We must ensure the rights of all communities within Bangladesh
Continuous inequalities based on income, sex, age, disability, race, class, ethnicity, religion, and opportunity continue to prevail all over the world and among all countries. Inequality abdicates socio-economic development of a country, shortens the possibility of poverty reduction, and harms people’s sense of self-worth. Not to mention, this can, in turn, breed crimes, diseases, and environmental degradation.
Bangladesh has been acknowledged as a toast for the development world for the last two decades for its growth. Bangladesh has been home to about 54 diverse ethnic communities, including the Chakma, Marma, Khasi, Santal, Tripura, Muurang, etc. These ethnic groups usually make their abode in the Chittagong Hill Districts area, Sylhet, Mymensingh, and the districts of North Bengal.
Major issues like land grabbing, cultural and political harassment, lack of access to quality education, violence against women, child abuse, sexual harassment, domestic violence, a loss of tribal languages and cultural practices, environmental concerns, and social injustice have left thousands of people undergoing massive pains.
They are quite far from seeking legal aid services from the government due to their illiteracy and general lack of awareness. Life has been more difficult for them to enjoy their fundamental human rights compared to the mainstream groups. According to the HRW report on ethnic communities in Bangladesh, minorities experience significant disparity and ethnic communities are no exception to this.
The Bangladesh government has taken praiseworthy steps to conduct surveys over ethnic groups and provide legal services since early 2014. Yet, a systematic strategy can be adopted to restore their dispossessed lands, to make judicial inquiries against the violence they have faced, and most importantly, to provide a constitutional recognition as per international human rights instruments ratified by the government of Bangladesh.
An example is the ILO Conventions on Indigenous and Tribal Populations (Convention 107) and on Discrimination in Employment (Convention No.111, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), etc, in order to ensure a peaceful co-existence of our ethnic communities.
The CHT Accord signed in 1997 by the government is one of the most constructive measures to address the socio-economic and political problems in the region. Key provisions of the accord, which include land disputes, repeal of temporary military camps, and devolution of power to the local bodies, are yet to be fulfilled.
Nolen Chakma (not willing to publish real name), 23, expressed: “Implementation of the CHT peace accord should be put ahead of everything. Also, quality education and education in mother tongue should be prioritized at least at the primary/elementary level. The percentages of failure in HSC and SSC are quite high in CHT, as to the indigenous people their mother-tongue is not Bangla. I believe our government should and will further extend their initiatives to the existing problems to provide quality education in remote areas.”
Keeping pace with the current pandemic situation, when asked whether the community is able to get access to the required health facilities if they are affected with Covid-19 or have prolonged symptoms, Dipa Chakma said, “I have access to health facilities as I belong to the city areas, but most of the people who live in remote areas actually don’t get it.”
The pledges of the government made in the 7th Five Year Plan (FY16-FY20) in order to ensure legal protection of indigenous people are:
1) Implementing the UN Declaration of 2007 in ensuring rights of indigenous people and ratification of the ILO Convention 169
2) Formulating a land policy to deal with land disputes involving ethnic minority groups
3) Ensuring the participation of local governments in environmental concerns
Considering all these and given the current spirit of the Sustainable Development Agenda of 2030 of “leave no one behind” we can expect the government to act in a manner such that our ethnic communities can go shoulder to shoulder with us without having any fear or dilemmas about their way of life.
Saharin Priya Shaoun has been working in the development sector in collaboration with different International organizations since 2017.