Relevance of World Indigenous Day celebration in Bangladesh

Published : 08 Aug 2023 08:11 PM
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The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution (49/214) on 23 December 1994 declaring 9 August to be the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People commemorating the first meeting of the UN Working Group on the Indigenous People held in 1982. The day is celebrated to raise awareness and protect the rights of the world's indigenous population and also to recognize the achievements and contributions of the indigenous people towards the improvement of world issues such as environmental protection. Europeans first used the terminology ‘Indigenous’ to differentiate the Indigenous peoples of the Americas from the European settlers of the Americas. They also used this term to differentiate from the sub-Saharan Africans the settlers enslaved and brought to the Americas by force. The term is known to be first used in this context by Sir Thomas Browne in 1646. Besides the relevance of the history of inhabitants to a particular territory concerning the colonisation of that territory, indigenous people maintain traditions, unique characteristics and/or other aspects of early culture. Bangladesh government clarified several times at different domestic and international forum about the non-existance of any indigenous people in Bangladesh. If it is so, what sorts of relevance do we have celebrating World Indigenous Day? 

There are three related terminologies which are very close to each other and need due clarification and explanation on the issue of indigenous. These are ‘tribe/tribal, ‘indigenous’ and ‘aborigines’. The term, “tribe” originated around the time of the Greek city-states and the early formation of the Roman Empire. The Latin term, “tribus” has since been transformed to mean, “A group of persons forming a community and claiming descent from a common ancestor” (Oxford English Dictionary, IX, 1933, p. Tribe/tribal are a racial group united by language, religion, customs, etc. and living as a community under one or more chiefs. 45 different tribes are residing in Bangladesh. Like, Garo, Hajong, Koch, Barman, Dalu, Hodi, Banai, and Rajbangshi in Greater 

Mymensingh; Chakma,  Marma,  Tripura,  Bawm,  Pangkhu,  Lusai,  Tanchangya,  Khiang,  Mru,  Asam,  Gurkha,  Chak,  Khumi in Chittagong Hill Tracts; Santal,  Oraon,  Munda,  Malo,  Mahali,  Khondo,  Bedia,  Bhumij,  Kole,  Bhil,  Karmakar,  Mahato,  Muriyar,  Musohor,  Pahan,  Paharia,  Rai,  Sing, Turi in North Bengal etc. 

The second terminology is “indigenous” which means belonging naturally (to a place); native, people are regarded as the original inhabitant of an area. Cambridge Dictionary defines indigenous people who originally lived in a place, rather than people who moved there from somewhere else. There is considerable debate on the definition of Indigenous people at the United Nations and yet to formulate a well-accepted one. One of the most cited definitions is given by Jose R. Martinez Cobo, the Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of 

Minorities. The definition reads: “Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present nondominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions, and legal system”. So, two aspects are related to indigenous people. These are historical continuity with a given region before colonisation and a distinct social, economic and political system including distinct languages, cultures, beliefs and knowledge systems.  

The third one is ‘aborigines’ which denotes the inhabitants of a land from a very early period, before the arrival of the colonists. The definition varies depending on the region and context. In Australia, the history of the Aboriginal population dates back to 65000 years. These populations lived in the mainland of Australia and many of its islands except for ethnically different people of the Torres Strait Islands.  They form as many as 500 language-based groups. The European first landed in Australia in 1606 by Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon on Australia's northern coast followed by the British in 

1770 who established it as a penal colony. According to the Canadian Encyclopaedia, 

Indigenous peoples have been in Canada since time immemorial. In Canada, the term Indigenous peoples (or Aboriginal peoples) refers to First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. They formed complex social, political, economic and cultural systems before Europeans came to North America. With colonisation and white settlement, traditional 

Indigenous ways of life were forever altered. Māori are the indigenous people of mainland New Zealand (Aotearoa) who arrived from East Polynesia in several waves of canoe voyages between 1320 and 1350. Europeans as colonial power entered New Zealand in the mid Seventeenth century and gradually Mauri was forced to assimilate the Western culture. There were many conflicts, subjugations and suppressions by colonial power on aborigines and indigenous people in those aforementioned countries. The United Nations came forward to uphold the rights of the indigenous people whose basic rights, culture, tradition and practices were compromised/threatened/scrapped by the colonial power. 

There are primarily three conventions and declarations of the UN. The ILO 

Convention 1957 (107) or in other terms it is also cited as the Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention 1957 was adopted on 5 June 1957. This convention applies to the members of tribal or semi-tribal populations in independent countries whose social and economic conditions are at a less advanced stage than the stage reached by the other sections of the national community, and whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their customs or traditions or by special laws or regulations. They are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from their population to a specific geographical location concerning conquest or colonisation. 

The primary objective of this convention is to foster individual dignity and the advancement of initiative considering their marginality. Bangladesh is one of the 27 countries who ratified this convention on 22 June 1972, even before the promulgation of our constitution.  

(To be continued)