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Bengali settlers blockade Sultana Kamal at Baghaihat in Rangamati

Kapaeeng Watch News Release on Situation of IPs in Bangladesh: 18 August 2008

Situation of Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh

Bengali settlers blockade Sultana Kamal at Baghaihat in Rangamati

On 2 August 2008 the Bengali settlers blockaded former advisor to the caretaker government of Bangladesh and eminent human rights activist Ms. Sultana Kamal while she was returning from Sajek after distribution of relief to the victims of Sajek arson attack at Baghaihat bazaar under Sajek union of Baghaichari upazila in Rangamati district.

It is learnt that the Bengali settlers with the patronistion of the security forces halted Sultana Kamal’s vehicle while she, accompanied with indigenous and human rights activist, reached at Baghaihat bazaar. Bengali settlers shouted slogan against Sultana Kamal and at a stage they threw bricks and hit with stick on her vehicle. They blockaded Sultana Kamal and her colleagues for an hour. At that time, a group of military forces from Baghaihat zone and personnel of intelligent agencies were present there. But they did not come forward to help Ms. Kamal. It is alleged that authorities played active role behind the scene to organise Bengali settlers to blockade Ms. Sultana Kamal.

It is mentionable that an arson attack was made by Bengali settlers with the help of military forces of Baghaihat zone on 7 Jumma villages on 20 April 2008 which left 78 houses of 7 Jumma villages and 43 temporary hedge-rows of Bengali settlers completely burnt to ashes. This is the second time Ms. Kamal went there to distribute relief to the victims. She, on behalf of “Relief Management Committee for the Victims of Sajek-Gangaram Arson Incident”, distributed two and half bundle of CIT sheet, 50 kgs of rice, 1 kg edible oil and 1 kg sidol (dry fish paste) for each family of 80 Jumma families. She also tried to distribute relief to 20 families of Bengali settlers. However, Bengali settlers refused to accept this relief arguing that there were 105 affected families and hence this relief was inadequate for them.

Santal students demand higher quota

The Daily Star, Sunday, 3 August 2008

Santal Students’ Union (SASU) in Rajshahi, an organisation for indigenous students, at a discussion called on the caretaker government to increase quota of indigenous students at all educational institutions, including the university. SASU, Rajshahi city unit organised the discussion at the Caritas auditorium on Friday to mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People.

Presided over by SASU Rajshahi University unit President Mukul Kisko, the meeting was attended by founding president Shusil Kisko as the chief guest. SASU central President Suvor M Basky, Rajshahi city President Sopon Murmu, former city president Nirmol Tudu, Raju Hemron, Inmanuyel Baske and Shusil Tudu spoke at the programme as the special guests.

Speakers said Santal community is poor and they face discrimination in educational institutions, particularly in primary and high schools, alleging that many indigenous children leave Bangalee schools, as they do not get opportunities equal to Bangalees. They demanded books written in Santal language and education materials in the primary level. They also demanded the constitutional recognition to the indigenous people and ensuring rights to education in their mother language. They urged the government to form a body to look into their problems,including those of underprivileged communities.

The speakers demanded an equal opportunity like Bangalee students in educational and other government sectors and urged the university authorities to ensure residential facilities to them as well as increasing their scholarships. SASU also called on the government to enact laws to protect rights of the indigenous people and their traditional culture and language.

3 indigenous people innocent not robbers- Claim relatives

The Daily Star, Friday, 4 August 2008

Three indigenous people of Lambaghona village under Teknaf Police Station have been awarded punishment as the loggers handed them over to the police station terming them as robbers. The victims were identified as Choi Bai Mong Chakma, 18, son of Bhagyo Mohon Chakma, Ketu Chakma, 19, son of Chanu Aung Chakma and Mong Keu Chhain Chakma, 18, son of late Dhonyo Mohon Chakma.

At a press conference at the Dhaka Reporters’ Unity (DRU) auditorium, the relatives of the victims said distorted reports have been published in different newspapers against them on July 31 and August 1, adding that the newspapers wrote three armed robbers were arrested in Teknaf following a gun battle with the police.

But the fact is that those three innocent villagers went to the Roikyong forest on July 29 accompanied by two others to collect vegetables. There they found some 15/20 loggers cutting wood indiscriminately. As soon as the loggers saw them, they chased them fearing their misdeeds would be make public.

As two of them somehow managed to escape the scene, the miscreants caught three of the villagers and beat them severely binding their hands. Then they forcefully handed them with three guns and took them to the Shaplapur (Shamlapur) Police Station at noon terming as ‘dacoits’.

The miscreants were identified as Sudujje, 35, son of Sultan, Ramjan Ali, 28, son of Zahur Ahammad, Jahangir Alam, son of Syed Alam of Uttar Shilkhali, and Bashir Ahammed, 40, son of Suna Ali, Khairul Bashar, 45, son of Mohammad Kalu, and Abdul Jalil, 32, son of Abul Hakim.

Instead of further investigation, the police sprayed bullets to the three villagers at around 10:00 pm taking them at Shaplapur Roikyong Dhala, the relatives added. They also questioned if the three villagers were caught following the ‘gunfire’ as per the newspaper reports, why they were not bullet-hit when they were handed over to the police at noon. Even there are no allegations against these Chakmas in the police stations.

They demanded unconditional release of these villagers, withdrawal of the false cases filed against them and their proper treatment. They also demanded legal action against the loggers who handed them over to the police with entirely false allegations. The speakers further said being vengeful against the Chakmas, as recently some 20 people of Chakma community were employed at the ‘Nishorgo’ project funded by USAID and they nabbed two loggers while they were doing sinful activities. They also highlighted the repression against indigenous people and urged the government to take necessary steps against all the misdeeds against them.

Bhagyo Mohon Chakma, Mohon Chakma, Kalaiya Chakma and General Secretary of Pahari Chhatra Parishad, Dhaka Shomen Chakma also took part in the press conference.

International Indigenous People Day observed in Bangladesh

BIPF’s Press Conference in Dhaka

On 6 August 2008 Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum (BIPF) organised a press conference to mark international day of world’s indigenous peoples at national press club in Dhaka. President of BIPF Mr. Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma alias Santu Larma read out a written statement while its general secretary Mr. Sanjeeb Drong conducted the conference.

In the written statement, Santu Larma said that indigenous people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are now under threat from large-scale displacement due to land grabbing, setting up of parks and social forestation. He said that the oppression of the indigenous peoples has continued even under the present caretaker regime too. He also mentioned the death of Chalesh Richhil, an indigenous leader of Modhupur, under law enforcers’ custody, filing of false cases against at least 50 indigenous activists who raised their voices for implementation of the CHT Accord and their land rights and strengthening the settler rehabilitation programme in the CHT.

He mentioned that in accordance with the UN declaration, BIPF declared the social and economic rights of indigenpous peoples as main theme of the day. He declared elaborate programmes including discussion, seminar, rally, fair, film show, photography exhibition and traditional dance programmes to observe the day to be organised by BIPF.

BIPF’s Inaugural programme held at central Shahid Minar in Dhaka

On 9 August 2008 at 10.00 a.m. BIPF organised inaugural programme to mark international day of world’s indigenous peoples at Shaheed Minar in Dhaka. Presided over by president of BIPF Mr. Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma alias Santu Larma, the day-long programme was inaugurated by advisor to the caretaker government of Bangladesh on the charge of Ministry of Primary & Mass Education and Culture Ms. Rasheda K Chowdhury.

Among others, president of CPB Manzurul Ahasan Khan, president of Workers’ Party Rashed Khan Memon, presidium member of Gono Forum Pankaj Bhattacharja, president of Samyabadi Dal Dilip Barua, eminent theatre artist Mamunur Rashid, leader of Jatiya Party G M Kader, agricultural secretary of Awami League Dr. Md. Abdur Razzaque, teacher of Dhaka University (DU) Dr. H K S Arefeen, teacher of DU Dr. Nim Chnadra Bhoumik, teacher of DU and general secretary of BAOA Prof. Mesbah Kamal, president of Mahila Parishad Ayeshe Khanom, teacher of DU Dr. Sadeka Halim, eminent human rights activist Barrister Sara Hossain, general secretary of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad Rabindranath Soren, women rights activist Chaitali Tripura, Pankoj Kondo, Element Hajong and Lelena Talang delivered solidarity speech at the inaugural.

In her inaugural speech, Rasheda K Choudhury said, everybody should work on the issue of land ownership and ensure education of the indigenous peoples living in the country. She said the government was planning to establish boarding schools in the CHT to ensure quality education for the children of the indigenous peoples in their first language and would set up separate cultural institutes for different ethnic groups.

Santu Larma said that the indigenous peoples were still deprived of their rights. They have to fight for equal rights in politics, economics and over the land issues as they can contribute equally to the development of our country.  He added that the government should remember that the participation of indigenous peoples in every sector is necessary as they are an integral part of the country.

Speakers said the indigenous peoples could not exercise their rights in the country. They said this government was ignoring the incidents of arson in the Sajek valley, which reflected its attitude of neglect towards the ethnic minorities.

Hundreds of the indigenous peoples of almost all ethnic communities from different parts of the country gathered at the Central Shaheed Minar to mark the Day. The inaugural programme was followed by colourfull rally from Shaheed Minar to Shahbagh area of the city.

BIPF’s Discussion at Engineers’ Institution in Dhaka

In the afternoon session, at 4.00 p.m. of 9 August BIPF organised discussion at Engineers’ Institution in Dhaka. Presided over by president of BIPF Mr. Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma alias Santu Larma, the discussion was attended by advisor to the caretaker government of Bangladesh on the charge of Ministry of Law and Land A F Hassan Arif as chief guest and special assistant to the chief advisor of caretaker government Raja Devasish Roy.

Among others, Danish ambassador in Dhaka Einar H Jensen, former adviser to the caretaker government Sultana Kamal, charge d’affaires of the European Commission Delegation to Bangladesh Brian Forey, head of CHTDF of UNDP Mr. Shooting, teacher of DU Dr. Dalem Chandra Burman and executive director of Manisher Jonno Foundation Ms. Shaheen Anam addressed the discussion.

In his speech, AF Hassan Ariff said that lands of indigenous peoples were being grabbed in the absence of adequate legal measures. He promised some steps, both long- and short-term, to ensure equal rights of indigenous peoples and to protect their culture. He stressed the need for sensitising every quarter to the democratic rights of indigenous peoples.

Raja Debashish Roy said there is no difference between rights of indigenous peoples and the country’s interest. He added that as long as the country ensures the rights of indigenous peoples, its remains democratic.

Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma said the country can never gain a development momentum or become democratic if all the ethnic groups living in the country do not get equal treatment and opportunity.

Indigenous peoples’ day observed in different districts

Rajshahi: On 9 August 2008 Adivasi Students Association of Rajshahi University (ASARU) brought out a colourful procession. Adivasi students urged the government to give constitutional recognition to the indigenous people. They demanded formation of a separate land commission and a separate ministry for indigenous peoples to deal with their problems. Prof Dulal Chandra Bishwas was present at the meeting as the main speaker. ASARU met RU acting vice chancellor Prof Manunul Keramat at his office and submitted a memorandum with 12-point demand including more quota for indigenous students at RU.

At a discussion and cultural programme at Rajshahi Shishu Academy auditorium, indigenous leaders demanded ensuring democratic, social, economic and cultural rights for indigenous people and ethnic minorities.

Another discussion meeting was jointly organised by Centre for Capacity Building of Voluntary Organisation, Rajshahi Press Club and Adivasi Gram Samaj Sangathan at Rajshahi Public Library to mark Day. Mizan Uddin, a sociology professor of Rajshahi University, attended the meeting as chief guest. Speakers at a discussion meeting said the indigenous people in the country were being deprived of enjoying their constitutional rights.

Earlier, the members of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad brought out a procession in Rajshahi city in the morning and paraded different roads.

Tangail: On 9 August Tribal Welfare Association, Karitas and Bangladesh Garo Chhatra Sangathan jointly organized the programme at a discussion at Bhasani Hall in Tangail town. Indigenous peoples reiterated the demand for ensuring their land rights and protecting their culture.

Earlier about one thousand indigenous people including Garo (Mandi) and Koach people of Modhupur, Sakhipur and Ghatail upazilas brought out a colourful procession in the town. Indigenous leaders at a discussion at Mymensingh town said the government should take proper steps to protect the rights of the indigenous people.

Khagrachhari: Different local NGOs in the name of ‘Adivasi Dibas Udjapon Committee’ organised discussion at Tribal Cultural Institute in Khagrachari to mark the Day with Nomita Chakma, chairperson of NGO Pajuriko in the chair. Chairman pf Khagrachhari Hill District Council Monindra Lal Tripura was present at discussion as chief guest. Speakers in a discussion demanded constitutional recognition to the indigenous people of the country. They said that facing discrimination both from outsiders and by administration, indigenous people are loosing lands, orchard and properties. Speakers suggested appointment of indigenous language-speaking teachers in primary schools to ensure schooling based on mother tongue, introducing teachers training on indigenous languages in CHT.

Rangamati: different local non-government organisations (NGOs) in Rangamati arranged different programmes to observe the Day. Indigenous people from far flung areas gathered on the premises of Hill District Council in the morning and held a meeting where speakers urged the government to ensure constitutional recognition to the indigenous people.

Protect indigenous people to save forests- Speakers call at BAPA seminar

The Daily Star, Saturday, 9 August 2008

Speakers at a seminar yesterday called for protecting indigenous people to save forests of the country. They said the indigenous people are the part of the forests and they know how to protect them. The seminar titled ‘Environmental degradation in forest: Socio-economic crisis of indigenous people’ was organised by the Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa) at WVA auditorium in the city.

Speaking as chair Bapa President Prof Muzaffer Ahmad said there is a debate over the name of Adibashi but there is no debate about it that those who live in forests also protect them. “Those who consider forests as the raw materials of industrialisation do not protect them,” he said. The existence of Adibashi people is being threatened in the name of participatory forests, he added.

In a keynote paper, Prof Khandaker Mokaddem Hossain of Dhaka University said the ethnic communities constitute, according to a government statistics, about 1.2 percent of the total population, but the actual number of indigenous people is considerably higher than this. He said a huge number of Bangalee settlers have been rehabilitated at Matiranga and Ramgarh thanas in Khagrachhari district, Lama thana in Bandarban district, and Madhupur Tracts of Tangail and Mymensingh districts. As a consequence, the indigenous people have become marginalised and lost their traditional rights over land and trees, he said.

Prof Hossain said the government should implement ILO’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 169 to protect their human and land rights. He said the land and tree resources of indigenous people should be protected from the activities that are not sound environmentally.

Apart from the rehabilitation of Bangalee settlers and commercial plantation of tea, pineapple, orange, lemon and rubber trees, infrastructural development including construction of roads, bridges and highways, industrialisation and urbanization process, and control of forest lands by military and para-military troops in Chittagong Hill Tracts are the main causes of deforestation.

Philip Gain, director of SHED, said the aggression of alien trees in forest is not acceptable. There were 100 species of indigenous trees in Madhupur forest but in the name of participatory afforestation these trees have been replaced by acacia and eucalyptus, he said.

If the government does not take adequate steps it will be very difficult for indigenous people to survive, said Rabindranath Soren, a leader of the Adibashi community.

AZM Shamsul Huda, a retired forest conservator, said indigenous people do not make any harm to forests, and during his service he did not find them in selling tress by cutting them illegally.

Call to ensure rights of ethnic minorities

Festival opens in Dinajpur marking Int’l Day of Indigenous People

New Age, Dhaka, August 14, 2008

A two-day festival marking International Day of the World’s Indigenous People began in Dinajpur on Wednesday. Ethnic minority communities living on the plain land and hill districts took part in the festival with a call for all to respect the rights of the ethnic minority groups.

U Sue, who took part in the language movement in 1952, also an ethnic minority leader, opened the programme at the Town Hall, followed by a procession which marched the streets. A large number of schoolchildren of ethnic minority communities chanted slogans dancing and singing. They also carried banners demanding right to education in their first languages.

The speakers demanded introduction of schooling in their mother tongue as the dropout rate of ethnic minority students was high. ‘The schoolchildren need basic education in their own languages,’ Mesbah Kamal, a professor of history at Dhaka University, told the opening session of the programme, organised by the United Nations Development Programme and the Research and Development Initiative.

Hajee Mohammad Danesh University of Science and Technology vice-chancellor Ruhul Amin addressed the programme as chief guest. Journalist Kamal Lohani, Bulbul Mohalnabish, Zannat e Ferdous, ethnic minority leader Ganesh Soren, Anil Marandi and Bishwanath Singh also spoke.

The speakers urged the government and civil society actors to press for the rights of the ethnic minorities, especially to land and forest, on which they depend for living. They were also critical of the government for not having any official programme to mark the international day. Discussants in the afternoon reviewed the state of the ethnic minority people’s rights. Rakhi Mrong read out the keynote paper and journalist Abul Makshud, Mesbah Kamal, Rafiqul Islam of Bangladesh Unnayan Parishad, and Santos Soren spoke on the occasion. The organisers will hold day-long display of homemade products of ethnic minority groups today. A cultural function will also be held.

Protect rights of ethnic people- Speakers urge media

The Daily Star, Friday, 15 August 2008

Indigenous community leaders, social activists, government officials and journalists yesterday stressed the need for proactive role of the media to protect the rights of ethnic communities through projecting their sufferings. Speaking at a roundtable, they said the media could be used as a powerful tool of disseminating information about the ethnic groups and drawing attention of the policymakers to resolve their problems.

The roundtable titled ‘Bridging the gap between media and ethnic communities’ was organised by Management and Resources Development Initiative (MRDI) at Madhupur in Tangail. The roundtable was held under a project titled ‘Bridging Media and Ethnicity’ which was supported by the Delegation of the European Commission to Bangladesh. The main objective of the roundtable was to reduce the gap between the media and GO/NGOs/CBOs working for ethnic rights, says a press release.

Indigenous leaders told the roundtable that most of the ethnic issues are ignored in the local and national media, and ethnic voices are almost absent. Media portray some stereotyped images of ethnic life and highlight only some cultural activities and incidents, they added. On the other hand, journalists said they need authentic sources of information while reporting on major ethnic issues, but very few people dare to provide information. For in-depth reporting on ethnic issues, they sought cooperation from the community people.

Two keynote papers were presented at the roundtable by Runa Laila, assistant professor of Women and Gender Studies at Dhaka University, and journalist Qurratul-Ain-Tahmina.

The indigenous people are deprived of adequate media coverage, said Tahmina, adding, issues relating to their rights and sufferings are not adequately reflected in the media. She suggested that journalists should concentrate on objective and in-depth reporting on the ethnic communities.

Runa highlighted the history and lifestyle of indigenous people. She described how the indigenous people are deprived of their rights and how other people treat them.

Speaking as chief guest at the roundtable, Dr MA Parvez Rahim, upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) of Madhupur, stressed the need for objective reporting in media. “Media should not write anything which can affect the long tradition of peace and harmony between the plain land people and the indigenous community,” he added. The UNO said more interactions between the media people and indigenous community would help reducing communication gap.

Hasibur Rahman, executive director of MRDI, said indigenous people have been suffering for decades. Although HR groups are trying to address ethnic issues, still there is a lot to do, he added. He stressed that the educated ethnic youths should come forward and write their own issues in the media. The roundtable, moderated by Special Correspondent of the Financial Express Syed Ishtiaque Reza, was attended by about 20 indigenous community leaders, GO/NGO officials and journalists.

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