Land lost, so is livelihood
Around 65 Mro families of three villages in Bandarban's Lama upazila are living in fear of eviction from their ancestral homes with no source of livelihood after land grabbers illegally occupied their jhum land last month.
Residents of the three villages -- Tripura Para, Langkom Mro Para, and Rengyan Mro Karbari Para -- alleged that Lama Rubber Industries Limited grabbed around 200 acres of their ancestral jhum land.
This latest move came following earlier threats and a false case filed against members of the community several years ago, they said.
"On January 23, the rubber company sent around 120 goons -- mostly from the Rohingya community -- with sharp weapons to take possession of our jhum land," said Langkom Mro, karbari (village chief) of Langkom Mro Para.
"They threatened our lives when we protested. How will we survive in the hills if these influential people grab our ancestral jhum land?" asked the karbari.
Indigenous people in the area largely depend on jhum cultivation and forest resources for their livelihoods.
Since the 1997 signing of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, thousands of acres of indigenous jhum land -- mainly in Lama, Naikhyangchhari and Alikadom upazilas of Bandarban -- have been grabbed by private rubber plantation owners and horticulturists, Jumlian Amlai, president of the Bandarban chapter of Parbatya Chattogram Forest and Land Rights Protection Movement.
A FALSE CASE, FEAR OF REPRISAL
"In 2017, Arif Hossain, manager of the rubber company, filed a fabricated case against five of us, including Johon Tripura, headman of Daluchhari mouza, to harass us and grab our ancestral land," said Rengyan Mro, karbari of Rengyan Mro Para.
Living in fear of also being evicted from their homes, these Mro families have not visited the police station or filed a case over grabbing of their land, said the community leaders.
Headman Johon Tripura said, "Members of law enforcement agencies help the land grabbers grab our ancestral land. Sometimes, these agency members call us to their offices and threaten us.
"When we protested, they filed a false case against us."
Mizanur Rahman, officer-in charge of Lama Police Station, denied the allegation and said on Monday, "When the Mro people contacted us, we suggested they go to court to solve the problem."
In 2017, an investigation was conducted by Sayed Iqbal, the then assistant commissioner (land) of Lama, into the plots the rubber company claims as theirs.
The Daily Star obtained the copy of his investigation report.
Signed in October 2017, it stated the Mro people of Daluchhari mouza had been using this jhum land for generations and if the land was allotted for use as rubber plantation, the Mro indigenous people would be left with no means for their livelihood.
If the land is not taken over by Lama Rubber Industries, there is no danger of peace being disturbed in the area, the report also stated.
The Daily Star contacted Sayed Iqbal, now UNO of Alikadom upazila, for comment on Monday but he said as it was several years ago, he couldn't recall the instance. When asked if he would like to look over the document in question and then comment, he declined.
Refuting all allegations, Lama Rubber Industries Limited Manager Arif Hossain said they did not grab any jhum land but Mro and Tripura people had illegally entered their rubber plot area instead.
"We didn't threaten anyone," he said.
Arif said Lama Rubber Industries has 375 acres of land in Sarai mouza and 1,225 acres of land in Daluchhari mouza.
In 1994, the company shareholders took out a lease on these plots for a rubber plantation for a period of 40 years from the district administration, he added.
However, one of the conditions of the lease agreement -- as noted in another investigation report by the kanungo (revenue clerk) of the Lama upazila land office in October 2017 -- is that the leaseholder must complete the project work within five years of getting the allotment.
When asked about no cultivation on their leased land for at least 26 years, violating this condition of the lease agreement, Arif claimed, "We don't know if there is any condition like this in the agreement."