An indigenous Tripura girl in traditional costume. (ucanews.com photo)
Activists in Bangladesh have called on the government to constitutionally recognize the country’s ethnic minorities, end exploitation and discrimination against them and safeguard their lawful rights.
They also urged the government to officially sponsor celebrations of international indigenous day in the country.
The call was made during a seminar in Dhaka on Aug. 8, the day before the United Nations International Day for World's Indigenous Peoples, a day that has never been officially celebrated in Bangladesh.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
"Indigenous people have been historically exploited and subjugated. Their lands and forests grabbed and plundered, and they faced eviction, torture, rape and even death at the hands of the majority while trying to protect their culture, identity and property," said Mesbah Kamal, a history professor at the University of Dhaka.
"Bangladesh as a member state of the UN must take every step to stop all kinds of exploitation, discrimination and persecution of indigenous peoples, and ensure justice for wrongdoings and offer lawful rights," he added.
Indigenous people deserve to be put on equal footing with the majority community, said Sanjeeb Drong, an indigenous Garo Catholic and secretary of the Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum.
"Indigenous peoples also fought for Bangladesh’s independence in 1971 and have contributed in nation building. So, they deserve to be called 'indigenous peoples' constitutionally instead of ‘small ethnic groups’ and their rights recognized and protected," Drong added.
In Bangladesh, some three million people belong to about 45 ethnic minority groups in a nation of 160 million dominated by Bengali Muslims. Christians, the majority of them Catholics, make up about half a percent of the population and about half are indigenous people.