The South Asia Social Forum 2011 begins today in Dhaka. It expects 20,000 participants from home, other South Asian countries and beyond. But, individual registration has been recorded only 2,009 while organisations are 556. Whatever may be the strength of participation, it is believed that the venue, the University of Dhaka, will be vibrant with colourful inaugural rally and active participation to about 150 events, based on ten sub-themes under 5 clusters of the main theme- "Democracy for Social Transformation in South Asia : Participation, Equity, Justice and Peace". According to the organizers the theme highlights and opposes the neo-liberal, hegemonic and authoritarian and "poverty reduction" development policy and paradigm. It is encouraging that some events on the CHT accord, indigenous culture and issues have been accommodated by some NGOs and civil society bodies.
The world is experiencing a sharp division in distribution of global wealth between the rich and the poor and also between the rich and the weaker nations. We witness recent continuous demonstration in the USA against the Wall Street’s corporate imperialism and to sweep this over the world. In recent months many African states of Arab world have been going through popular peaceful revolutions despite government opposition by bullets and repressions. Two countries have voted for their new elected governments after throwing out dictators. It seems that they have been failed to lay down foundation stones of democracy against dictatorships.
We have sheer political instability in some South Asian countries, in some cases we have (trails of) armed conflicts and also have terror of fundamentalism and also strong army say over the democratically elected governments' policies. We have the 17 Oct as the international poverty alleviation day, but the 2009 statistics shows, 1 billion people starve in the world and 5 million people go to sleep without food alone in Bangladesh. Still, governments of this region talk about poverty reduction in this form or that form. But, poverty never goes. And, Nobel peace laureate Dr. Unus asks us believe, poverty will go to museum with the micro-credit programmes. Is it possible to send poverty to museum where there is class discrimination? Is it possible in Bangladesh where there is a drastic fall of Members of Parliament belonging to farmers (12%-7%), teachers (11%-0.67%) and lawyers (31%-14%) in a span of time from 1st Parliament to current 9th Parliament, against a fearful increase of businessmen from 17% to 57% who control the economy and the government?
We are aware of the South Asian multidimensional confrontational issues and, hence, at the age of 26, the SAARC, has been able hold only 17 summits and moving ahead at very slow space. Core issues- Kashmir, maritime dispute, common river-water sharing etc. have been kept outside the purview of the SAARC, for bilateral resolution. However, SAARC Dev Fund, SAARC Poverty Alleviation Fund, and SAARC Agenda for Culture, SAARC Food Bank, SAARC Convention on Suppression of Terrorism etc. have been formed without any visible outcome. Recent Addu summit is over with some promises but only the future can console us with the extent of achievements.
The much discussed ‘connectivity’ issue, for better connectivity within and beyond South Asia, and facilitate for economic, social and people-to-people contacts in South Asian countries was one of the most important declarations of SAARC Colombo summit 2008. But, the South Asians are yet to see an acceptable extent of achievements. We consciously understand, some needs of a few member states of SAARC do not match with other states’ strategies; still, a workable solution is urgent for building a hunger, poverty, discrimination, exploitation free new South Asia with 8 countries with a population of 1.7 billion in 5,130,646 km2 (1,980,992 sqm) landmass and to make this happen the World Social Forum or the South Asia Social Forum can be the best platform. In some cases social movement can be stronger and popular than political movements.
We have noticed that the World Social Forum does not recognise the indigenous peoples separately in its charter of principles. Similarly, the South Asia Social Forum 2011 also has not included them with distinct identity in its 10 sub-themes. Whatever may be their explanations for this, this is sure, based on the experience of the IPs, ‘democracy’ cannot or does not protect them properly. Despite the global changes and new worldwide trends, many governments still adopt, in guise of democracy and tolerant society; brutal strategies for oppression and assimilation and carry on militarization, transmigration, ethnic cleansing to resolve their ethnic problems, and Bangladesh can be the best example in South Asia and beyond. We can examine it from the speech given by UN Secretary Gen., His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-moon at the University of Dhaka recently, “I also urge you to advance on the vision of a fully inclusive society that Prime Minister Hasina described in her speech to the United Nations General Assembly last September, a tolerant society in which all people have a place. That includes ethnic minorities, such as the people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.”
Does this happen in practice? Awami League government has taken a 360 degree turn forgetting Awami League’s 2008 election manifesto, which commits for constitutional recognition of the IPs and their rights over lands and many more, including the fullest implementation of the CHT accord. Awami League has frustrated the IPs of Bangladesh and and the Jumma people of the CHT by terming them as “Bangalees” as a nation in article 6 and as “tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities” in article 23A of the constitution. And, as of now, the CHT have been kept under military rule with counter-insurgency operations, despite the signing of the accord.
‘Democracy’ does not or can not protect the IPs properly, which I have just had mentioned and that is why the UN has recognised them by making a room for them at the UN system with the name of UNPFII. Therefore, in line with the UN the WSF should include them in the charter of principles. After the formation of UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues under the ECOSOC and the adoption of UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, the world should no longer ignore the IPs.
The world is aware of the signing of the CHT accord of 1997, which has got the UN recognition with the awarding of UNESCO Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize for 1998 to Her Excellency the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Ms. Hasina Wazed. I personally witnessed her delighted moments from a very close distance of about 10 meters when she was receiving the prize from the UNESCO Director General on 24 Sept 1999 at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. I wish she bags Noble Peace Prize by implementing the CHT Accord in full and in this move we shall play a vital role.
As a key person of the CHT peace process from the PCJSS end, I shoulder a great responsibility for the implementation of the accord. And, I believe, the WSF and the SASF can play a vital role in achieving the rights of IPs throughout the world and also help mobilize the right quarters for the implementation of the CHT accord, alongside the core regional and global issues. Finally, I urge upon the SASF 2011 to adopt a declaration on the rights of the indigenous peoples and the WSF includes them distinctly in its charter of principles.
* A member of the CHT Regional Council and Co-Chairperson of the PCJSS, the CHT based regional political party.
Linked by: Ciranda International of Shared Communication, Senegal.http://www.ciranda.net