Ruling Awami League leader grabs ancestral land of indigenous Khasi people in Jaintiapur

Recently, an influential local leader of ruling party named Liakat Ali allegedly grabbed land belonging to Chhamin Khasi, wife of Sadoi Yangti of Mokam Punji under Jaintiapur upazila in Sylhet district. Also, there are allegations that Liakat Ali has been continuously intimidating and harassing indigenous villagers of Mokam Punji in this connection.

It is learnt that on 4 January 2015 in the morning, as per direction of Liakat Ali, the acting general secretary of Awami League, Jaintiapur upazila unit, a gang of land grabbers composed of nine persons chopped down nearly a hundred betel nut trees of paan jum (betel leaf garden), traditionally the main source of livelihood of indigenous Khasi people, of Khasi villagers of Mokam Puni with the intention to grab nearly 4.5 acres of the land of Chhamin Khasia. The next day, on 5 January, the same land grabber gang brought around 20-25 trucks of rocks and dumped the paan jum as per Liakat’s direction. While doing so, the miscreants dumped the rocks on the lands of nine indigenous Khasi families living near the vicinity of the paan jum. When indigenous peoples tried to obstruct and remove some rocks from there, they were threatened to be slayed by the gang of Liakat.

Being failure to obstruct, the villagers informed the police at Jaintia model police station. The Officer-in-Charge (OC), Harunur Rashid Chowdhury, later visited the spot and asked the gang to stop dumping rocks on the land.

This incident happened while a court proceeding between Chhamin Khasia and Liakat Ali was going on. Since Liakat made attempts to take the land under occupation, Chhamin Khasi appealed to the court for protection. Then the court gave a directive to the Jaintiapur police station to declare Section 144 (illegal assembly or gathering of more than five people) to ensure peace and security. Accordingly, the police of Jaintiapur police station imposed Section 144 on 31 December 2015 in the paan jum area. Liakat Ali and his gang broke the directive and chopped the betel nut trees. However, police did not take any action in this regard. The rocks still remain on the paan jum and imposed Section 144 has not been withdrawn up to this writing.

Liakat Ali has confessed that he put the rocks on the land and claimed that the land is a barren one and no paan (betel leaf) cultivation is being done there. He also claimed that the land does not belong to the Khasi people. He occupied the land after he lodged application for settlement, he further claimed.

However, Chhamin Khasi claimed that the land was originally in the name of the mother Talao Petum of Chhami Khasi in the SA record. After the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, government took over the land as a government property under the ‘Vested Property Act’. Later, in 1984, Chhamin’s husband Sadoi Yangti took settlement of the land and since then their family has been cultivating the land. They gradually developed a paan jum along with a betel nut garden on the land.

After the land came to the sight of Liakot, he had been trying to grab the land. On 13 April 2013, Liakot Ali applied for settlement for 2.0 acres of land from the land of Chhamin. Iqbal Hosen, the Assistant Commissioner (Land) of Jaintia upazila visited the spot and submitted a report which mentioned that the land was allotted settlement in the name of Sodai Yangti.

Following gazette published according to the Section 9, Schedule-A of Vested Property Return Act 2001 (Amendment 2011), Chhamin made an application to the Vested Property Return Tribunal, Sylhet in order to get her name removed from the list of vested properties and get her land back. According to the Vested Property Return Act (Amendment 2011), settlement cannot be provided to anybody while the case is going on at the court. As a consequence, Iqbal Hosen, Assistant Commissioner (Land) declared a new date for hearing and made a directive to responsible officials of Upazilla Land Office to submit a report after conducting an on-site enquiry.

It is learnt that Liakat Ali is known as an influential. According to the local newspaper sources he is very close to the local MP, Imran Ahmed, and uses this contact and has a gang to grab lands belonging to government and non-government. It is also claimed that he has created a reign of terror in the whole area. Many locals including journalists have been tortured and harassed by him. People do not dare to speak up against him.