At least 79 Khasi families residing on the hillocks of Moulvibazar's Srimangal upazila have been passing their days in panic following an attack by Bangalee land grabbers the previous day.
The males started guarding their houses and betel leaf plantations carrying sticks at night to resist further aggression. Boys refrained from going to the school 5km away.
On Friday, about two hundred people led by Pijush Kanti Bhattacharya, manager of Nahar Tea Garden, which is trying to grab 200 acres of land populated by the indigenous people, advanced towards Nahar Punjee-1, a Khasi village, when they met with resistance. The attackers beat and hacked dozens, leaving 20 Khasi people injured, five of them critically.
Dibarmin Potam, assistant headman of Nahar Punjee-1, said they were living on khas land belonging to the district administration. They have taken lease of the land and are paying taxes to the government; the tea garden management has no right to evict them, he told The Daily Star.
More than 650 members reside on Nahar Punjee-1 and Nahar Punjee-2, and the indigenous community solely lives on betel leaf cultivation.
Ferly Surong, headman (or montri) of neighbouring Nahar Punjee-2, said their males also were guarding the homes and betel gardens too.
The adivasis alleged that the tea garden management had lured the Bangalee attackers with giving them some of the punjee land if they could be evicted.
The tea garden manager, Pijush Bhattacharya, however, refuted the allegations. He claimed that the land belonged to them; rather the indigenous people had grabbed it. Pijush said the "Khasi people attacked them" when they went to "recover their land" on Friday.
Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, yesterday demanded arrest of the people involved in Friday's attack. He said Khasi people had not got justice about the matter for a long time. The land belongs to them as per ILO Convention-107, he told The Daily Star.
Kamrul Hasan, deputy commissioner of Moulvibazar, confirmed that it was khas land but said he did not know whether it belonged to the district administration or forest department.