Members of the country’s national minority communities at a seminar on Thursday said that they did not want to be identified as small ethnic groups for the identity gave them a subordinate social status.
They also called the identity humiliating after the keynote paper at the seminar favoured calling national minorities instead of small ethnic groups.
‘We should think about an identity without using words like ‘small’ or ‘large’,’ said Chattogram Hill Tracts Development Board’s chairman Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura.
‘National minority could be an acceptable term,’ he said.
He also spoke against the use of ‘upajati’ (tribe) to identify the minority communities, for this term also made them subordinate to the mainstream people.
Professor Syed Anwar Husain presented the keynote paper where majoritarian democracy was seen as a potential hindrance to real progress.
Prof Anwar said that democracy should be of the democracy of many.
There is a scope, he said, for evaluation of the status of democracy in Bangladesh because those living on the periphery often complain about existence of democracy in the country.
‘We don’t want to be identified as small ethnic groups,’ said Munni Merina Chiran, a participant in the seminar and an archaeology student of Jahangirnagar University.
‘It belittles us and I don’t accept this identity. Nobody has the right to belittle me,’ she said.
Replying to a question whether it was respectful to identify communities as small ethnic groups, Cultural Affairs State Minister KM Khalid said that it was the most respectful word they could find.
‘The word ‘adivasi’ (indigenous) cannot be used as there are many objections to the use of the word,’ said Khalid.
‘In Bangladesh there are no adivasi communities. We have been living together,’ said Khalid.
‘But,’ he observed, ‘There are culturally and linguistically distinct small ethnic groups.’
Khalid added that the government had already recognised 50 small ethnic groups in the country.
About 13 lakh members of these groups live in the plains while the rest live in the hills, he went on.
The smallest of the groups has only 263 members, he said.
Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies organised the seminar titled ‘Importance and challenges of protecting heritage of small ethnic groups in promoting national culture’ at its office.
The seminar was also attended by the Rangamati Science and Technology University vice-chancellor Pradanendu Bikash Chakma, Brig Gen Khandaker Shahidul Emran representing the Army, Chattogram Hill Tracts Affairs secretary Mesbahul Islam and BIISS director general AKM Abdur Rahman.
Speakers at the seminar also viewed that cultural promotion activities should not remain limited to cultural events that only showcase minority people in their traditional dresses.
Real cultural promotion was about trying to implement how these minorities wanted to get engaged in economic activities or exploiting their resources and land, they observed.
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