings of Tripura at times took shelter in their neighbouring region of CHT. In 1661, King Gobinda Manikkaya of Tripura took refugee at Dhighinala when he was driven out from Tripura by Chhatra Manikkaya, as the two clashed with each other. Followers and relatives of Gobinda Manikkya took it was to stay back in CHT instead of returning to their original abode — Tripura.

    The Lusai: The people of Lusai tribe were the inhabitants of Lusai hill (present Mizoram). (Sugata Chakma: Ibid, p. 57). They entered CHT around 150 years ago. (Dr. Mizanur Rahman Shelly,Ibid p. 57)

    The Murong: The Murong came over from Arakan or Burma a few hundred years ago and concentrated mainly around Bandarban of CHT. (Dr. Mizanur Rahman Shelly,Ibid, p. 53). They are known as ‘Mrow’ to many people. They migrated from North Burma to CHT in earlier part of the 18th century. (Sugata Chakma: Ibid, p. 57).

    The Khumi: The Khumis used to live in the Arakan region of Myanmar before they migrated to CHT in the later part of the 17th century. (Dr. Mizanur Rahman Shelly,Ibid, p. 58). Quoting Captain T. H. Lewin, Sugata Chakma said, there had been sanguinary clash in Arakan between the Khumis and the Mrows. The Khumis were the victors of that battle and drove out the Mrows towards CHT. But later being pressurized by their other opponent rivals the Khumis also arrived in CHT. (Sugata Chakma: Ibid, p. 81).

    The Bhom: The Bhoms manily live in the Ruma Upazila of Bandarban district. According to Sugata Chakma, they entered in the Southern part of CHT sometime in 1838-39 under the leadership of their chief (Liankung) and settled down in Bandarban.

    The Khyang: The Khyangs are mainly centralised in Kaptai and Chandraghona areas of Rangamati district. In the earlier part of the 18th century they used to live in the Umatangong hill of Arakan. (Dr. Mizanur Rahman Shelly,Ibid, p. 62). In his article, ‘The Khyang tribe’ published in ‘The Giri Nirzar’ of Bandarban (3rd issue, 1983) Mr. Pradip Chowdhury basing of hearsay wrote that once a certain king of the Khyang being defeated in a battle fled to CHT from Burma. When he returned Burma he had left his youngest queen in CHT as she was pregnant. The Khyang believe that they are the heirs of that king and queen.

    The Chak: The original abode of the Chak was in the Unan province of China bordering Burma. No documents and information is available when they entered Arakan from China and later Bangladesh from Arakan. Sugata Chakma acknowledged once in the past a group of the Chak probably followed Bashkhali river and entered CHT. (Sugata Chakma: Ibid, p. 64).

    The Pankho: The Phankho came to Bangladesh from the Lusai Hills of Mizoram of India. (Sugata Chakma: Ibid, p. 85). The Pankhos believe that in the ancient age they used to live in the Pankhoya village of Mizoram.

    The Tanchangya: Tanchangya is a sect of the Chakma. Chakmas do not recognize the Tanchangya as separate tribe. But the Tanchangyas do not claim them as chakma. They feel proud to be recognized as Tanchangya.

    The Chakma: The Chakma is a rootless tribe, better to day a hilly nomadic tribe of unknown origin who took shelter in various regions in different phases of time and also ousted from everywhere other than Bangladesh. According to the Chakma intellectuals, including Satish Chandra Gosh, Ashok Kumar Dewan, Biraj Mohan Dewan, Sugata Chakma, etc., they were in the foot of the Himalyas, in Assam, Tripura, Burma, etc. in different stages of time. Their confusion proves that the Chakmas are not the indigenous inhabitants of CHT, rather they are outsiders, immigrants and settlers. Biraj Mohan Dewan, in ‘The Chronicle of the Chakma Nation’ a 76-paged research-oriented document opines, “It is crystal clear that the Chakmas are not the sons of the soil of CHT.” (Biraj Mohan Dewan: The Chronicle of the Chakma Nation: New Rangamati, Bangladesh, 1969, p. 94). Biraj Mohan admitted and added, “The Chakmas are not original dwellers of this district CHT and they entered Bengal in 15th century having the favor of the Sultan.” Another Chakma intellectual C. R. Chakma admitted that in between 1500 to 1600 A. D. Chakma subjects began to take shelter in the inaccessible mountainous regions, i.e., CHT. (C. R. Chakma: The Chakma Nation in the Evolution of Age (Middle Age), Liluya, Hawra, West Bengal: India, 1988, p. 67).

    I hope this description is enough for all especially those vested groups to comprehend and accept the reality which should open their eyes and shun their baseless claim. All the 13 tribes are settlers and none of them are indigenous in the CHT and we cannot allot one-tenth portion of land-hungry tiny Bangladesh for the tribal settlers.

  4. Manzu

    My question to Wasfia, if Chakmas and Tripuras of CHT are to be recognised as indigenous by GoB then the same tribes from Mizoram and Tripura state should also be recognised as indigenous by the Indian government as defined by the ILO which is as WASFIA NAZREEN stated happens to be applicable to all the inhabitants of CHT.

    But would you please explain why the Chakma from Mizoram and Tripuras from Tripura state who happen to be same tribe of CHT’s Chakma and Tripura are not moving to be recognised as indigenous(Adivasi) by Indian govt?

    • wasfia

      1. It is not true that the Chakmas and Tripuras of Mizoram and Tripura State are not demanding recognition of indigenous status in India.

      2. Chakmas and Tripuras (alsdo called “Tripuris”, “kok-Borok Speakres” etc) are recognised as “scheduled tribes” in several states of India. “Scheduled Tribes” is a less acceptable terminology than “indigenous” but it is not a terminology that is considered as disparaging as “upajati” and “khudro-nrigoshthi”.

      Thank you for your query.

  5. Peace Volunteers

    You have done a GOOD JOB. Please keep it up. We are with you.

  6. Shobhagya

    Good job that you have reflected in response to the foreign minister Dr. Dipu Moni’s speech. She doesn’t have the right to fix entitlement of the other communities of Bangladesh. Every citizen of Bangladesh have right to entitle themselves what they want. I express strong resentment against her oppressiveness speech and thoughts.

  7. Mozammel

    We simply cannot deny the people in Hill Tracts and other parts with distinct habits, belief and living style as indigenous. Why the authorities reluctant to recognise the truth?

    Let us change and face facts.

  8. Dhiman Khisa

    I felt utterly shattered and demoralised by the incorrect and misconceived statement of the hon’ble foreign minister Dr. Dipu Moni. Lacking in all sense of justice, equity and propriety, Bangladesh government is discriminating against the indigenous people of the country. I used to consider that Awami League the only party to safeguard the rights of the country’s minorities. But I have lost my faith in this party as they are neglecting the crying demand of the indigenous people. Imputing ‘Bengali Nationalism’, the gross injustice done to the indigenous people is incalculable. It has subverted the democratic spirit at large by not tolerating dissent. Indeed I tumble and feel disillusioned at what is happening in Bangladesh today.

  9. shajib

    If Bengali people are not indigenous/native in this land then who is?

  10. Bengali

    Well I am all for providing with all the supports for all those under privileged people of Bangladesh. Be him/her from the Chakma ethnicity or Bengali.

    But, how on earth some people who have grabbed lands from some Adivasis (kukis) centuries back can be called “Adivasis” of that land?

    • Bengali

      And by the way, don’t misunderstand me. I am in no way supporting any kind of oppression. As I do understand the political implication of the word “Adivasi”, at the same time, I am really against any kind of segregation.

      Let us all be known as “Bangladeshis”, the people who live, share and work for the same piece of land, a small home called Bangladesh.


      • wasfia

        Sure. It sounds good to have one single identity. The problem is in the way the singular identity translates into empowered/dis-empowered relations. If the American, Australian, Swedish, Thai, Indonesian, Myanmarese, etc. identities were constructed along pluricultural, non-majoritarian, non-exploitative, non-chauvinistic lines, there would be no problem. But unfortunately most “nationalism”– espousing states have not been so accommodative. The same applies for Bangladesh, with either a Bengali cultural-linguistic national identity or a Muslim-oriented national identity.

    • wasfia

      Bengalis took over Chakma lands and pushed the Chakmas into areas also then inhabited by the Lushai/Mizo, Pangkhua and Bawm people, sometimes generically called “Kukis” by the Bengalis, Chakmas and the British.

      There are some differences: (a) Bengalis were not pushed out by others when they entered territories inhabitated by the Chakmas and others; (ii) Bengalis directly took over lands inhabited by, and cultivated by, Chakmas. This is not known to be the case for the Chakmas in relation to the “Kukis” (sic!), even though the latter must have felt the pinch of increased number of Chakmas in the “remoter” parts of the CHT.

      In any case, adivasi/ adibashi/ indigenous is a relative and not absolute term under international human rights law. The major difference is that Chakmas are not a “dominant” people in state power, while Bengalis are. That is why, no matter how long the Bengalis have been living in the territory that now forms Bangladesh, the indigenous concept cannot apply to them.

      • imzy

        this is a very backward view to state bengalis can never be indigineous. Dipu moni is correct in not terming the tribal minorities as not indigenous. They are minorites adn theri cultrue along with bengali culture needds to be celebrated but by putting them on a pedestal and claiming theyre indigenous is just what pakistani and indiasn have tried to do, crush the bengali people.

        These tribal minorities are not indigenous to northeast india and cht either. They came from points east : thailand/Burma. So can it with the arrogance and everyone live together and promote everyone.

  11. sajjad

    Excellent article.

    But how do we demolish the army barracks & army-held lands in CHT?

    Both the BNP and AL are probably scared of the idea of withdrawing army from CHT.

    Again, thanks for speaking up.

  12. Prashanta

    Well-written and timely article. While it is good to see so many voices protesting the foreign minister’s statement, I think equal attention should also be paid to the circumstances and forces that have compelled the FM to take a public stance that makes her look hypocritical.

    But clearly we are dealing with a situation that involves more than run of the mill hypocrisy or political somersaulting. If we think about this, all democratic forces of the country should be concerned.

  13. Lalit C. Chakma

    Thank you very much for the write-up. Hopefully, it would wake the government up from the slumber and take notice. This write-up also make attracts the attention of the citizens who are not aware of the conditions of indigenous people.

  14. Sohel Hasan Toongabbie

    I want to echo M Haque’s question: “My question to Wasifa — “Are the Bengalees Indigenous?”. “

    • Rumki

      The Bengalis are not indigenous to the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). The current inhabitants of the CHT were the first to settle there. In 1948, 98 percent of the CHT was non-Bengali, non-Muslim. It was not until the Bangladeshi government sponsored the settlement of 600,000 Bengalis into the plains starting in the 1980’s that the Bengalis became a significant part of the population of the CHT. As a result of the government’s actions, over 100,000 indigenous people lost their lands to the settlers and had become refugees and internally displaced peoples. Settlements continue to displace the indigenous population.

      Therefore, Bengalis are indigenous to the REST of Bangladesh, but NOT to the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

    • Prashanta

      One answer to the question as to whether Bengalis are indigenous is provided by the way many Bengalis trace their roots. Perhaps you are aware that upwardly mobile social classes of Bengalis have always seen themselves as descendants of outsiders – of so called ‘Aryans’ in case of Bengali Hindus, and of ‘Sheikh’, ‘Syed’, ‘Mughal’ and ‘Pathan’, in case of Bengali Muslims. How many educated Bengalis do we see who acknowledge or are aware of their ethno-linguistic ties with indigenous groups such as Mundas, Koch etc? Historical linguists and anthropologists may be aware of this. But when modern day Bengali political leaders assert that Bengalis are the real indigenous people of Bangladesh, and that the ‘tribal’ people are recent immigrants, they are making a completely different statement that has no basis either in history or the historical imagination of the Bengali elite classes.

    • wasfia

      Thank you for your query. Your question has inspired me to write a whole new article! I shall fwd it once it’s published. Thanks again for reading.

  15. Anis Chowdhury

    An excellent piece; congratulations, Wasfa. I think, the problem is, the government is caught with its pants down. The foreign minister and the permanent mission of Bangladesh to the UN should have objected to the forum resolution to appoint a Special Rapporteur to undertake a study on the status of implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997, in the first place. They did not.

    They should have made more rational response. For example, object to para 56 which asks the Govt. to remove unreasonable restrictions on activities of foreigners. This clearly infringes on sovereignty of the country and must be objected. But we haven’t seen any response from the Govt. on that.

  16. russel ahmed

    Good and informative column of Wasfia Nazreen. Yes, they are indigenous. They have the distinct culture that depicts the exclusive beauty of ancient time.

  17. Towfique

    Excellent write-up! Well-articulated based on facts, both historical and legal, an eye-opening for many. I don’t see government leaders would learn from it and continue to echo the interests of the most powerful lobby within the government or any polity in post ’75 era. It represents ‘a country within a country’ and operates beyond and above the people’s mandate.

    My question is when will we be truly sovereign?

  18. Steven Miller

    Thank you, Ms. Wasfia, it’s really a nice peace of work with clear writing, like before. And thank you again for always standing beside the suppressed ones and speaking on behalf of them.

    I always put forward this question – It’s not a matter in which part of the world we are living, but can’t we just live this short life together in peace and harmony?

  19. Naeem

    Proud to see so many Bengali voices speaking out quickly, angrily, forcefully against foreign minister Dr. Dipu Moni and her absurd statement that Bangladesh has no indigenous people. Perhaps, we can write a different history from the willful blindness of Pakistani citizens during 1971. Another world is possible. Equal Bangladesh for all citizens. Bengali, Adivasi, everyone.

  20. Mrinal

    (1) The UN regional grouping is I think 7 NOT 5. Thanks a lot for this.

    • wasfia

      My pleasure. Pls note the citation provided: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/en/members.html where it says “The Members nominated by governments are elected by ECOSOC based on the FIVE regional groupings of States normally used at the United Nations (Africa; Asia; Eastern Europe; Latin America and the Caribbean; and Western Europe and Other States).”


  21. Ashique Mahmud

    To unveil some truths behind this so-called ‘indigenous’ movement, I wish to share some issues with the readers:

    1. CHT remains as an important issue to destabilise Bangladesh in the international forums. It was, it is and it will remain so unless the nation vis-à-vis the government handles the issue boldly.

    2. This part of our land is exploited by all our neighbours/friends

    a. India: As alleged India gave birth and nurtured the insurgency in the CHT over the decades. They are still doing the same by supplying arms and providing training to both the UPDF and PCJSS to manipulate the government irrespective of whose in power — Awami League or BNP. Made us sign a peace accord but till no signing of anything as regards the seven sisters.

    b. Myanmar: Utilising/establishing religious links with Buddhism — establishing numerous monasteries/kiyangs across the CHT as a potential areas of influence.

    c. Pakistan: Gave refuge to Raja Tridiv Roy, father of incumbent Chakma Raja Devashish Roy.

    d. UN-USA-EU-UNDP-CHT Commission-Israel etc: It has been researched by some missionaries in the CHT that Pankhu, an ethnic group in CHT, is one of the lost communities of Jews. They want to explore, unveil and establish a Christian-Jews State in South East Asia centring CHT.

  22. M Haque

    My question to Wasifa — “Are the Bengalees Indigenous?”. If so then why would only a small percentage of the population be entitled to the recognition ignoring the rest of the population? Thank you for your time.

  23. A.K.M. Raisul Huq Bahar

    I am at one with Wasifa Nazreen. I think we have to take the issue in two-pronged way. One is starting intensive intellectual debate what Wasifa initiated referring to Dipu Moni’s contention. The other is extensive campaign among the common people to heighten their sensitivity about the suppressed Adibashis.

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