During the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 the government of Bangladesh took up a number of steps to promote the country's tourism sector. One of the steps includes promotion of the indigenous peoples of Chittagong Hills Tracts (CHT) to attract tourists. In this respect, large billboards showing the indigenous women in traditional dresses with the caption “Smiling Indigenous Women of Chittagong Hill-Tract” were put up in important places including in the airports.
The other day, while scrolling down my Facebook wall I have noticed a photograph of a billboard posted by a friend which shows the disappearance of the word “indigenous.” Now the billboard reads “Women of Chittagong Hill-Tract”. The words “Smiling Indigenous” have been wiped out by the government. This billboard is reported to be displayed at one of the airports. Similarly, it can be presumed that the word indigenous may have been erased in all other similar billboards.
The Billboard Before
|The Billboard now|
Courtesy: Chakma Voice (Facebook)
This reflects the government’s growing unwillingness to recognize the Jumma population of the country as indigenous.
The Jumma populations of Bangladesh are distinct from the mainstream population and have been demanding recognition as “indigenous.” However, they are not recognized as indigenous peoples. The 15th Amendment to the Constitution of Bangladesh identifies the Jumma population as ‘Bengalees’. The Government even denied existence of indigenous people in Bangladesh before the United Nations. Ironically, the Jumma populations have been identified and referred to as “indigenous” in the official documents for more than a century. There was no objection then about its use and application. In fact, the incumbent Prime Minister had even referred these communities as indigenous in her messages on international indigenous day.
This is nothing but to deny them their rights. Across the world, indigenous peoples suffer from discrimination, exclusion and marginalization. As a result they face great hardship in maintaining and developing their own models of development. Indigenous peoples are different from the mainstream population. They have their own distinct and unique cultures and views. Similarly, their needs and aspirations for the future may be different from the mainstream population. Therefore it is imperative to recognize and protect their rights, both individual and collective, for their development.
But, instead of recognizing and protecting the indigenous population, the government has made its anti-indigenous policies quite clear. It is common knowledge that human rights violations, discrimination, land grabbing and denial of rights against the indigenous Jumma peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh are rampant and continuing.
The wiping out of the word “indigenous” from the billboard show that the government is hell-bent on wiping out the ethnic identity of the Jumma population and to deny them rights. To make its anti-indigenous position more reverberating and perceptible, the government can do anything even to the extent of being look like a fool. The wiping out of the word “indigenous” shows that the government has lost its rationality and logic.
I would like to bring to the kind notice of the government of Bangladesh that the billboards were put up during the Cricket World Cup held last year. The world cup was over and in fact these billboards have become outdated and required to be taken off as a whole. It is understandable if the government is so poor that it could not afford to put up new billboards for the tourism ministry, hence, still using these outdated billboards to attract tourists to the country. However, at best it could have erased the words “ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 and its Logo” which are still there in the revised billboards and not the word “indigenous”.
Your hatred towards the indigenous population of the CHT and the word “indigenous” are no longer state secrets. Bangladesh is a nation and at least do not look silly in the eyes of the tourists. The cricket world cup is long over. Wake up from your slumber!