With no measures to alleviate their sufferings, a meeting was organised yesterday to have a reconciliation between local Bangalees and Santals whose houses had been looted and set ablaze just little over a week ago.
The victims of the November 6 eviction drive that led to the killing of two Santals and injuries to another 15-20 people were not there though ruling party men of the area asked them to attend the meeting held in the afternoon at Shahebganj Sugar Mills in Gobindaganj of Gaibandha, said Philimon Baske, a local leader of the indigenous community, on phone.
“Reconciliation cannot be forced upon somebody. No such situation has been made for that to happen.”
Only a few Santals from Goalpara and Simtajuri villages, far from the place of tension, were present in the meeting, and local lawmaker Abul Kalam Azad was the chief guest, said Baske who has been hiding in fear of arrest.
Meanwhile, most of the Santals evicted from the disputed land at Shahebganj now refuse to talk to anyone unknown even if somebody introduces himself as journalist.
Talking on phone, some leaders of Adivasis said local activists of the ruling party had warned Santals not to speak against the local MP and Sapmara Union Parishad Chairman Shakil Akhand Bulbul accused of receiving money to help indigenous people get a lease on the land.
Asked about the threat, Azad, lawmaker of Gaibandha-4, said he was not aware of any threat to indigenous people.
A section of people are conspiring against him, he said.
He didn't play any role in the eviction, and the media is giving wrong messages to people, hiding the truth, the MP added.
Some of the victims of Joypurpara and Madarpur villages in Gaibandha alleged that the local administration tried to get their signatures on blank papers but they refused to do so.
The Gobindaganj upazila nirbahi officer (UNO), however, said the Santals were asked to sign papers related to relief distribution.
The handful of indigenous people, who agreed to speak, said they would not accept relief from the UNO who himself had been there when police fired at Santals, and Bengalees and mill labourers set fire to their houses and looted their valuables.
"Even if I die, I won't accept relief offered by them [the administration] until and unless they give back our land," said Rina Mardy, one of the evicted Santals.
Sitting under a mango tree at Madarpur, she was talking about the house she and her husband had built on the land.
Rina said around 33 acres of land of her grandfather had been acquired by the deputy commissioner's office for the then Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation that established Rangpur Sugar Mills between 1954 and 1957.
"I could not bring anything as they set fire to my house. I ran away holding hands of my two sons. I don't have warm clothes for my sons."
Cases have been filed against her husband who is hiding, Rina said.
Asked what the demands are of the Adivasis, Baske said a fair investigation into the attack on them, punishment of the perpetrators, compensation to the injured and the families of those killed and most importantly the land of their forefathers.
UNO Abdul Hannan said he brought 20 kilograms of rice, one kg lentil, one litre edible oil and salt for 134 families each of Madarpur and Joypur villages. The minority community's leaders refused to give any list of those evicted.
"The government arranged relief as the indigenous people are feeling insecure to go out of their villages. Now they don't have any income. So, we brought relief for them," he said.
The upazila administration talked to Barnabas Tudu, a community leader, in vain. Two trucks returned in the evening with relief materials.
NHRC TEAM IN GAIBANDHA
A team of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), led by its Director Ishrat Hossain Khan, yesterday visited Madarpur area of Gobindaganj upazila to investigate the November 6 incident.
Asked whether the incident violated human rights of Santals, she said the matter was under investigation.
“We are investigating what happened here, but the Santals are not cooperating with us,” she told The Daily Star.
The NHRC was yet to find any witness to the alleged torching of Santal houses and police firing, added Ishrat.
She was accompanied on the visit by the UNO of Gobindaganj.