Evicted Santals now face acute food crisis | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 10, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:35 AM, November 10, 2016

Evicted Santals now face acute food crisis

Also, police not letting them out of 3 villages to 'avoid flare-up of violence'

Indigenous people evicted from the land of Rangpur Sugar Mill in Gobindaganj upazila of Gaibandha have been in dire straits as police are not letting them move out of three villages for avoiding any further violence.

As many as 1,200 families took shelter at Sahebganj, Joypurhat and Madarpur villages of Sapmara union in the upazila after their eviction on Sunday night from the land that the Santal community claims to be of their forefathers. Their belongings on the disputed land were demolished that night.

During a visit to the areas yesterday, the correspondent observed panic among the indigenous people.

Policemen were deployed at the entries of the roads that lead to the villages. Law enforcers were seen whistling to a group of indigenous people as they tried to walk out of their village.

Adivasis said police were prohibiting them from going out of their villages.

However, Subrata Sarker, officer-in-charge of Gobindaganj police, said they had set up temporary camps to ensure safety of Adivasis.

“We are living without food, job and treatment and our children stopped attending schools fearing reprisals,” said Binoy Hembram, who took shelter at Madarpur village after police evicted him from Horinmari village.

“Nobody has come to inquire about us [following the eviction],” said Soban Soren, an agriculture labour.

Adivasis took shelter in open fields in those villages.

In Madarpur village, affected people were found staying in front of a church with their family members.

“We are feeling insecure,” said Kamal Mardi who was sitting there with his only four-year-old daughter Purnima in his lap.

The child has been suffering from fever for the last two days, but, he said, he could not take her to a doctor as there were fears of attacks by Bangalee settlers.

Omina Tudu, an elderly woman of Madarpur village, said her family needed food urgently as their food stock ran out.

Most of the evicted people are farm labourers. They live hand-to-mouth but for the last three days they have no work, she added. 

Dipul Soren, who has to sit for the Secondary School Certificate exams next year, has been unable to study. His books and study materials were damaged at the time of the eviction drive, he said.

No government and non government officials visited the affected Adivasis, said Rumina Murmu.

On the other hand, the sugar mill authorities have started fencing off the disputed land.

Talking to The Daily Star, labourers said they began work on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Mangol Majhdi, found dead in a paddy field following a clash between police, mill labourers and Santal people over the land, was buried at Damadarpur village in Ghoraghat upazila of Dinajpur yesterday noon under police protection.

Kalyan Chakraborty, a sub-inspector of Gobindaganj police, said four Adivasis had so far been arrested in the case filed after the clash.

Md Abdus Samad, deputy commissioner of Gaibandha, said his office was trying to quell the situation and assure indigenous people of safety.

The DC office also distributed rice and cash to the affected people.

During the Pakistan regime in 1952, the government acquired 1,840 acres of land at Shahebganj to set up a sugarcane farm.

The deputy commissioner's office acquired the land for the then Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation, which established Rangpur (Mahimaganj) Sugar Mills between 1954 and 1957. The original land owners were given only Tk 8.07 lakh for the vast land. Later in 1962, the DC office, on behalf of the land owners, signed an agreement with the corporation.

The deal stated that the land was acquired for cultivation of sugarcane by the mill authorities. If the land was used for farming any other crop, the corporation shall surrender the land to the government (the DC office).

However, the agreement was violated as the mill authorities leased out most of the land in 2004 for cultivation of crops like rice, wheat, mustard, tobacco and maize.

Adivasis started erecting houses on the land around six months ago after they had learnt that the mill authorities were producing other crops illegally, said Philimon Baske, president of Sugar Mill Land Recovery Committee.

Alia Khatun, former ADC [revenue] of Gaibandha, submitted a report to the authority, supporting the demand of Adivasis, he added.

On Sunday, the Santal people clashed with Bangalee settlers. Police fired shots to controle the situation, leaving two Adivasis dead and 15 people injured.

Yesterday, several tractors were seen ploughing a huge area of the land and mill labourers planting sugarcane seeds, where tobacco and wheat were being produced.  

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