Sunday, June 21, 2009

Eviction of indigenous people

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Eviction of indigenous people

There must be zero tolerance for this kind of action

The news out of Khatirpur at Porsha in Naogaon, where over 50 indigenous families have been attacked and forcibly evicted from their land, shocks us all. We unequivocally condemn this barbarous act, and strongly urge the government to take remedial action.

The victimisation of Bangladesh's indigenous populations is, unfortunately, not a new phenomenon. We feel that the government has a special responsibility to protect the country's minority communities and to ensure that none of their rights are violated.

It is because of their being in a minority, being out of the mainstream of society that land-grabbers and other criminal elements feel emboldened to cheat them or deny them of their rights.

Powerful members of the majority community calculate that no one will lift a finger to help such marginalised people, and that they can thus be targeted with impunity. The government must ensure that this assumption is proved wrong.

Indeed, this government has a reputation for being protective of minority rights, and, as such, we very much hope that it will move swiftly to correct this injustice and to ensure that the affected families are able to swiftly get back their land and live there without fear of reprisal.

The facts of the case could not be simpler. Firstly the land-grabber has made false documents asserting ownership over the land in question. The fact that the documents are false is evidenced by the fact that, in any event, deputy commissioner's approval is required for any purchase of ancestral land from an indigenous person, and no such approval was ever given, or apparently even sought.

But far worse than merely fraudulently claim title to land that was not his, the land-grabber in this instance organised vicious attacks on the community, so that they had no choice but to flee for their own safety.

There can be no doubt as to the scale of the perpetrator's villainy, and exemplary punishment is necessary to warn others that this kind of action targeting the vulnerable indigenous communities will not be tolerated.

The authorities have so far failed to protect the evicted peoples. They are at present homeless and their rights have been grievously violated. The government must take all steps necessary to ensure that those who have been evicted can return to their land in safety and that those responsible for their predicament are punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Evicted, now threatened

Naogaon indigenous families cry for help as influential land grabbers moving freely

Orao Arju's teenage daughter Shanibala is still upset by last week's eviction and arson attacks on 74 families, including 56 indigenous families, in Khatirpur allegedly by an influential land grabber.

Nightmares haunt Shanibala as she cannot forget Tuesday afternoon when the attackers chased her and threatened to kill her and her parents if they did not leave their own land.

The arsonists and armed attackers are moving scot-free in the area although they are accused in a case, allege the eviction victims.

When asked for her reaction, Shanibala could not help breaking down and went aside. Her mother said Manjurul, Ata, Dhola, Shafikul and Ahsan in their first attack on June 12 chased her daughter while she was going to the Union Parishad for relief.

Condition of another 15-year-old girl among the victim families is no better. She was beaten up and her dresses were torn apart on June 13 as she protested the attackers looting corrugated iron sheets and household stuff in presence of the police.

Traumatised since the incident, the girl prefers staying in the dark and trembles seeing any stranger, say her mother and villagers. Her mother was also beaten up until they were rescued by some other women.

Many of the families have sent their adult female members elsewhere fearing further attacks. Almost all the victims feel insecure as they allege the police are helping the perpetrators.

A four-member police camp has been set up in the village following complaints of insecurity, said M Mofazzel Hossain, superintendent of police, Naogaon.

He said Sub-inspector Pabitra Kumar Sinha of Porsha police station was transferred following allegations that he shouted at the indigenous people for building houses on "other's" land.

The villagers allege policemen including SIs Pabitra and Enamul intercepted them when they were going to repair their houses.

They add hired men of the alleged grabber Nur Hossain Master attacked the village three months ago and torched some 10 houses.

At Khatirpur Sondanga village in Chhaor union, some 90km off the divisional headquarters in Rajshahi, the villagers were seen sitting perplexed and scattered.

The indigenous people described their plight and the incidents occurred since June 12.

Monisura Soren was cooking rice and pulses she got as relief from the Union Parishad. "We can't live on relief. How can we go for work if tension of being evicted persists?" she asked.

Maina Hasda and Chintamoni Murmu of neighbouring indigenous village said they gave shelter to some of the children and women of the victim families. "Our houses were looted the next day for giving them shelter," lamented one of them.

They added the indigenous men now live under the open sky, while the children and women sheltered at some other houses or under the make-shift shades.

Over 300 members of the 74 families are living in the open almost without food and security.

"If it rains now, we will have nowhere to go," said Basona Hembrom.

Nur Hossain Master claims he bought some 6 acres of land from Chhotka Mardi, Churka Mardi and Hudur Mardi in 1976. But the indigenous men allege they were not paid for the land.

They also allege Nur Hossain's claim of the land is based on forged documents.

Meanwhile, Jatiya Adibashi Parishad started movement demanding justice for the incidents. They will hold a protest rally on July 5 and are holding token protests every day.

"Land grabbing from the indigenous people is nothing new," said Anil Marandi, president of Jatiya Adibashi Parishad.

He said around 2,000 indigenous families in 10 districts have so far lost their 1,748 acres of ancestral land.

Different organisations including the forest department also grabbed or acquired the land showing forged documents or in the name of social forestry, he added.

A team of National Coalition on Indigenous Affairs visited the scene on Tuesday.

The team includes Jayanta Achariya, representative of Adibashi Odhikar Andolan, Mohua of Manusher Jonne Foundation, VSO staff SM Saikuluzzaman and Action Aid representative Manjur Rashid.

A team of five rights fronts -- Ain O Salish Kendra, Blast, ALRD, Nijera Kori and TIB -- is likely to visit Naogaon today.

Published On: 2009-06-14

56 indigenous families evicted
Goons pounce on them since Friday; police silent

Hired goons of a BNP adherent evicted at least 74 families, including 56 Indigenous families, from their land in a series of attacks at Khatirpur in Porsha upazila of Naogaon to grab their land.

Allegedly backed by local police, they made the series of attacks between Friday evening and yesterday morning to evict the families.

They beat up members of indigenous families, ransacked and torched their houses Friday evening and finally looted their household items, bullock carts and human hauliers yesterday morning.

According to the victims, around 200 armed goons of Nur Hossain Master, of Chhaor, attacked the families. The indigenous families retaliated with bows and arrows but they were no match against the gang's firearms, clubs, machetes and spears.

"Police were called in but they stood as spectators," said Sabin Munda, a local leader of Jatiya Adivashi Parishad visiting the spot.

Chhutar Kisku, his wife Kastantina Murmu, Suren Murmu, Jasef Saren, Biswanath Hembrom, Mosrefa, Deljan, Osnara and her daughter Samija were among at least 30 indigenous people who were injured in the attacks.

The victims alleged Ata, Dhala, Ahsan and Mozaffar of Kumarpara led the attacks in presence of Nur Hossain and his son Manjurul.

Nur Hossain, Manjurul and their relative Azaharul were seen looting corrugated iron sheets and household items yesterday morning when a group of NGO activists and journalists visited the spot.

Nur claimed he bought the six acres of land from Chhotka Mardi, Churka Mardi and Hudur Mardi in 1976. "But we could not have possession of the land," he told journalists.

He said the eviction process through proper ways would have taken a long time and that is why he captured the land by force.

Karamat Uddin, a lawyer for the indigenous people, said the documents on the land Nur Hossain produced were declared invalid by the government in May, 2007, and a Naogaon court was trying the case filed in this regard.

Naogaon Deputy Commissioner Ahsan Habib Talukhdar and Superintendent of Police Mofazzel Hossain visited the scene and formed a probe committee headed by Porsha upazila nirbahi officer.

Jatiya Adivashi Parishad rejected the committee and called for a movement from Monday saying Nur Hossain was included in the committee.

Condemning the incident, different rights organisations yesterday demanded punishment of the perpetrators.

Leaders of Centre for Human Rights, Development and Human Security in a statement said the administration did not take any action to prevent the attack.

Bangladesh Adivashi Odhikar Andolan also demanded punishment of the criminals and compensation to the villagers for their damaged homes.

Leaders of Gono forum too demanded arrest of the criminals and expressed support for the victims.

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