Police and activists say violence against tribal women is on the rise and often linked to land grabbing. (Picture: Rock Ronald Rozario)
Police in northern Bangladesh have arrested three suspects after the beating and gang rape of a female tribal leader, allegedly in an attempt to grab a piece of her land.
Bichitra Tirkey, an Oraon tribal and member of Parbatipur Union Council, was attacked on Monday August 4 by a gang of 30 to 35 men while she was working in her paddy field with some laborers.
She was beaten and raped by three of them while others took away livestock and farm equipment. Neighbors took her to a local hospital for treatment and she filed two cases against 35 men on Monday night. The arrests took place over the next two days.
“We arrested three people whom the victim accused of raping her, while others have fled the area. We came to know the attack was carried out to grab land belonging to the woman and the culprits won’t be spared,” said Firoz Ahmed, officer in charge at the local police station.
One of the arrested, Ziaul Karim, is a member of the local unit of the ruling Awami League party, Ahmed said.
Tribal people protested angrily over the attack. On Wednesday, about 500 gathered in front of the town hall in Chapai Nawabganj, demanding the quick arrest and punishment of all the culprits.
Leaders from two tribal groups, Jatiya Adivasi Parishad and Adivasi Chhatra Parishad, handed over list of demands to the deputy commissioner, who is the chief government officer of the district.
“Tribal men are being killed and women being raped continuously while fighting for their land and survival, but they are being denied their rights and justice,” said Dilip Palan of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad.
“We told the local government and administration that we want to see all culprits arrested and punished quickly. Otherwise, we will take to the streets and get tougher,” he added.
Rights activists say violence against tribal women is rising in Bangladesh, with many cases linked to land disputes with Muslims. The latest incident occurred two days after a group of Muslims murdered a tribal man in the Dinajpur district, also in northern Bangladesh, allegedly over a land dispute.
Increasingly, physical assault and rape are being used as land grabbers' tools, says rights activist Rosaline Costa.
“In Bangladesh, rape is considered a ‘loss of honor’ for the victim and a family is often devastated when a female member is raped,” Costa said. “In our studies we have found most cases of violence against tribal women are linked to land grabbing and it is rising day by day, but most cases go unreported because the victims keep silence fearing social stigma.”