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Tribal people demand their rights

Discrimination, encroachment are threatening peoples' way of life, protesters say

Tribal people demand their rights
Tribal people participate in a human chain program in Tangail district in central Bangladesh
Sujon Jengcham, Tangail

April 8, 2011

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Angry tribal Christians have staged a protest accusing the government of discrimination and eroding the rights of indigenous people. Around 160 Christians from Garo, Koach, Barmon and Rajbangshi ethnic tribal groups took part in the demonstration in Tangail in Mymensingh diocese on April 6. They said they were fighting for the rights of about 40,000 tribal people living in the country’s largest Sal-tree forest, Bhawal-Modhupur garh, whose traditional way of life, they say, is under threat. At the protest they demanded tribal people be recognized as “indigenous groups” instead of “ethnic minorities” in Bangladesh’s constitution. A parliamentary committee currently reviewing the constitution has decided to classify tribal people as “ethnic minorities.” “The decision seems to be a slap in the face for indigenous people and also violates the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said Eugene Nokrek, president of the Joenshahi Indigenous Development Council. Even though the 1885 Bengal Tenancy Act recognizes tribal people as indigenous groups, the government is not willing to do so, he lamented. “In 2007 there was move to recognize us as indigenous groups, but now it’s being left out,” he added. Norek also claimed tribal people living in the Sal forest area have seen a steady erosion of their rights over the past three decades. “The Forest Department has nullified ancestral land records and served many eviction notices in order to build an eco-park,” he said. Media reports also say that in just five years, 8,100 hectares of forest were illegally leased to influential people. Other reports claim a number of tribal people including some of their leaders were killed by land grabbers in collusion with Forest Department officials. Tribal Garo housewife Shishilia Snal, 36, says she was shot by forest rangers a few years ago while she was collecting firewood and leaves in the forest. “They [the Forest Department] don’t consider us as human beings and often try to abuse us,” she said. Related report Indigenous Peoples Try To Address Survival And Security Challenges BA13904.1648
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