Indigenous Day in Bangladesh

I had the privilege of attending the Indigenous day celebrations in Dhaka on 9th August 2011. It was a wonderful colourful event. I saw the clothes and dances of the peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts  that I was familiar with and also those of the nations of the plains such as the Garo and Santal.

Last year the Bangladesh Government tried to suppress these celebrations. Hopefully this year the Indigenous people will be able to celebrate their cultures.

But the preparations for this year’s celebrations have been marred by news of an attack by settlers on indigenous homes. It is difficult to get accurate news from the region, but we can ascertain that several hundred houses were burnt in 4 villages, some people (12 is reported) were beaten and many people (2,000 is reported) fled into India. The number of deaths is uncertain.

Though details are difficult to confirm, the incident follows the same story as too many previous incidents:

  • It started as result of a rumour. In the same way, last year, rumours started the riots in Rangamati and the destruction of 11 Buddhist temples. In this case the rumour was found to be a hoax.
  • The settlers were mobilised suspiciously quickly. Loud speakers were used to gather and excite the mob.
  • The actions of the security forces were clearly one sided. They arrested Indigenous people instead of protecting them.
  • The Bangladesh authorities make efforts to hide the incident.

This eagerness to hide the Chittagong Hill Tracts was apparent in August 2011. While watching the dancing, an obvious plain clothed policeman asked me who I was and why I was there. The Bangladesh government do not want us to see the beauty or the ugliness of the area. And this is why the Amnesty campaign is important.

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