Influential locals unleash violence to remove them from government-owned land they lived on for years
Indigenous Christians are living in fear after violence by land grabbers from the Muslim-majority community in Bangladesh’s Rajshahi district.
At least 10 Christians were beaten while two of them landed in hospital in critical condition in Badhair village in the Tanore area of the northern district in the past week.
The village is home to more than 200 indigenous people, mostly Christians. They are now scared to step out of their homes. The men fear going to the market while children are not being sent to school, say locals.
The cause for the attacks is 12,500 square meters of khas land (government-owned fallow land) on which 23 indigenous families have been settled for years. Some influential people want to remove them and occupy the land themselves.
Biplob Tudu, 40, an indigenous Santal who was taken to Tanor subdistrict hospital in critical condition, said he was attacked while returning home from the market in a three-wheeled vehicle on Jan. 3.
“I was accosted by a mob of around 10 Muslims who pulled me out of the three-wheeler and beat me with rods. They broke my bones,” Tudu, a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, told UCA News.
I bought this land by signing a non-judicial stamp paper about 30 years ago but these indigenous people have forcibly occupied it
The father of three said they approached the local police but no action was being taken against the attackers. Like him, other members of the minority community in the village were living in a state of insecurity, he said.
The villagers alleged that Durul Huda and his brothers were behind the attacks.
Speaking to UCA News, Huda denied his involvement in the violence but claimed he owned the land. “I bought this land by signing a non-judicial stamp paper about 30 years ago but these indigenous people have forcibly occupied it. I want to grow crops but that is not possible because of them,” he said.
Huda was determined to remove the settler families from the land, which is deemed to be owned by the government and available for allocation as per its policies. “It is not possible for them to take away the land by force. If it wants, the government will take it back but why should they grab it?” he said.
On being probed further, he admitted that he did “beat them a little” when they got into an altercation over the land issue.
Rakibul Hasan, officer in charge of Tanore Police Station, said no case had been registered against Huda yet.
“We are aware of the incident. We talked to those who are in the hospital and will take legal action as soon as we know full details of the incident,” he told UCA News.
Catholic Church officials refused to comment, saying they were not aware of the incident.
An estimated three million people belong to ethnic minority groups in the Muslim-majority country of more than 160 million people.
For years, indigenous communities and other minority groups including Christians have called on the government for a separate ministry and a commission to end the frequent disputes and establish their traditional rights over land.