Dialogue  April-June 2007 , Volume 8No. 4 I

ndigenous Communities of Bangladesh: the Crisis of their Existencetc

Salam Azad

 

Bangladesh has about forty-five indigenous communities about whom most of the citizens of the country hardly know except for a few of the major ones. How then the people in general of the country would develop love and sympathy for them? Only the census can be treated as most effective means to focus on the unknown Indigenous communities. But the Census is generally done after every 10 to 12 years only and those too fail to bring into light about those neglected Indigenous communities. Though names of persons are included in the list their Indigenous identities are not recorded in most of the cases. The question is: are all these lapses taking place with specific motives behind the Census?

The history of the Indigenous people of Bangladesh is full of deception by the majority community, which finally made them homeless as the settlers of the majority community use to forcibly occupy their homes and hearths. It needs mention that these communities were not considered as civilized and as such many of the Bangladeshis still now grade them poorly and treat them as subhuman beings. Consequently the Indigenous communities also developed a hostile attitude towards the usurpers resulting into the undesired sad events in and around Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). The situation gradually become complicated. The indigenous people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts resorted to violent armed struggle. At last an accord was signed and the Chakma refugees were asked to come back from the Indian refugee camps to the CHT.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord was the result of their sacrifice and struggle for more than two decades. It brought back some rays of hopes and aspirations in the minds of the CHT people to have a undisturbed life. But the Bangladesh ruling class did not implement the terms of the accord. As a result the most expected congenial situation is absent.

Moreover, after signing the accord a new group (UPDF) has been formed and they are now known as ĎAnti-treaty groupí. Groups in favour and against the accord are now heavily engaged in killing and hijacking supporters of each other. The key holders of implementing the terms of the CHT accord are gaining out of the restlessness and these anomalies.

Due to these anomalies, the process of withdrawal of armed forces is stopped; rather further deployment of forces has taken place. Furthermore, it is alleged that new settlers are taken in CHT areas with the collaboration of the Local M.P, Military and Civil administration. They are being settled on the lands belonging to the Jumma people (Indigenous people of CHT) with the clear intention of accommodating further number of settlers. It was further announced that tea cultivation shall be extended in CHT areas. By now the numbers of Indigenous people in CHT has already become marginal. It is now a clear case of crisis for existence of the CHT people.

The following table show up the comparative picture of the Indigenous populations in CHT in percentage terms.:

Year                 Benglee (Settler)                     Jumma (Indigenous)

1947                           2.5                                             97.5

1951                           8.1                                             91.9

1961                          17.7                                            82.3

1974                           27                                               77

1981                         31.62                                          68.38

1991                          48.5                                            51.5

  Note:    The Report of the last Census of Bangladesh held in 2001 is yet to be published published.

Not only in CHT, the Indigenous people of greater Mymensingh district also, who are very near to the Capital, are having similar problems. Once Hajong and Garo Indigenous communities were in a good number in this locality. The numbers of Hajongs were so huge in the near past that the leftist leader Moni Sing organized a movement with these Hajongs that created history. Where have those Indigenous Hajongs gone? They stopped movement for their existence and subsequently migrated for safety and shelter across the border. Whatever little numbers of Hajongs are still existing are observed to be fighting for their existence.

The number of Garo Indigenous people is gradually diminishing in Mymensing district. Most of the Garos who migrated in the Indian state of Meghalaya had their origin in the greater Mymensingh district. Of course, the Garos had also taken shelter to another path for their existence and that was change of their faith to Christianity. This very fruitful trend brought almost all Garos under the umbrella of Christianity. But even then threat to their existence is real and is very much there. Furthermore, on the pretext of bringing up Eco-Parks in Moulvibazar and Modhupur areas hundreds of acres of lands belonging to the Indigenous people are being captured and this has resulted in further threats to their existence.

Out of the Indigenous people of the plain land the number of the Santals is the maximum; but their existence is also at stake. They have not yet started any movement against the atrocities committed on them but the way they were united after the killing of a Santal leader Alfred Soren of Nowgaon bears some special significance. Santals have now fallen prey to the politics and this is making their position precarious as there is real threat to their existence.