Raise your voice as one
To achieve their rights, ethnic minorities should come forward and protest collectively, forgetting differences among themselves, said speakers at a seminar yesterday.
They said if the groups become united and continue their protests, their demands will definitely be met one day.
"There are many differences among different groups of ethnic minorities in plain lands, but they will have to be organised," said Haimonti Sarkar, chief executive of People's Union of the Marginalized Development Organization (PUMDO), one of the keynote speakers in the seminar.
Pallab Chakma, executive director of Kapaeeng Foundation, in his keynote speech said ethnic women are the worst sufferers of environmental disasters.
Women of Mro and Tripura communities were the main sufferers when a rubber company set fire to 350 acres of Jhum land, a village forest and garden in April. But the administration did not take any effective measures against the perpetrator, he claimed.
Natural water resources are being dried up, and biodiversity is being damaged due to the indiscriminate lifting of stones from hill streams, Pallab said.
Citing examples of different surveys and research work, he said at least 22,300 acres of the Mro's land have been encroached without their consent, and at least 1,100 Mro families have been evicted from their own places in 30 villages.
He demanded acknowledgment of ethnic people's identity, language and culture in the constitution through its amendment.
Sanjeeb Drong, indigenous community leader, said ethnic minorities do not destroy forests, rather they take care of them.
Urging ethic minorities to be united, Rashed Khan Menon, chairman of parliamentary standing committee on social welfare affairs ministry, said though ethnic minorities in hill areas are united, the situation of plain land ethnic minorities is even worse.
While talking as chief guest, he said the effort to resolve indigenous issues requires a political solution.
Khushi Kabir, coordinator of Nijera Kori, said commissioners of different commissions are blamed for not doing their work. But it is also true that no logistics are being provided to them to do their work properly.
In Chattogram Hill Tracts, commissioners were being given charge, but they cannot perform their duties properly.
Prof Robaet Ferdous said the number of ethnic minorities in hill tracts is going down, and so, eventually Bangalees will be a majority there.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, said those who grab the land of ethnic minorities, encroachment is just part of their character.
Barrister Sara Hossain said in the last 30 years, it has been observed that there is a failure to ensure accountability through laws in many cases.
Urging every minority who is being suppressed to be united, Kajal Debnath, presidium member Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad, said there is no alternative but to protest collectively.
The seminar was jointly organised by 15 right organisations: ALRD, Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, Kapaeeng Foundation, Jatiya Adibashi Parishad, Maleya Foundation, CCDB, Caritas-Bangladesh, BLAST, Bela, Nijera Kori, URBAN, CDA, TIB, HDRC and Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad.