Gopa Rani Chakma has become homeless for the second time in her life.
The mother of three children along with 20 other Adivasi families was made homeless when Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) personnel started fencing off their villages -- Shashi Mohon Karbari Para and Jatna Mohon Karbari Para of Dighinala -- with barbed wire on May 15.
The BGB is building a battalion headquarters there. The BGB restricted the villagers from entering the area.
"My life has been a continuous struggle to find a home in Bangladesh. But I've always been denied that right," Gopa told this correspondent in a school compound where the evicted families have been staying for nearly a month.
Her 16-year-old daughter Opsora had been arrested in a case filed by BGB against several hundred people following a clash between the villagers and BGB men on June 10. The clash broke out when several Adivasi women, including Gopa, attempted to go to their homes inside the fenced off area.
The clash left four women injured.
The villagers have not been allowed to go to their homes since.
In 1989, Gopa and many others in the village had fled to Tripura to escape violent clashes between the indigenous people and the armed forces.
She returned to her village after the signing of Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord in 1997, but could not manage to build a home there until recently.
Gopa's ancestors came to the area in the 1960s when they were displaced from Rangamati due to the construction of the Kaptai Dam.
The BGB headquarters is being built on 29.81 acres of land where the decades-old Baghaichhari Government Primary School (No 2) is.
As the entire area is fenced off with barbed wire now, the school has become virtually inaccessible to its students, many of whom are from the evicted families.
“None of us will send the children to a school inside the headquarters that made us homeless in the first place,” said Santosh Kumar Karbari, a village elder who lost two shops there.
Meanwhile, around 80 people of the evicted families have taken shelter in three classrooms of the nearby Babuchhara High School. Women, children and the elderly have been living in inhuman conditions in the dingy rooms for over a month.
“Most of us have not been able to bring even kitchen utensils and clothes with us, let alone other necessary stuff. I don't know how long we will be able to live like this,” said Mrinal Kanti Chakma, another evicted resident of the village.
Uncertainty grips them as they do not know where to go when the school opens after the Ramadan holidays.
The local administration as well as the BGB, however, said the families were making "false claims" in the hope of making some quick cash in the name of compensation.
“A vested quarter, which does not want the headquarters to be built here, has instigated the indigenous people to make such irrational claims,” said Major Kamal Uddin of BGB 51 Battalion.
Asked why the primary school had been fenced in, he said, “We will open the gates during school hours so the students can attend classes.”
Md Masud Karim, deputy commissioner of Khagrachhari, admitted that fencing the school was a mistake. "I will tell them to remove the fence," he said while talking to journalists at his residence.
He asserted that the 21 families, claiming to have lost their homes, were doing so "to tarnish the image of BGB and hamper the administration's land acquisition process".
The indigenous people said the administration had offered 10 of them cash for their land and trees but they had rejected the offer outright.
"We want our homes back. No amount of compensation is as good as our homes," said Mrinal Kanti Chakma.
Nobokamal Chakma, the chairman of Dighinala upazila, said the authorities should have asked the opinion of the local government representatives before evicting the families.