Indigenous leaders and researchers questioned the accuracy of the ethnic population data presented in the latest census report and said the true figure would be much higher.
The 2022 population census found only 16,50,159 members of the ethnic community – 824,751 men and 825,408 women – living in Bangladesh. However, indigenous rights activists say the number is believed to be no less than 30 lakh.
As of the 2011 census, the population of the ethnic community was 15,86,141 – 7,97,477 males and 7,88,664 females – which was 1.10% of the country’s total population.
According to the latest census, the number of ethnic groups has only increased by 64,000 over the past 11 years.
“In 2011, the government considered only 24 communities as separate ethnic groups during the survey and found their total population to be 15.86 lakh,” said Sanjeeb Drong, Secretary General of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum.
This time 50 communities were counted but the increase in the number was not consistent with this as the census showed the population to be 16.50 lakh, he told the Daily Star yesterday.
“So this census is not at all authentic. The actual number of ethnic minority people would not be less than 30 lakh,” he told the Daily Star yesterday.
Take the case of the Garo (Mandi) community. At the last census, the number of inhabitants of Garo is only 76,846.
Sajeeb, who belongs to this community, cited a 2016 government publication by the International Mother Language Institute which listed the Garo population as 68,210 in 1991 and 84,565 in 2011.
The last census mentions that the number of inhabitants of Santal is only 1,29,049. But the community leaders claim that their population would not be less than five lakh in the whole country as the Santal people are scattered in all the northern districts and also live in the Sylhet region.
Banglapedia, the national encyclopedia of Bangladesh, citing an estimate made by Christian missionaries in the 1980s, said the Santal population in northern Bangladesh was over one hundred thousand. According to the 1991 census, the population of Santal was over two hundred thousand.
“But our population would not be less than five lakh. Initially, the government changed the name of Adivasi to small ethnic communities, and now they are intentionally reducing the number,” said Rabindra Nath Soren, President of Bangladesh Adivasi Parishad and member of Sandalwood. community.
Indigenous leaders and researchers said many of their communities live in remote areas and data collectors do not visit their villages and homes. As a result, the census did not find the actual demographic data.
For the first time in the country, the census was conducted using personalized tablets and the computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) method – a face-to-face data collection method – and data from 50 different ethnic communities living across Bangladesh were listed separately in the report.
Philip Gain of the Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD), which has long researched indigenous peoples, said the data in this census report is obviously questionable. In 1991, the Santal community was over two lakh and now they have reduced the number to 1.29 lakh.
The 23 small ethnic communities living in tea plantations in the Sylhet region were not properly covered in the census, he added.
Mesbah Kamal, a researcher and professor of history at the University of Dhaka, said the government had mentioned the names of 50 ethnic communities, which is a welcome move.
“But at the same time, the report is not acceptable because it was prepared without engaging the leaders of the ethnic communities. This happened due to systematic flaws. I suggest conducting a special population census for small ethnic communities in order to know the real number,” he said. .
Gaurango Patro, president of Patro Somproday Kaylan Parishad, an association of the Patro community, told this correspondent that the census data collectors did not come to their home.
“Then on the last day, I myself called them and gave them information. According to our own survey of 2020, the number of Patro families in Bangladesh was 705 and the total number of people was 3,999 – men 2076 and women 1923.”
Still, the census report indicates that the population of Patro community is 3,100, he added.
Bivuti Bhuson Mahato, head of Bangladesh Bedia Mahato Youth Net, told this correspondent that the Bedia Mahato live in 41 villages in the country. “Our population will be 14,000 to 15,000 according to our own survey. But the census says it is only 7,207.”
Ridesh Mudi, principal of Malnichhara Tea Garden Primary School in Sylhet, said there were more than 500 families of an ethnic group called Kora in Dinajpur and also in 26 tea gardens in Sylhet division.
“Our population would be around 2,000. But the census only says 816,” he said.
Parimal Singh Baraik, chairman of Cha Jonogosthi Adivasi Front, said 83 Gurkha families, commonly known as Nepalese, live in Bandarban and in the tea gardens of Sylhet, Moulvibazar and Habiganj.
“But in the 2022 census, the population of Gurkha is only 100,” he said.
Pius Nanuar, a social activist from Kharia who conducted a population survey of his community in early 2020, told this correspondent that they found around 5,700 people from Kharia in 41 villages in Sylhet division.
But in the 2022 census, the population of Kharia is only 3,099. “No one came to count me or take information about me.”
Ram Papangg, who participated in a field survey of the population in Kormodha Union in the Kulaura upazila of Moulvibazar, said that only three villages in remote areas were not surveyed. “Later the indigenous people complained. Then on the last day I went to investigate.”
Ripon Banerjee, Rajghat union population census supervisor in Sreemangal, said some data collectors do not use the “tribal option” on their devices to “stay out of trouble”.
Dr Dipankar Roy, technical lead of the latest census project, said a census is not an estimate. “Activists can say many things; they can estimate any number they want. But the census report is based on facts and figures,” he added.
“Many estimated that the total population of the country would be 18 crore or 20 crore, but the census did not reflect that. We found the population to be 16.51 lakh. Things are like that.”