Amidst angry debate, the indigenous communities in Bangladesh are demanding constitutional recognition of the 45 different ethnic communities that have been living on the land for centuries.
The ethnic leaders burst into protest, after the government recently said Bangladesh "does not have any indigenous people." Instead, government officials argued that the Bangla-speaking majoritarian, mostly Sunni Muslims are indigenous people.
The observance of the international day of Indigenous People on Tuesday turned into anger and frustration. Ethnic leaders were joined by scores of civil society and rights groups at a rally at the language martyrs square in the capital Dhaka. Despite rain, hundreds in distinctive traditional attires with musical instruments joined the rally.
The 300,000 indigenous people were compelled to adopt “Bangalee” national identity and dubbed as small national minorities, when amendments to the constitution was made last month, explained ethnic leader Barrister Devashis Roy.
Jotindra Bodipriyo Larma also spoke at the rally, after leading a 20 year bush-war against the authority for political and cultural autonomy. Guerillas under his command surrendered after signing a treaty in 1997.
Larma warned the government to rethink of their decision to delete their identity or else they will have to adopt a path of confrontation. The 70-year-old leader fears that the denial of the existence as ethnic minorities will eventually erupt into racial tension, as it happened in many countries.
After 14 years, Larma lamented that the peace accord has not been implemented, which would jeopardize the peace resolution.
Dr. Mizanur Rahman, chief of National Human Rights Commission at a seminar day before said it is a self contradiction of the ruling party. He argued that if the ethnic minorities are believed to have taken refuge for persecution and economic migrants, then the peace treaty signed with the indigenous armed militants who have pledged allegiance to the state constitution would be disillusioned.