Arson victims still living in the open | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 29, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, March 29, 2019

Arson victims still living in the open

37 landless families lived in Bostabor village of Naogaon, but UNO said only 13 families would get housing

Four days into the arson attack, landless families in Bostabor village in Naogaon's Dhamoirhat upazila are still reeling from the shock of losing everything, but the authorities are yet to arrange a proper shelter for them. 

During a visit to the village on Wednesday, the affected people, most from indigenous Pahan community, said their children and the elderly are now staying in a nearby shed built for a poultry farm.

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Many of the community members have been spending the nights under trees, while others out in the open. 

Only visible step taken by the authorities is a police camp set up at the scene to avert further attack on the arson victims.

Although Jatiya Adivasi Parishad leaders identified 37 landless families, 23 from indigenous Pahan community, to have been affected in the arson attack, Dhamoirhat Upzila Nirbahi Officer Ganapati Roy said they were arranging housing facilities for only 13 families.

“We will arrange housing for some of them at Ashrayan project. Others have their own land and housing,” the UNO said.

The UNO also said according to land records, the disputed land of 1.04 acres was given as a permanent settlement to Sirajul Siddiki in 1969 and Sirajul handed it over to Akter Hossain and his son Hossain Mosharraf in 1977.

Mosharraf, a loyalist of local Awami League lawmaker, paid necessary taxes regularly and he had been in possession of the land until the landless people occupied it a year ago, he said.

Rebutting the UNO's claim, Noren Chandra Pahan, organising secretary of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad, said the disputed land is recorded as khas land in the RS (Revisional Survey) record of 1972 and no one filed any litigation claiming the piece of land.

“If the land was given as permanent settlement, the record must show it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the police arrested Mosharraf after he was made the prime accused in a case filed over the arson attack.

According to the case, Mosharraf and some 50 other local AL activists set fire to the houses and launched an attack on around 150 members of 37 landless families while they were asleep. At least three members of the landless families were injured in the attack.

Among the injured, Dulali Pahan and Nazma Begum were released from Dhamoirhat Upazila Health Complex, while Shanti Pahan is still undergoing treatment.

Dr Abu Isha M Arafat Imam, resident medical officer at the health complex, said Shanti suffered physical assault and her condition was improving.

Lying in a bed at the health complex with injuries to her right arm and leg, Shanti said, “Here I have a bed to lie down at night. But after I'm released from here, where will I go?” 

Since the death of her husband, Ghutu Pahan, three years ago, Shanti was living with her in-laws at neighbouring Ghasipukur village. Six months ago, she took along her four-year-old son and started to live in a hut on the disputed land.

At the time of arson attack, she was sleeping with her son. “I came out of my hut only to find that several houses were already on fire and people were being chased out.”

Trying to escape, she jumped into a pond with her son, but the attackers got a hold of her, Shanti said, adding, “They beat me up with bamboo sticks and were threatening me by saying that they would set me on fire.”

She started running again and at one stage, while passing through a paddy field, her son fell off her arms.

Shanti then had no other choice but to stop and save her son from the attackers. “I did not let any of their strikes hit or touch my son. He wouldn't have survived that,” said the mother.

While she was undergoing treatment at the health complex, one of her aunts had been looking after her son, Shanti said.

At Bostabor village, a burning smell still filled the air.

Binu Bala Pahan, mother of three boys, said she was living on the land for a year with her six-year-old son.

“For the last three months, the attackers had been threatening of dire consequences for living on the land,” she said. "We told them to provide proof from the court that it was not a khas land. But they torched our houses by pouring petrol.”

Unless the members of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) rushed to the spot in time, their lives would have been at risk, she said.

Havildar Sha Jahan of Bostabor BGB border outpost noticed the first sign of arson attack around 1:10am on Monday and hurried to the spot with Nayek Subedar Abu Sayeed and 12 BGB personnel.

“I saw the fire high in the sky and heard crackling sounds of burning bamboos,” he said, adding that “We then cordoned off the place and saved the landless people.”

It appeared to be a premeditated attack, Sha Jahan said.

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