Daily Star, 12 August 2002
The United Nations (UN) declared the year 1993 as International Year of the World's Indigenous Peoples. This was an important milestone towards recognition of rights of the indigenous peoples in the world. Then the UN declaration of International Decade of Indigenous Peoples was another auspicious move towards making all of us aware of the various issues affecting the indigenous peoples. Now many countries observe the International Day of Indigenous Peoples on August 9. This year last Friday was that occasion to assess and assert the rights of indigenous (Adibashi) communities also in Bangladesh. Some Adibashi organisations and advocacy groups observe the day on own initiatives. Some NGOs adopt special programmes to uphold the issues following the theme for the Day.
A couple of years back, on the occasion Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, had expressed his hope that historical step would be taken to establish a forum by the year 2002. The established forum would ensure the rights and meet the needs of indigenous peoples.
There are different opinions about the number of Adibashi communities in Bangladesh. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics has identified 29 tribal groups while Fr. Peter Rema has mentioned of 33 Adibashi communities. A proper research is needed to decide the number and identify the Adibashi communities. This will be helpful for planning and administration of development programmes. The problem also remains in giving the number of Adibashi people. The figures of government census vary a lot compared to the head-count figures in some districts.
The Adibashi people live in different districts of Bangladesh. They are divided into many groups and have their distinct pursuits languages, customs and traditions. They are mainly dependent on agricultural. They had made many uncultivable lands suitable for cultivation in earlier days. They are peace loving people. But they had to abandon many of their cultivable lands and move to another area when pushed out by non-Adibashi mainstream population. There were none to help them for legalising and preserving land documents. This rendered many Adibashis landless.
The Adibashi people are far behind in developing themselves following the trends of modern approaches and technologies. Lack of education has caused many problems among them. It's a cruel irony that many Adibashi people have become the victims of cheating and deprivation for their simplicity, honesty and generosity.
It is appreciable that Bangladesh government is implementing some development programmes through the Special Affairs Division while some NGOs are taking different programmes for the development of Adibashis. However, the real development of Adibashis depends more on themselves. They have to be more conscious to preserve their rights and maintain their own identity. They have to be developed more through their own efforts. They have to work unitedly to change their lot. Let us promise once again to work together for our development and advancement following the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples.
Babul Rabidas, an Advocate at Judge's Court, Joypurhat, is an Adibashi community activist.