The government has been asking Adivasis in the country not to observe the International Indigenous Day, raising questions about its will to implement the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord.
A letter issued by the Local Government and Rural Development ministry on March 11 directed all district administrations not to cooperate in celebrations of the indigenous day and disseminated a message to the effect that there were no indigenous people in the country.
The world’s indigenous communities and rights activists have been observing the day on August 9 every year since 1994 following a decision of the United Nations general assembly.
“Through the order, the government shows its attitude towards the indigenous communities,” said Sanjeeb Drong, secretary general of Bangladesh Forum for Indigenous People.
The government cannot stop Adivasis from celebrating the day, he said, demanding that the day be observed at the state level.
Going against its electoral pledge, the present government in 2010 passed a law in which it termed the indigenous communities as “minor races” and “ethnic sects”. The Adivasis protested against the move but could not change the government’s position on the matter.
However, some efforts have been made recently toward implementing the peace accord signed in 1997. The CHT land commission law has been amended to resolve the land related disputes in the hilly region and arrangements have been made to handover 12 government institutions in three hill districts to the CHT Regional Council.
The previous Awami League-led government signed the accord with the Parbatya Chattagram Janasanghati Samity, a regional political party of indigenous people, ending 22-year long period of unrest in the region.
The government issued the letter on the basis of an intelligence report, the letter mentioned, saying the concept of the indigenous day clashed with government policy.
Earlier, the government issued letters forbidding the use of the term “indigenous”. Besides, government high-ups have delivered speeches in the UN forum, claiming that there were no indigenous people in Bangladesh.