Most of the members of these communities have not been able to join mainstream commercial and economic activities
On August 9 each year, the world observes the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, to raise awareness and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous population. Bangladesh has 54 indigenous peoples speaking more than 35 languages.
Most of them however have not been able to join mainstream commercial and economic activities from a lack of opportunities and entrepreneurship.
But Nicoshia Chakma would not let these barriers hold her back. She arrived in Dhaka to pursue higher education, and has been running a successful sari business since 2016.
Born and brought up in the remote areas of Rangamati, she faced the usual stigmas regarding her career choice. The concept of running a business seemed unrealistic and frowned upon by the community elders.
“I got lucky because my parents are educated,” she said. “Many children in our community aren’t exposed to the outside world.”
Her business has grown to make a daily turnover of Tk1 lakh to 4 lakhs, depending on festivals and certain occasions.
While speaking to Dhaka Tribune, when she was asked how she got into the business and managed such a large customer base, she replied saying earning trust played a crucial role in succeeding in business. “I have always been honest with my customers, delivering exactly what they want. For which I saw my business grow every year just from word of mouth.”
She believes that there are two main problems behind Indigenous community members joining mainstream society. One is a lack of quality education and the other is racism.
“The level of quality education which is still below par compared to other areas of the country. On top of that, there are many external factors that discourage these community members from coming out and establishing themselves in the mainstream society like discrimination and racism.
“Every time I am in public, I have to face racial slurs targeted at me—especially online. I have gotten over it and now it doesn’t bother me anymore,” Nicoshia said.
The lack of joining mainstream economic activities by indigenous communities is the outcome of many socio-economic factors. Some of the poorest populations of Bangladesh are found among the indigenous communities, therefore, making them psychologically risk-averse.
These communities face discrimination and have often been subject to extortion by land grabbers. According to official statistics, there are about 2 million indigenous people in Bangladesh.
From a population of 2 million, there are not many who take up entrepreneurship as a career option. Most of the educated members of the community can be seen taking part in the development and education sectors.
We all heard about Amit Chakma’s success last year in becoming the vice-chancellor of the University of Western Australia. He grew up in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and made it all the way to taking up such a big responsibility. There are a handful of such examples here in Bangladesh as well.
However, we need more community members to take up leadership roles in the corporate scene.
The Government of Bangladesh undertook some initiatives to fulfil its responsibility to ensure primary education for indigenous children, including a measure in 2017 which was to nationalize 210 primary schools in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
The Ministry of Primary and Mass Education produced pre-school textbooks in 5 indigenous languages and distributed around 25,000 books.
But indigenous activists identified the lack of adequate, competent and qualified teachers in indigenous languages. In addition, children belonging to many remote indigenous communities still cannot realize their right to education due to the lack of educational institutions in those areas, according to International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs’s (IWGIA) findings.
In order to get the indigenous population out of poverty, more formal jobs need to be created around these communities, and initiatives to provide more vocational training needs to be undertaken by the government. It should also be encouraged that more members of these communities take entrepreneurship as a career option as Nicoshia Chakma did.