Misinterpretation and Misuse of International  Indigenous laws

  mehadi hassan palash

Mehadi Hassan palash

Misinterpretation on indigenous issue always misleads the popular sentiment of the people against the original perception and accurate interpretation of what actually is. We usually, have an interpretation from United Nations.  UN and its affiliated institutions until now have given us 3 charters. These are indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, 1957 (No. 107), UN affiliated institution International Labor Organization (ILO) that organized a 40th session of it and produced this charter in June 1957. Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169, ILO again passed in 76th session of it where the second charter was okayed in June 7, 1989. And, thirdly ILO passed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 61st session of it in September 13, 2007. Here, if we view ILO’s first two chapters, we can see the Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention which was the convention on indigenous people and tribal. That is this convention is much related to the interest of indigenous and tribal populace. Therefore, the articles and by-articles that passed in the convention usually conserve the interest of the hill people as a whole and not only serve the indigenous people. However, the vested quarters are only engaged to vend the voice of the indigenous people only excluding the demands of the tribal people.

Indigenous and tribal, the two words are defined in two ways, quite differently. According to by-article (a) of article 1, Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169, the definition of indigenous people is described as ‘tribal peoples in independent countries whose social, cultural and economic conditions distinguish them from other sections of the national community, and whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions or by special laws or regulations.’’ Here there are two definitions for two groups of people- one for indigenous populace and the last one for tribal populace. A group of people are separated from the mainland population socially, economically, and culturally. They conduct their day-to-day life in accordance with their own tradition, culture and regulation and are known as tribal. According to ILO definition. The Chakma, Murma, Sautal and other species of the hill peoples are tribal in the truest sense.

But the intellectuals who are motivated at the hands of devilish power, are always engaged to publicize rights of Indigenous people concealing the other populace that are popularly known as tribal. They are concealing definition on tribal that is given by ILO.

Now, let us go to analyze the definition of indigenous people. According to ILO convention, these two groups of people, are described are Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169) in by-article `b’ of article. 1, they are the peoples in independent countries who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs to, at the time of conquest or colonization or the establishment of present state boundaries and who, irrespective of their legal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions as well.
In other words, indigenous people are those who live in a certain state, generation after generation and live in a certain territory before being occupied or created a colonial rule. At the same time they preserve their own socio- political, cultural, economical, and legal rights and institutions. ILO defines indigenous people are those who live in a certain state one generation after another and live in a certain territory before being occupied or created a colonial rule. There are other conditions too. According to the condition, a tribal may be treated as indigenous or not be treated as the same. Besides, there is a law as per United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that stated at New York UN Headquarters in the 61st session in September 13, 2007. This charter was actually promulgated to save the rights of indigenous people, not to the interest of tribal populace.

Though Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, 1957 (No. 107) was passed and enacted in 1957, only 27 countries came forward to ratify the law and the rest did not sign the convention.  Bangladesh ratified the rule on June 22, 1972. In the sub-continent, outside of Bangladesh, Pakistan and India also ratified the law. Meanwhile eight countries walked out condemning the law. On the other hand, though the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, was Okayed in 1989 (No. 169) twenty-two countries ratified the law and 107 countries including the eight countries, which stop Okaying, are left to ratify the law. Besides the three countries – Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, only Nepal came forward to ratify the law and the other countries of sub-continent did not sign the convention. Convention 169 is the modification of the convention 107; still it requires ratifying separately for its separate entity. If any country does not come forward to sign an international law, then the law is not applicable to that particular country or countries. It is mentionable here that the countries which ratified the ILO convention 107 and 169 mostly belong to African and South American countries where indigenous people are usually living. Here almost all the people are known as indigenous people. On the contrary, a declaration-letter on indigenous people was placed before the 61th session of United Nations on September 13, 2007. When voting started, there were 143 countries, which voted in favor of the motion, and 4 countries voted against the move, while 11 countries remained silent to vote and 34 countries remained absent to participate in the discussion. Bangladesh was a country among the other countries, which kept silent to vote to the motion or against it. The countries that voted against the motion were Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA. It is strange that the most of the countries that popularly known as vocal for establishing and patronizing the cause, were not the signatories to the UN initiated ILO convention 107 and 169 which depicted on indigenous interest and rights. This incident spells out the truth that those who shed crocodiles tears, are in the truest sense, not their well-wishers. They are ill motivated to deprive them from their rights and causes. The four countries opposing the motion were not only playing their role in opposing but also delivering speech against the move criticizing the charter.

From the above, we can easily understand a truth that the tribal people who live in Bangladesh right now are actually either occupied or pre-colonial. Before going to elaborate this discourse, it is essential to keep the discussion confined within the territory of Bangladesh or beyond the frontiers. If it is based on territorial, then the first inhabitant who lived in Sent Martin Island will be treated as Bangladeshi indigenous people. In this way, if any new island emerges and anybody goes to live there, he will be treated as indigenous people. We may conclude in the same way, those who lived in Dhaka in primitive age, are also indigenous people. In addition, those who came to Dhaka from other areas in various ways are declared settlers. Because here in the whole gamut of the discourse, we find two words, “either” and “or” and the definitions presented here are also regulated by these two words. If we consider the whole territory of Bangladesh as a geographical land, the first inhabitants who once lived here was Aryans. They entered into Bangladesh via North Bengal. At that period, there was no existence of Chakma, Marma, Garo, Hajong, Sautal in this soil. In other words, before the arrival of the Aryans, the non-Aryans who lived here may be treated as pre-colonial. Before coming of Aryans, the people who lived here were habituated to follow the rituals and culture of PRAKRIT religion. They later, were converted at the influence of Aryans and became HINDUS.

Later the Buddhist kings conquered Bengal defeating the Hindu kings; that is why, the history and heritage of Buddhists in Bangladesh is enriched and glorious. CHARJAPAD, the ancient book of Bengali literature testifies this truth. PAL kings are Bengalese. The great ATISH DIPANGKAR belonged to Bengalese. The history of Buddhists and the history of CHAKMAs are not alike.

On the other hand, those who know loopholes of the WARI BATESHWAR enriched city based civilization and ALEXANDER, the great’s fearful and horrible invading scenes, the GONGARIRY civilization that are depicted in the books of MEGASTHINIS and TOLEMY cannot call Chakmas, Murmas and Saotals pre-colonial. Many people bring the history of Muslims and Buddhists in the discourse of Chakmas which is very irreverent and useless here to depict the true picture of the history.

Whenever the HINDU SEN Rulers began to torture to the people, the BUDDISHTS invited the Muslim rulers from outside to save the people. In a word, the pre-colonial populace that once lived here was known as non-Aryans. The historians called them PRAKITAJAN or Prakita population. Those who, after crossing tens of hundreds of years, were divided and extended in many religious beliefs like HINDU, BUDDISHTS, MUSLIM, CHRISTIAN and later reached at a centre point of Bengalese to live together with peace and amity as one national entity.

 Now in brief, let us start discussion on ILO conventions’ socio-cultural, heritage, law and politics. Tribal people in Bangladesh do not follow any strict principle in this respect. At the same time, there comes a little change in heritage and cultural trend. With the change of state and governing system, they embrace the change among them. At first, let us discuss on Chakma. It is not historically proved that Chakmas were the tribal people who had many political structures in any time. Now a days, they are in a mood to speak on heroic episodes of Chakma kings who once ruled the region.

In Chakma writers writings, we can see these episodes as something legendary. Legends may be the part of history but it is not necessarily the ingredient to the history. In the reign of MUGHALS, we can see so many Chakma kings who were SUBEDAR to Mughals, They were not actual Chakma. The Chakma community honored them as Kings and sometimes, they were compelled to subdued. Today’s king of Chakma structure is the structure promulgated by British rulers, who finally tried to bring them to structure. In fact they were Circle Chiefs who were engaged to collect revenue from the peasants and other people residing in the country. Moguls and British did not give them any recognition to kingship. However, British government gave ZEMINDERS land lordship, District Super-in-ten dents, in other words, governments were the owners of the lands of Circle Chiefs. But Chakma Circle Chiefs having got the charge of realizing revenue from the peasants and others, added several customs and usages to the revenue realizing process. Communist leader M N Larma seeing these anomalies and exploitation of the Circle Chiefs began to organize the mass people against them for freeing exploitation. If Bangabandhu did not commit constitutionally any mistake, he would have been the Communist leader to the rest of the world. However, the articles, which is characterized the constitution of ’72 changed the whole course of the history. The difference between Debashis Roy and Santu Larma is still alive internally. M N Larma’s JSS and later emerged UPDF are not the political structure to contain nationhood or clans; it is a political structure for a certain region. In addition, tribal people are now integrated politically to mainstream political parties either Awami League or BNP. In Chakma society, there came change like this.

 On the other hand, tribal culture mainly originated from religion. However, excluding Chakma, Murma and Tripura, the other tribal people are converting themselves to Christianity day by day. Meanwhile an average of 90% populace have embraced Christianity. In the case of Chakma, the conversion tendency is low than the others. Nevertheless, Chakma’s original religion is not Buddhism; they were once Muslims before Queen Kalindi Roy converted to Buddhism during the British rule. Before commencing MUGHAL rule, they were habituated to practice their own religion. In this way, the change came to the culture, socialization, and customs of tribal people whenever they changed the religious belief from time to time. Right now with the pace of advancement in modern education, economy, and technology, the tribal people changed their life-style largely. In few festivals, they are active to accustom to their traditional culture, dress, habits, and customs. The Christian missionaries are not usually obstructing them to go to their ancient practices in those festival days for saving the so-called indigenous word. Michael Sanjib Drang may emerg as tribal leader. But a tribal man changed his religious belief willingly and embraced Islam, may not be treated as tribal any more, and they identify him as Muslim. He simply lost his tribal identity for embracing Islam only. Though in numeral, Buddhism and Christianity are big to Islam, it has its separate appeal to humans. In the name of saving own dialect, the tribal activists drop Bengali alphabets and receive the European alphabets; in this respect, there has been no reservation. In ancient system of life-style, the global scenario tells it had existence of farming and hunting animals in ancient ages. On that point, the fishermen and the boatmen are originally the indigenous people in Bangladesh. In a word, the so-called indigenous people in Bangladesh are not identified as true indigenous people either in socio-economically or in culturally and politically. Moreover, a large number of tribal people in Chittagong Hill Tracts do not believe that they are indigenous people at all.

One of the largest parties in Chittagong Hill Tracts is UPDF, which also does not believe in this so-called indigenous doctrine. That is why they do not celebrate any indigenous day in and around the Chittagong Hill Tracts. One of the UPDF apex leaders, Uzzal Smrity said this to me in an interview that they do not believe in indigenous concept while preaching in the region. He has also reservation to the word “tribe”. To his opinion, there are so many national entities in Bangladesh, like Bengalese, Chakma, Murma, Tripura etc with separate nationhood. I also talked to the nearest and dearest to Santu Larma and could understand that once Santu Larma did not believe in the indigenous doctrine what he prescribes here and there. The concept gradually becomes the matter of harassment now. The indigenous concept is actually originated from the head of the Circle Chief Debashis Roy.

Therefore, the concept of indigenous as expounded by the UNO does not apply to the tribal people of the Hill Tracts districts. There is no scope to confuse tribal into indigenous people at all. Rather, according to the text of UN and ILO conventions and charters, the definitions on tribe and indigenous that exposed the truth that the populace living in this region is small tribal. For this reason, UN charter is not applicable to these small tribes.


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