Protect Munda community from land grabbers
We're alarmed to learn of the continued fallout of a deadly attack on members of the indigenous Munda community at the Dhumghat village in Shyamnagar, Satkhira. Reportedly, a local mob led by two influential land grabbers linked with Awami League carried out the attack on August 19. As revealed by an independent investigation later, they confined all the Munda families of the village to their houses at gunpoint, and destroyed their crops. Narendranath Munda, 65, was one of those who dared to protest and savagely beaten as a result, leading to his death the next day. Since then, the community has been living in fear, as their powerful attackers are yet to be arrested.
The incident began – as all such attacks on minority communities usually do – with claims over ownership of land traditionally held by the Munda community. We know from previous experience that such claims are nothing but a ruse to evict them, a legal ploy to further marginalise victims who have no means to defend their land and rights. An Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) delegation has also found that the culprits had their eyes set on 30 bighas of land owned by the Munda.
So far, police have made little progress in arresting the accused. When asked about the attack, the deputy commissioner of Satkhira has struck a rather bureaucratic note in his response, saying "all administrative measures" would be taken to ensure security in the village and to "settle the land dispute". We cannot help but ask: What land dispute? Why this lacklustre response to a crisis that can profoundly impact the future of an entire community? And whose side are the administration and police on, anyway?
Why this lacklustre response to a crisis that can profoundly impact the future of an entire community? And whose side are the administration and police on, anyway?
This community has been living on these lands for generations. The Munda people, mostly farmers and day-labourers by profession, are spread around the Sundarbans Forest. What distinguishes them from other communities is their unique language, culture and customs, which are increasingly at risk. What unites them – and all marginalised groups basically – is their shared vulnerability to assaults on their land by people enjoying the backing of the political establishment and the tacit approval of the administration. Reports of such assaults in the country are becoming too frequent to be taken lightly.
The Munda people in Shyamnagar deserve to live without fear, and without their ancestral land taken away from them. This is the only just solution to any legal dispute over their land. We urge the authorities to immediately take measures to resolve this issue for good, punish the attackers and their political backers who orchestrated the assault on the village, and ensure the safety of all marginalised communities in the country.