Human chain of Adivasi Chatra Sangram Parishad in Dhaka to protest cutting of Khasia Punji trees

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Hill Voice, 10 March 2023, Dhaka: The Bangladesh Adivasi Chhatra Sangram Parishad organized a human chain in front of the National Museum of Shahbagh, Dhaka today, 10 March 2023, Friday morning, demanding the ban on cutting of natural tree in Jhimai Khasia Punji of Kulaura Upazila, Moulavibazar.

Adivasi Chatra Sangram Parishad President Alik Mree presided over the human chain discussion meeting while Sharif Zaman, General Secretary of Bangladesh Environment Movement, Saikat Arif, General Secretary of Student Federation, Pallab Chakma, Executive Director of Kapaeeng Foundation, et al spoke in it.

The speakers in the gathering said that there are about 80 Khasia Punji in the hilly forest area of Moulvibazar district, where mainly Khasia and Garo indigenous people have been leading their livelihood and defending their existence by cultivating betel leaves in special agricultural methods, protecting the balance of nature and environment since time immemorial. In addition to this, thousands of members of the majority community (Bengalis) in almost every Punji are involved in the process of betel cultivation, collection, transportation and marketing, playing an important role in the local economy.

The speakers added that in these inaccessible hilly areas, these indigenous peoples have been fighting hard to save their existence for ages without education, health care, clean drinking water, improved communication system, electricity connection. Although these indigenous peoples have been living in this vast forest land of Moulvibazar for generations, their ownership of this traditional land has not been recognized even after almost 52 years of independent Bangladesh have passed.

The speakers also said that Bangladesh signed ILO Convention 107 in 1972, where customary and traditional land rights of indigenous peoples are internationally recognized and the signatory states are responsible for its implementation. Despite this, even in the past 50 years, indigenous peoples have been subjected to eviction, attacks, lawsuits and harassment through the forest department and influential people for ages, as the traditional land ownership of the indigenous peoples in these areas has not been recognized. The natural forest is being destroyed by the local influential land grabbers in the name of social forestry project in the natural forest owned by the Khasias in one hand, and conflicts has been developed between land grabbers and the indigenous peoples on the other hand.

Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Adivasi Chatra Sangram Parishad made a five-point demand, including stopping the cutting of natural trees in Jhimai Khasia Punji.
The demands raised by them are as follows-

1. The cutting of natural trees of Jhimai Khasia Punji should be stopped.

2. The tea plantation authority should remove all obstructions on the road to Jhimai Punji.

3. A separate land commission should be formed to solve the land problems of indigenous peoples of plains.

4. Livelihood security, protection of human rights and land rights of Khasia indigenous peoples must be ensured.

5. ILO Convention 107 should be implemented along with all international instruments related to indigenous rights.