Protesters rally in Sherpur district town in Bangladesh against the destruction of plantations of ethnic Garo villagers by Forest Department officials. (Photo supplied)
Hundreds of mostly Christian indigenous villagers from the Garo and other communities joined a protest rally to denounce what they said was the attempted eviction of five families from their homes and agricultural land by the Forest Department in north-central Bangladesh.
About 300 people joined the demonstration in Sherpur district town on Aug. 23 organized by Bangladesh Garo Student Council (BGCS).
Protesters and activists alleged that forest officials cut down and destroyed 2 hectares of vegetable gardens and betel nut plantations belonging to five Garo families in Balijuri Christian Para village in the Shreebordi area of Sherpur on Aug. 12, causing a total loss of 250,000 taka (US$2,940).
Following the protest, a memorandum with demands including halting of attempted eviction and compensation for the loss and safety of villagers was handed to deputy commissioner Mominur Rashid, the chief government officer in Sherpur, to be delivered to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Garo farmer Bihar Jambil, 50, said he has incurred a loss of about 50,000 taka ($588) after his vegetable garden was destroyed.
“For hundreds of years, our ancestors have lived here and made a living by growing crops in the surrounding land. We have also been living like our ancestors. But now we are in danger of being evicted from the land,” Jambil, a retired primary schoolteacher and father of four, told UCA News.
We have also shed blood to make this country independent [in 1971] and such injustice is unacceptable
Jambil said five families have been left helpless by the destruction of their only sources of income and urged the government not to evict them and to allow them to live in peace by earning a living as in the past.
“We are citizens of an independent country. We have also shed blood to make this country independent [in 1971] and such injustice is unacceptable,” Jambil said.
Keya Nokrek, a rights activist and member of the Anti-Corruption Commission in Sherpur district, attended the protest and denounced the eviction threat to ethnic communities.
“Even after 50 years of independence, we are subjugated and have to live in fear of eviction. Some people or some political leaders are trying to expel our indigenous people from the country,” Nokrek told UCA News.
“The government provides houses to those who do not have houses, giving both houses and land to those who do not have them, but the minority are in fear of eviction. It is a shame for the nation.”
Deputy commissioner Rashid said no one would be evicted and they should not panic.
“I want to reassure those who have been affected that they will never be evicted from their land, I will talk to the Forest Department,” Rashid told UCA News.
He said the department can recover their land but it should not harm the people.
I think the government needs to be judicious and cordial to solve this kind of land problem
“I will take steps to prevent such incidents from happening again. I will send the memorandum to the prime minister as soon as possible,” he added.
Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, said the government needs to come to its sense to stop such injustice to minority communities.
“I think the government needs to be judicious and cordial to solve this kind of land problem. It is unjust for the government to talk about development on the one hand and social forestry by evicting indigenous people on the other. May good sense prevail in the government and the rights of ethnic people be established,” Father Gomes told UCA News.
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