Members of minority communities left the country at different times in the country after they lost their right to live with dignity, human rights activist Sultana Kamal said yesterday, calling for ensuring rights of the Santal community in Gaibandha over their ancestral land.
“Nobody wants to leave motherland unless they feel threatened for their own life and assets,” Sultana Kamal said during a press conference at the Jatiya Press Club.
Jatiya Adivasi Parishad, Shahebganj Bagda Farm Bhumi Uddhar Committee (SBFBUC), Bangladesh Adivasi Forum and Association for Land Reform Development (ALRD) arranged the programme.
Filimon Baskey, president of SBFBUC, read out the written statement where he placed an eight-point demand including land return, separate land commission, compensation to the families of three Santal people who were shot dead in 2016, withdrawal of cases against them, and trial of the policemen who set Santal houses on fire.
Indigenous Santal community in the area has long been demanding ownership of around 1,842 acres of land, which was acquired in 1962 by the then government on condition of “only to cultivate sugarcane” for a mill. If not used for sugarcane cultivation, the land was supposed to be given back to real owners with compensation.
In 2004, Santals and Bangalees started demonstrations to get their land back, as the Rangpur Sugar Mill was shut down.
On November 6, 2016, a three-way clash broke out between Santals, staffers of Rangpur Sugar Mills and police, over eviction of indigenous people from the disputed land, leaving three Santal men dead and 20 others, including nine policemen, injured.
Speakers at the press conference said the government could solve the problem immediately if it had the right intention.
Speaking on the occasion, Justice Mohammed Nizamul Huq said, “Their eight-point demand is logical. It is not very difficult for the government to meet and they should do it immediately.”
Following the violence in 2016, several cases were filed against the Santals which has become a matter of harassment for the Santal community and several Bangalee people, organisers said.
“Only after a court directive, police enlisted our case and the Police Bureau of Investigation was assigned for investigation. No progress has been seen in two years of the incident, but harassment of the Santal community and our well-wishers is on,” said Filimon Baskey.
Advocate Sultana Kamal said, “Over two years have passed since the killing [in 2016]. But no investigation is yet to be seen… What could be the reason to keep the issue hanging?”
“Is it because they [Santals] are considered weak? This is unconstitutional and against the spirit of the Liberation War,” she added.
Jatiya Adivasi Parishad President Rabindranath Soren said, “Government has leased out land of the Bagda farm for Tk 1,800 per acre. But influentials have sub-leased those for Tk 30,000. The Anti-corruption Commission watches over so many things; don’t they see it?”