Police, Santals, labourers clash over sugarcane harvest
12:00 AM, November 07, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:52 AM, November 07, 2016

25 wounded as police, Santals, labourers clash

At least 25 people were injured in a clash between indigenous people and labourers as well as police at Shahebganj sugarcane farm of Rangpur Sugar Mills yesterday over land dispute.

Indigenous Santal community in the area have long been demanding ownership of the land, which the government acquired from them to cultivate sugarcane for the mill.

Police said the authorities of the mill deployed labourers, who were accompanied by police at the farm about 20 kilometres away from the mill, for harvesting sugarcane around 11:00am.

At one stage, around 100 indigenous protesters arrived at the scene as the labourers started harvesting sugarcane. The police chased the indigenous people, triggering a chase and counter-chase.

Police fired rubber bullets and lobbed teargas canisters to disperse the confronting groups. The indigenous people shot arrows at police and the labourers, injuring nine law enforcers and a number of workers.

The injured were taken to Gobindaganj Upazila Health Complex.

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

The deputy commissioner's (DC) office acquired the land for 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 is used for farming any other crops, 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 for cultivation of crops like rice, wheat, mustard, tobacco, and maize.

Four months ago, indigenous people occupied around 100 acres of land and built makeshift sheds on the plea that the land belonged to their forefathers.

Several clashes have meanwhile taken place over eviction of the indigenous people from the land.

Contacted, Gaibandha Superintendent of Police Ashraful Islam said police would launch a massive drive to evict illegal occupants by night to recover the government land.

Communist Party of Bangladesh has, meanwhile, condemned the police attack on indigenous people. In a statement, party chief Mujahidul Islam Selim and Secretary General Syed Abu Zafar Ahmed alleged that a conspiracy to evict indigenous people has been going on for long in the name of protecting government property.

“We have taken possession of our forefathers' property at Shahebganj sugarcane farm, as the mill authorities are no longer cultivating sugarcane,” said Sofen Hasbrone.

“We have appealed to the authorities concerned to get back our forefathers' property acquired by the then government on condition that if the mill was shut down, the property would be handed over to the original owners,” said Sreemon Basthe.

Santal people have been peacefully staging demonstrations, including forming human chains and submitting memorandum, to get back their land in vein and were eventually compelled to take possession of their land, said Shahjahan Ali, secretary, Bhumi Uddhar Committee, Shahebganj.

“Several of my men were pierced by arrows and are now undergoing treatment at Gobindaganj Health Complex,” said Subrota Kumar Sarker, officer-in-charge of Gobindaganj police.

Talking to The Daily Star, Abdul Awal, managing director of Rangpur Sugar Mills, said, “We have made several requests to the indigenous people to vacate the mill's land, but no one paid any heed.” 

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