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Friday, June 19, 2009

Evicted, now threatened: Naogaon indigenous families cry for help

Picture (courtesy: The Daily Star News): An indigenous woman sits on the rubble of her home, which land grabbers torched on June 13. The palm-leave shed on the right is her home now.

Report: The Daily Star News.

Orao Arju's teenage daughter Shanibala is still upset by last week's eviction and arson attacks on 74 families, including 56 indigenous families, in Khatirpur allegedly by an influential land grabber.
Nightmares haunt Shanibala as she cannot forget Tuesday afternoon when the attackers chased her and threatened to kill her and her parents if they did not leave their own land.
The arsonists and armed attackers are moving scot-free in the area although they are accused in a case, allege the eviction victims.
When asked for her reaction, Shanibala could not help breaking down and went aside. Her mother said Manjurul, Ata, Dhola, Shafikul and Ahsan in their first attack on June 12 chased her daughter while she was going to the Union Parishad for relief.
Condition of another 15-year-old girl among the victim families is no better. She was beaten up and her dresses were torn apart on June 13 as she protested the attackers looting corrugated iron sheets and household stuff in presence of the police.
Traumatised since the incident, the girl prefers staying in the dark and trembles seeing any stranger, say her mother and villagers. Her mother was also beaten up until they were rescued by some other women.
Many of the families have sent their adult female members elsewhere fearing further attacks. Almost all the victims feel insecure as they allege the police are helping the perpetrators.
A four-member police camp has been set up in the village following complaints of insecurity, said M Mofazzel Hossain, superintendent of police, Naogaon.
He said Sub-inspector Pabitra Kumar Sinha of Porsha police station was transferred following allegations that he shouted at the indigenous people for building houses on "other's" land.
The villagers allege policemen including SIs Pabitra and Enamul intercepted them when they were going to repair their houses.
They add hired men of the alleged grabber Nur Hossain Master attacked the village three months ago and torched some 10 houses.
At Khatirpur Sondanga village in Chhaor union, some 90km off the divisional headquarters in Rajshahi, the villagers were seen sitting perplexed and scattered.
The indigenous people described their plight and the incidents occurred since June 12.
Monisura Soren was cooking rice and pulses she got as relief from the Union Parishad. "We can't live on relief. How can we go for work if tension of being evicted persists?" she asked.
Maina Hasda and Chintamoni Murmu of neighbouring indigenous village said they gave shelter to some of the children and women of the victim families. "Our houses were looted the next day for giving them shelter," lamented one of them.
They added the indigenous men now live under the open sky, while the children and women sheltered at some other houses or under the make-shift shades.
Over 300 members of the 74 families are living in the open almost without food and security.
"If it rains now, we will have nowhere to go," said Basona Hembrom.
Nur Hossain Master claims he bought some 6 acres of land from Chhotka Mardi, Churka Mardi and Hudur Mardi in 1976. But the indigenous men allege they were not paid for the land.
They also allege Nur Hossain's claim of the land is based on forged documents.
Meanwhile, Jatiya Adibashi Parishad started movement demanding justice for the incidents. They will hold a protest rally on July 5 and are holding token protests every day.
"Land grabbing from the indigenous people is nothing new," said Anil Marandi, president of Jatiya Adibashi Parishad.
He said around 2,000 indigenous families in 10 districts have so far lost their 1,748 acres of ancestral land.
Different organisations including the forest department also grabbed or acquired the land showing forged documents or in the name of social forestry, he added.
A team of National Coalition on Indigenous Affairs visited the scene on Tuesday.
The team includes Jayanta Achariya, representative of Adibashi Odhikar Andolan, Mohua of Manusher Jonne Foundation, VSO staff SM Saikuluzzaman and Action Aid representative Manjur Rashid.
A team of five rights fronts -- Ain O Salish Kendra, Blast, ALRD, Nijera Kori and TIB -- is likely to visit Naogaon today.