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Circular prohibiting the use of the term Adivasi is unconstitutional and contempt of the High Court: 50 eminent citizens

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Hill Voice, 30 July 2022, Special Reporter: In a joint statement by 50 prominent citizens, the Information Ministry’s circular dated 19 July 2022 being urged by the intelligence agencies not to use the word Indigenous was termed as unconstitutional and contemptuous of the High Court. The eminent citizens called for the immediate withdrawal of the said circulation. A statement signed by ALRD Executive Director Shamsul Huda on behalf of 50 prominent citizens stated that-

“We have learned with deep anger and surprise that a circular has been sent from the Ministry of Information to the heads of all television channels in the country saying that ‘University teachers, experts and newspaper editors and other members of the civil society who participate in the talk show organized on the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9, 2022 have been requested to spread awareness about the constitutional obligation not to use the term “Adivasi” in the case of Bangladesh. The word indigenous was used explicitly several times in section 28(a) of the government’s 2008 election manifesto, the information ministry of which  government issued this circular.

This circular is actually based on and circulated as a copy of an intelligence agency circular. We do not understand when and how the power to decide whether a word is constitutional or unconstitutional passed to the circular makers of an Intelligence Directorate or Ministry of Information. It is with deep anger and concern that we are compelled to say that this amounts to gross malpractice, which is neither desirable nor legal.

Because the constitution of our country clearly mentions that if there is any controversy or disagreement about any article or subject of the constitution, only the highest court of the country, Bangladesh Supreme Court, can explain it, not any other organization, group or individual. And in a judgment of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, instructions have been given in unequivocal terms that there is no legal impediment to the use of the word indigenous.

Moreover, it is also true today that the government led by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman signed the ILO Convention 107 in 1972, not only used the term indigenous, but also recognized all their rights. Apart from this, the Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the present government, who has been in power for several terms, in her messages on the occasion of Indigenous Day in 2009, strongly emphasized on the establishment of all the rights and dignity of the indigenous people in their own identity.

Above all, the freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which are given in clauses 2(a) and 2(b) of Article 39 of the Constitution, have been completely denied in this circular. The state has no say in what words one chooses, as long as the use of those words does not spread spite or hatred towards someone else. Therefore, we express strong anger and protest against this circular and instruction. At the same time, we appeal to all concerned parties to refrain from trying to mislead the indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities or to degrade the civil society, journalists and intellectuals with independent opinion by issuing such bureaucratic arrogant circulars. And we strongly demand the immediate withdrawal of the circular that is outside the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Information.”

Those who signed the statement are:

  1. Sultana Kamal, Human Rights Activist and Chairperson, Human Rights Culture Foundation; 2. Khushi Kabir, Coordinator, Nijera Kari and Chairperson, ALRD; 3. Dr. Zafrullah Chowdhury, Trustee, Gonoswastha Kendra; 4. Dr. Hamida Hossain, human rights activist; 5. Dr. Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director, TIB; 6. Shireen Haque, Member, Nari Pokko; 7. Professor Mostafizur Rahman, prominent economist and researcher; 8. Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta, Executive Director, Research Initiative Bangladesh (RIB); 9. Rana Dasgupta, General Secretary, Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad; 10. Subrata Chowdhury, Senior Advocate, Bangladesh Supreme Court; 11. Parveen Hasan, Vice Chancellor, Central Women’s University; 12. Rani Yen Yen, Chakma Queen and Advisor to Chakma Circle Chief; 13. Kajal Debnath, Presidium Member, Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad; 14. Adv. ZI Khan Panna, human rights activist and lawyer, Bangladesh Supreme Court; 15. Advocate Tabarak Hossain, Vice President, Sammilita Samajaik Andolon and Lawyers, Bangladesh Supreme Court; 16. Dr. Abul Barkat, Professor, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka and Advisor, HDRC; 17. Rehnuma Ahmed, poet and writer; 18. Shamsul Huda, Executive Director, Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD); 19. Barrister Sara Hossain, Honorary Executive Director, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST); 20. Badiul Alam Majumder, Secretary, Sujan; 21. Ahrar Ahmed, Emeritus Professor, Black Hill State University and DG, Gnanatapas Abdur Razzak Foundation; 22. Sharmin Murshid, Executive Director, Brati; 23. Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary, Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum; 24. Dr. Shahidul Alam, photographer and social activist; 25. Zakir Hossain, Executive Director, Citizen Initiatives; 26. Shaheen Anam, Executive Director, Manusher Jonno Foundation; 27. Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Chief Executive, BELA; 28. Robayet Ferdous, Professor, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka; 29. Bina D’Costa, Professor, Australian National University; 30. Dr. Sumaiya Khair, Professor, Department of Law, University of Dhaka; 31. Tasnim Siraj Mahbub, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Dhaka; 32. Samina Lutfa, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Dhaka; 33. Ferdous Azim, Professor, Department of English, Brac University; 34. Geeti Ara Nasreen, Professor Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka; 35. Ferdous Azim, Professor, Brac University; 36. Dr. Mohammad Tanjim Uddin Khan, Professor, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka; 37. Zobaida Nasreen Kona, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Dhaka; 38. Nova Ahmed, researcher and teacher, North South University; 39. Mahrukh Mohiuddin, Managing Director, University Press Council; 40. Pallab Chakma, Executive Director, Kapaeeng Foundation; 41. Rezaul Karim Lenin, researcher and human rights activist; 42. Saidia Gulrukh, journalist and researcher; 43. Md. Noor Khan Liton, human rights activist; 44. Shahnaz Huda, Professor, Department of English, Brac University; 45. Hana Shams Ahmed, human rights and indigenous rights activist; 46. Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, Executive Director, Coast Trust; 47. Arup Rahi, musician and writer; 48. Dipayan Khisa, Information and Publicity Secretary, Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum; 49. Neena Goswami, Advocate and Senior Deputy Director, Ain O Salish kendra; 50. Jyotirmoy Barua, human rights activist and lawyer, Bangladesh Supreme Court.
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