Santal Revolution Day observed in Dhaka: Recognition of rights to self-identification of indigenous peoples demanded

Dr. Mizanur Rahman, Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, urged government of Bangladesh to respect rights to self-identification of indigenous peoples in providing constitutional recognition to them. He said that right to self-identification is a human right. If this right is not provided to any person, it would be treated as violation of human rights. If someone is being disrespectful to other’s rights to cultural identity rights and self-identification, s/he is a direct sign of self-disrespect.

Dr. Mizanur Rahman expressed the above mentioned opinion at the discussion meeting organised by Jatiya Adivasi Parishad with the support of ILO, Oxfam and Kapaeeng Foundation on 29 June 2013 at Dhaka Reporters’ Unity on the occasion of 158th anniversary of Santal Revolution Day. On June 30, 1885, indigenous peoples, especially the Santals, led by Sidu and Kanu with the support of their sister Fulmoni Murmu, started a fight against the British regime.

Dr. Mizanur Rahman said that land problem is a main issue of indigenous peoples. Resolution of other problems of indigenous peoples would be easy if their land problem is resolved. He added that there are three ownerships recognized in Bangladesh, such as, state ownership, co-operative ownership and private ownership. However, the collective ownership is another ownership existing among the indigenous peoples which is not recognized in the constitution. This ownership is very important to indigenous peoples’ culture  in term of enjoyment of rights to land and natural resources, he opined. Generally, a human civilization is dependent upon tradition, customs and usages. However, indigenous peoples are being uprooted from their ancestral land by disrespecting their traditions and customs, he said. He urged all to learn from the historic Santal Revolution and to work for establishing a poverty-free state.

He also urged CHT Affairs Ministry to execute the recommendations of investigation report on eviction of Chak community from their ancestral villages by land grabbers. He said that only submission of investigation report is not a solution, it should be implemented, as per the suggestions of investigation report. Finally, he urged to arrest land grabbers who were accused to evict indigenous Chak villagers in Bandarban.

Rashed Khan Menon MP, President of Workers’ Party of Bangladesh and Convenor of Parliamentary Caucus on indigenous peoples, emphasized on recognition of ethnic identity of indigenous peoples and recognition of their land rights. Though land commission was formed in CHT for resolving land disputes, but land disputes are yet to be resolved as the CHT Land Commission Act was not framed as per provisions of CHT Accord. On the other, land commission for indigenous peoples of plain land is yet to be formed, Menon said. There is no separate or special law for indigenous peoples in Bangladesh. He informed that the Parliamentary Caucus on indigenous peoples has been working for framing Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Rights Act to ensure rights of indigenous peoples of the country.

Chakma circle chief Raja Barrister Devasish Roy said that like Santal Revolution, indigenous Jumma people led by Runu Khan Dewan also waged revolution against British regime for a decade from 1777 to 1787. This revolution ended with signing a treaty between Chakma king Jan Bux Khan and East India Company. Traditional institutions of indigenous peoples still exist in CHT and also plain land, said Devasish Roy.

Mangal Kumar Chakma, Information and Publicity Secretary of PCJSS said that Santal Revolution was a peasant movement arose against British colonization. It generated a vast impact on independent movement against British imperialism and also liberation war of Bangladesh as well. However, rights of the peasants irrespective of indigenous peoples and mainstream population are yet to be realized, he added. He said that present government pledged in its election commitment to form land commission to restitute dispossessed land of indigenous peoples of plain land. However, the government fully failed to comply with its commitment. The government just pledged such commitment to use indigenous peoples as vote bank, he opined too.

The discussion meeting was presided over by president of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad and chairperson of Kapaeeng Foundation Mr. Rabindranath Soren. Indigenous rights activist Pavel Partha presented a keynote paper on Santal Revolution and present situation of indigenous peoples while Horendranath Sing conducted the event. Among other, teacher of Dhaka University Prof. Mesbah Kamal and Shantunu Majumdar, teacher of Jahangirnagar University Dr. Inoon Nahar, teacher of Jagannath University Rajib Mir, Executive Director of IED Noman Ahmad Khan, Eexecutive Director of INCIDIL A K M Masud Ali, General Secretary of Adivasi Chhatra Parishad Subhash Chandra Hembram, Presidium Member of JAP Anil Marandi, Advocate Babul Rabidash, General Secretary of JAP Sabin Chandra Munda et al also spoke at the discussion.