The separate land commission demanded for the plain land indigenous people of the country should have the power to take legal action rather than just make recommendations to the government, speakers said at a national seminar yesterday.
“The commission should have teeth. It should not exist in name only,” said Khushi Kabir, coordinator of Nijera Kori.
Time has also come to establish a ministry for all indigenous people of the country, both from plain land and the hills, she told the national seminar on "Separate Land Commission for the Plain Land Indigenous Population: Specific Recommendations".
Other discussants echoed her at the programme, organised by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), Jatiya Adivasi Parishad, and Indigenous Peoples Development Services (IPDS) jointly at the capital's Bangla Academy yesterday as part of the two-day celebration of International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples on August 9.
“The land of plain land indigenous people cannot be protected under the current land laws of the country,” said Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, citing several instances of eviction of plain land Adivasis from their land.
He said that as indigenous people used the land collectively and had a spiritual relationship with land, they never had any ownership documents, required by the country's law.
This gave government offices reason to evict the indigenous people from the area, in which they had been living for ages, he said.
Supreme Court lawyer Titus Hillol Rema, member of Bangladesh Indigenous Lawyers Association, presented a draft law with six chapters and 21 sections for creation of the commission. The draft also attached a list of 36 indigenous plain land communities of the country.
History professor at Dhaka University Mesbah Kamal, however, said that through his research, he found 76 indigenous communities in the country. Care must be taken so that no community is left out, he said.
Sara Hossain, honorary executive director of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), said, “You can try to give the law constitutional protection so that no government can change it as they wish.”
Fazle Hossain Badshah MP, convener of the parliamentary caucus on indigenous affairs, referred to the draft law on the rights commission for indigenous people, which the caucus plans to present in parliament as a private bill soon.
Noting that establishing a separate land commission for plain land communities was part of Awami League's election manifesto both in 2010 and 2014, lawmaker Md Abdur Razzak said a mass movement was required to remind government of its promise.
Robaet Ferdous, associate professor of mass communication and journalism, DU, suggested establishing the headquarters of the land commission outside Dhaka.
On behalf of MJF, Dr Tofail Ahmed gave the welcome speech while Rabindranath Soren, president of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad, moderated the discussion.