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Monday, August 18, 2008

Report on Situation of Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh

PCMS and HWF organise roundtable on national women dev policy and indigenous women's rights

Report Submitted by Kapaeeng Watch (A human rights group for indigenous peoples)
Jagannath Hall, Dhaka University Dhaka, Bangladesh

Aungkyew Mong, Coordinator
E-mail: kapaeeng.watch@yahoo.com


On 18 July 2008 Parbatya Chattagram Mahila Samiti (PCMS) and Hill Women's Federation (HWF) jointly organised roundtable conference on national women development policy and indigenous women's rights at VIP Lounge of national press club in Dhaka. Presided over by vice president of PCMS Ms. Jyotiprova Larma, the roundtable was attended by president of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad Aiyesha Khanam, general secretary of Bangladesh Economics Association Abul Barakat, Dhaka University teacher Dr. Sadek Halim and Dr. Meghna Guhathagurta, women affairs secretary of Bangladesh Awami League Dr. Dipumoni, president of Karmajibi Nari Ms. Shirin Akhter, human rights activist Rosaline Costa, president of Parbatya Chattagram Mahila Samity Madhabi Lata Chakma, general secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum Sanjeeb Drong and president of Dhaka Journalist Association Shah Alamgir as discussant. On behalf of PCMS and HWF, Nishi Dewan read out a paper on national women development policy and indigenous women's rights. General Secretary of HWF Ms. Shashwati Chakma conducted the roundtable. The speakers of the conference urged the indigenous women to launch a united movement with the mainstream organisations to establish the rights of the indigenous women. They urged the major political parties to incorporate the issue of rights of the ethnic minority groups in their respective manifestos. The speakers criticised the government for not taking into consideration the indigenous women's rights while formulating the National Women Development Policy 2008.
The PCMS and HWF placed a 10-point charter of demands that included followings-

  1. To insert a separate clause in the National Women Development Policy specifying the rights of the indigenous women;
  2. To take opinions from indigenous women's organisations for the same;
  3. To reserve seat in the parliament for the indigenous women;
  4. To introduce reserved seats in the local government bodies for indigenous wome;
  5. To ensure participation of the indigenous women in local and national developments;
  6. To undertake special measure for education of indigenous women and introduce primary education through mother tongue for indigenous children;
  7. To generate employments for indigenous women;
  8. To provide special training to promote interpreteneurs for indigenous women and provide loans with less interest or without interest;
  9. To take special measure for stopping violence against indigenous women; and
  10. To implement policy agenda of PRSP with an aim to ensure socio-economic development of indigenous women.

Rat Invasion: Hill people still suffer from food shortage

The Daily Star, Friday, 25 July 2008
Indigenous people in many remote villages in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) will have to suffer from lack of food grains for at least two more months until the next harvest if the government does not provide them with food. Many families in the CHT districts including Bandarban, Khagrachhari and Rangamati are now living on wild potato, arum and green leaves after rats invaded the areas last year and early this year and destroyed all their crops leading to this famine-like situation. The government and donor agencies provided them with rice immediately after the rat invasion, but that was adequate for only a month or two, they said, adding that the next harvest is due in October. "It has become very hard for us to buy rice at Tk 30 per kg as we do not have any income here," said Thiam Khub, a Bowm from Ruma Thanchi village. People in Darjeelingpara, a Bowm village at the foot of the Keokradong, are living on boiled pumpkin leaves and rice. The family of Karbari (the village chief) said none in the villages can afford boiled leaves and rice more than twice a day. They said initially they bought rice selling their cattle and poultry. But now most of them have nothing left to sell. Following bamboo blossoming last year rats invaded many CHT areas and destroyed almost everything edible. This forced many indigenous people to leave their villages. Talking to the people from Ruma Thanchi, Sungsangpara, Anandapara, Wykangpara, it was learnt that rats ate all their rice, ginger, maize, turmeric, peppers, pumpkins, oil seeds and cotton. The government provided each family with 15 kg rice while the UNDP and World Food Programme provided 30 kg rice per family in the affected areas, the locals said. But the aid exhausted within two months or just one month in the case of a bigger family, they said. Mostly Bawm, Marma, Tripura and Murung communities live in these remote villages. These people generally grow everything they need and just have to buy kerosene and salt from the market. Thiam Khub now works in the jum and weaves. He said he can weave a "thurang" in two days and sell it for Tk 100 at Ruma Bazar, about eight hours' walk from his village. But with this amount he can hardly buy 3 kgs of rice. "I am having a very hard time because if I weave thurang, I cannot work on jum," he said. "We have already sold most of the cattle in our village to buy rice. Many of us now have nothing to sell and are living on wild potatoes, arum or other wild roots," said Chandiram Tripura of Anandapara. About the relation between rat infestation and bamboo blooming, wildlife expert Dr Reza Khan said rats lose their habitats when bamboo plants die after blooming. "So, the rats come out of the bamboo bushes and attack crops," he said. As bamboo generally blooms in 20-40 years, he suggested cleaning the bamboo bushes accordingly so that bamboo cannot bloom..


Involvement of ethnic minorities demanded to conserve forests

New Age, Dhaka, Friday, 25 July 2008

Academics, experts and environmentalists on Thursday stressed the need for amendment to the 81-year-old forest act by ensuring participation of the ethnic minority community people living in the forests for its effective conservation. They observed that the forest laws had become outdated and conservation of forests would not be possible without ensuring active participation of the ethnic minorities living there. 'The rights of adivasis to forests must be ensured through amendment to the forest laws,' Syeda Rizwana Chowdhury Hassan, programme director of the Bangladesh Environment Lawyers' Association, told a workshop on 'Madhupur Shal Forest and Rights of Adivasis' at CIRDAP auditorium in Dhaka. The association arranged the workshop in collaboration with Joyenshahi Adivasi Unnayan Parishad. 'According to the preamble of the Forest Act 1927, the goal of the laws was not to conserve the forest. The law was formulated to serve the interest of the colonial rulers. It must be changed as it hinders the conservation process,' she said. She called upon the government to formulate laws that would institutionalise the rights of the ethnic minorities. The government's step to replace shal trees with alien species such as eucalyptus and acacia were resulting in gradual disappearance of Madhupur Shal Forest, she observed. Special assistant to the chief adviser Raja Debashis Roy said the government was mulling over brining amendment to in the forest laws. He urged all to create awareness among all of the issues so that the political governments could take effective steps to conserve the forests and ensure the rights of the ethnic minorities. Speaking on the occasion, Ain-o-Salish Kendra executive director Sultana Kamal said, 'The adivasis have remained deprived of justice for long both from the society and the state. Unless the rights of the people living in the forest can be analysed and understood properly, the problems will not be solved.' Atiq Rahman of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies said ethnic minority community people living in the forests need to be involved with the conservation of forests. Presenting a slide show on the rights of ethnic minorities on the forest laws, Professor Sadeka Halim said, 'Amendment to the Forest Act 1927 to provide different types of co-management should be done after consultation with the adivasis living in the forests and the civil society.' A proper review of land ownership and variety of other ownerships since the British rule and customary ownership is the prerequisite to the implementation of the social afforestation programme, she added. Conducted by Nijera Kari coordinator Khushi Kabir, the workshop was also addressed by former lawmaker Promod Mankin, adivasi leader Subhas Jeng Chaam, filmmaker Ronald Halder, Modhupur upazila nirbahi officer M Parvez Rahim, forest department director Shah-e-Alam and adivasi leader Sanjeeb Drong. Joyenshahi Adivasi Unnayan Parishad president Ajoy A Mree delivered the welcome speech.

Indigenous students demand higher quota in institutions
The Daily Star, Saturday, 26 July 2008

Adibasi Students' Association in Rajshahi University, an organisation for indigenous students, at a freshers' reception held at the university central cafeteria on Thursday urged the caretaker government for increasing quota of indigenous students at all educational institutions including the university. Association president Mukul Kisko presided the reception while it was attended by former president Arab Toppo as chief guest and former executive member Dipok Ekka as special guest. Indigenous students demanded their constitutional recognition 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. They demanded an equal opportunity like Bangalee students in educational and other government sectors. They urged the university authorities to ensure residential facilities for them as well as increasing their scholarships.