Bangladesh is a country of cultural and ethnic diversity, with over 54 indigenous peoples speaking at least 35 languages, along with the majority Bengali population. According to the 2011 census, the country’s indigenous population numbers approximately 1,586,141, which represents 1.8% of the total population of the country. Indigenous peoples in the country, however, claim that their population stands at some 5 million. The majority of the indigenous population live in the plains districts of the country, and the rest in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).
The Government of Bangladesh does not recognise indigenous peoples as “indigenous”. Nevertheless, since the 15th amendment of the constitution, adopted in 2011, people with distinct ethnic identities beyond the Bengali population are now mentioned. Yet only cultural aspects are mentioned, whereas major issues related to indigenous peoples’ economic and political rights, not least their land rights, remain ignored.
The CHT Accord of 1997 was a constructive agreement between indigenous peoples and the Government of Bangladesh intended to resolve key issues and points of contention. It set up a special administrative system in the region. Twenty-two years on, the major issues of the Accord, including making the CHT Land Commission functional, orchestrating a devolution of power and function to the CHT’s institutions, preserving tribal area characteristics of the CHT region, demilitarisation, and the rehabilitation of internally displaced people, remain unsettled.
International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, The Indigenous World 2019