Bangladesh houses multi-ethnic groups which include Bengalis as well as small ethnic population. Though there is confusion about the exact number of the adivasi population, it is assumed that it is around 3 million (the only disaggregated data on tribal population was available in 1991Census). About 2.2 million live in 41 plains districts of Bangladesh.
In the 2012-2013 budget, the government recognised this fact and put in a Section headed “Minority and Underprivileged Community” with Sub-sections from 218 to 221. A careful look would show that it focused solely on the ethnic groups of Chittagong Hill Tracts. Moreover, in 2013-2014 there were special budgets for Dalits, Hijras, Bedes etc. The adivasis of the plains, as usual, were deprived. The plains land adivasis belonging to 37 ethnic groups -- Garos, Santals, Hajongs, Oraon, Mundas, Monipuris, Khasis, Burmans, Koch etc. -- are equally or more deprived, voiceless, and at the lower strata of the society economically.
According to the Prime Minister's Secretariat (2011-2012), the total allocation in the budget year 2011-2012 for the plains land adivasis was Tk. 15 crores. The Special Affairs Division (SAD) of the Prime Minister's Secretariat oversees the fund, and it is alleged that it hardly engages the key stakeholders in planning and strategising at the central and grassroots -- upazila -- levels. The Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs looks after the overall socio-economic, education and health issues of the adivasis of Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Participation in the War of Liberation: It can be mentioned that the small ethnic communities/tribal peoples from the plain land participated in the Liberation War of 1971 en masse. Many died in the war. Their property and households were destroyed, cattle stolen, women raped and land grabbed during the War. Those communities, however, did not receive due recognition and were rather neglected and excluded from development initiatives. Therefore, the development needs of the ethnic minority groups of the plain land cannot be overlooked. The government needs to make positive contribution to uplift the most vulnerable people of the country.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed the CHT Accord in 1997 and created the CHT Ministry. We believe that it is she who will also be able to create a ministry for the plains land small ethnic communities and allocate budget for their development. Perhaps some steps given below will consolidate their active participation in national development and pave the way for their integral development:
1. Allocation of budgetary provisions for plains land ethnic groups in the budget of 2014-2015;
2. Creation of a new ministry for the plains land ethnic minority communities; or any existing ministry could extend its portfolio to include their affairs;
3. Formation of development consortium for the socio-economic development of the plain land adivasis.
The writer hails from Garo community and is development activist.