The issues

Almost all of the regions that indigenous people inhabit are among the most remote areas, with most communities living a very hard life; an overwhelming majority of indigenous people live below the poverty line.

Environmental degradation has made their lives even more difficult. They have become the victims of the negative impacts of modernization, as they lack the education and awareness to be able to harness and enjoy the positive benefits that Bangladesh’s economic growth has created.

The Bangladesh Constitution states that all Bangladeshis are equal citizens, but fails to make any provision for those who see themselves as a citizen of Bangladesh and an indigenous person. Consequently the Government does not always acknowledge certain exceptional problems faced by indigenous communities, and as a result, their socio-economic situation is worsening day by day.


Education is low among ethnic groups. This is particularly evident in the Khasi, Patro and Tea Labour communities where education of children rarely progresses past primary level. The cause of these problems can be attributed partly to the remoteness of ethnic community villages; there are no secondary schools located nearby. Language also creates a problem as all lessons are conducted in Bangla and not the mother language. High illiteracy rates of guardians also lead to an indifference towards the value of education.

Access to medical services

Remote locations of villages means that medical facilities are far and very difficult to access. There are generally no people with formal medical training in the villages. Consequently typical diseases with symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, and reproductive health problems are highly prevalent, and in Khasi hill areas, malaria is also present. Water and sanitation problems aid and create water borne diseases. There is a general reluctance to attend mainstream health facilities due to a fear of discrimination and an inhibition of cultural practices and rituals.


There is very little awareness about the threat of HIV/AIDS within ethnic communities, and the general education rate is very low which limits the understanding on HIV/AIDS and connected issues. The location of ethnic communities in border areas by India, such as Jaflong, increases the risk of transmission due to high migratory rates across borders within the same ethnic communities. This makes Sylhet Division, in comparison to the rest of Bangladesh a disproportionately high-risk area due to such high rates of migration.


Employment problems are prevalent throughout indigenous communities. These problems are a product of the isolation of their communities and an unwillingness to integrate into mainstream society. In Manipuri community for example, employment initiatives are lacking and only a small minority attend higher education. There is no organized training, market place or co- operative for local craft making. As a result, market prices for cultivated products are often not known and indigenous people are often given an unfair price for their traded products.

Land rights

Land issues pose a huge threat to the livelihood and future of indigenous people in Sylhet. Most communities lack official documents which certify ownership of their land and are therefore vulnerable to encroachment and illegal land grabbing, both of which are debilitating for indigenous communities. There is a great need for legal assistance to ensure their land is protected.

Climate change

The effects of climate change will be intensified by the fact that Bangladesh is both one of the most populated and poorest countries in the world, with minority groups being particularly vulnerable. Climate change is anticipated to aggravate the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts and salinity, which will threaten food security, particularly in rural areas where indigenous communities tend to rely heavily on agriculture and food production. Floods and rising sea levels will lead to loss of land and displacement, causing an increase in the incidence of disease and conflict.

Human rights

Indigenous people find it far more difficult to enjoy their fundamental human rights than mainstream groups, and indigenous people’s laws, values, customs and perspectives have been eroded by the influence of mainstream culture. The problems of discrimination and human rights abuses on the basis of ethnic origin against the indigenous and tribal peoples have been exacerbated by a lack of specific legal mechanisms against such discrimination. Political discrimination and associated violence.

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