Despite a number of cultural institutes and academies established by the government to protect the cultural heritage of indigenous people in Bangladesh, leaders from the community think the initiatives are severely inadequate.
Wednesday marks the 10th UN International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. On September 13, 2007, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In 2010, the government passed the Small Ethnic Group Cultural Institutions Action and established seven cultural academies and institutes as part of its five-year plan to preserve and promote languages, arts and cultures of small ethnic communities within the framework of national unity.
As part of that initiative, Bangladesh Betar introduced shows in some indigenous languages while the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education has published textbooks for indigenous students in their mother tongue.
Although the constitution of Bangladesh guarantees the conservation of cultural tradition and heritage of the people and calls for measures that will foster and improve the national language, literature and the arts, due to a lack of funds and proper implementation these initiatives have barely made a difference, alleged indigenous community leaders.
“The activities of cultural academies and institutes are limited within a few cultural ceremonies where indigenous dances and songs are presented on different national days.
“The government lacks an integrated plan to preserve the cultural tradition and heritage of indigenous people in the country,” said Sanjeeb Drong, the general secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples’ Forum.
Chakma Circle Chief in Chittagong Raja Devashish Roy told the Dhaka Tribune: “The projects of the cultural institutes of the three districts have done some work but are severely under-funded. Moreover, they tend to concentrate in the district headquarters, whereas the main beholders of the traditional cultures are the rural communities, and focus only on visible aspects of culture such as dance, music and printed literature. What about oral traditions? Rural festivals? Community support initiatives? These are the things that form the core of indigenous peoples’ traditional heritage.”
The government said they have taken the initiatives to establish four more institutes in different districts where the indigenous community live.
“We will provide a budget to each of these institutes in order to protect and promote their own languages, art and culture,” said Md Abdul Mannan Ilias, the joint secretary for the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
When asked about the budgetary shortfall and inadequate manpower in these cultural institutes, he said: “The Ministry of Finance does the budget distribution and it may vary based on the population and size of the area. We are working to recruit more people.”