Khasi women arrange betel leaves in Moulvibazar district of northeastern Bangladesh. (Photo: Mintu Deshwara)
The Church has called on the government to take initiatives to protect the land of Bangladesh’s indigenous people and to form a land commission for indigenous inhabitants of the plain.
On Feb. 20, a group of Muslims and forest department officials clashed with the Khasi people of Nunchhara village in Kulaura subdistrict of Moulvibazar district. Several Khasi Christians were injured.
Some 20-25 men with sticks attacked Nunchhera to grab land that has been occupied for decades by the Khasi, said the village headman.
“For the last year, the forest department has wanted to occupy our land and tried to carry out forestry through local Bengalis. But if they do that, the only way to earn our living will be lost and we will die without food,” Bobrin Tungpeyar told UCA News.
“Recently we actually prevented them from occupying our ancestral land, but the local Bengalis and officials from the forest department attacked us with sticks. At least 10 of us were injured.”
He demanded the government end this dispute.
The Church has called on the government to take initiatives to protect the land of indigenous people and form a land commission for the plain tribes.
“The problem faced by indigenous people is nothing new. Indigenous people do not have land deeds. It has been this way for a long time. Therefore, it is not possible to solve this problem without the goodwill of the government,” said Father Joseph Gomes, head of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Father Gomes, who is also assistant parish priest of the Church of Immaculate Conception and the parish that includes Nunchhara village, said not only the Khasi but tribal people of the plains have lived without land deeds for generations.
“The government should take immediate steps to find out how these lands can be given to the indigenous people, otherwise this problem will not be solved. Such assault cases are not acceptable. We also ask the government to solve the dispute and maintain human rights,” he said.
The forest department denied the alleged assault.
“We went to the place to carry out government work, not to attack. On the contrary, when the Khasi people attacked us, the local Bengalis resisted and a quarrel took place. We have sued for obstruction of government work at the local police station,” said Abu Bakar Siddique, a forest official of Moulvibazar district.
Land grabbing, eviction and violence against ethnic Khasi people in northeastern Bangladesh are not uncommon. A series of incidents have targeted the community in recent years.
The Khasi are a matrilineal Mongoloid ethnic group mostly living in Bangladesh and northeast India. There are an estimated 40,000 Khasi in Bangladesh, mostly Christians, inhabiting forest villages called punjee and relying largely on betel leaf plantations for their livelihood.