By Laura Notess
Ten years ago, the Cambodian government granted 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) of land to a Thai company to plant sugarcane. But this land was not empty.
Six hundred families were already living on it, growing rice and vegetables and foraging food and other goods from the nearby community forest. Over the next few years, the company cut down more than half the forest. While conducting evictions, staff and security forces looted rice fields and demolished or burned more than 300 homes. Many people lost their land and all their belongings. Parents sent their children to work in Thailand, unable to farm and afford school fees.
Villagers are trying to recover some of their losses through a class action lawsuit. But even if they are successful, it will provide little remedy for the felled forests, destroyed homes and disruption of community life.
By Adil Sakhawat
It has been four months since the attacks happened and a lot of Santals are still homeless and living in desperate conditions. Dwijen Tudu who was blinded in the left eye during the attack on Santals in Gaibandha last November came to Dhaka to speak at a public hearing on Tuesday even though he and his wife were both threatened not to attend.
He spoke about the inaction of local lawmakers and the Chairman of Shapmara Union Parisad at the public hearing on the violation of human rights of indigenous people organised by the Institute for Environment and Development at CBCB Centre.
Speaking on how their land was being taken by land grabbers, he said: “We are still being threatened to not return, even today when we were coming to attend the programme we were warned.
“No one has been arrested for the attack even though it has been four months. We demand the government let us return to our land and build permanent homes for us there.”
The indigenous people from Pahan, Santals and Oraon spoke of the continuous harassment they faced with false cases being filed in their names, which they say is a ploy by Bangalis to grab their lands.
They demanded these allegations be properly investigated by NGOS and the government.
It has been four months since the attacks happened and a lot of Santals are still homeless and living in desperate conditions.
“We are continuously being harassed by the police with these false cases being filed against us. We are so scared that our children do not leave the house, not even to go to school,” said Olivia Hembrom at the hearing.
Three indigenous people were killed and seven people disappeared during the attack on the indigenous people in Gobindaganj of Gaibandha district on November 6, 2016.
Even though so much time has passed no progress has been made by the government, the speakers at the public hearing said.
Uzzal Pahan from Akkelpur upazila of Joypurhat lost his uncle Mohonlal Pahan in August last year. He was killed by land grabbers.
“The only reason I lost my uncle is because the land grabbers lost the false case they filed against us and they took revenge by killing him,” Uzzal alleged.
“They also attacked our home,” he added.
The hearing was full of people saying the practice of land grabbers filing false cases was rampant.
“There is a huge financial burden that comes with having to hire a lawyer and going to court. At this rate, we are going to be left landless and destitute,” said Robisoy from Nawabganj, Rajshahi.
Bicitra Tikri of Chapainawabganj lamented on the extent of their rights being violated, having been raped by land grabbers when she tried to get her deceased husband’s land.
“The government is blind to the level of harassment the indigenous people are subjected to. They should form a land commission for the indigenous community,” she said, adding that the government’s inaction has been nothing short of frustrating.
After hearing all these allegations Srijoni Tripura, a Supreme Court lawyer, urged the government to take separate initiatives to stop the human rights violation of indigenous people.
She also suggested lawmakers be stripped of their position if found guilty of being involved in land grabbing of indigenous people.
Published on the Dhaka Tribune website on March 29, 2017.