Speakers at a seminar in Dhaka on Thursday stressed that preserving and integrating the traditions and cultures of Bangladesh’s small ethnic groups are required to diversify the national culture.
Their views came at a seminar, titled “Importance and Challenges of Protecting Heritage of Small Ethnic Groups in Promoting National Culture,” organized by the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) at its Dhaka office on Thursday.
Representatives of different small ethnic groups, scholars, academics, policymakers, students—and officials from both the government and armed forces—attended the seminar. There, they highlighted various aspects of promoting cultural diversity.
Prof Dr Syed Anwar Husain, Bangabandhu Chair at Bangladesh University of Professionals—while presenting the keynote—said that the diverse social customs, language, and cultures of the small ethnic groups are contributing to enriching the country’s cultural diversity.
Highlighting the opportunities for cultural exchange and cooperation for progress, he added that the development of small ethnic groups’ culture could bring unity in diversity, which ultimately could promote and strengthen national solidarity.
Chairing the event, BIISS Director General Maj Gen AKM Abdur Rahman said that understanding cultural diversity would help Bangladesh prevent racial and ethnic divisions.
Addressing the seminar, State Minister for Cultural Affairs KM Khalid quoted a recent government study and said there are at least 50 ethnic groups across Bangladesh, at present, and their total population is two million. Of them, 700,000 live in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the rest on plain land.
“Some of these groups are on the brink of extinction. Integration of their traditions and cultures into the national level will only help their preservation.
“The government has already taken some steps regarding their integration and exchange of culture in order to strengthen communal harmony between Bengali people and people from ethnic groups,” he said.
Emphasizing more efforts into such work, Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board Chairman Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura said there are three cultural institutes in the three hill tracts districts—Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachhari—that are run by acting directors.
“However, these institutes need full-time directors, so they can do more research and work to integrate ethnic cultures and inform everyone about them [the cultures],” he added.
Taking this cue, Rangamati Science and Technology University Vice-Chancellor Prof Pradanendu Bikash Chakma pointed out two issues that are currently obstructing the integration and cultural exchange — the incorrect representation of ethnic cultures, and the deteriorating state of law and order in the hills.
Rights activist Khushi Kabir also stressed that the land where the ethnic groups live and the natural resources they use for their livelihoods should also be a part of the integration process, to ensure their traditions are preserved.
At the end of the seminar, a Garo youth and student of Jahangirnagar University, Munni Marina Chiran, drew applause from the audience after telling the panellists that they preferred being addressed as “Adivasi” or tribal people, not as members of small ethnic or minority groups.