Sunday, August 9, 2009

Quicknote: World Indigenous Peoples Day

Lofty words and goals given by politicians on auspicious days are suspect at the best of times. Were they to be held responsible for these remarks by their people it would probably drive them to either keep silent on such days, like the World Indigenous Peoples Day, or follow through with their sugary speech.

On Sunday, Minister for Information and Cultural Affairs Abul Kalam Azad noted that the government is finalizing an act for protecting the languages and "cultural traditions" of indigenous people. He noted that the present government has formed an independent land commission, removal of discriminatory acts and ensuring equal rights in education and employment. Minister Azad said that poverty, malnutrition, inadequate access to education and health care as the most critical problems. Finally, no formal function would be complete without making a dig at the Opposition (New Nation).

Unfortunately, the Minister only mentioned the issue of adhvasi land rights in the context of already solving the problem, the formation of an independent land commission. However, if he is talking about the Chittagong Hill Tracts, that commission won't be completing its work until December. Cryptically, Law Minister Shafique Ahmed said that the CHT Land Commission 'will [Bangla Nation note: only] be the first task to recover the lands on indigenous people' (Daily Star).

Land commissions must be set up for the rest of the country and they must be empowered to enforce their verdicts. The news stories from December are likely to headline: "Adhivasi land still in hands of grabbers - despite ruling." However, this remedy is only for land that has already been grabbed. As far as Bangla Nation knows there is no law protecting the land rights of the adhivasis (and there was no mention of that in anyone's speech). If there is a law it is not being enforced either because of poor understanding or outright negligence, as was previously noted (Bangla Nation).

Thus, it is imperative for the government and the police forces to cooperate in returning and protecting the adhivasi communities' land rights. Anything less would simply make today's speeches - just that, speeches.

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