On 4th August 2014, an indigenous woman activist, Bichitra Tirki, who is a prominent member of the Jatiya Adivasi Parishad (National Indigenous Peoples Council), was physically assaulted and raped by an alleged group of land grabbers in Rajshahi Division. Bichitra was working in her rice field with other workers when a group of 30 to 35 people approached them. A man, who appeared to be the leader of the group, demanded money from her in order to compensate for the land which Bichirta recovered from him. As she refused to pay, the perpetrators attacked her with knives and sticks. After the assault Bichitra was dragged to another side of the field where she was gang raped by three men. The other workers managed to escape the brutal attack.
The Continuing Violence
Unfortunately, what happened to Bichitra is not an isolated case. GHRD's local partners have documented 58 cases of violence against indigenous women and girls since January 2014. At least 13 indigenous women and girls were subjected to violence including rape, attempted rape, abduction and physical assault within only two months, from September to the beginning of November. Survivors seeking justice are discouraged by the impunity human rights violators enjoy. These attacks constitute a violation of basic human rights, instilling insecurity and fear in the lives of the survivors. Indigenous women and girls already face discrimination and exclusion in social, political and economic life in Bangladesh for being women and for belonging to ethnic minority group. The root causes of violence against indigenous women and girls include a culture of communal oppression, long-standing culture of impunity, the absence of constitutional protection, a weak legal system and land grabbing.
The pervasive gender-based violence against indigenous women and girls has long-term effects on the survivors and the community including sexual, physical and physiological consequences and even hindering the socio-economic development of the country. Indigenous women and girls who are subjected to gender-based violence due to land grabbing are also deprived of a livelihood, which makes them more vulnerable to violence and sexual harassment.
Existing Legal Protection Mechanisms
The constitution of Bangladesh guarantees equal rights for men and women in the public but not the private sphere Although discrimination and inequality against women are pervasive in the private domain as well. Indigenous women and girls are especially vulnerable to discrimination and exclusion due to their ethnicity. This problem is not addressed by the constitution of Bangladesh.
Over the past two decades the Bangladeshi Government has passed and/or amended laws to promote and protect the rights of women in the country. These acts include the Dowry Prohibition Act (1980), the Prevention of Women and Children Repression Act (2000), the Bangladesh Labour Act (2006), the Citizenship Amendment Act (2009) and the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act (2010).
The Government of Bangladesh has also signed and ratified various international human rights instruments, such as Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which protects and promotes rights of women, however with reservations to articles 2 and 16.1 (c) of CEDAW. If accepted, these articles would necessitate the Government to eliminate discrimination against women under law and enact new laws for the betterment of the rights of women.
Addressing violence against indigenous women and girls
This year the UN has called for unity to end violence against women, a 16-day campaign that called "Orange YOUR Neighbourhood". Orange symbolises our commitment to the elimination of the persistent and continued violence against women and girls. In Bangladesh, civil society actors are sending the same message: " Orange YOUR Neighbourhood, NOW!". It is crucial to be part of such global actions to make sustainable interventions addressing gender-based violence for women around the world.
Indigenous women and girls might not be as lucky as their non-indigenous counterparts when it comes to benefitting from protection mechanisms and access to justice in the face of violence. Bangladesh needs to specifically address the violence against indigenous women and girls through a comprehensive national response and include indigenous women and girls in the formulation, monitoring and execution of this response.