Speakers at a programme yesterday said that lack of trust among the country's indigenous community is due to inadequate initiative from the government to ensure their fundamental rights.
Bangladesh Adivasi Forum (BAF) arranged the programme at the Central Shaheed Minar premises in Dhaka, marking International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples.
They said that the prevailing culture of impunity allows perpetrators to continue oppression of indigenous women while land belonging to ethnic minorities is grabbed with help from influential quarters, forcing migration.
Presiding over the programme, indigenous leader and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS) President Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, better known as Santu Larma, said that political and economic factors are main reasons behind oppression of indigenous people.
He criticised the state's “limitations” in giving due recognition of indigenous communities.
“The state's attitude towards indigenous people is not democratic,” he said.
Santu Larma, also president of BAF, said their relentless struggle over the years has been proven “insufficient” while youngsters have come forward with tougher movements to earn their rights.
“Greater movement is necessary if we want to persuade them [the rulers] to ensure our fundamental rights,” he said.
He wished three million indigenous people living in Bangladesh well, and demanded full implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord-1997.
He also urged the country's left-leaning and progressive bodies to support their struggle. Indigenous people want recognition of their identities and the state has to play its rightful role to this end, said Sultana Kamal, co-chair of CHT Commission.
Inaugurating the event, she hoped that the state would be more attentive towards ensuring the rights of indigenous people, and the majority [Bengalis] would be “sensitive and responsible”.
Criticising the government for not recognising the day nationally, columnist Syed Abul Maksud said, “Only one out of 365 days has been dedicated for indigenous people but the country's majority are not generous enough to celebrate it."
“It is shameful,” he added.
A trust-based relationship between the administration and indigenous people has to be nurtured so that they do not feel forced to leave the country, he also said.
Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu admitted that some clauses of the CHT Peace Accord have not been implemented. The government is “aware and cautious” about the matter, he said.
The minister urged indigenous people to look at the progresses made so far and assured that the remaining problems would be solved through discussions.
Manusher Jonno Foundation Executive Director Shaheen Anam said indigenous women have been subjected to different forms of violence, including rape, while perpetrators could avert punishment due to a culture of impunity.
Theatre personality Mamunur Rashid urged indigenous people not to engage in internal conflict for the sake of their own existence.
Prof Mesbah Kamal of Dhaka University, lawmaker Fazle Hossain Badshah, and BAF General Secretary Sanjeeb Drong, among others, spoke.