Clashes arising from land disputes and attacks by Bangalee settlers have left at least 36 indigenous people, including six women dead over the last ten years in different upazilas of the district, according to Jatiya Adivasi Parishad (JAP), an NGO working for the welfare of ethnic minorities.

Most of these murders were committed by Bangalee settlers while trying to grab the land of minorities. Incidents of rape and murder were also reported during the same period. In many cases young women were assaulted and raped. Instances of politically backed Bangalee settlers torturing indigenous women were also noted, the leaders of JAP said.

There are 18 different ethnic groups in the district, and over 90 percent people of them belong to Santal community. The other groups include Kora, Turi, Mahle, Malpahari Orao, and Mundal.

Mysteriously, most of the murder, rape and assault cases filed with different police stations of the district still remain unresolved. Police claim that lack of witnesses has prevented them from forming charges.

According to records, most killing incidents took place in eight of 13 upazilas since 2002. During the period, in Nawabganj upazila alone, nine indigenous people were murdered. Vast majority of the 250 people, who were sued in connection with the crimes against the minorities were never arrested, alleged the leaders while talking to this correspondent.

In one instance, at around midnight on August 16, three alleged criminals broke into the hut of Parul Hasda, 30, a divorcee living alone in Garhnurpur village under Kaharol upazila. The perpetrators murdered Parul after gang rape. Two days later, on August 18, policemen from Kaharol recovered her body.

Monglu Hasda, elder brother of Parul, filed a case with Kaharol police station on August 19 accusing three people of intrusion, rape and murder. The accused are Delwar Hossain, 40, son of late Md. Hasem (Member) of Purba Sadipur, Jalal Uddin, 45, son of late Afzal of Helenchakuri village and Md. Asraful, son of Md. Bodiar Rahman of Purba Mallikpur village under Kaharol upazila.

Sukumar Mohanta, officer in-charge (OC) of Kaharol police station said that the woman was choked to death. Besides, several marks of torture were found on her body.

“We are waiting for the postmortem report before we go into action,” added the OC. Meanwhile, the alleged criminals remain at large in the area.

Local said that Bhadu Hasda, father of the slain woman, was beaten to death about 10 years ago. Some Bangalee settlers trying to grab his land were behind the murder.

Ranjit Kumar Roy, Programme Coordinator of Bangladesh Northern Elebethelical Lutheran Church Development Foundation (BNELCDF), quoting his own study on eight cases said, “All the murder cases originated from land related feuds between the settlers and the tribesmen.”

“Unfortunately years have passed but none of these cases saw justice,” he added.

“Due to this kind of treatment from the society, the helpless ethnic groups are now migrating to other countries,” he further said.

Shanti Murmu, a 70-year-old woman of Garhnurpur village, said since independence at least ten families have left the area for safer places.

Md. Moinuddin Chisty, a filmmaker on the lifestyle of indigenous people in this region said according to land record in the 1960s 60 percent of the land belonged to indigenous communities.

“But in 1970, the volume dropped to 30 percent, and a recent survey shows land ownership of the indigenous people is now only two percent,” he said.

Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics says there are 400,000 indigenous people living in various upazilas of Dinajpur.

Talking with this correspondent, Rabindranath Soren, Secretary General of Jaitya Adivasi Parishad (JAP) said that he himself became a victim of land grabbing incident in Parbatipur upazila of Dinajpur.

“My ancestral land was secretly recorded in the name of a Bangalee settler,” he said. “Until the government is serious about our protection it will be tough for us to survive,” he added.

Source: The Daily Star – 12/09/2012 (http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=249436)