Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Adivasis of Bangladesh

I worked with Adivasis of Bangladesh from May 2006 to May 2008. This, through my volunteer placement with Adivasi Unnayan Songstha, a program partner of VSOBangladesh-Indigenous Community Rights. AUS is located in northwest Rajshahi. The following is a brief description of Adivasis.

Adibashis (Indigenous Peoples) of Bangladesh share similar concerns with other indigenous peoples of the world. Most often marginalized and disadvantaged from the rest of the mainstream population, they suffer lack of basic delivery of services on health, education, and livelihood. They face a number of issues which threaten their existence as a people and as citizens of the wider Bangladesh society.

Issues range from lack of government support manifested by hostility and insensitivity on the indigenous peoples’ culture, to lack of provision of the basic services supposed to be given to them. Related threats hamper them including human rights abuses by military personnel and aggressive movement of influential and greedy persons in authority who take advantage of the indigenous peoples’ vulnerability aside from exploitative government laws and programs.

This, while Adibashis have significantly contributed to the physical, political, cultural and economic development of the country. They are the first people in areas where they cleaned the jungles and made an agricultural base to live on. To date however, majority of the mainstream Bengali population are enjoying this cultivated land legally or illegally. With their current state of landlessness, Adibashis are now farm laborers and share croppers to rich land owners, and contributing a lot to the economy of the nation.

Not only have they continued to contribute to the economic wealth of the nation. They compose a distinct population with their rich cultural heritage which contributes and makes up to a vibrant and culturally endowed Bangladesh. They were part of the Liberation War in 1971 where they participated as freedom fighters and fought along with the rest of the Bengalis for a new and separate nation.

Estimates point out about 2.5 million of Adibashis now live in Bangladesh among the 140 million population of this country. Of this number, some 1.5 million of Indigenous peoples live in the plain lands, an estimate from 1991 Bangladesh census with 1.2 million Adibashis residing in the country constituting about 1.13 percent of the country’s population. The census in 1991 covered 27 Adibashi ethno- linguistic groups. As of press time, there are recorded 45 tribes.

In north-western Bangladesh are 35 Adibashi tribes among of whom are the Barman, Koch, Monad, Orion, Sandal, and Rajbangshi, Munda, Paharia, Mahali, Malo, Karmokar, Muriari, Mahato, Rajowar, Gond, Badara, Bhumij, Bhugs, Lohar,Pahari, Muler, Khoira, Tali, Pal, Burma, Beel, Moliok, Khorwar, etc. Then there are the other tribal peoples in north-central and north-eastern Bangladesh, including the Garo (Mandi), Hajong, Khasi and Rakhaing.

Both the Adibashis in the northwest, north central and northeast are referred to as Adibashis of the Plains.

The other 11 tribes are found in the Chittagong Hill Tracts including the Bawm, Chak, Chakma, Khumi, Khyang, Lushai, Marma, Mro, Pangkhua, Tanchangya and Tripura, who are also known as Pahari or Jumma.

Source: Discourses on Policy Perspectives on Land Rights of Adivasis of Northwest Bangladesh, by Gina Dizon, Published by VSOB, April 2008

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