Unknown miscreants cut down a betel leaf plantation, the only source of income for 48 ethnic minority Christian families in Barlekha area of Moulvibazar district, in the early hours of May 30. (Photo supplied)
Ethnic Christians and a Catholic official have demanded justice, compensation and protection of rights after miscreants destroyed betel leaf plantations in northeast Bangladesh, triggering fears of eviction among dozens of minority families.
A group of unidentified miscreants cut down betel leaf plantation at Agar Pan Punji (Betel Leaf Cluster Village) in the Barlekha area of Moulvibazar district on May 30 night.
The plantation is a community property belonging to 48 ethnic Khasi and Garo Christian families. One family is Catholic and the rest are Presbyterians.
The plantation, on leased government land, was the main source of livelihood for the families, who used the money from selling betel leaf to fund all socioeconomic activities including food, education, medical treatment, marriage and religious rituals.
The attackers chopped down 1,000 betel leaf plants when they were ready for harvest, incurring a huge loss of about 800,000 taka (US$9,440), according to Sukhumon Amsey, an ethnic Khasi and headman of the village.
“On May 31, we have found our betel leaf plants on the ground. We don’t know who did it. We can say that those who have done so much harm to us certainly do not want us to live here,” Amsey told UCA News.
We have sought shelter and support from local government and law enforcement agencies
He said the villagers had no prior animosity with anyone outside that could have triggered the attack. He claimed it might be an attempt to evict the villagers from their land.
“We have sought shelter and support from local government and law enforcement agencies. I have filed a general diary to the local police station to get justice,” Amsey added.
Jahangir Hossein, officer in-charge of Barlekha police station, said an investigation has been launched to identify and arrest the culprits.
“The victims have filed a general diary and we are investigating accordingly. We will take legal action after the investigation,” Hossein told UCA News.
Oblate Father Joseph Gomes, a senior priest of Sylhet Diocese and coordinator of the Oblate-run Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC), condemned the attack, demanded justice and called on the government to protect ethnic minorities immediately.
“We always appeal to the government to protect their rights and ensure land rights. But everything depends on the will of the government. If the government wants, then this problem can be solved in a short time,” Father Gomes told UCA News.
The priest noted that ethnic minorities often face challenges to claim land rights despite living there for generations, with numerous legal disputes between ethnic minorities and majority Bengali Muslims dragging on for years.
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 punji and relying largely on betel leaf plantations for their livelihood.