Monday, August 24, 2009

Respect and protect minority rights

Bangladesh must come to respect and protect the rights of its minority citizens, whether they are religious minorities, linguistic minorities, racial minorities, or political minorities. The US and UK should impress upon Dhaka the necessity of protecting adhivasi rights in particular, and minorities in general. An action program, similar to the government's new socio-cultural battle with extremism (see...), would entail a judicial review of pending court cases against and by the adivasis, the promotion of their interests as national interests, and community development. The latter defined as institutionalizing an effective response to the community's grievances.

The US and UK do not need to preach in this regard, particularly the US which has a deplorable record of treating its Native American communities. However, the US and UK do have funds, equipment, and expertise. These should be offered to work in partnership with local Bangladeshi organizations working to protect the rights of the adhivasi community. Most importantly, the adhivasi community should be empowered to take care of their own rights. If they have grievance, they should file it with the police. If the police are ineffectual than they should seek redress from the local government. Bangla Nation believes that the community should not have to "bribe" to have their lives protected!

Land use continues to be a problem. Well before Bangladesh was ever created, the Garo and Mandi have utilized the forests in Madhupur, Tangail. Within the last century their interests have been quashed under various regimes, British, Pakistani, and now Bangladeshi. In the most recent past, the Department of Forests has sponsored the in-migration of Bengali-speaking settlers into the area and fenced off the forests and developed it, similar to the Chittagong Hill Tracts (Daily Star).

In the CHT, 3,300 families have begun squatting for almost three decades as the government has never provided papers of ownership. Instead the families are regarded as "temporary caretakers." On the issue of finalizing their ownership, which is mandated by a previous CHT development project from 1980, the deputy commissioner noted that the some papers could not be given due to a lack of proper survey. However, some would be getting their papers by 15 September (Daily Star), 29 years later.

Bangla Nation believes this is unacceptable (and probably is not alone in this belief). If the deputy commissioner's office in the periphery do not have the equipment or manpower to perform their duties in a manner even remotely timely then the deficiency needs to be addressed. The problem is that in a country of scarce resources the adhivasi communities receive nothing, no rights, no protection, no representation. A more equitable division of the government's attention is required, if that is achieved then the only shortfall will be for equipment - and there is more than enough aid agencies and NGOs to provide equipment.

But these organizations cannot force the government to protect its people.

No comments: