Land grabbing dropped Rakhaine population to 5 percent in Coastal region in Bangladesh

reveals fact-finding mission of eminent citizen

The population of the Rakhaine people of two southern coastal districts – Patuakhali and Borguna – have gone down to as low as five percent over past few decades as a result of rampant land grabbing and persecution. This deplorable picture was revealed in a press conference organized on 29 March 2017 at Dhaka Reporters Unity in Dhaka following a fact-finding mission conducted by a team of eminent citizens of the country with the support of Caritas, Kapaeeng Foundation, Institute of Environment and Development (IED) and Association for Land Reforms and Development (ALRD).

As a follow up to the fact-finding mission made in August 2015, a 13-member civil society team led by veteran politician Pankaj Bhattacharya conducted a fresh fact-finding mission in several villages of Taltoli upazila (sub-district) of Borguna district and Kalapara upazila under Patuakhali district from17-19 March 2017. The fact-finding mission was aimed at revealing the current on-ground situation of human rights of the Rakhaine people of this part of the country.

The findings of the mission reveal a very gruesome and alarming state of the Rakhaine people as a result of rampant land grabbing. Land grabbing and associated violence, persecution and intimidation of different forms forced them to leave the country and migrate in the neighbouring states of Myanmar. The study shows that more than 50,000 Rakhaine people used to live in 237 villages of Borguna and Patuakhali districts until few decades ago. However, the citizen’s committee found that as a result of continued land grabbing, suppression and persecution, the Rakhaines were continuously forced to migrate to Myanmar – which resulted in significant reduction of their population. Referring to a Caritas survey, fact-finding mission report mentioned that only 2,561 Rakhaine people were living in 43 villages in 2014. This implies that the Rakhaine population has reduced to as low as five percent.

The findings-sharing press conference was moderated by Dhaka University teacher Robaet Ferdous while it was chaired by Oikya NAP president and leader of the fact-finding team Pankaj Bhattacharya. The fact-finding mission report was delivered by Numan Ahmed Khan, Executive Director of IED. Eminent researcher and columnist Syed Abul Maksud, Executive Director of ALRD Shamsul Huda, General Secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum (BIPF) Sanjeeb Drong, Chairperson of Kapaeeng Foundation and President of the Jatiya Adivasi Parishad Rabindranath Soren and Information and Publicity Secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum Dipayana Khisa, among others, were present in the press conference.

While addressing the press conference, eminent researcher and columnist Syed Abul Maksud said, if we fail to take proper and urgent actions, a part of Rakhaine civilization and the culture of Buddhist communities will be abolished from the country. He also mentioned the main cause of extinction of Rakhaine community is due to widespread population in-migration of the mainstream population in their territories. He also demanded to set-up a separate Land Commission to protect and restore the lands of the Rakhaine indigenous community of the area.

Oikya NAP president Pankaj Bhattacharya said, we must protect our indigenous peoples to preserve the country’s unique diversity. He also demanded strict enforcement of Section 97 of the State Acquisition and Tenancy Act 1950 for ending grabbing of the land of Rakhaine people. He also opined that the nation should seek apology from the indigenous peoples for the brutality carried on them for decades.

Executive Director of ALRD Shamsul Huda said, the State Acquisition and Tenancy Act1950 is supposed to work as a safeguard for the pains indigenous peoples, however, its success rate in protecting their rights is close to zero. He also stated that due to the rampant corruption of the government officials too, the Rakhaine people are losing their ancestral lands. He demanded for proper enforcement of State Acquisition and Tenancy Act 1950 for the plains indigenous peoples in order for protecting them from the eviction.

The civil society members urged the government to take immediate action to protect the Rakhaines of Borguna and Patuakhali districts. In this regard, they issued a list of recommendation in the press conference. The recommendations include:

  • To form an independent land commission for plains indigenous peoples to recover and return their lands and to set up a special tribunal at district level.
  • To enforce Section 97 of State Acquisition and Tenancy Act 1950 in order for protecting them from the eviction of the plains indigenous peoples.
  • return their grabbed ponds, burial grounds and temples and punish those who are involved in grabbing land of indigenous Rakhaine people.
  • To ensure individual and collective land rights of Rakhaine people as per ILO’s Indigenous and Tribal Population Convention (No. 107) which was ratified by Bangladesh.
  • To restitute Rakhaine name of their villages and places which were made distorted and to stop acquisition of reserved land including historical and spiritual site of Rakhaine people.
  • To organise public hearing with Rakhaine people regularly with an aim to stop land alienation of Rakhaine people and form a special cell at the Deputy Commissioner’s office in the indigenous-inhabited districts to address and resolve their problems.
  • To provide security of lives and properties of Rakhaine people and to take proper measures for stopping out-migration of Rakhaine people.
  • To name a university hall, road, bridge or installation or Kuakata Cultural Institute in the name of U Swe Rakhaine who was language movement activist in 1952.

The other members of fact-finding mission were Associate Professor Robaet Ferdous, teacher of Mass Communication and Journalism Department of Dhaka University; Numan Ahmed Khan, Executive Director of IED; Mangal Kumar Chakma, Indigenous rights activist ; Rajib Noor, reporter of the daily Samakal; Pavel Partha, researcher and diversity activist; Tanvir Ahmed, reporter of the daily Bhorer Kagoj; Emran Hossain Emon, reporter of the daily New Age; Sona Rani Chakma, vice president of Parbatya Chattagram Mahila Samiti; Rowshan Masuda, human rights defender; Dipayon Khisa, information and publicity secretary of BIPF; Lata Ahmed, film maker et al.