At least ten non-government organizations, campaigning for land and human rights of marginalised population, called on the government to protect indigenous communities living in Ichhachhara Punjee of Kulaura upazila.
They made the call on Saturday while visiting Ichhachhara Punjee (village) where indigenous communities came under attack on November 9 over possession of a betel leaf garden belonging to an indigenous family at Katabari Paan Jum (betel leaf garden).
In order to promptly settle land disputes of indigenous communities living on plain land across the country, the organisations also urged the government to take immediate steps for creating a separate land commission for plain land indigenous communities.
The members of the rights organisations also met with Moulvibazar deputy commissioner (DC) and Kulaura upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) on Sunday.
Association for Land Reform and development (ALRD) representative and Programme Officer (Law) AKM Bulbul Ahmed said the land commission for plain land indigenous communities should be comprised of members of the communities and there should be a law that bans the transfer of land from indigenous people to non-indigenous people.
The perpetrators of the attack on Ichhachhara Punjee have to be brought to book without any further delay and views exchange dialogues should also be held regularly to solve problems of the communities, he added.
Abdul Karim Chowdhury, general secretary of Sylhet unit of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (Bapa), said the role of indigenous people in protecting forest, bio-diversity and environment is undeniable and a threat to their existence could easily be defined as a threat to natural forest and wildlife.
Despite the fact, the indigenous people are increasingly under threat and the government should take strict action against violators of the law, he added.
Ripon Banai, student and youth secretary of central committee of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, demanded that a national policy for all indigenous communities and a separate ministry for the indigenous people on plain land be made.
Manusher Jonno Foundation Senior Program Manager Evelina Chakma, Coordinator of Indigenous Environment Movement of Bapa in Sylhet division Father Joseph Gomes OMI, KUBRAJ General Secretary Flora Babbly Talang, Nizera Kori central activist Mizanur Rahman, Bapa Habiganj unit General Secretary Tafazzal Sohel, Bapa organiser in Moulvibazar ASM Saleh, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association’s Sylhet unit activist Al Amin Sarder, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust’s Sylhet district Programme Officer Satyajit Kumar Das and Dr Ali Ahsan Chowdhury also spoke, among others, at Ichhachhara Punjee.
Evelina Chakma said, “I witnessed the problem faced by the indigenous people after visiting the spot.”
The administration needs to make sure that these issues are handled properly and the media needs to cover the issues with due importance, she added.
Moulvibazar DC Mir Nahid Ahsan said the representatives of the rights organisations praised the steps taken by the administration over the attack on indigenous communities at Ichhachhara Punjee.
He also said the issue was discussed at the district’s law and order meeting and a case was already filed over the attack and vandalism at the village.
On the night of November 9, several hours after Kulaura upazila administration in a raid evicted illegal occupants from a betel leaf garden belonging to an indigenous family at Katabari Paan Jum, a church was ransacked and at least one person sustained injury during an attack on Ichhachhara Khasi village.
Around 50 to 60 men armed with local weapons, led by Rafiq Ali, who had been evicted from the garden several hours earlier, first vandalised a grocery store owned by one Lal Mia around 7:00pm and they later ransacked the nearby church too, locals said, adding that when the attackers started to throw stones at houses up on the hills, at least one person was hurt while running to safety.