PBI, judicial probe on Santal attack begin

28 December 2016 bdnews24.com


A judicial probe and another by the Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) have been launched into the violent eviction of Santals by the Rangpur Sugar Mill from a disputed land in Gaibandha.
Chief Judicial Magistrate Md Shahidullah visited Gobindganj's Madarpur village inhabited by the ethnic minority at 11am Tuesday. Half an hour before that, Bogra PBI's Additional Superintendent of Police Md Akhtar Hossain arrived at the Santal village with his team of detectives.
The two teams visited the villages of Madarpur and Jaipurparha and spoke to Santal and Bengali families who have suffered due to the Nov 6 eviction. They were seen collecting samples from huts blackened after they were set on fire during the eviction. ASP Akhtar said he was following a High Court order for a PBI investigation into complaints filed by two Santal men, Swapan Murmu and Tomar Hembrom.
"We have started our investigation by visiting the area and talking to the victims. We'll file our report once we are done." Chief Judicial Magistrate Md Shahidullah said he interviewed Santal and Bengali victims of the eviction for the report to be sent to the High Court.
Meanwhile, Santal victims, carrying bows and arrows, have taken out a march in Madarpur to demand a return of the requisitioned land and punishment of perpetrators. The court's order came after a video of police setting fire to houses of Santals during the eviction drive at Gobindaganj Upazila went viral on social media.
In 1962, the Rangpur Sugar Mill authority acquired 1840.30 acres of land from Santals and Bengalis in 18 villages for sugarcane farming in Gaibandha's Gobindaganj Upazila.
Santals claim the sugar mill has used the land to grow rice and tobacco, in violation of the agreement, and they have occupied the land and launched protests. Earlier this year, Santals built several hundred houses on the disputed land and began living there. Clashes broke out on Nov 6 after the sugar mill authorities attempted to reclaim the land. Santal homes were looted during the clashes.
After some homes were burnt down, tractors levelled the ground on orders from the sugar mill authorities.
Police opened fire at one point during the clashes. Three Santal residents were killed in the firing and many others were wounded. The shooting has sparked a raging debate in Bangladesh. Protests have broken out in many areas, including the capital, Dhaka. According to the government, the land does not belong to the Santals.
It says 'land sharks' are using the Santals to get hold of the land so that they can later acquire it for themselves.
Santal residents, on the other hand, say they want the 'land of their forefathers' returned to them.
The local police started a case against more than 300 Santals over the incident. Four members of the ethnic community had been arrested in the case and later released on bail.
On Nov 16, a Santal victim Swapan Marma filed a case against 600 unidentified men for attack, loot and arson. Police have so far arrested 21 persons in the case. Ten days later, another Santal man, Thomas Hembhrom, filed a complaint with the police over the same incident. Police had lodged it as a general diary as a previous case had been filed. On Dec 14 the High Court ordered Rangpur Range police to investigate the complaints filed by the Santals.

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