Indigenous Students Demand Constitutional Recognition and Restitution of Land Rights of Indigenous Peoples

On 4 August 2015,different indigenous student organizations demanded for constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples in Bangladeshand restitution of their land rights. They made these demands in a human chain staged by Bangladesh Indigenous Students Action Forum (BISAF), a leading indigenous students’ organization in the country, in front of the National Museum, Shahbag, Dhaka.

Over a hundred indigenous students coming from different indigenous student organizations gathered in the human chain staged by BISAF at 11:00 in front of the National Museum, Shahbag, Dhaka. The human chain was presided over by Ananta Bikash Dhamai, President, BISAF while DhirenMahato,Organizing Secretary, BISAF, Mr. SalgraMree of GaroStudents Union (GASU), Mr. OlikMreeof Bangladesh GaroChatraSongathon (BAGACHAS),Nipon Tripura and SulavChakma of PahariChatraParishad(PCP), BappadityaBasu,former President, Student Unity of Bangladesh, and MassudMazhar, President, Student Unity of Bangladesh, Dhaka University Unit, among others, delivered their speeches. Different civil society organizations and indigenous peoples organizations conveyed their solidarity with the human chain.

The speakers in the human chain mentioned that more than 54 indigenous peoples have been living in the landmass of Bangladesh for generations. They fought for liberation of the country in 1971 hand in hand with their Bengali sisters and brothers. However, the Constitution of the country does not recognize indigenous peoples in the country as indigenous peoples, neither it recognizes their collective rights to land and territories. Although the present Awami League-led government made pledges in election manifestoes of 2009 and 2014 general elections for the recognition and wellbeing of indigenous peoples, current government has taken a controversial role instead.  Government should undertake immediate steps to ensure constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples and their rights.

Moreover, indigenous students claimed thatthe land and territories, where indigenous peoples have lived for generations, are being expropriatedby the State and influential private parties. Since the liberation of the country, indigenous peoples from the CHT and the Plains have been systematically evicted from their ancestral lands in the name of different development projects such as eco-park. The trend continues till today.The government is trying to impose a university in the CHT that would evict hundreds of indigenous peoples and the influential tea estate authorities are trying to grab the lands of Khasi peoples in Sylhet region.

In a written statement, a charter of demand was issued in the human chain addressing the Government of Bangladesh. The demands were:

  1. Provide recognition to indigenous peoples in Bangladesh amending the Constitution.
  2. Provide recognition to the ancestral land of indigenous peoples.
  3. Form a separate land commission for the plain land indigenous peoples in order to restitute the lands and resolution of land disputes;
  4. Implement the CHT Accord fully and properly.