The Rakhine community of Angkujan Para in Taltali upazila of Barguna has been using the burial ground, “Khaddya Song Chansai” for the last 150 years, but a few months ago a group of people grabbed it by force.
Backed by influential locals, they grabbed almost the entire around 10 acres of the land except for some monuments. Even the path leading to the monuments has been grabbed.
A civil society probe body, who visited the Rakhine community in Patuakhali and Barguna districts recently, said this at a press conference at Dhaka Reporters Unity yesterday.
The burial ground is not the only one which was grabbed by influential people, several settlements, ponds and temples of the Rakhine community were also illegally occupied, they added.
Due to land grabbing and oppression, around 95 percent of the Rakhine population in the districts has decreased in the last hundred years, while 81 percent of the Rakhine settlements were illegally grabbed.
The 13-member probe body comprising civil society representatives, including rights activists, university professors and journalists, went on a two-day visit to the Rakhine areas in the districts on March 17.
According to old documents and books, more than 50,000 Rakhine people used to live in 237 villages of the districts between 19th and 20th centuries. But in 2014, a Caritas survey found that only 2,561 of them were living in 45 villages, they said.
Most of the Rakhines were forced to leave the country and migrated to Myanmar due to suppression and land grabbing, they added.
The probe body also gave some recommendations to protect the community from becoming extinct.
The recommendations are -- forming a separate land commission for the community to recover and handover their lands, returning their grabbed ponds, burial grounds and temples, punishing the grabbers, and forming a cell at the deputy commissioner's office in the ethnic minority inhabited districts to address and solve their problems.
Noted columnist Syed Abul Maksud; Pankaj Bhattacharya, president of Oikya NAP; Robayet Ferdous, an associate professor at Dhaka University; Shamsul Huda, executive director of Association for Land Reforms and Development, and Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, spoke among others.