Shishir Reza :
Recently, a book titled ‘Political Economy of Unpeopling of Indigenous Peoples: The Case study of Bangladesh’ (2016) has been published by Muktobuddhi Prokasana, a leading publication house in Bangladesh. This book is astutely written by Professor Abul Barkat. It unfolded an unheard and unsung story that provides a real account of life and land development-deprivation trap, socio-economic status, class conflict, denial of fundamental constitutional rights, underdevelopment, undevelopment and uneven development - basically understandings about a long-debated and still-an-unresolved issue of unpeopling of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh.
Author has dedicated the book to his Buno friends (indigenous people’s community) and amazingly remember them: “During early childhood, in. mid 1960, I used to play football with other kids many of whom were -known as Bunos (literally meaning in bangla ‘people originating from forest’). Those childhood football mates, Bunos, were my good friends’ But they had just .gone with the wind'-and squarely disappeared all of a sudden by the early 1970’s when land price soared in our locality.” Notwithstanding, author confirms that they left their ancestors place overnight was not willful; rather, they were forced by land grabbers to do so. This volume asserted ‘indigenous peoples’ as the best example of ‘diversity’ and a hallmark of human civilization. Historically, these people are weak in political and economic power’ In truest sense, their resources have been always grabbed by the colonists, the imperialists and the grabbing elites remaining within the country. As a result, the rich resource endowment has become a ‘resource curse’ for them. In this context, according to the author, the political economy of indigenous peoples could best be termed as ‘political economy of unpeopling of indigenous peoples.’
In chapter 3, there is an attempt to understand the essence and mechanisms and develop a conceptual framework of political economy of unpeopling and underdevelopment of indigenous peoples and ethnic conflicts within a centre-periphery free-market global order of capitalism.
Chapter 4, it maps out certain ground realities and dynamics of life and livelihood of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh. It informs us how ‘statistical politics’ can be inequitable practice towards human and humanity. Author apprehends that unjust ‘statistical politics’ surrounds the number and population size of different indigenous communities.
Chapter 5 explores different manifestations of underdevelopment and deprivation of indigenous peoples, irrespective of hill and plain. In the development process, their political, social, cultural, psychological and economic freedom was never ensured.
Because, periphery in force is always kept in periphery and the free market actors are producing and reproducing ‘discrimination-deprivation-inequality.’ The development in the sense ‘inclusion of excluded’ becomes very inflexible to reach.
Chapter 6 lays out the scenario of unpeopling through dispossession of land and alienation along with critical reasons, processes and mechanisms. It also exposes the extent and outcomes of these dispossession. The indigenous peoples have crossed through a process of negative transformation.
Beyond any reasonable doubt, ‘unpeopling the indigenous peoples,’ is persuaded by a ‘philosophy of injustice towards the weak.’
Chapter 7 contains some feasible suggestions towards human development of the indigenous peoples and makes an in-depth analysis into the possibilities of ‘from unpeopling to peopling of indigenous peoples.’
In Chapter 8, there is a note of caution that alienation-in-perpetuity among indigenous peoples may navigate to an irreversible cataclysm. Author holds that reversal of ‘political economy of injustice’ in to ‘political economy of justice’ is history in and by itself.
In Chapter 9, the author asks: are we fighting a losing battle or there is any ray of hope to win? In
this context, this book inquisitively argues that a ‘non-class’ view might lead to institutionalisation of a non-liberal framework of ‘empowerment indigenous elites’ and ‘marginalization of majority indigenous us peoples.’
The book helps the readers to understand that rights of indigenous peoples are often violated both by state and many Bangalees. The essence of the politico-economic model as developed and
applied in this book ii that the mainland Bangladesh is dominated by the rent-seekers and aided by their grand alliance with all the super structural institutions including government and anti-people politics within a distorted free market system which is exploiting all poor and marginal people in Bangladesh including the indigenous peoples.
The indigenous peoples are becoming unpeople gradually being victim of marginalisation, exploitation, distress, destitution, deprivation, inequality and alienation.
Author prudently comments, from politico-economic lens, this is a problem of ethnicity just in ‘appearance’ but in reality this is a ‘class’ problem.
Social inclusion, as the book upholds, is impossible without economic development.
On the otherhand, economic development will not be sustainable without social inclusion.
In this context, author suggests that, it is the responsibility of the state to create an enabling environment to trim down inequality, deprivation and discrimination in the interest of indigenous communities. The author also recommends the successful implementation of the CHT Accord 1997.
Regarding the issue of unpeopling, author perceived that the battle based on ‘appearance of things’ and not the ‘essence of things’ is destined to be a losing battle. In this situation, he recommends to transform all thoughts and actions from ‘appearance of things’ to ‘essence of things’; shape the movement as mass movement against the rent-seekers-grabbers grand alliance; and finally, uphold the politically correct and substantive class-oriented slogan: ‘all poor and marginalized people unite.’
In this book, the author assimilates thoughts of different eminent thinkers such as, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Plato, Isiah Barlin, Thucydides, George Hegel, Oliver Gold Smith, Noam Chomsky, Marcus Tulius Cicero, Jonathon Swift, George Orwell, Stiglitz, Nicholas Taleb, Amartya Sen and Van Schendel etc. Use of proverbs such as ‘Law grinds the poor, and the rich men rule the low,’ ‘Tell the truth and shame the devil,’ etc makes this book insightful and effective.
On the whole, this reader friendly book is a treasure of knowledge and provides guideline to intellectually stimulating collection of inclusive thoughts, and of course, a new epilogue of politico-economic literature. n
(Shishir Reza is an environmental analyst and an Associate Member, Bangladesh Economic Association)