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Bangladeshi Santals await justice and return of land

Three years later, not a single conviction has been secured for deadly attacks that displaced thousands

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Bangladeshi Santals await justice and return of land

Ethnic Santal people in front of their makeshift shelters soon after being violently evicted from their ancestral land at Govindaganj in November 2016. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/ucanews)

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The haunting memories of deadly violence and forcible eviction still plague ethnic Santals like Philemon Baskey.

On Nov. 6, 2016, hundreds of workers from the Rangpur Sugar Mill in the Govindaganj area of Gaibandha district in northern Bangladesh, armed with bamboo sticks and supported by local thugs and dozens of policemen, attacked the shacks occupied by 1,600 Santal families living on what they called their “ancestral land.”

Most of the victims were Christians; a few hundred were Bengali Muslim and Hindu families. The mill company said it owned the land and that the Santals living there were “illegal encroachers.”

Police fired shots from a distance while mill workers and thugs set houses on fire. Fearing for their lives, most of the Santals — several thousand — fled their shanties and took shelter in two nearby villages, Madarpur and Joypur.

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