Ideology-based unity to be made for struggle: Santu Larma at Indigenous Youth Conference

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Hill Voice, 23 September 2023, Dhaka: With the motto, “Young soul, sharp the bow and arrow, let’s raise voice in the march to freedom”, Indigenous Youth Conference was held under the initiative of Bangladesh Indigenous Youth Forum at the Liberation War Museum auditorium of Agargaon in Dhaka on September 21, 2023.

Ananta Bikash Dhamai, President of Bangladesh Indigenous Youth Forum, presided over the conference while Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma (Santu Larma), President of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, was as the chief guest and Manjurul Ahsan Khan inaugurated the event. The first session of the event began with a presentation of the national anthem.

Eminent political personality Manjurul Ahsan Khan opened the conference amid the playing of Madal, indigenous musical instrument.

At this moment, he said, “the indigenous peoples first initiated the armed struggle for freedom in Indian subcontinent. The indigenous communities played a significant role in our great liberation war. The indigenous peoples are the pride and glory of Bangladesh. They are closely related to Bangladesh. But the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh have not yet been constitutionally recognized. If Bangladesh wants to move forward, it must take the indigenous community with them.”

While addressing as chief guest, Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, President of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, said, “If you want to fight, you have to be united having principle, ideological. Otherwise, it would be harder to wage the fight unitedly. There are various types of anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, anti-feudalism, anti-bureaucratic-capitalism and anti-expansionism speech and statement around us. But the way they have been uttered it, such movement have not been noticed yet. Thus, there is a matter of spirit when it comes to strengthen tougher movement in respect of establishing right to self-determination of indigenous peoples.

He added that to make leadership among the indigenous youths, objective and principle-based solidarity is inevitable. In this regard, the indigenous youth society should come forward. We should ready for dedicating supreme sacrifice bearing progressive principles to strengthen struggle for the right to indigenous peoples both in hill and plain. We cannot keep our movement limited just within meeting and gathering. We have to share the happiness and sorrows of common people. This is the way how the organizing activities should be operated.

General Secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum Sanjeeb Drong said, While the fifteenth amendment of the constitution was being revised, we demanded the constitutional recognition for the indigenous peoples as indigenous. But the state ignored the just demand of the indigenous community and referred to the indigenous peoples by different terms in the constitution which the they rejected. In addition, declaring Islam as the state religion and identifying all citizens of Bangladesh as Bengalis in the constitution, the entity of indigenous peoples have been denied.” He also said that in respect of ongoing political culture in Bangladesh, no matter which party would come to power, the Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) Accord would never be implemented. There is no option but to wage struggle to implement the CHT Accord.

President of Bangladesh Adivasi Chhatra Sangam Parishad, Alik Mree said, the state has always denied the existence of more than 50 indigenous ethnic groups in Bangladesh apart from the Bengali people. Today, capitalizing an organized incident in Raujan of Chittagong, racial hatred is being incited against the indigenous peoples across the country, but the state remains silent. Today, indigenous peoples cannot lead a normal life neither CHT region nor North Bengal or Sylhet. During his speech, he demanded the proper implementation of the CHT Accord and the formation of a separate land commission for the indigenous peoples in plains.

Sumitra Chakma, general secretary of Parbatya Chattagram Juba Samity of Rangamati district branch, said that on the onset of Pakistan era, indigenous peoples have been denied, despised and humiliated. We are now at the face of extinction today. National textbooks have been spreading misleading information about the indigenous community. So, in very newer future the movement must be accelerated. In this regard, the indigenous youth should come forward.

Jahangir Alam Nannu, general secretary of Bangladesh Youth Union, said that those who participated in the great liberation war expected that there would be no discrimination among citizens in an independent country. An egalitarian society will be developed. But today we see that expectation has not been fulfilled. Bangladesh Youth Union will stand by the indigenous peoples in all their struggles in the future as in the past.

President of Bangladesh Youth Union Touhidur Rahman said that the CHT Accord has passed its 25 years after signing it. It was the responsibility of the state to implement that Accord. But the state broke its promise. The CHT Accord was not implemented. In other parts of the country, indigenous peoples are also being oppressed in various ways. That’s why the indigenous youths must be united and join in the struggle.

Falguni Tripura, women’s affairs secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum said, although, CHT was a backward tracts during the British rule, but at that time the people of CHT were not in so much misery as it now, after Kaptai Dam. Even after the liberation war, the people were deprived there in many ways. Today, we are being harassed in various ways because of an incident that took place in Roujan. We need to look into such an incident before the national elections.

Harendranath Singh, student and youth affairs secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, said, “for unknown reason, the incidents of oppression and persecution against the indigenous community increase as the national elections approach.” In 2016, 3 Santals were shot dead by state security forces in Bagda Farm with firearms bought with public money. We haven’t got the verdict yet. We cannot say that this state belongs to the indigenous peoples. Some villages are disappearing every day.

Jahangirnagar University teacher Dr. Snigdha Rezwana said that it is a matter of shame that the country where the language movement took place, we cannot preserve the language of the indigenous peoples and give opportunity to speak their own language. Centering indigenous day, many television channels invite us to join their event when Indigenous Day approaches, but there is condition that the word “Indigenous” cannot be uttered. By this, we can understand how much surveillance the state is imposing in all areas of indigenous community. He also said, “Today, I would like to raise demand from this event that contribution of Manbendra Narayan Larma has to be included in the textbooks. He is not only a leader of the hills, but also a leader of Bangladesh.”

Writer and journalist Nazrul Kabir said, “In the various events of the indigenous community, the personal of special force are often seen. Our question is whether they can go to the event of Jubo League or Jubo Dal event, we don’t know that. According to the service rules, have they access right to such surveillance on indigenous peoples, shamelessly? How does the state want to forget that the blood of indigenous peoples is mixed in our national flag.”

Organizing Secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Youth Forum, Tony Chiran, delivered welcome speech at the event. He said, today, under the leadership of Bangladesh Indigenous Youth Forum, the indigenous youth society of the whole country is being united. We may be small in number, but if the indigenous youths, having firm ideology in their heart, are joined in the struggle we can overcome any hindrance in establishing our rights.

There has been a cultural function presented by indigenous cultural workers in the second session of the event. There were present Join General Secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum Dr. Gajendranath Mahato, Publicity affairs Secretary Hiran Mitra Chakma, Office Secretary Nitol Chakma, Cultural affairs Secretary Ujjal Azim, Office Secretary Monira Tripura among others.