The inspiring stories of four indigenous young people, and their active participation in combating challenges during the pandemic
The demographic window of opportunity that started in 1978 in Bangladesh will start decreasing in 2033 with a reduction in the proportion of the working-age population between 15 and 64 years. Bangladeshi youths have made remarkable achievements in different fields, though young people from indigenous communities still lag behind. However, some indigenous youths walked a mile at the time of the pandemic. The stories of four enthusiastic youths, who believe in partaking actively in combating the challenges.
To start with, Badal Hajong is someone who does not miss an opportunity to serve his community. Although he was born in a remote village, he grew up in Sunamganj Sadar. While pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Dhaka, he has always strived to work for fellow community members who are largely left behind from mainstream development work. When he got the opportunity to reach out to his community with a food support programme initiated by UNDP and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), he immediately volunteered to support the programme and make it successful by engaging the local administration in Netrokona. He not only supported local CSO in participatory assessment in identifying the most deserving households, but also took a lead in the distribution among members of the local Garo and Hajong communities.
Having the opportunity to travel abroad, he participated in the 29th Annual Human Rights and Diplomacy Training Program in Timor Leste, organized by the Diplomacy Training Program in 2019.
Sumita Rabidas demonstrated her leadership in the recent campaign undertaken at the time of the relaxed lockdown, although she previously worked as a community facilitator to run the Human Rights Awareness Campaign in different phases under the Human Rights Program (HRP) of UNDP from June 5, 2018 to 30 November 30, 2019.
"We have been able to reach around 1000,000 people at the time of Eid-ul-Azha through radio programs, community announcements, cable networks, and engaging religious leaders in 16 districts," said Sumita who is currently working as Coordinator of Bangladesh Community Radio Association (BCRA) supported under Low-Value Grants (LVG). UNDP in partnership with the NHRC, launched the grants to foster small-scale innovative actions to address human rights issues during and after the Covid-19 situation in Bangladesh, engaging civil society organisations and community radio.
Amid the pandemic, Toni Mathew Chiran has been vocal about the rights of indigenous people. He recently took part in the 14th session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) held on July 13. EMRIP was established by the Human Rights Council, the UN’s main human rights body, in 2007 under resolution 6/36 as a subsidiary body of the Council. While taking part in the discussion session, he highlighted some significant issues affecting members of the indigenous communities living in Bangladesh, including violence against women and land rights, among others.
He put great effort into implementing physical communication during relaxed lockdown among members of the Garo community of the plains in Madhupur, Tangail. When restriction measures were lifted on the occasion of Eid, Toni visited three Upazilas (Haluaghat, Bhaluka and Dhobaura) in Mymensingh district on July 21 to enlighten people about COVID-19 awareness. He organized miking, displaying festoons and banners, conducting awareness sessions with local youths, also engaging local religious leaders. "I preferred to use local language to raise awareness and it proved effective in raising awareness among the Indigenous communities.
Toni has an interest in research on indigenous issues. He has been closely involved with joint research work on 'Rights to Land and Natural Resources: livelihood strategies among the Khasi in Northeast Bangladesh', which was published as a chapter in "selected Issues on Social Justice and Human Rights in Bangladesh" by the Department of Anthropology, University of Dhaka.
Sabitree Hembram, hailed from the Santal community, contributed greatly to disseminating awareness messages among marginalized people beyond her community during the period of relaxed lockdown. She played a pivotal role in leading youths on issues related to women’s safety in Rajshahi.
With support from SIDA and SDC, the Human Rights Programme (HRP) of UNDP, Young Bangla, along with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) initiated an action-focused awareness-raising campaign on women’s safety in public places (WSPP).
A dedicated website was launched to disseminate information about the campaign activities on July 15. The State Minister for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Zunaid Ahmed Palak. was present as the chief guest. Sabitree shared findings from a recent situation analysis on indigenous communities at the launching event.
A total of 10 youth organizations conducted a participatory analysis session that involved focus group discussion, stakeholder analysis, and case studies in 10 districts, including Rajshahi. Sabitree played a key role in facilitating the consultation that occurred in Rajshahi and shared her experience with national stakeholders at the website launch event.
Sabitree has long been involved with HRP as a volunteer. Her history of involvement goes back to the year 2017. She attended training on human rights, leadership, and youth empowerment organized by HRP and UNDP in 2017. She is very vocal about issues related to underprivileged communities, particularly women and ethnic minority women.