Bangladesh: Garo people trapped in forest cases


    Several hundred Garo people in Madhupur are forced to live a miserable life for years due to ‘forest cases’ filed by the jungle-management officials concerned. Like it or loathe it, a single person from the ethnic minority, Shrin Sangma, staggers under an awful load of over 100 cases. In another astonishing matter, warrants were issued for the arrest of Garo leader Cholesh Rishil this year even after his death several years back. Cases were filed against Garo people as they raised their voice against social afforestation, eco-park, rubber planting and land acquisition by government, locals said.

    Many alleged that forest officials also filed cases against them just before their transfer to other places to prove their activities in protecting the forest. When contacted, Divisional Forest Officer of Tangail Asit Baran Paul said a single person has been facing 107 cases on charges of forest crimes. “We have not filed any new case against Garos in the last two years as we are trying to dispose of the tremendous backlog of cases,” he told daily sun. “But the trend of committing forest crimes is on the wane as the government has taken a project on employment generation,” he said, adding that the move has also lessened the locals’ dependence on forest.

    Sexagenarian Pancharaj Ghagra of West Kakraguni village of Madhupur had faced nine forest cases since 2003 till 2009 as he raised his voice against the echo-park. He was imprisoned for 70 days in the cases. Pancharaj has been released from four cases and till today he has been fighting a long legal battle for five cases in the court. “We want to go ahead by changing out lot. But the forest department made us move backward. In the last nine years, I had to spend more than Tk 0.4 million to continue the legal fight. I failed to educate four of my children for financial woes,” he said. Pancharaj urged the government to settle the long-drawn-out forest cases speedily as the cases have snatched sleep of the Garo people.

    “We are ready to face capital punishment but we want quick settlement of forest cases,” he told this correspondent. Pancharaj’s brother-in-law, Philimon Simsang, is also facing three cases for participating in anti-eco-park movement and the cases were filed in 2004. “I had to sell all of my six cows to bear the expenses of forest cases. Till now, I have to appear in the court once a month,” Philimon told daily sun. A 58-year-old schoolteacher, Maloti Nokrek, and her husband Abel, 62, of Bheduria village are also facing similar cases. Even, a ‘fabricated’ theft case was filed against the teacher in 2004 just to harass her. “We have no sky-rocketing dreams but for a peaceful life. But forest cases have destroyed our happiness. Legal costs have slowly drained our incomes. So far, we have spent Tk 0.3 to Tk 0.4 million for the reason. We want to see an end to this chapter of harassment,” entreats Maloti.

    Ajoy A Mree, president of Adivasi Cluster Development Forum, is a revered person in the tribal community. But he was harassed with forest cases for organising the movement. Even, a theft case was filed against him in 2004 to harass him socially. Ajoy, also an inhabitant of Gachhabari, said forest department filed cases against locals for their movement against social afforestation and eco-park. “Some of the forest officials also filed cases intentionally before their transfer only to prove their action to protect the forest,” he claimed. Blaming officials for destroying country’s third-largest natural forest, Ajoy said, “Forest is part and parcel of life of indigenous people who never destroy it as they are dependent on it. It is the activities of forest department and influential quarters which destroyed the forest.” He called on the government to settle all forest cases against hundreds of Garo people immediately to exonerate them from illegal lawsuits.

    Source: Daily Sun by Noman Chowdhury, back from Madhupur