Indigenous people in Bangladesh could become extinct within the next few decades if their deprivation of rights continues as it had in the past, said CHT Regional Council Chairman Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma yesterday.
“There is regular bloodshed in the hills; its extent might go up. Either the peace accord in the hills will be implemented or the jumma people will be extinct,” he told a discussion at the capital’s Cirdap auditorium.
Ten rights bodies jointly hosted the event on the theme of land and human rights of indigenous people ahead of International Day of the World’s Indigenous People tomorrow.
While in power, the present ruling party had signed the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord in 1997; but today it lacks goodwill in implementing the deal, said Jyotirindra, popularly known as Santu Larma.
Both the civil and military bureaucracy, he complained, have demonstrated an undemocratic and communal attitude towards the indigenous people, whose land was grabbed by the social and political elites for decades.
“Now we are termed ethnic minorities and tribes, and barred from observing the indigenous peoples’ day. This is ridiculous…. I see dark days ahead.”
Santu Larma, also president of Parbatya Chattagram Janasanghati Samity, urged indigenous people to get united for any kind of movement if they are to sustain their existence.
In his keynote, Prof Abul Barkat of Dhaka University said 22 percent indigenous people had either been evicted or driven out of their households between 1977 and 2007 mainly by Bangalee settlers in the CHT.
Their traditional social ownership of land came down from 83 percent in 1978 to 41 percent in 2009, he added.
On the other hand, 90 percent of indigenous people of the plains have become landless, mentioned Barkat. He added that the rate of poverty among the indigenous people is much higher than the average national rate of poverty.
“In the last three decades, the number of Bangalee settlers in the hills has gone up, but the number of indigenous people has come down.”
He suggested implementing the CHT peace accord, punishing the land grabbers, forming a separate land commission for the plain land adivasis and recognising their traditional land ownership arrangement.
Rashed Khan Menon, chairman of the parliamentary caucus on indigenous people, demanded withdrawal of the government’s restriction on observing of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People.
Lawmakers Hasanul Huq Inu, AKM Mozammel Haque, rights activists Sanjeeb Drong, Anna Minz, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Sara Hossain, Rana Das Gupta and Khushi Kabir, addressed the discussion, moderated by Ain O Salish Kendra Executive Director Sultana Kamal.