Bangladesh’s smaller and little-known ethnic communities face a multitude of challenges. Recent changes enacted by the government to reduce their visibility as well as their continued exploitation and victimization by the political hegemony threaten the future of these very vulnerable groups.
The Khudra Nri-gosthi Sangskritik Pratisthan Ain, 2010 (Small Ethnic Communities Cultural Institution Act, 2010) recognizes only 27 specific ethnic groups in Bangladesh in spite of information to the contrary from ethnic communities, anthropologists and researchers. Research by Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD), a local environmental and human rights research and advocacy NGO, has revealed the existence of more than 60 distinct ethnic groups in Bangladesh, in addition to the ones recognized by the government, mostly found across 12 districts in the north-west and 5 districts in the north-centre as well as the tea growing areas of the country. Many of these ethnic groups have already received constitutional recognition in India. However, due to their lack of recognition in Bangladesh, these ethnic groups are in danger of losing their land, language, culture and heritage.
EU ambassador among a tea community in a labour line in Alynagar Tea Estate. © Saydur Rahman
“The workers in Bangladesh tea industry DO NOT get decent wage, this is NOT fair, this is NOT just,” ambassador of the EU Delegation to Bangladesh William Hanna said during his visit to a project that is involved in a participatory research with tea workers and little-known ethnic communities with an aim to improve their living and working conditions. The project titled “Mapping and Capacity Building of Tea Workers and little known ethnic communities in Bangladesh” is implemented by the Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD). The European Union finances the project under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. ICCO COOPERATION the Netherlands provides 20% of the total budget of the project.
“This is not just that people should not get fair wage for their work. This is a question of justice. If anybody asks me if I am satisfied; No, I am not satisfied with what I see. This is injustice. So I will go back to Dhaka, talk to minister of commerce Tofail Ahmed, I will talk to minister of agriculture Matia Chowdhury and say, what is this injustice (going on) in your country?”
Ambassador Hannah spoke very boldly in front of an audience comprising tea garden owners, tea community leaders, government officials and reporters of print and electronic media. The meeting took place in Project Development Unit (PDU) auditorium in Srimongol, Maulvibazar on 17 March.
"Many ethnic communities of Bangladesh are constitutionally and statistically invisible."
- Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman
Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive chairman, Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) said that many of the ethnic communities of Bangladesh are invisible, both constitutionally and statistically. “This invisibility must be dispelled so that they can raise their voices and claim their rights,” he suggested in a day-long inception seminar on “Mapping and capacity building of tea workers and little-known ethnic communities of Bangladesh” organised by The Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD) in Dhaka on 8 September 2013.
Information and insights about the condition of the tea plantation workers in ‘tied’ situation and little-known ethnic communities of Bangladesh were shared at the seminar.
Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman was present at the event as the chief guest. Chaired by Prof. Sakhawat Ali Khan, chairman of SEHD, the special guests and commentators were Philippe JACQUES, the head of cooperation, European Union Delegation to Bangladesh; Prof. Rafiqul Islam, professor emeritus, ULAB; Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive chairman, Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC); and Leonard Zilstra, country representative, ICCO Cooperation, Bangladesh Office.