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Land is our identity: Indigenous peoples at risk in Bangladesh

    Thursday, November 8, 2012 - 00:00
    "The army told me the settlers were going to come here and take my land: ‘They’re going to live here’, they said. ‘You won’t be able to live here anymore’. The army and the settlers won’t let us live in peace.”
     
    Laxmi Rani Chakma belongs to the Pahari Indigenous people, who have lived for generations in the hilly and lush Chittagong Hill Tracts of southeastern Bangladesh. The Pahari’s distinct culture, language and way of life are intimately connected to their land.
     
    After Bangladesh achieved independence in 1971, there was a decades-long armed conflict as Pahari fought for autonomy and land rights. Many Pahari were killed or displaced, and their land occupied by Bengali settlers.
     
    A 1997 Peace Accord ended the conflict and established a Land Commission to resolve the many outstanding land disputes. The Pahari were promised strong representation in local government and that temporary army camps in the region would be disbanded.
     
    Fifteen years later, tens of thousands of Pahari people are still landless, still waiting for the Commission to deal with their claims. The Bangladeshi army still has camps scattered all across the region. The army is building new roads that encourage more settlers to come to the area.
     
    Sexual violence against Pahari women has been used as a tool to make people feel so unsafe that they will abandon their land.

    Take Action

    Please write to a Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Write in the your own words, using the following sample letter as a model.
     
    Dear Prime Minister,
     
    Fourteen years ago your government signed a Peace Accord promising to return traditional lands to the Pahari Indigenous Peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh.
     
    Thousands of Pahari families have been displaced as a result of the government’s counter insurgency operations and policies encouraging Bengali settlers to migrate to and occupy Pahari lands. Huge tracts of Pahari lands have been acquired by the Forest Department and the military. Displaced Pahari families remain landless while they wait for the Land Commission to act. To date, the Commission has failed to initiate a single inquiry into these disputes.
     
    I urge you to take concrete steps to ensure that the Land Commission fulfils its obligations, including seeking full and effective participation of the Pahari in all its work.

    Write To

    Prime Minister of Bangladesh
    Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
    Old Sangsad Bhaban
    Tejgaon, Dhaka – 1215
    Bangladesh
    Dear Prime Minister

    More Background

    Pahari women and girls, who traditionally grow the food, spend long periods of time away from their villages to tend fields. But when they do this work, Pahari can become targets for attacks, including rape and other sexual violence.
     
    In 2011, three Pahari women were murdered, ten were reported to have been raped, four were abducted, and there were seven attempted rapes. In one case, several Pahari were reportedly murdered after intervening to protect the victim of an attempted rape. Many women are too afraid to report attacks. Even when they do, “there is no redress. If they go to the police to complain, the police harass them”, says Donomala Chakma, a Pahari woman and human rights activist.
     
    The human rights violations experienced by the Pahari are pushing the Pahari to the margins of public and social life in Bangladesh. Their lands are critical to their culture and identity, their well-being and economic development. Donomala Chakma sums it up: “Land is our identity. We depend on it for food, animal feed and wood. Without it we won’t exist.”