Basic needs of tribes living in plains

Plight of plainland tribes

World Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated on 8 August yearly to raise awareness of indigenous peoples worldwide’s struggles due to oppression and exploitation. The United Nations officially recognized this day on 23 September 1994, after a proposal was made on 9 August 1982. According to a 2002 report by The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, over 370 million indigenous people in 90 countries speak about five thousand languages.

According to estimates by the World Bank, indigenous peoples make up around 5% of the world’s population, with a population of between 370 and 500 million. In 1993, the United Nations declared it the Year of the Indigenous People, while the period from 1995 to 2004 was recognized as the first tribal decade, followed by the years from 2005 to 2014 as the second tribal decade. The observance of tribal days, years, and decades celebrates the unique customs and characteristics of various tribes. The aim is to preserve their language, traditions surrounding birth and death, food habits, marriage customs, and overall culture. This information is shared globally, and efforts are made to find solutions to various issues.

Bangladesh is a country that boasts an abundance of natural landscapes and cultural heritage, with a diverse range of ethnic groups residing in different regions of the country. Apart from Bengalis, there are tribes living in Bangladesh that primarily inhabit five distinct geographical areas. These regions are the North-Western Region (which includes various districts of Rajshahi Division and Rangpur Division), the Central Region (which includes multiple sections of Mymensingh and Dhaka Division), the North-Eastern Region (comprising the districts of Sylhet Division), the Chittagong Hill Tracts (encompassing the districts of Chittagong Hill Tracts), and the Coastal Region (which includes Khulna, Barisal, and the coastal districts of Chittagong Division). The tribes residing in these regions include Santal, Munda, Onrao, and Mahato.

This region is home to several tribes such as Pahari, Malo, Pahan, Rajvanshi, Garo, Koch, Dalu, Rajvanshi, Manipuri, Khasia, Hajong, Tripura, Chakma, Marma, Mog, Murong, Rakhine, and many others. area.

The number of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh is still being determined. However, the Gazette of the Ministry of Culture of the Government of Bangladesh (dated 23 March 2019) approximates around 50 indigenous peoples in Bangladesh. Most of Bangladesh’s tribes can be divided into groups: those living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and those residing in the plains. Article 23(a) of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh states that the constitution will take measures to preserve, develop, and promote the cultural heritage of various tribes, small ethnic groups, ethnic groups, and communities. According to the 2011 census, 1.10% of Bangladesh’s total population, or 15,860,141 individuals, are plains tribes. While the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts is responsible for hill tribes, there is no dedicated department or ministry for plains tribes. Therefore, policymakers must be more effectively informed about the circumstances of the plains communities.

There is a significant presence of plains communities in the districts of northern Bengal. I am in Kshirtala, a village in the upazila of Raiganj, near Sirajganj. The population of this town consists mainly of tribes, including Mahato, Shin, Teli, Turi, and Murari people. They have been living near abandoned archaeological sites for a long time. Ethnological research during archaeological excavations has revealed that each Kshirtala-dwelling tribal group cherishes its traditions and customs, which have been passed down for centuries. These communities are passionate about protecting natural biodiversity using lokayat practices. However, their indigenous knowledge, traditions, beliefs, and customs are often dismissed as “superstitions” in the name of modern knowledge, resulting in the gradual disappearance of their folk culture. Unfortunately, their superstitious or “radical” beliefs often lead to their separation from mainstream society, causing them to become even more impoverished.

According to the World Bank, 15% of the tribal population lives in extreme poverty. The average life expectancy of this population is at least 20 years shorter than the general population. BRAC’s research reveals that Bangladesh’s poverty rate is 39.5%, with 60% of these plains tribes being impoverished. Furthermore, 24.6% of tribes live below the extreme poverty line, and the Khirtala tribes are no exception.

Each tribe in the village has its distinct language, but the non-practice of these languages results in the extinction of many of them. Officially, curricula are provided in five languages, but their implementation rate needs to be higher. Multiple indigenous languages require alphabets, and oral language practice is the norm. However, most of the current generation does not speak their native tongue. Education is directly related to language. If children are taught in their native language, they can become familiar with their surroundings and improve their intellect. Additionally, research on indigenous languages is necessary to preserve our cultural diversity.

Village schools are lacking in plain tribal villages. As a result, parents send boys to distant schools but do not want to send girls to foreign schools. In order to send them to school, many girls are given early marriages at a very young age. But child marriage is considered a crime in the country.

The Plains Aborigines have a deep connection with nature, which plays a significant role in their daily lives. They use the tree for various religious ceremonies, such as births, weddings, and burials, and hold it in high regard. Several celebrations, including Karam, Sahrai, Dal Puja, and Surya Puja, are closely associated with nature, and the communities have long celebrated them with traditional attire and beverages. Unfortunately, these diverse festivals are gradually disappearing, with dwindling interest among the younger generation and increasing restrictions. For instance, the consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim country, which prevents many communities from drinking Hariya as part of their culture. However, locally produced bones remain an essential part of their customs.

Gifting “Kanepan” to the betrothed during the marriage was a prominent feature of tribal society. However, the dowry system has violated the norms of marriage over time. Despite being prohibited by the constitution of Bangladesh, only a few tribal women in Kshirtala have dowry-free weddings. What’s worse is that the parents of daughters are financially and emotionally ruined due to dowry demands. In the past, the birth of a girl was celebrated in Pabirar’s households, but poor tribes now view it as a curse. Newlyweds must provide at least one and a half lakh rupees in cash, along with jewellery, furniture, and even a motorcycle as part of the dowry. This has caused many families to become destitute. Most tribal girls work in agriculture alongside men, while those who don’t have access to agricultural property tend to raise cattle at home. Unfortunately, many pregnant women are also forced to work in the fields instead of being able to stay at home. These communities must support expectant mothers and use their traditional knowledge to deliver babies. Caesarean deliveries are not commonly used among indigenous women, who rely on the Lokayat medical system to treat various illnesses. It’s worth noting that the traditional method of childbirth has a meagre maternal mortality rate.

To create an egalitarian Bangladesh in the spirit of the liberation war, it is essential to accurately evaluate the socio-cultural context of the plains tribes. This requires refuting common misconceptions held by the mainstream population. The government’s “no one will be left behind” policy can help achieve this goal if a sustainable plan is formulated and effectively implemented to support marginalized and isolated tribes.

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