Hill Voice, 6 August 2020, Dhaka: The condition of the indigenous people of the country has become extremely deplorable due to the Corona pandemic. If this situation is prolonged, the situation of indigenous marginalized people will be more deplorable. Even in Corona crisis, there has been an increase in communal attacks on indigenous peoples, land grabbing and evictions, rape, murder and abduction of indigenous women. The implementation process of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord of 1997 is now stalled and the people of the hills are being forced to live a miserable life in complete uncertainty.
These views were expressed by Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum (BIPF) at a virtual press conference organized today, 6 August 2020 Thursday, at 11:30 am by BIPF on the occasion of “International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples-2020”. Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary of the BIPF read out the press statement on behalf of the Forum at a press conference presided over by Ajoy A. Mree, Vice President of the BIPF. Besides, Pankaj Bhattacharya, President of Oikya NAP, Professor Dr. Mesbah Kamal and Professor Robayet Ferdous of Dhaka University, Rabindranath Soren, President of the Jatiya Adivasi Parishad and Vice-President of the BIPF were also online present in the press meet as the guest.
In his keynote address at the Virtual Press Conference of the BIPF, Sanjeeb Drong said that indigenous people are the most marginalized among the poor. They have historically been victims of exploitation, discrimination and deprivation. Now the situation of the indigenous peoples has become more deplorable due to Corona crisis. According to a recent study by indigenous organizations, the indigenous peoples in plains in our country have already fallen below 80 percent of the poverty line. Many indigenous people have lost their jobs.
Indigenous garment workers, hotel workers, beauty parlor women workers, drivers, housemaids, security guards and other informal sector workers have lost their jobs in the city and many have returned to their villages. The number of indigenous people losing such jobs will be at least a few thousand. The status of indigenous peoples engaged in agriculture and other activities is also uncertain. Uncertainty has come down in the lives of the indigenous people who work as day laborers and daily wage earners. If this situation is prolonged further, the situation of indigenous marginalized people will be more deplorable.
The BIPF has demanded special economic incentives for the indigenous people in the crisis of the Corona epidemic. Local indigenous organizations need to be involved in providing such incentives so that no indigenous person is deprived. The Forum expressed discontentment that no specific allocation has been made for the indigenous people as corona-assistance even though a huge budget has been prepared this time.
The press conference further said that the indigenous language, culture and way of life have been pushed towards a completely uncertain future. Indigenous peoples have been continuously deprived of their land rights. Indigenous peoples have become a minority in their homeland as a result of ‘population transfer’ in areas where they were once the majority.
Highlighting the human rights situation of the indigenous people, it was said in the press conference that the human rights situation of the indigenous people is not good even during this time. Violent incidents have increased in different parts of the country, including communal threats against indigenous people, land grabbing and eviction, rape, murder and abduction of indigenous women. Violence against indigenous women has been on the rise, especially in recent times.
Although 22 years have passed since the signing of the CHT Accord, the basic provisions of the Accord have not been implemented. The implementation process of the Agreement is now stalled and the indigenous Jumma people of the hills are being forced to live a miserable life in complete uncertainty. In order to suppress the movement, the activists have been subjected to house raids, harassment, inhuman torture, arbitrary arrests, branding as extortionist & terrorists, criminalization in false cases, sending the activists to jail and compelled them to flee from their respective area.
The condition of the indigenous people in plains is also not good. The government has repeatedly promised to form a separate land commission for the plains, but has not implemented it. There are no signs of minimal action in this regard. In the Corona crisis, the land confiscation and eviction of indigenous people in different districts is going on without hindrance and continuously.
Participating in the press conference, the veteran politician and President of Oikya NAP agreed with all the demands raised by the BIPF and said that it was essential to announce a separate incentive package for the indigenous people whose livelihoods had become miserable during the Corona period. He also demanded immediate implementation of the CHT Agreement and constitutional recognition of the indigenous peoples.
Mesbah Kamal, professor in the History Department at Dhaka University, said pushing the indigenous peoples to the margins meant pushing the whole world to the margins. In order to save the world, the knowledge and wisdom of the indigenous peoples must be respected and honored. Therefore, the state has to recognize the right of self-determination of the indigenous peoples. He urged the government to implement the CHT Accord.
Referring the opinion of Greta Thunberg (a Swedish activist), Rubayet Ferdous, a teacher of Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at Dhaka University, said the indigenous peoples were not well even in the so-called normal times. Therefore, without thinking of going back to the so-called normal life, he highlighted the need to build a biodiversity-nature friendly and non-communal Bangladesh. He said there was no alternative to the abolition of inequity towards indigenous people and class discrimination to make the whole world beautiful and healthy, to make it livable for all.
The main theme of the United Nations for this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2020 is “COVID-19 and Indigenous Peoples’ Resilience”. In line with the UN’s theme, the BIPF has declared “Indigenous Peoples’ Struggle for Livelihoods in the Covid-19 Pandemic” as this year’s theme in the context of the indigenous peoples’ livelihoods in Bangladesh.
At the press conference, a seven-day programme of the country’s indigenous peoples and human rights organizations, including the BIPF, was announced. Due to the Corona epidemic, all programmes will be virtual. It will include various day-long programs of BIPF on 9th August, such as, video messages from the President and General Secretary of the Forum and eminent citizens, cultural performances by indigenous artists, webinar discussions in the afternoon, commemoration of the victims of the COVID pandemic at 8pm and lighting of candle from their homes and mourn for a minute for COVID victims and Mother Earth.
The 13-point demand of the BIPF was raised at the virtual press conference. The demand includes ensuring health care and medical treatment for all citizens, including indigenous people; providing lump-sum financial incentive packages in special arrangements for indigenous peoples affected by the Corona epidemic; providing part-time employment to at least 10,000 indigenous families in Corona crisis; taking other necessary steps, including financial assistance, to ensure that Indigenous students do not drop out of their educational activities; stopping communal attacks, lodging of fabricated case, harassment and propaganda on indigenous peoples; ensuring the safety of all citizens including indigenous women and so on.