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Christian village attacked over land dispute in Bangladesh

Houses and chapel ransacked after Muslim loses legal battle over land ownership
Christian village attacked over land dispute in Bangladesh

Ethnic Khasia women count and organize betel leaves in Moulvibazar district of Bangladesh. (Photo: Mintu Deshwara)

Published: November 12, 2020 02:30 AM GMT
Updated: November 12, 2020 08:27 AM GMT

One person was injured, a chapel, and several houses were ransacked when a mob attacked a predominantly Christian village in northern Bangladesh over a land dispute.

Some 50-60 men armed with weapons attacked Ichhachhara village in Moulvibazar district on Nov. 9 evening, hours after authorities evicted a Muslim man from a Christian's land, local Christians said.

Rafiq Ali, the Muslim who recently lost a legal battle over land ownership to a Khasi Christian villager, led the assailants who attacked a grocery shop, besides the houses and the chapel.

Local parish priest Oblate Father Joseph Gomes said Ali was angry after the administration evicted him from a land he had occupied illegally in the village of mostly ethnic Khasi Christians.

The attackers "also pelted bricks and stones at village houses, and one villager was hurt. We demand justice for the attack and the end of abuses against ethnic people," Father Gomes said.

The village, inhabited by ethnic Khasi Christians, is covered by Sylhet Diocese's Immaculate Conception Church of Lokhipur.

"The land and betel leaf plantation belong to a Khasi man, Jasper Amalrang. But Ali grabbed it by force with fake documents," Father Gomes told UCA News.

He said the administration was supportive of Amalrang, whose only income came from the land and the plantation.

The priest expressed dismay that the attackers dared to vandalize the chapel used for Sunday liturgy and left its fences broken and altar desecrated.

Local police confirmed the attack was over land dispute.

Ali "was aggrieved over the decision" to evict him, "and so he attacked the village at night," Binay Bhushay Roy, officer-in-charge of the area, told UCA News.

"The local administration is trying for a compromise. If that does not happen, we will take action against attackers as per the law," he added.

Land grabbing, eviction, and violence against ethnic Khasi people in the northeast of Bangladesh are not uncommon. A series of incidents have targeted the community in recent years.

Khasi is a matrilineal mongoloid ethnic group, mostly living in Bangladesh and north-eastern Indian states.

An estimated 40,000 Khasia live in Bangladesh, mostly Christians, living in forested cluster villages called punji and relying largely on betel leaf plantations for a livelihood.

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