The Daily Star, Dhaka, Front Page, Saturday, July 31, 2010
Most indigenous communities unrecognised
Only 27 on official list
As many as 29 indigenous communities have lost their “official” indigenous identities as a recent government gazette has not recognised them although they have been living on this land for centuries now.
Published on April 12 this year, the gazette has listed 27 indigenous communities while experts and leaders of indigenous communities say the number to be nearly 50.
Bangladesh Adivasi Forum General Secretary Sanjeeb Drong said they had submitted a list of 45 indigenous communities to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs before preparing the list but it had no reflection on the gazette. Members of the excluded communities will be over five lakh, he said.
“We won't accept the gazette as it failed to preserve the rights of the indigenous communities,” he told The Daily Star last Monday, adding that the government did not discuss the matter with any institutions or representatives of indigenous communities before preparing the list.
The gazette listed Mong as a unique indigenous community although they are usually identified as Marma, which is enrolled as a separate indigenous community in the gazette, experts say.
“I don't know who, on what basis, have made the list. A number of well-known indigenous communities were not enrolled in the gazette,” said Professor Mesbah Kamal, a researcher on the indigenous communities.
Information and Cultural Affairs Minister Abul Kalam Azad admitted that some indigenous communities have not been included in the gazette, adding that the left out communities will be enrolled in the gazette.
“We've already asked the district commissioners concerned to provide us with information about the indigenous communities in their districts,” the minister told The Daily Star on July 26.
He also said the gazette containing 27 indigenous communities was published based on the information they had before preparing the list.
Twenty-one indigenous communities - - Asam or Ahom, Kando, Karmakar, Kharia, Gando, Gorkha, Turi, Pahan, Patryo, Baddi, Banai, Bedia, Muriari or Mundari, Malo, Mahali, Mahat, Mushhor, Razoar, Raay, Rajbonshi and Sing - - that were on the Adivasi Forum list are not on the gazette.
Additionally, eight indigenous communities mentioned in a book titled “Indigenous Communities” published by the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh in 2007 are also missing on it. They are Kurmi, Bauri, Bint, Bonaz or Bona, Bhumiz, Lodha, Lahor and Sobdh.
Indigenous communities leaders also expressed resentment over the naming of the Khudra Nri-Gosthi Sangskritik Protishthan Ain (Ethnic Groups' Cultural Institutions Act).
“From the name, it seems that the indigenous communities themselves are small. The number of indigenous people in a community may be small but they have a rich tradition and other unique characteristics,” Sanjeeb Drong said.
Professor Mesbah Kamal, who works on the indigenous community for 23 years, expressed his dissatisfaction over the naming of the act as well. He said Khudry Nri-Goshthi (Small Ethnic Group) cannot be an identification of human beings.
A four-member expert team also argued against such naming when they were requested to give opinion on the matter.
“We opposed it before the parliamentary standing committee on cultural ministry before it was passed early this year,” said Zobaida Nasreen, who is a lecturer of anthropology department at DU and was on the four-member expert team.