Bangladesh government’s dramatic turn around from secularism to Islamic constitution has enraged the indigenous population and instead demanded to recognize their existence.
The nation is poised to amend the constitution, which is likely to be tabled in the parliament on this week. The move has been vehemently protested by the independence war veterans, pro-secularist lobby and social justice activists. Not to anybody’s surprise, the dissent is also from within the ruling party and its pro-left alliance partners.
The superior court in a landmark judgment last July asked the government to restore secularism in the spirit of the bloody war of independence in 1971, which the government is deliberately adopted dilly-dally tactics, argued the secularist activists.
Former guerrilla leader Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma a.k.a. Shantu Larma, Chairman of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council rejected the proposed Islamization of the constitution and demanded constitutional recognition of the indigenous or Adivasi community, who are inhabitants for centuries.
Supreme guerrilla leader after two decades of protracted bush war demanded dropping the proposal for keeping the Koranic verse in the preamble of the constitution Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim (in the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful) and Islam as state religion. “A state can’t have a religion,” said the guerilla leader who signed the historic peace accord.
The accord signed between guerillas and the government 13 years ago recognizes the inhabitants of hill forest as indigenous communities, acknowledges its traditional governance system and decided to establish regional autonomy. But the constitution does not acknowledge them as Adivasis.
The matter of recognition of the indigenous people came to the fore recently following denial by Bangladesh diplomat in the United Nations. At recently concluded10th session of the UN Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, the official claimed there were no indigenous people in the country, writes wire service bdnews24.com.
The anthropologists contested the misinterpretation of the official definition of the term “indigenous peoples”, which is construed as another step by the government to further erode their already limited rights.
Since independence of Bangladesh four decades ago, the 35 ethnic groups nearly two percent of the total 158 million majoritarian Sunni Muslims have been demanding to be recognized as indigenous communities.
Despite assurance by the law minister Shafique Ahmed at a Jun 8 said that the state will preserve culture and tradition of the tribal and ethnic groups towards their development, the enraged indigenous peoples has continued series of agitation.
Shantu Larma argued that the proposal for insertion of a provision on culture and heritage is disgraceful and contrary to the indigenous people’s identity.
Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He could be reached at email@example.com.