Indigenous communities in the northern Bangladesh
Several indigenous communities in Northern Bangladesh are living in harmony. The major ethnic groups living there are: Santal, Oraon, Munda, Pahan, Mahato, and Malo. Driven by the environmental degradation due to climate change and also due to pressure from mainstream people, these people face problems at different dimensions. Therefore, ESDO has began working with them, basically to reserve their land rights a more that a decade ago. They are traditionally rich communities. Each of these communities has individual social customs, daily rituals, celebrations and attire.
- Santal is the biggest community with 202,744 people living in northern Bangladesh especially in greater districts of Dinajpur, Rangpur, Bogra, and Rajshahi.
- Santali is the mother tongue spoken by the Santals. It is a munda language of the kherwar group.
- The Santals consider Thạkur Jiu (Life Giver) or Cando Baba (Sun Father) or Marang Buru (Great Mountain) as the source of all “good”.
- According to anthropologists, Oraons, mundas, and santals belong to the same group of aborigine people.
- They live in Rangpur, Dinajpur, Bogra and Rajshahi districts
- There are about 6,000 Oraon in Bangladesh.
- Murong is a small ethnic minority group.
- Approximately there are 22,178 Murongs in Bangladesh
- Murongs do not have any written language. The language they speak has some similarity with the Burmese
- Like other aboriginals, they also live a life characterized by clans. The economic life of Murongs depends largely on jhum cultivation for cereal crops and on gardening for other crops.
Major Climate change induced impacts on the livelihoods of indigenous communities
The indigenous communities depend on the natural environment. They are agriculture based communities. So, when the agriculture is hampered by the climatic change , their whole lifestyle got altered.
- Climate change has changed the weather scenario of the northern part of Bangladesh. Frequency and intensity of floods has increased manifolds during the last few decades. Also, temperature increase, erratic rainfall, water scarcity are extreme weather events that affect these segment of the country.
Other climate induced hazards in northern Bangladesh, where ESDO’s projects locate, are:
- Agricultural impacts: The crop yield is lesser now due to the alteration of timing, duration and intensity of rainfall in Rajshahi. Climatic hazard induced agriculture production damage is aggravating and threatening food security there.
- Drought: Food, water and health insecurity due to prolonged droughts.
- River erosion: Many Santal communities have lost land due to river erosion
- Desertification: A long area of crop lands are infertile and arid now due to insufficient rain. Hence, climate change has already started drying these lands up in the norther part of Bangladesh which are belong to the indigenous communities.
- Water scarcity: Since, the surface water bodies are not recharged enough, the ground water table has gone deeper. As a result, people face difficulty in collecting drinking water and water for irrigation. It becomes acute in dry season.
- Social impacts: The indigenous communities celebrate several seasonal festivals. Since, the seasonal shifting is not very obvious, they are facing problems in observing the carnivals
Fighting for land rights of Indigenous communities: ESDO’s special approach
River Erosion leading land encroachment in Rajshahi
Some of the mighty rivers are located at Rajshahi. As a significant area of river bank of Rajshahi has eroded, the mainstream people also the indigenous people lost land. As a result, the mainstream people were found to grab the land of some tribes, especially Santals, an ancient tribal group, which is also a powerless minority group in Rajshahi. ESDO has been working on achieving their land rights for a decade:
- ESDO has conducted several meetings with the leaders of indigenous communities to perceive their problems. These meeting aimed at protecting their land rights
- There were also some awareness programs conducted among all of the people living there in Rajshahi
- ESDO has done several policy dialogues with the village leaders who are also Bangladesh parliament members in order to pressurize them so that they can pay attention to this issue
- The village leaders responded positively and now are cooperating with ESDO
- A few communities were given their lands back. However, it is an issue of many decades. So, it will take time to entirely solve the land related problems of the indigenous people there.
Strengthening adaptation by recognizing culture and cultural diversity
For indigenous peoples, resilience is rooted in traditional knowledge, as their capacity to adapt to environmental change is based first and foremost on an in-depth understanding of the nature. As climate change increasingly impacts their landscapes, indigenous communities have been introduced by ESDO to their traditional tactics which are unique in quality.
- Creating opportunities for tourists to experience the very unique culture of indigenous people in a peaceful natural settings in Rajshahi, the Eco-village Project of ESDO aims at restoring their cultural diversity.
- The indigenous communities, hence, are encouraged to revive their cultural norms, values and behaviors which were almost lost by the influence of mainstream population.