Calls made for fulfillment of peace accord marking International Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples.
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA) – Non-participation in development activities have allegedly been stoking unrest in Bangladesh’s hill tracts, in a situation where indigenous people are struggling for their basic needs.
Community leaders and experts have called for the fulfillment of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord to establish peace and participatory development in the hilly districts for International Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples that will be observed Aug. 9.
But Bangladesh does not recognize tribal people living in the CHT as indigenous people or groups but characterizes them as “ethnic minorities.”
The country is home to more than 50 indigenous groups. There are some 1.59 million indigenous people, or 1.8% of the total population, according to official numbers.
But indigenous peoples claim that their population is approximately 5 million with an estimated 80% living in flatland districts and the rest in the CHT.
Development activities, land disputes cause displacement, unrest
Chittagong Hill Tracts Citizens’ Committee president Gautam Dewan told Anadolu Agency that consent and participation of any local community are mandatory and necessary for holistic development, which is also mentioned in the CHT peace accord. But they are not followed in the CHT.
Land dispute is a longstanding unresolved issue in the hill tracks but it could not be reconciled due to lack of a cordial effort by the government, he said.
“Displacements have regularly been happening due to those development activities on the ancestors’ land of the indigenous community. Meanwhile, no compensation was made for those incidents. There are at least 83,000 internally displaced indigenous families in hilly districts, according to the government registry document,” said Dewan, who is also a community leader. “The hilly districts are one-tenth of the total land in Bangladesh. Only 27% of the total land in hill tracks is agricultural land. But the growing rush of plain Bengali into the hill tracks is keeping the land dispute and conflicts alive,” he continued.
Establishing a luxury hotel in southeastern Bandarban’s Chandra Pahar, a village of the Mro indigenous community, is unnecessary and will certainly cause displacement of indigenous people, disrupt water supply as there is already a water crisis, he said.
The hotel establishment has sparked criticism among indigenous peoples and rights activities. The UN has also urged Bangladesh to suspend the project.
Farha Tanzim Titil, assistant professor at Islamic University Kushtia, told Anadolu Agency that the contemporary development contradicts the development of indigenous people in the hill tracks.
There were more than 100 indigenous groups with an estimated population of 20 million, however, about 50 groups now exist, said Titil, who has long been studying indigenous people and their economy of development.
Indigenous people are very important for the conservation of the hilly environment and forest, she said.
Internal grouping, infighting among groups raising concerns
Internal fighting among indigenous groups in the CHT is very common and often claims lives.
“Losing ancestors’ lands, becoming displaced and internal refuge, lack of rehabilitation, state-sponsored discrimination since the Pakistani era, non-implementation of peace accord have been behind such infighting among indigenous groups in the hill tracks,” said Dewan.
There is no democratic participation of indigenous people in the districts’ governance for the last 24 years, he said.
“And, the government has set up a land commission for resolving the land dispute and ensuring peace in the hill tracks but it remains nonfictional due to necessary policy support from the government’s end,” he said.
“In 1940 there was only 1% plain land people in the hills. Now it rose to 55% meaning an unplanned development and deforestation in the hills,” said Titil. “Non-implementation of the peace accord, land dispute and discrimination from the state end, keeps the infightings to be continued in hill tracks.”
Titil and Dewan were surprised to know how infighting is on the rise despite an increasing number of military camps in CHT.
Kujendra Lal Tripura, member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs, also echoed the same on the non-participatory development.
“It is not justified and rationale in line with the CHT peace accord to set up such development infrastructures in the hill tracks without taking consent of the indigenous group, and the local district administration of signing the agreement for such establishment,” said Tripura. “We also want development but the basic needs should be ensured on a priority basis. We don’t want luxury hotels when we don’t have clothes to wear and no food to eat. We want educational institutes, hospitals in the hills as we don’t have those in good numbers.”
The ruling party of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed the CHT accord to bring peace to the hills in 1997.
“The government is cordial to implement the peace accord and ensure peace in CHT. And, we have already fulfilled about 49 clauses out of 72 in the CHT peace accord. But, we have to work jointly to implement the peace accord fully and ensure peace in hill tracks,” said Tripura.
He also emphasized resolving existing disputes among indigenous groups for peace in CHT.