Government officials in Bangladesh have come to a cross roads with the latest move by the current government to possibly remove the word “indigenous” from official documents in relation to some of the poorest and most marginalized ethnic groups in the country.
In a release by IRIN, a humanitarian new and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are 45 indigenous groups in the country, most of them live in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). The CHT is an area with some of the highest rates of infant and child mortality in the country.
The talk of removing the word came June 30 when a constitutional amendment was passed recognizing “small ethnic groups,” without referring to them as indigenous.
“For 25 years we have fought for constitutional recognition of Indigenous Peoples. The first phase of the struggle has been won, now the second phase is to use the right name - indigenous,” said Hasanul Haq Inu of the parliamentary caucus in the IRIN release.
Raja Devavish Roy, “king” of the Chakma circle, the nation’s largest ethnic minority, and a member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, told IRIN he had often witnessed a pendulum of interest and disinterest in indigenous rights, but he believes this most recent debate is semantics.
According to an article published by CHT news and posted at the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization website, the term ‘Adivasi’ (Indigenous Peoples) will be replaced by the term ‘khudro Nritattik Jonogosthi’ (ethnic minorities). As a result all textbooks and curriculums would be changed as well. The move was accepted by representatives from the Prime Minister’s office, Foreign Ministry, Ministry for CHT Affairs and others at a meeting on July 21. The next step is approval from the Cabinet.