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Friday, 9 August, 2002, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Bangladesh tribes march for rights
Indigenous protesters at Dhaka rally
Bangladeshi indigenous tribes say they are under threat

Hundreds of men and women from Bangladesh's many indigenous groups have marched through Dhaka demanding an end to what they describe as wilful discrimination.


We are not even being considered as human beings

Jitendra Barman of the Kharioyo Barman tribe
The rally on Friday was organised by the Bangladesh Indigenous People's Forum, a platform of 45 ethnic groups and tribes in Bangladesh.

Organisers of the march, held to mark International Indigenous People's Day, said their way of life was under threat from mainstream culture.

Many of those taking part in the rally in the capital wore traditional dress and carried spears and bows, representing their distinctive cultures.

Dancing to the beat of traditional songs, they demanded that the government recognise their constitutional rights and protect their lands.

Rights demand

Jitendra Barman of the Kharioyo Barman tribe from northern Bangladesh said life was becoming increasingly tough for ethnic minorities.

Indigenous tribesman
The rally marked International Indigenous People's Day

"We are not even being considered as human beings," he said.

"If we go to any government office they don't pay any attention, if we submit any petition demanding anything, they won't consider it," he said.

"I don't think without struggle they will give us anything. That's why I have decided to come here to take part in this rally."

Jhalmal Maria Costa of the Khasia tribe from Bangladesh's north eastern district of Sylhet echoed the prevalent feelings of insecurity.

"As an indigenous woman, I don't feel safe whenever I go out of my village. The land is also a big problem. The Bengalis are taking away our lands forcefully," she said.

Dying cultures

The government says that Bangladesh's indigenous population numbers about 1.2 million people, a figure disputed by indigenous leaders.

Indigenous tribesman
Protesters say the government is doing nothing for them

The Indigenous People's Forum says the number is actually two million, but the government is playing it down to deny them their rights.

The forum's secretary-general, Sanjib Drong, said several smaller indigenous groups in Bangladesh will die out because they prefer not to identify themselves as indigenous people fearing discrimination.

In the process, he said, the languages of the Bagdi, Barman, Rajbongshi, Pahan and Malo tribes had already been lost.

Mr Drong added that many of the problems faced by indigenous people could be solved if the government recognised their rights constitutionally.

The previous government did nothing for them, he said, adding there was no sign that the present government would do anything either.

See also:

06 Mar 02 | South Asia
20 Nov 01 | South Asia
19 Oct 01 | South Asia
08 Nov 01 | South Asia
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