An indigenous Pahan woman sits dumbfounded in the remains of her home after it was attacked by arsonists in the Naogaon district of Bangladesh on March 26. The attack left 37 families homeless. (Photo supplied)
Dozens of poor and landless people, mostly from the ethnic minority Pahan community, have been left without shelter by an arson attack on their homes in northern Bangladesh.
A gang of thugs allegedly led by a local politician from the ruling Awami League party were behind the arson attack in the early hours of March 26 that stemmed from a long-running land dispute in the Bostabor area of Dhamurhat in Naogaon district.
About 110 people from 37 families including 23 Pahan Hindus and some Bengali Muslims were made homeless by the attack.
The gang, armed with sharp weapons, beat up residents and set fire to houses after pouring inflammable fuel on them, according to activists and a police official.
“Some of the victims filed a case against named and unnamed accused. We arrested Hossain Mosharraf, the prime accused, yesterday. A probe into the incident is ongoing,” Zakir-ul-Islam, officer in charge of the local police station, told ucanews.com on March 27.
Sobin Munda, secretary of National Adivasi Parishad, a rights group for indigenous people in northern Bangladesh, described the attack as “barbaric and condemnable.”
“These people are landless and poor, so they have been living on khas [government-owned] land for years. A leader of the ruling party has been claiming this land and he carried out the arson attack to evict them,” said Munda, who visited the victims on March 26.
“The attackers also beat up people in order to terrorize them. Then they set their homes on fire, but luckily no one got killed. We want justice for the violence and rehabilitation for indigenous and Bengali Muslim families.”
Mizanur Rahman, chief government officer of Naogaon district, visited the area on March 26 and offered 5,000 taka (US$60) and 20 kilograms of rice as aid to each victim family.
“I deplore this inhuman act and have assured the victims that they will get justice and rehabilitation. Police have been deployed to ensure their security and the perpetrators will be nabbed and punished,” Rahman told ucanews.com.
“This is disputed land but we will look into it so that a solution can be found.”
Many people in Bengali-majority Bangladesh consider indigenous people as outcasts and subject them to abuses, said Father Anthony Sen, convener of the Justice and Peace Commission in Dinajpur Diocese, which covers the area.
“The grabbing of land and eviction from homes are common realities for many indigenous peoples as Bengali people often think they don’t belong to this country. If we look back to these poor victims, we will find that once they had their own homes and property, but they lost everything to grabbers who exploited them with political and financial clout,” Father Sen told ucanews.com.
“The arson attack is frustrating. These people deserve justice, rehabilitation and a better life. The government must ensure their rights and protection.”