Published On: Sat, Dec 16th, 2017

Chakma Circle Chief denounces CHT Ministry’s directive on the use of “adivasi”

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Chakma Circle Chief, Raja Barrister Devasish Roy sent a memorandum to the Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs Ministry on 8 November 2017 against the Ministry’s directive on the use of “adivasi” (Indigenous Peoples). Raja Devasish Roy, provided statements in his letter with the arguments to use different terms of indigenous peoples in official documents of the citizens of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).

On 23 October 2017, Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs Ministry issued a letter to Divisional Commissioner of Chittagong, Chairman of three Hill District Councils, Deputy Commissioners of three Hill Districts and Circle Chiefs of the three Circles that imposed restrictions on using the term of “adivasi” in regarding to distribute any certificate to citizenship and official purpose. The CHT Affairs Ministry issued the letter to indicate Mong Circle Chief titled “the term adivasi instead of upazati (tribal) was used by Mong Circle Chief”.

The ministry directed to follow the term “upazati’ which was stipulated in CHT Peace Accord and ordered not to follow any name except the names provided by the article 23A of the Constitution. The article 23A of Bangladesh constitution says, ‘the culture of tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities’ – ‘The State shall take steps to protect and develop the unique local culture and tradition of the tribes [upajati], minor races [khudrojatishaotta], ethnic sects [nrigoshthi] and communities [shomprodai]’.

The reply to this, Mr. Roy, also former Vice Chairperson of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, stated many more arguments against the restriction. He said different terms are used throughout Bangladesh to refer to its indigenous peoples. Many legal and policy documents of the Government of Bangladesh (GOB) use the terms “Indigenous”, “aboriginal”, “adivasi”, “ethnic minority”, “Hillman/ hill people” and/or “upajati” (subnation/ tribe/ tribal).

He provided the instance of CGR Regulation 1900 using the term of indigenous Hillman. Section 4 and 6 of CHT Regulation 1900 used the term Indigenous Hillman. In scetion 52 of CHT Regulation 1900 defines the Indigenous Hillman. It says “…….(A) Chakma, Mogh or a member of any hill tribe indigenous to the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the Lushai Hills, Arakan Hill Tracts, or the State of Tripura.” CHT Regulation 1900 retains the special legal and administrative status of the CHT.

Mr. Roy, also former Special Assistant to the Chief Advisor of the Caretaker Government of Bangladesh, added Indigenous Hillman term also used in Income Tax Ordinance 1984. According to Para 27 of this Ordinance, “Notwithstanding anything contained in any order or regulation for the time being in force, any income of an individual, being an indigenous hill-man of any of the hill districts of Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachari, which has been derived solely from economic activities undertaken within the said hill districts.” Moreover, Adivasi/ indigenous peoples/ indigenous Hillman terms also used in Social Forest Act 2004 6(2)(E), Small Ethnic Cultural Institutions Act 2010, Education Policy 2010 (Article 18-20) and other official documents. The indigenous peoples of plains and CHT have been called and used in many names/terms from the British period. State Acquisition & Tenancy Act 1950 identified the indigenous peoples of plains as ‘Aboriginal Caste and Tribes’ in its article 97.

Regarding the Article 23A of the constitution, Raja Devasish Roy said the main goal of the Article 23A of Bangladesh constitution is to establish the taking steps to protect and develop the diverse culture and tradition of different ethnic groups including them in fundamental principles of state policy to develop their identity and existence for a long period. The article does not mean what term of the identity they will use in social, cultural, administrative and other sectors, he added.

He mentioned about the section 1 of Part B of CHT Accord (stated in the letter), which retains the Hill District Local Government Council Act 1989 of three hill districts that refers to retain the term “upajati”. But there is no relation between this article of this Accord and Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation 1900 to Circle Chief or other authorities certificate using indigenous Hillman term.

Finally, Mr. Roy suggested to CHT Ministry if they want to establish any specific name/term to refer indigenous peoples, they would need to amend the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation 1900 or other existing laws and enact a new law with following the free prior informed consent of CHT Regional Council, three Hill District Councils, three Circle Chiefs and Headman representatives.

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