News desk: Ethnic minorities and rights activists on Tuesday celebrated the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples with a demand for their constitutional recognition and right.
At a programme in Dhaka city, they also demanded that ethnic minorities’ land must not be grabbed in the name of development and steps must be taken to eliminate all kinds of discrimination, and violence against ethnic women.
They also demanded that ethnic minorities should be identified as ‘indigenous people’ and the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord be adequately implemented.
The programme, organised by Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, started with the national anthem and released balloons into the sky at Central Shaheed Minar at 11:00am on Tuesday.
The day, attended by 32 ethnic organisations, was celebrated publicly after two years of its closure due to Covid pandemic.
The United Nations has taken up ‘The Role of Indigenous Women in the Preservation and Transmission of Traditional Knowledge’ as the theme for the year.
Addressing the programme as Bangladesh Adivasi Forum president, Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma said that the rulers had been conspiring to destroy the identity of ethnic groups since the country’s independence.
‘Those who have come to power since the independence have never looked after the interests of the minority people. Instead, the rulers have tried to make their (the minority people) existence disappear. Now how much of that effort remained unrealized?’ the leader asked.
He further said that the CHT Peace Accord was yet to be implemented, and the ethnic group’s land had been being grabbed in the name of development.
He called on youths to take charge of leadership to uphold the rights of the ethnic people.
Workers Party of Bangladesh president Rashed Khan Menon thanked the media for publishing news on Tuesday using the word ‘indigenous’ avoiding the government’s embargo on the use of the term.
Recalling the ban on playing Tagore’s songs and observing Rabindranath Tagore’s centenary birth anniversary during the Pakistani period, he said, ‘These types of prohibition are nothing new, and people did not obey them that time’.
‘When the Pakistanis demolished the Shaheed Minar, the ethnic people joined us in rebuilding it, and also took part in 1971 War of Independence. So this fight is not only for the ethnic groups but also for ours. Our youths will fight standing by your (ethnic groups) side,’ he said.
Demanding the recognition of the ethnic groups, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, said, ‘the ruling power does not consider us as citizens but ‘mass people’.’
‘Like the ethnic groups, we (Bengali) also cannot exercise many of our rights. We cannot even exercise our right to vote,’ she added.
The speakers also called for a special census for ethnic groups to understand their actual numbers and socio-economic status, and a separate land commission for plain land ethnic people.
Inaugurated by cultural activist Mamunur Rashid, the programme ended with a cultural function followed by a rally.
The United Nations General Assembly on December 23, 1994 decided that the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples would be observed on August 9 every year.
The date marks the day of the first meeting in 1982 of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.