Attack on indigenous and Bengali farmers by police-RAB-local goons of Sugar mill in Rangpur: 2 Santal shot dead, 30 including 8 law enforcers injured, 3 arrested, 1200 families flee

KF Report: On 6 November 2016 a sudden attack upon indigenous people and Bengali farmers by police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and local goons hired by Rangpur sugar mills authority & influential political elements was taken place at Shahebganj Bagda farm of Rangpur Sugar Mills in Gobindaganj upazila under Gaibandha district aiming to evict indigenous and Bengali farmers.

In this attack, at least two indigenous Santal men were shot dead, three indigenous Santal villagers were arrested and 30 people including 17 indigenous men and 8 law enforcers were severely injured. The deceased were identified as Shyamal Hembrom (35) and Mongal Mardi (50). Moreover 15 more indigenous men were missing after the incident and more than 1200 families have fled due to the looting, vandalizing, arson attack of their houses. A false case was lodged against 42 indigenous and Bengali farmers mentioning the name and more 400 unknown villagers with Gobindaganj police station. It is also learnt that 8 law enforcers were also hurt while indigenous and Bengali farmers tried to resist the attack of police-RAB-local goons of Sugar mill.

6 November, in the morning

The attack has been started when Rangpur sugar mills authority along with around 500 police and RAB personnel and local goons of influential political elements went to evict indigenous peoples and Bengali farmers from their land on the name of reaping sugarcane. It is also learnt that workers and local goons hired by mill authority went to evict indigenous peoples at around 10:00 am in the morning. Indigenous and Bengali land owners of that area resisted with bows and arrows and protested against it. The police and RAB chased them, triggering a chase and counter-chase. The conflict took violent at intervals. Police and RAB fired bullets and lobbed teargas. Protesters shot arrows to protect themselves. At the end the clash had left 30 injured people including 17 indigenous peoples, 8 law enforcers also hurt. The injured were taken to Gobindaganj Upazila Health Complex, Rangpur and Dinajpur Hospital.

6 November, in the evening

On 6 December at 7:00 pm perpetrators set fire of indigenous and Bengali villages, looted and vandalized their houses. It is alleged that valuables including domestic animals and crops were looted from their makeshift houses from morning till noon in presence of law enforcers. More than 1200 families left their houses and took shelter nearby villages. On that night, one of the injured Santals, Shyamal Hembrom (35) was shot dead. Rest of the injured Santals, Dijen Tutu, Choron Soren and Bimol Kishku were arrested by the police while they were undergoing treatment at Rangpur Medical College Hospital. Local also alleged that police have been shot four indigenous men and their dead bodies are in the Bagda farm and police are not allowing anyone to enter into the spot.

Santals and Bengalis living in the area alleged that the local people who came with police looted their valuables including tin and bamboo of their makeshift houses, along with the domestic cattle.

Police Case for the incident of 6 November

Following the incident, many indigenous people of the area left the spot after a case was filed against 400 people including 42 named ones, on 6 November night. Office-in-Charge (OC) of Gobindaganj police station Subrata Kumer said their sub-inspector Kalyan Chakraborty filed the case. Meanwhile, Deputy Commissioner of Gaibandha district Abdus Samad along with top police officials visited the Sahebganj Sugercane Farm.

Living Under Open Sky

The forcefully evicted around 1200 Santals and Bengali farmers took shelter in two nearby villages. Most of them are living under open sky. As their all belongings were burnt to ashes they all are living with single cloths and without sufficient food. Women and children are facing most critical time in this early winter season.

7 November, looting and vandalizing

On 7 November Local miscreants terrorize the Santal villages Madarpur and Joypur and looted domestic animals, crops, valuables etc. Gaibandha police recovered another body of a Santal man from a rice field of Rangpur Sugar Mill. The man is identified as Mangal Mardi (55). Police found the body around 11:45pm and sent it to Dinajpur Medical College Hospital for autopsy, this was confirmed by officer-in-charge of Gabindaganj police station Subrata Kumar Sarkar. Meanwhile, Filimon Hembrom, a leader of the Santal community said that five of their men remained missing since the clash.  It is learnt from the locals that Rangpur sugar mill authority vandalized remaining of the recently burned houses of indigenous peoples through the bulldozer and cultivated/planted sugarcane after the incident.

Earlier incident on 12 July and Police Case

As the contract was violated, four months ago, indigenous Santal people comprising 1200 families and some Bangali farmers comprising 300 families occupied around 100 acres of land, building makeshift houses and school there, and demanding return of their lands that belonged to their forefathers. Since 1st July 2016, the Santals and Bengali farmers have started to set up makeshift dwelling on that land. But the mill authority and local administration with the help of the local Member of Parliament (MP) tried to evict them on 12 July 2016. Even police fired upon the agitators while 4 indigenous people including a woman were critically injured by the bullet and later they were detained by police and were sent to the Gaibandha jail. But the strong resistances from the indigenous peoples and Bengali farmers have foiled the eviction move of the mill authority. After the incident, the mill authority and the local administration filed 4 false cases against 31 indigenous and Bengali farmers and unnamed 400/500 persons.

Agreement between Pakistan Industrial Corporation and East Pakistan government on 7th July 1962.

The agreement has clearly mentioned that the land would be returned to the original owners if the land is used any other purpose instead of farming sugarcane. Moreover, clause 5 of the contact said government return back the acquired land from Pakistan Industrial Corporation and give back to the original land owners by the restoration.

Demand of the Original Land Owners

Indigenous and Bengali farmers of Sahebganj-Bagda farm area under Gobindoganj upazila of Gaibandha district have been demanding the return of 1842.30 acres’ land acquired for Rangpur (Mahimaganj) Sugar Mills Limited since 2014, alleging that the authorities violated the contract by cultivating crops other than sugarcane and leasing out parts of the land to the influential people. They have been organising different kinds of demonstration like mass gathering, human chain, press conference, discussion, roundtable, memorandum submission and delivering statement to the press were performed by Sahebganj Bagda Farm Land Rescue Action Committee, Jatiya Adivasi Parishad, Kapaeeng Foundation and Civil Society Members both at the local and national level. On 5 September 2016, a support group of Civil Society for land rights of indigenous peoples of plain land organised press conference and demanded to the government to return back land of Sahebganj-Bagda farm to the original owners of indigenous peoples and Bengali farmers.

Gaibandha Deputy Commissioner’s Investigation Report

After the visit of Sahebgonj-Bagda farm area on 30 March 2015, the Deputy Commissioner of Gaibandha district published a report on 21 June (memo no: 05.55.3200. that said, the mill authority gave lease of the acquired land to the local influential people and they started cultivating paddy, wheat, mustard, potato, tobacco and hybrid corn instead of sugarcane. The report also stated that it found evidence of plantation of paddy, tobacco and other crops in the land of Sugar mill.

Game on the Land

The original land owners still do not get a single amount of land. On the other hand, the Mill Authority is playing game with the acquired land of Bagda farm. On 10 May 2016, Deputy Commissioner of Gaibandha district has proposed (memo no: 05.55.3200. to establish a Special Economic Zone to Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority (BEZA). It is clear that a conspiracy is going on regarding the 1842.30 acres’ land, so that the mill authority does not have to give back the lands to the original landowners.

A brief account of Rangpur (Mohimagonj) Sugar Mills Ltd.

Notable that, in 1962 then East Pakistan government acquired 1842.30 acres of land belonging to indigenous peoples and Bengali farmers to cultivate sugar cane for the Rangpur (Mahimaganj) Sugar Mills Ltd. As a result, residents of 15 indigenous villages and 5 Bengali villages in the area of Rampur, Sapmara, Madarpur, Narangabad and Chakarahimpur mouza under Gobindaganj upazila of Gaibandha district were evicted from their homes. Later they spread over to different regions of the country as a result of evictions and were forced to live a miserable life. In this regard, indigenous peoples were seriously affected. As per the agreement related to this property, if the sugarcane project is closed down and any crops other than sugarcane is cultivated, then the government is bound to return (surrender) the acquired 1842.30 acres to the land original owners. The government took the property to go back to the previous state. On 31March 2004, production of Rangpur (Mahimaganj) Sugar Mills Ltd. was closed down due to corruptions, mismanagement of authorities and damage of the mill. But the terms of the agreement were violated by the government as the Sugar Mills Authority has leased out the property to influential individuals and racketeers for the cultivation of rice, wheat, corn, tobacco, potatoes, mustard, etc in the property instead of sugar cane. In this situation marginalized indigenous and Bengali farmers who have lost land have complained to the Government several times to get back the acquired 1842.30 acres of land.

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Published on 9 November 2016.