Follow up: Attack on Santal People in Gobindagonj

KF Report:

Present Situation

Even after ten days of the incident more than 1200 Santal families are still living in open sky. Goons of local member of parliament Abul Kalam Azad and Chairman of Sapmara Union Council Shakil Ahmed Bulbul have encircled the affected people from all directions preventing them from going out of their village periphery. That is why now the affected community, who are poor and mostly day labourer, facing food crisis. Further, as their houses and all belongings are completely burnt down, most of them are living with a single cloth.

As still they are living in insecurity, community people could not go to police station to file case against the killing and arson attack carried out on them. However, police has already filed case against more than 350 Santal men and poor farmers. Though ten days have passed after the incident, government did not take any measure to form any inquiry committee and to identify those responsible for the crimes. There is no justice yet for police firing on innocent indigenous Santal people, looting and arson attack.

The dead bodies of three deceased Shyamal Hembrom (35), Mangal Mardi (50) and Romesh Soren (40) had already been buried. Four seriously injured men are still under treatment. Three Santals are still missing. Philimon Baske, a leader of the community said they are concerned about three men reportedly missing since the day of the attack. One of them they as they informed, was an elderly man who was beaten by the attacker mercilessly. He was Madhi Hembron, age 60.

Three injured Santal men, except one who was referred to Dhaka, were detained and they were being transferred to jail from hospital by police on 15th November 2016 though they did not completely recover. Doctors of Rangpur Medical College Hospital informed that the injured Santals were given clearance by the appeal of Police. Though they were not recovered they should stay few more days in hospital. Gobindaganj police said, the two Santal men namely Bimal Kisku and Charon Soren and Majhi Hembram from Gobinganj health complex have been transferred from Rangpur Medical College hospital to jail for security reasons. They have been arrested in connection with the police case. Mentionable that police filed a case against 442 Santals over the November 6 incident, but police refused to register any case from Santal people when they went to Sundarganj Police Station.

Meanwhile, the sugar mill authorities have installed 300 pillars and set barbed-wire fence around the land the indigenous Santals and Bengali farmers were evicted from. There is a police camp on the land.

It is to be mentioned that 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 and 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 three 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.

Visit of Civic Group and Distribution of Relief to the Victims

On 13 November 2016 A civic group visited the Santal community in Sahebganj-Bagdha Farm area of Gaibandha where at least 3 indigenous Santal people were killed while protesting to protect their ancestors land last week. During the visit the team talks with victims and hold a discussion meeting. Later the team distributed the relief and warm cloths among the affected people.

Veteran politician Pankaj Bhattacharya; eminent economist & researcher Abul Barakat; rights activist Khusi Kabir; general secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum (BIPF) Sanjeeb Drong; president of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad Rabindranath Soren; presidium member of Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council Kajal Debnath; women rights activist Sharmeen Murshid; Jana Samhati Samity leader Dipayan Khisa, treasurer of BIPF Andrew Solomar; Manusher Jonno Foundation representative Rezwanul Karim; Kapaeeng Foundation representatives were among others visited the area.

The civic group visited the Joypur and Madarpur Santal village at around 2:00 pm. First they met with victims and talk with them. After that they visited the spot where indigenous peoples’ houses were burnt to ashes. Later the team hold a mass gathering at infront of the Church of Madarpur village.

In the gathering Pankaj Bhattacharya demanded rectification campaign of local Awami League to Prime Minister. At the same time, he urged to take urgent measure to save ancestral land of helpless indigenous Santal and margialised Bengali people of that area.

Khushi Kabir strongly condemned about handcuffing injured indigenous people while taking treatment at hospital bed and demanded to open them immediately and a judicial inquiry for this barbaric attack.

Abul Barakat said the Santal families had the rights on the farm lands as it had been acquired from their forefathers and the land was no more being used for the purpose of farming sugarcane for the sugar mill. He demanded to the government to rehabilitate the evicted Santal people and punish the culprits who planned and executed the eviction of some 1,200 families of Santals, poor Bengali farmers.

Accusing local Lawmaker and chairman of Sapamara union, Olivia Hembram said local MP Abul Kalam Azad and UP Chairman Shakil Ahmed Bulbul were the main perpetrators of this attack. They had given order to evict them and their gangs set fire of indigenous peoples houses with the help of police. Other victims informed the civic team and media that

Other delegation members Snajeeb Drong, Kajal Debnath, Robindranath Soren, Sharmeen Murshid were also spoke among others in the mass gathering.

Later the Civic team distributed relief to the victims. Kapaeeng Foundation, with the assistance of Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), managed relief materials such as Lungi, Sari, Blanket, warm cloths etc.

The civic team will organize a press conference on November 19 to share their findings with the press and media.

Ruling Party Awami League (AL) Delegation Visited Affected Area

A delegation of ruling Awami League visited Santal community on the same day – 13th November 2016. After visiting the affected people, the five-member team led by B M Mozammel Haque, organising secretary of central Awami League, held a rally there. The five-members’ delegation of the team are: B M Mozammel Haque, AL’s Rangpur division organising secretary; Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury of Rajshahi; Tipu Munsi, the party’s finance and planning secretary; Sujit Roy Nondi, relief and social welfare secretary, and Remond Areng, executive member of the AL.

The AL delegation assured of taking punitive steps against the attackers and promised to provide all possible assistance to the victims, including education for children, rehabilitation of victims and loan to operate income generating activities. They reiterated guilty will be punished irrespective of their party affiliations. However, they did not mention anything about return of land to the Santal villagers and marginalized Bengali farmers.

High Court Verdict

On 14 November 2016 the High Court ordered the government to remove the handcuffs and ropes tying up from three injured Santal men of Gaibandha who are now under medical treatment. The three Santal men are Choron Soren, Bimal Kisku, both undergoing treatment at Rangpur Medical College Hospital, and DijenTudu, undergoing treatment at National Institute of Eye Science & Hospital in Dhaka.

A High Court Bench of Justice Obaildul Hasan and Justice Krishna Debnath passed the order after hearing on a writ petition filed by Supreme Court Lawyer Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua. Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua filed a petition at the high court after media reports. Barua argued in support of his petition while the state was defended by Deputy Attorney General Motaher Hossain Shaju.

The court asked why the handcuffing of hospital patients during treatment could not be declared illegal

The court also ordered Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Deputy Inspector General of Rangpur Range and superintendent of Gaibandha police to comply with the order by November 16 and file a compliance report.The home secretary, the inspector general of police, the Dhaka police commissioner, Rangpur DIG and the Gaibandha Super have been ordered to provide a response within two weeks.

Refusal of Taking Government Relief

Alleging double standard stance of local administration, the evicted Santal families of Gobindaganj upazila in Gaibandha refused receiving relief goods offered by the administration and demanded to be rehabilitated on their own land. Upazila Nirbahi Officer Md Abdul Hannan, Upazila Project Implementation Officer Zahirul Islam and Sapmara union’s Ward 6 member Abdur Rouf went to distribute relief items to Santals of Madarpur and Joypur villages under Sapmara union, but none of them received it.

Each victim families of violent attack, were offered 20kg rice, one-liter edible oil, one kilogram of pulse, one kilogram of potato, one kilogram of salt and two blankets. The upzila officials waited in front of Madarpur Church to distribute relief since 9:30 am morning till afternoon on 14 November 2016. However, the affected people did not receive any.

The Santal victims want first the barbed wire fence around the land be removed and sugarcane farming on the land be stopped; cases against Santals be withdrawn; actions be taken against Gobindaganj lawmaker Abul Kalam Azad and Sapmara Union Council Chairman Shakil Ahmed Bulbul; the victims be compensated for their losses; punishment for the frauds who took money from them for the land; and justice for the three Santals who were killed in the clash. They informed the authorities that until those demands are met, they will not accept government relief.

Police Admitted to Fire Santals following Magistrates’ Order

Police admitted that they opened fire at the indigenous Santals during the violent clash on 6 November. Gobindaganj police station OC Subrata Kumar Sarker said that there were five magistrates present on the spot that day. They gave them the order to open fire at the Santals to bring the situation under control. Gobindaganj Upazila Nirbahi Officer Abdul Hannan, who was one of the five magistrates present at the scene, admitted to having given the order.

The four other magistrates were Palashbari upazila Assistant Commissioner (Land) Towhidul Islam, Gobindaganj upazila Assistant Commissioner (Land) Ahmed Ali, and Rafiul Islam and Mezbah Uddin, magistrates at the office of deputy commissioner in Gaibandha.

A Legal Notice Serves to Different Government Officials

A legal notice has been sent to nine people including Home secretary, Industry Secretary regarding the issue of attack on indigenous Santals in Gaibandha. The notice has been sent to apprise under which power the eviction process conducted by administration and what steps have been taken against the perpetrators who are involved in looting, vandalizing and firing on innocent villagers.

Those notices were sent to the others, are the Inspector General of Police, Deputy Commissioner of Gaibandha, Rangpur Police Range Deputy Inspector General (DIG), police superintendent of Gaibandha, Gobindaganj UNO, Goibndaganj police officer in charge (OC) and Mahimaganja sugar mill manager. The notice that, after receiving the legal notice mentioned people must give written answer regarding the matter. Otherwise, the necessary legal measures would be taken.

A Supreme Court Lawyer, Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua, sent the notice on behalf of Olivia Hembram wife of Dwijen Tudu and Rumila Kisku injured and victims of the violence.


Media Reports:

Published on 16 November 2016.