Santal Land Dispute: Arrest fear drives men out of home | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 08, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:21 AM, November 08, 2016

Santal Land Dispute: Arrest fear drives men out of home

As police sued over 442 people following a clash between some people of the Santal community and police and labourers in Gobindaganj of Gaibandha on Sunday, the ethnic people are in arrest panic.

Meanwhile, Santal man Shyamal Hembram, 35, who was injured during the clash died of his wounds Sunday night at Dinajpur Medical College Hospital.

The clash had left 20 people including policemen injured. They are in Gobindaganj Upazila Health Complex and Rangpur Medical College Hospital, reports our Dinajpur correspondent.

Kalyan Chakraborty, a sub-inspector of Gobindaganj Police Station, filed a case with his police station Sunday night accusing 442 people. Of them, names of 42 people were mentioned.

Police did not arrest anyone in connection with the case until yesterday afternoon, said Subrata Kumar Sarker officer-in-charge of the police station, adding that the situation was under their control. 

The males of the ethnic people dominated villages, including Madarpur and Joyurhat, have fled from their homes to avoid arrest and harassment.

Philimon Baske a leader of the ethnic people alleged that valuables of 20 homes built on disputed land were looted Sunday night and early yesterday. Tins of home roofs, tube wells, shallow-tube-well engines and paddy from farmland of ethnic people were stolen and vandalised, he told The Daily Star over phone yesterday afternoon.

The clash erupted when mill workers of Rangpur Sugar Mill with hired workers started harvesting sugarcane on land belonging to the mill authorities.

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 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.

According to the Gobindaganj upazila land office, 1,502 acres of the total 1,842.3 acres was leased out and used for farming other crops. A letter of the office, dated June 28, 2015, says only 92-97 acres of the total land was being used for the cultivation of sugarcane in 2014-15 fiscal year.

The ethnic families who had been evicted brought the issue to the attention of the ADC (revenue) of Gaibandha in March 2015. And after investigation, the ADC (revenue) found the allegations to be true.

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

Shajahan Ali Sarker of Sahebganj Bhumi Uddhar Sangram Committee said the clash erupted when the sugar mill workers tried to evict the ethnic people from their land on Sunday.

In the evening, additional police force and Rab personnel were deployed to evict the “illegal occupants”, reports our Rangpur correspondent.

Later sheds of the Santal community were demolished and set afire, said locals.

They said by nightfall a section of people took away corrugated iron sheets and cattle from their areas.

“We are afraid, we might be attacked any time” said Lucas Marma of Joypur village.

“… Even the children are afraid of attending schools, said Rumila Kisku, a homemaker of the same village.

“Many of the Santal community fled the areas to avert arrest,” said Gonesh Marmu of the village.

Abdul Awal, director Rangpur Sugar Mill, said the 1,842 acres was procured in 1962 for producing sugarcane. But, the ethnic people started claiming the land two years ago, he said.

But somebody was provoking the ethnic people from behind the scene, alleged the director after the clash.

Philimon Baske, president of Ikkhu Khamar Jomi Uddhar Sanghoti Committee, said the sugar mill authorities signed an agreement in 1962 with the land owners and that nobody was provoking them. As per the agreement, the mill authorities cannot produce other crops on the land.

Earlier in a press conference, the Shahebganj-Bagdafarm Land Recovery Movement committee said once there were 15 ethnic minority villages but between 1955 and 1956, the then Pakistan government acquired all the land displacing the villagers to set up the sugar mill.

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