ILC Asia Members Join the Action to Defend Santal People's Rights on Land
Press conference: A sudden attack upon indigenous people and Bengali farmers was takes place at Shahebganj Bagda farm in Gobindaganj upazila (sub-district) under Gaibandha district by police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and local goons on 6 November 2016 hired by Rangpur sugar mills authority & influential political elements aiming to evict indigenous and Bengali farmers.
In this attack, at least two indigenous Santal men were shot dead, three indigenous Santal villagers were arrested and 30 people including 17 indigenous men and 8 law enforcers were severely injured. Moreover 15 more indigenous men were missing after the incident and more than 1200 families have fled due to the looting, vandalizing, arson attack of their houses. A false case was lodged against 42 indigenous and Bengali farmers mentioning the name and more 400 unknown villagers with Gobindaganj police station. It is also learnt that 8 law enforcers were also hurt while indigenous and Bengali farmers tried to resist the attack of police-RAB-local goons of Sugar mill.
During the NES period 2, however, ILC Asia member in Bangladesh, ALRD paid a fact finding visit in this area on 01 December 2015 to probe the allegation of land deprivation. The land in question, originally owned by local Santals and some Bangalis, was acquired by the then-East Pakistan government in 1962 for the sugar mill. In 2014, some found that the contract for acquisition had been violated by the mill authority. As the contract stated that any violation would transfer the land’s ownership back to the original owners, the Santals along with some Bangalis built 600 homes on 100 acres of the 1,842-acre farmland and started living there in July.
Considering the emergent situation, ALRD with others organized a fact finding visit for the leaders/representatives of the HR organizations/Groups/IP leaders/CS activists (this group includes ALRD’s Chairperson Khushi Kabir, executive committee member Dr. Abul Barkat, representatives from another ILC Asia member in Bangladesh, Kapaeeng Foundation) towards the area in Gobindagonj to see for themselves the plight of the victims and suffering families. After coming back, the delegation team met at ALRD office on 15th November in a meeting and decided unanimously among other things that the legal support initiatives by the different HR groups while appreciated should be coordinated in the greater interest of the victims’ community and their cause.
According the decision, ALRD, Ain O Salish Kendra, and Broti filed a writ petition with the High Court challenging the legality of using firearms by police on Santal people in Gobindganj upazila of Gaibandha on November 6.
This HR groups in the name of ‘Shocheton Nagorik’, a platform of concerned citizens, organized a press conference at Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU) on 19th November raised a seven-point demand. The demands from the "Conscious Citizens" include, a judicial inquiry committee to ensure justice for the deaths of the three Santals; trial of all those involved in this violation of human rights; compensation for the families of the dead, injured and affected and ensuring their return to their land with full security; the government taking responsibility for the treatment of the injured persons until they are fully recovered; withdrawing all false cases with immediate effect; setting up the Phulmoni Murmu education and cultural centre on government expense on ancestral land of the indigenous people; and withdrawing members of the local administration responsible for the incident.
*This report was originally written by: Shanjida Khan Ripa of ALRD - Bangladesh, and edited for ILC Website publishing purpose.
*The picture is credited to Kapaeeng Foundation.