Experts have called on the government to formulate an indigenous policy to ensure the economic, land, education, social, and political rights of nearly 30 lakh indigenous people of the country.
They said that indigenous people are being deprived of their rights due to a lack of policies.
The remarks were made at a discussion titled "National Dialogue on the Need for Indigenous Policy in Bangladesh," organised by the Indigenous Peoples Development Services (IPDS), at YWCA Conference Hall on Asad Avenue of the capital on Wednesday.
Discussants from different arenas of the society – including human rights activists, development activists and tribal leaders – said that even though the country is on the verge of 50 years of independence, its indigenous people are being deprived of their basic and human rights. As a result, they are unable to play a role in the mainstream economy and politics.
If the government formulates a policy and acts accordingly, it is possible to include these communities in the mainstream, they added.
The meeting was chaired by IPDS President Sanjeeb Drong and the chief guest was National Human Rights Commission Chairman Nasima Begum NDC. Rashed Khan Menon, MP; Aroma Dutt, MP; Professor Mesbah Kamal; and Andrew Macgregor, chief technical advisor, HRJP, UNDP took part in the discussion, among others.
Sanjeeb Drong read the main article at the event. He said, "The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution recognises different ethnic groups of the country. At the same time, it has been said that steps will be taken to bring these backward communities forward. Bangladesh also signed the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Declaration of ILO Convention 169."
He said, "There are instructions to formulate a policy to implement the rights of indigenous peoples in accordance with national and international law. After that, the Bangladesh government has not taken any initiative to do that."
Speaking as the chief guest, Nasima Begum NDC said, "The initiative was taken a long time ago. Quick steps will be taken in this regard in consultation with the government. It is also necessary to find out where there are problems in formulating this policy and move forward."
Rashed Khan Menon said, "The indigenous people are evicted from their mainland from time to time. Their land rights have not been confirmed yet. The government is working on these issues."
Professor Mesbah Kamal said, "There are about 30 lakh indigenous people in 50 different communities in the plainlands and hills of the country. If these large numbers of citizens are left behind, the country will not be able to move forward."
"In their election manifesto, the present government promised to set up an effective land commission for the indigenous people of the hills, but it did not happen. There is no concern to preserve their language, there is no effective measure to ensure their education. Further, the government does not have specific initiatives on health, culture and economic rights," he added.
Professor Mesbah Kamal said there is no alternative to formulating an indigenous policy to ensure these rights.
He noted that such a policy was formulated long ago in neighbouring India.