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'We are indigenous people not ethnic minorities'

  • Published at 02:25 am August 9th, 2016
  • Last updated at 01:22 am August 20th, 2016
'We are indigenous people not ethnic minorities'
Instead of being slapped with the humiliating label of Khudra Nrigoshti or ethnic minorities, all indigenous communities of the country have the right to be recognised as indigenous people in accordance with the UN guidelines Bichitra Tirki, a leader of the indigenous Orawn community who also heads the Chapainawabganj unit of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad, opened up about her struggle as an indigenous leader, a tortured woman and a mother said this during an interview with the Dhaka Tribune.
“I am Bichitra Tirki, an Oraon woman, mother and a tortured farmer. I do stand for my community, fighting for our rights of land and for all indigenous people in the country. ‘Ethnic minority’ is disgraceful title for me as a human being and indigenous people,” the Oraon leader said ahead of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
“We the Indigenous people of the country have already attuned that it is not possible for us to live a peaceful life without coagulating our unity,” She expressed confidently. Bichitra is admired in her community, organisation for her bold speech and organising efforts. But Bichitra’s life story is one of hardship and exploitation, just like thousands of oppressed people in indigenous communities. The 36-year old has been fighting for land rights of indigenous people against land grabbers for eight years and won several legal battles. During a 2009 long march, as activists carried red flags in support of victimised indigenous people, Bichitra, clad in a red sari, marched with others for 55 kilometres with her one-year-old child in her lap. Bichitra’s sense of communal harmony, honesty, and courage made her popular. In the 2011 UP polls, she was elected member for the women’s reserved seat of Parbotipur union parishad of Gomstapur upazila. On August 4, 2014, a group of land grabbers intervened when Bichitra was sowing paddy. They demanded Tk3 lakh as damages for losing a legal battle. But Bichitra rejected their demand and advised them to follow legal suit. The men beat her up with sticks and sharp weapons and three of them took turns to violate her. Her fellow workers rushed her to a nearby hospital. She survived the ordeal but sustained severe injuries. This incident sparked protests by people from across the social divide around the country. Bichitra filed a case with local police the same day she was physically and sexually assaulted. Nothing could diminish Bichitra's strong spirit. Although rape victims are not named in news, Bichitra said she wanted people to know the truth and ensure that the culprits be brought to justice. “If I become scared of being ashamed of social stigma by getting my name published, the perpetrators will go scot-free. “Publish my name, publish my photograph. Although I have been gang-raped, I am not scared. There are hundreds of thousands of indigenous sisters and brothers in the entire north Bengal beside me. My children, family, relatives, villagers — all are with me,” Bichitra told reporters in front of camera at Chapai Nawabganj General Hospital. On August 31, after four weeks in the hospital, Bichitra returned home and started farming. Bichitra stands as a beacon of hope in her community. Although Bichitra continues to receive threats from her attackers, most of whom are now out on bail, she said she believes in divine justice. “The attackers, land grabbers have to face it on the judgement day. I am trying my best to continue fighting for justice and land rights of every indigenous people in the country.” However, her fight does not end there... The case against the attackers has been moved to the high court and I am waiting for verdict, she informed. Bichitra’s daughter Sema, a 15-year-old teenage has been suffering from mental disorder since the attack on her mother. “I feel helpless when I see my daughter talking so loud and fainted suddenly. One day, villagers found her fainted in a pond, she might die that day. Seema is under treatment, doctor advised to keep her clued-up. It’s difficult for me to keep all my concentration on Sema as I need to take care of my two sons, the family…” Bichitra said in tearful eyes. Meanwhile, the mother turned her attention to a Shantal family sitting on her courtyard and informed that land grabbers occupied more than six acres of land of the family. She said: “How long you will bow down to the culprits grabbed most of your fertile lands. Think about your children, at least you know how to shoot an arrow. Why not you remember the people who died fighting against British and Pakistan for land?” The Orawn leader said the Santhal and Bangali farmers in her area also face similar hardships and have to work as day labourers in their own field. “I am fighting for land rights of all farmers in my area in a legal battleground,” she said. Talking on recent food crisis in the hills, she looked sad and said: “I wish I could visit them with bowls of rice and cook for my starving sisters, brothers. I know how difficult it is to cultivate in hilly land.” Farmer Abdus Salam from nearby village Eidghahpara said: “The powerful land grabbers accused 84 farmers in a false case and gave us two options: fill their warehouses or go to prison. We chose the former.” “We have a strong communal harmony. We work together in rice fields. Bichitra is doing her best for all the ill-fated people like me,” the farmer added. Bichitra Tirki emphasised unity of indigenous people of the country while talking on significances of ‘International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples’. “Every moment is same important for an activist who is fighting for the identity to achieve human rights. The day is significant for us as we can talk more on our demands.”