Bangladesh: Return sugar mill land to Santals

    Josna Kutu, a Santal from Gaibandha, cannot hold back her tears as she joins a human chain in front of the city's National Museum yesterday under the banners of several rights groups, protesting the eviction of Santal families from the disputed land of Sahebganj-Bagda sugarcane farm in Gobindaganj of Gaibandha. Josna's father died in the November 6 clash between police and Santals during an eviction drive by police. Photo: Amran Hossain

    Right activists yesterday demanded that the government return the land of Sahebganj-Bagda sugarcane farm in Gaibandha’s Gobindaganj to the Santal community.

    Asking to form a judicial probe committee to investigate the killing of Santal men, they also demanded withdrawal of “false cases” filed against the indigenous community.

    They made the demands at a protest rally organised by Bangladesh Adivasi Forum (BAF) in front of the National Museum at Shahbagh.

    Right activist Khusi Kabir, coordinator of Nijera Kori, said as the land belongs to the Santals, it should be given back to them instead of rehabilitating them elsewhere.

    Through their eviction, the Awami League has violated its 2008 election pledge, she said.

    Jyotirmoy Barua, a Supreme Court lawyer who works on human rights, alleged that police were harassing the Santals and those involved in protecting the rights of the Santals.

    A section of people of the local administration were involved in occupying the land, alleged Prof Mesbah Kamal, of Dhaka University’s history department.

    Referring to exclusive Al Jazeera footage, which apparently shows police helping set fire to Santal homes in Gobindaganj, he said Al Jazeera had published a report based on footage uploaded in social media.

    But the country’s media failed to run a report on the issue, taking information from the social media “as the country’s media has no freedom to publish such stories”, Mesbah said.

    Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of BAF, said the oppression of the Santal community in Sahebganj-Bagda farm area violated all kinds of human rights.

    He demanded justice and the return of the land to the Santals.

    Condemning the activities of local union parishad chairman and officer-in-charge of Gobindaganj Police Station, Oikya NAP President Pankaj Bhattacharya said, “All perpetrators should be brought to book.”

    Demanding trial of those involved in the torching of Santal homes and killing of the Santal men, Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, said, “Constitution ensures the rights of all citizens … but the Santals are not being treated equally.”

    Rabindranath Saren of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad also spoke among others.

    On November 6, a tripartite clash broke out between the Santals, staff of Rangpur Sugar Mills, and police over the eviction of the indigenous people from the disputed land. The clash left three Santal men dead and 20 others, including nine policemen, injured.

    Source: The DailyStar