Kapaeeng Foundation Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights Report: September 2020

In September 2020, there were 11 incidents of violence against indigenous women and girls including rape, gang rape, sexual harassment and abduction. In these incidents, 11 indigenous women and adolescents have been victims of violence. Among them, 7 women and girl have been raped including 2 gang rapes and 4 women have been sexually harassed, beaten and abducted. The most shocking and brutal of these incidents was the gang rape of a mentally challenged Jumma woman by 9 Bengali settlers in Khagrachari and the looting of valuables in the house. On the other hand, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), one person has been arrested, another person forcibly picked up, three persons interrogated and two houses have been searched.

In September 2020, there were 17 incidents of land grabbing and eviction of indigenous people, attacks and tortures on indigenous people over land disputes, filing of conspiracy cases, construction of roads damaging the environment and climate, etc. across the country. At least five indigenous persons have been injured in the attack related land grabbing and harassment by land grabbers. At least 21 acres of land of indigenous people in different places have been targeted to occupy by land grabbers. Besides, three villages like Tongpara of Nachol upazila, Ullapara of Sirajganj district, Panjum of Katabari Panpunji of Kulaura have been attacked. Land grabbers have tried to occupy the playground of indigenous people in Tahirpur. The most heinous incident related to land grabbing and evictions in September was the cutting down of the banana plantation (worth about Tk. 3 lakh) of Basanti Rema by the forest department at Pegamari village in Madhupur without any prior notice.

The hills are being cut freely for illegal brick kilns in Lama and for the construction of roads for a private educational institution in Bandarban Sadar Upazila. Besides, work is underway to build a road by cutting the hills for a private university in Bandarban. Timber and trees are being smuggled freely from various government forests in Lama and Alikadam upazilas. As a result, these forests are on the way to becoming treeless. Thus, the construction of roads by cutting down hills, setting up brickfields indiscriminately, and smuggling of trees have led to the threat of serious environmental catastrophe.

It is learnt that a heinous plan has been taken to settle down at least 500 Muslim Bengali settlers in Baghaihat and Charkilo of Marishya in Baghaichhari upazila of Rangamati Hill District. On the other hand, the Bengali settlers have claimed to have document (Kabuliyat) of around 500 acres of land from Dakghor Moan (big hill) to Bame Longadu under Longadu upazila. This has led to fears of Jumma residents being evicted from large areas and losing land.

Land, natural resources and climate change

On 2 September 2020, following the dispute over land, a group of land grabbers led by Al-Amin (30) and Mikail (25) attacked two indigenous farmers named Nirmal Roy (40) and his uncle Sunil Hansdar (36) at Godagari in Rajshahi. Two legs and one arm of Nirmal Roy were broken in the attack. There are also bloody wounds in different parts of the body.

On 4 September 2020, there were allegations of attempting to occupy 1.50 acres of land belonging to an indigenous Santal named Niren Mardi of Bara Chandipur (Barkona) village in Parbatipur upazila of Dinajpur district. Md. Mahabur Rahman, son of late Abdul Jabbar of the same village, tried to occupy the land by force.

On 5 September 2020, two Jumma people were beaten by a settler in Tain Mouza of Chaikshyang Union in Alikadam Upazila of Bandarban district. A resident of Abul Kashem Para named Badal and his gang carried out a sudden attack when the family members of Monghlaching Marma (42) went to clear weeds in their garden (5 acres). Monghlaching and his uncle Mong Mong Hla were injured in this attack.

Indigenous people have been attacked and tortured in Tongpara of Nachol upazila of Chapainawabganj by a group of land grabbers. Abu Russell Khaleq gang has been carrying out various conspiracies, attacks, lawsuits, torture, indecency and attempts to occupy the pond for a long time to oust the indigenous Rajowar people from Tongpara. An appeal was lodged with the Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police of Chapainawabganj on 7 September seeking justice but no action has been taken so far.

The hills are illegally being cut down freely for brick kilns in the Mya Angpara area of Faitang Union in Lama Upazila of Bandarban. There are 30 brickfields in three wards of Faitang Union in Lama Upazila of Bandarban. And in these brickfields, hills are being cut and destroyed to make bricks. Hill cutting is going on day and night with the help of excavator. The life of the locals is being poisoned by the roar of the machine and the dust. Influential brickfield owners threatened to sue while the locals tried to prevent them from cutting down the hills.

According to the news of The Daily Star (17 September 2020), Bandarban Hill District Council has cut a few hills for building a road to go to a public-private partnership university owned by Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing, Minister for CHT Affairs Ministry. But due to indiscriminate cutting of hills, the development has now turned into destruction as a result of severe landslides. Bandarban Hill District Council constructed the road at a cost of Tk 1.5 crore. But the road was not sustainable as it was built by cutting the hills. Hence the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) has now undertaken a project to develop the damaged road at a cost of Tk. 5.74 crore.

Chakraya-Lama-Faitang and Baniachhara road of Chakaria upazila of Cox’s Bazar have now become safe transit for smuggling timber and trees from various government forests of Lama and Alikadam upazilas. As there is no check post and patrolling of the forest department on the Faitang road bordering Chakriya, the smugglers have been loading trucks and pickups and cutting down the trees in the government forest for smuggling them along the unprotected internal roads. As a result, these forests are on the way to becoming treeless. If the smuggling of trees continues in this way, there is a danger of a serious environmental disaster.

The land grabbers have been committing heinous thefts, vandalism of temples, attempts to steal idols of Sri Sri Jagadishwari Mata temple, occupation of temple land, filing false cases against indigenous Munda community, torture and persecution in Chaitrahati village of Ullapara upazila of Sirajganj district. A memorandum was submitted by the indigenous people to the Prime Minister on 13 September 2020 through the Ullapara Upazila Executive Officer seeking justice.

On 14 September 2020, without any prior notice, a group of 10/12 miscreants led by Assistant Commissioner of Forest Jamal Hossain Talukder, Ranger Abdul Ahad and local ward Awami League member Jahangir destroyed the banana plantation of 0.40 acres of land planted by Basanti Rema in Pegamari village of Madhupur of Tangail, whose financial value is about 3 lakh takas).

Aman paddy of 8 bighas planted by indigenous people have been destroyed by applying poison by the land grabbers at Chawkbeni of Badalgachhi in Naogaon district. In addition, 8 false cases have been filed against the indigenous people by the land grabbers. On 22 September 2020, the indigenous people demanded the immediate withdrawal of the 8 false cases and the removal of the officer-in-charge of Badalgachhi police station for taking the side of the land grabbers.

On 22 September 2020, a robbery took place at the house of indigenous person named Hira in Amnarayan village of Tentulia union in Porsha upazila of Naogaon district. The robbers looted valuables of the house worth lakhs of takas from two houses at gun point.

On 27 September 2020, a group of 15-20 land grabbers led by Rafiq Mian (40), Bashir Mian (35), Ustar Ali (45) and Harun Mian (50) attacked Panjum of Katabari Panpunji in Karmadha Union of Kulaura Upazila of Moulvibazar District. Panjum has been forcibly occupied and Pan (betel leaf) has been looted.

Authorities at the Bidyananda Foundation’s Dwipatari Orphanage have been accused of occupying land belonging to the Mro community by defaming the educational institution at Pamiya Karbari Para of Mongu Mouza of Chaiksyang Union under Alikadam Upazila of Bandarban. Initially it took 5.0 acres of land, but this year it has taken more 5.0 acres of land which stands 10 acres of hilly land.

A settler named Md. Bachar of Bhaibonchhara Guchhgram of Longadu Union in Rangamati district, has been accused of illegally occupying 5.0 acres of land belonging to Rangachan Chakma of Galachhari village of Longadu mouza and constructing a house on this land.

Land grabbers have been trying to occupy 2.57 acres of ancestral land of Joas Murmu in Barta mouza of Gobindaganj upazila by making fake documents. Nine land grabbers led by Mozammel Haque of Borta Gomradighi village forged documents to occupy the land.

The land used as a playground by the indigenous Garo community for centuries for various festivals has been tried to occupy by the land grabbers in Tahirpur of Sunamganj district.

Violence against women and girls

On 01 September 2020, in an arbitration led by Awami League leader Ratan Kumar Shil, without taking proper legal action, the accused settlers were fined Tk. 10,000 for gang-raping a Marma girl (14) by four settlers led by Al Amin (24) of Tilapara in Sadar Union of Mahalchhari Upazila. The said Marma girl was gang-raped on 31 August 2020.

On 01 September 2020, the police arrested Shamim Hossain, accused of raping an indigenous Santal girl disable with speech in Nawabganj Upazila Polli of Dinajpur district. The girl was raped on 31 August 2020.

On 01 September 2020, an indigenous college girl (20) was raped by Tapash Chandra Roy of Azampur Kazipara village in Mahmudpur union of Nawabganj upazila of Dinajpur district.

On 5 September 2020, a young man named Shahjalal (25) picked up and sexually harassed a 14-year-old indigenous girl of Koch community in Sakhipur of Tangail. Two days after the incident, a decision was taken in an arbitration led by a local UP member and a former BCL leader to pay one lakh takas to the girl’s family.

On 9 September 2020, two settler youths named Md. Rabiul (25) and Md. Chunnu (30) entered the house of Jumma housewife (22) at Geitya Mahajan Para village in Barkal upazila of Rangamati district and tried to molest her. In an arbitration at the Gorasthan Awami League office, accused settlers were fined Tk. 10,000 for the incident, without taking proper legal action.

On 11 September 2020, Khokon Bhowmik (25), a soldier in the Air Force, with the help of his friend Biswajit Bhowmik (24), a soldier of Bangladesh military, raped a ninth-grade indigenous girl of Kulaura Cameli Duncan Foundation School in Moulvibazar in the Chunarughat Nalua Tea Garden in Habiganj.

On 14 September 2020, a sixth grade Jumma schoolgirl (12) was raped by a policeman named Md. Nazmul Hasan (23) in Dighinala of Khagrachhari district.

On 19 September 2020, Umaid Mian (50), a resident of Katabil village in Adampur union of Kamalganj upazila of Moulvibazar, beaten up Chaubihan Devi (60), an indigenous Manipuri woman, with a stick to bloody wound.

On 24 September 2020, a mentally challenged Jumma woman was gang-raped and valuables of her house looted by 9 Bengali Muslim settlers at her home in Balpiye Adam village near Golabari Union Office in Sadar upazila of Khagrachhari district.

Since 26 September 2020 a 15-year-old indigenous girl has been raped after being detained for three days by the church’s father Pradip Gregory at the “Sadhujan Mary Vianni Church” in Mundumala Mahalipara area of Tanore upazila in Rajshahi district.

On 27 September 2020, Rita Chakma, an 7th grade schoolgril of Shamlapur High School from Mankhali Chakma Para No. 9 of Jaliapalang Union in Ukhiya Upazila of Cox’s Bazar District went missing. The family members claimed she was abducted by someone.

Socio-economic and cultural rights:

Recently, an initiative has been taken by the government to demolish the original building of Birchandra Nagar Auditorium and Library of Comilla Town Hall, which was constructed by Tripura Maharaja before 135 years ago, and construct a new facility. In a statement sent to the media on 8 September 2020, 50 prominent citizens of the country protested against the demolition of the traditional Birchandra Nagar auditorium and library building in the name of development. Indigenous peoples opined that it is a plan to destroy the historical sites and culture of the indigenous people from the country.

Although Bangladesh progressed toward a middle-income country, the Garo-inhabited Jalabada village in Madhupur is still underdeveloped. The distance from Madhupur Upazila Sadar to Jalalabad is 18 kilometers. Its 8 kilometers is not just a dirt road, but a walking path through the gaps of the Gajari forest. People are deprived of development as they are bordered by Madhupur of Tangail, Muktagachha of Mymensingh and Jamalpur Sadar upazila. As the Tangail Forest Department obstructed the construction of roads there, people without communication, education and digital technology lived a medieval life.

A giant tourist complex is being built at the top of Chimbuk hill in the Nilgiri of Bandarban, evicting of the local Jumma residents and endangering their livelihood. Construction of a five-star Marriott Hotel and Amusement Park has begun in the Nilgiri of Bandarban.