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Tribal Catholic villagers who attended the seminar

Catholics join fight against land grabbers

Liton Leo Das, Rajshahi

June 24 2010

Catholic justice activists are battling "land grabbers" who are depriving indigenous people of their ancestral lands in remote north-west Bangladesh.

The issue is a major concern for the Rajshahi and Dinajpur dioceses which provide support for farmers who have lost out to land grabbers or usurious moneylenders.

Bipin Soren, 42, a marginal and landless farmer, is one of hundreds of victims.

"They snatched more than one acre of my ancestral lands. I tried to get help but the grabbers threatened me," Soren, a tribal Santal Catholic, told "Now I often starve with my family."

Soren was speaking on the sidelines of a June 17-18 seminar on 'Land Problems and Land Rights for Tribals' organized by the Rajshahi diocesan Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) and sponsored by the local Caritas office.

About 50 tribal Catholics, 33 villages morol (leaders) and their assistants attended the event.

"The seminar had three aims - to help land problems victims get legal aid to protect their land, to make villagers aware of land problems, and show them how to get support from the Church," JPC member Father Linton Costa explained.

"We provide advocacy and legal support for the tribals," he continued. "Often we pay lawyer's fees. Over the years we've regained a good deal of land and people are grateful to the Church."

After listening to seminar participants, local lawyer Norendranath Tudu promised to assist them with their claims.

"My forefathers lost large areas of land because they had no documents even after living there for a hundred years. Grabbers made fake papers and forced them out," Soresh Soren, 38 (not related to Bipin) told

"Now I can't educate my children. But from this seminar I learnt about land rights laws and I hope I can get back my land," he added.

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