Santu Larma again warns of battle for indigenous rights
Bangladeshi rulers will not recognise the rights of the hills people, indigenous community leader Santu Larma has said, calling his people to prepare to fight for them.
“This undemocratic, ultranationalist government cannot give the Adivasis their rights,” the former guerrilla leader said at an assembly at the Central Shaheed Minar to mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People on Thursday.
“Without a progressive and democratic government the repression and betrayal of the indigenous people will continue,” observed Santu, whose real name is Jyotirindra Bodhipriyo Larma.
He commented that the government was ‘undecided’ on the implementation of the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord and accepting the basic rights of the hills people.
“Rights must be achieved through struggle…and we must prepare for struggle and fight,” he added.
Santu made the remarks a day after warning that the Chittagong Hill Tracts may plunge again into violence and bloodshed any moment over problems plaguing the region.
“Man’s lifestyle changes. Confrontation and controversies in hills were once set to rest. It may start all over again,” he had said.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts was a hotbed for violence even two decades ago when indigenous people gathered under the banner of Shanti Bahini, an armed force, demanding autonomy.
The Bahini was dissolved following signing of Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord in 1997. Santu became Chairman of CHT Regional Council, a body formed in line with the accord.
The accord, one of the major points of which is the immediate settlement of land ownership, remains mostly unimplemented.
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Santu, who is the president of the political party backing the peace accord, Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), said the government was dubious in its efforts to give the indigenous people their basic rights.
Ruling coalition ally JaSaD President Hasanul Haque Inu said the government had engaged in a conflict with the indigenous people which would not bring any good.
“The indigenous people are being called small ethnic minority in the Constitution. This mistake must be amended,” he said.
Another partner Workers’ Party President Rashed Khan Menon said the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People is celebrated by all states across the world.
“The ruling party leaders are usually seen walking in this rally wearing t-shirts, but this year they’re not here,” he said. “How did the indigenous people suddenly become ethnic minority?”
The government has taken the stance that there are no ‘indigenous people’ in the country, though their election manifesto promised rights to the same ‘indigenous people’.