Hill Voice, 8 September 2022, Dhaka: The seven human rights organizations have demanded that the main culprits of Narendranath Munda should be immediately arrested and brought under the law and all the criminals directly and indirectly involved in this incident should be brought under the law and punished by proper investigation; and the lands of indigenous Munda should be returned under special arrangements through proper implementation of the State Acquisition and Tenancy Act, 1950 (section 97).
The demand was made in a press conference by the Kapaeeng Foundation (KF), Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD), Jatiya Adivasi Parishad (JAP), Manobadhikar Sangskriti Foundation, Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum (BIPF), Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), SoDESH, Sathkhira Munda Sangstha (SAMS) and Nagorik Somaj at Jatiya Press Club in Dhaka on the killing of Narendranath Munda and grabbing the lands of indigenous peoples in Sathkhira.
Other demands include to ensure life and property of the indigenous Munda families of Dhumghat area; to return the lands of indigenous peoples that have been occupied through forged documents or by any other means by the state and returned to the rightful owners; to compensate the family of the deceased Narendranath Munda with suitable compensation and medical expenses of the injured; to stop human rights violations against the indigenous people across the country and given exemplary punishment to the perpetrators; to immediately take the initiative to form a promised land commission for the indigenous peoples of the plains including the Munda; and to form a National Minority Commission promised in the 2018 election manifesto.
Sanjeeb Drong presented the key note paper while Pallab Chakma, Executive Director of Kapaeeng Foundation, moderated the event. Advocate Sultana Kamal, Human Rights Actitvist was present as Special Guest, Rabindranath Soren, President of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad (JAP), Shamsul Huda, Executive Director of Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD), Professor Ashik-E-Ekahi, Convenor of Munda Odhikar Songrokkon Andolon Songram Committee, Ghopal Chandra Munda, Member Secretary of Munda Odhikar Songrokkon Andolon Songram Committee, Farindra Nath Munda, Plaintiff and Rina Munda, Victim of the incident were also present in the program.
Rina Munda shared her gruesome experience of the dramatic incident where she mentioned that how the perpetrators attacked on her including other 2 women and 9 indigenous Munda persons when they tried to protest them. She said, the land grabbers destroyed their 200kg paddy seed and their crops with power tiller. As a result, they are not able to produce and plant any crops in their field as the price of the paddy seed increased to TK 300 per kg. The perpetrators threatened them that there would be consequences if they send their children to school. Finally, she demanded the arrest of the perpetrators and justice to the victim.
Farindra Nath Munda, plaintiff said, the land grabbers and goons attacked his uncle (the deceased) with local made weapons while he tried to protest the molestation on 3 indigenous Munda women by the perpetrators. The miscreants locked also locked the indigenous Munda families in their home during the attack. However, there was no immediate help reached even after calling the Upazila Chairman and the police. Afterwards, when they called to 999 and after a long hour the police arrived from Shyamnagar Police Station and rescued them, he added.
Ghopal Chandra Munda, Member Secretary of Munda Odhikar Songrokkon Andolon Songram Committee addressed that from the British period the indigenous peoples have been living in the Sundarban areas. Many land grabbers are trying to evict the indigenous Munda people by forging the land documents. Consequently, the indigenous Munda people also seek help and consultation relating the land grabbing. But there were no effective solutions for that. He urged the journalists to address their issues so that it could be reached to the Prime Minister and the land grabbers are arrested.
Professor Ashik-E-Ekahi, Convenor of Munda Odhikar Songrokkon Andolon Songram Committee said, we have been fighting against the land grabbers from a long time. Since 2005 there have been many movements on the land grabbing issues. Till now a total of 25 peoples are dead centering the land grabbing issues in Sathkhira. The pattern of the attack is alike in Chittagong Hill Tracts as well as in plain lands. Because all of the attacks have been carried out relating to lands where the lands are life for indigenous peoples. However, the plain land indigenous peoples are not educated, aware and active like the indigenous people of CHT. Recently, Sathkhira Munda Sanghtha (SAMS) have been working to strengthen the movement of the indigenous Munda peoples in Sathkhira District. The administration is trying to grab the land of the indigenous peoples in many ways. We also heard that there were connection and meetings took place between the land grabbers and the local administration before the attack, he added. We fear that the minorities will be lost from this society if they are not taken care of properly.
Shamsul Huda, Executive Director of ALRD said, most of the lands in Shyamnagar Upazila are belong to indigenous Munda peoples legally. This is not believable that, after two weeks of the incident, the police couldn’t able to find and arrest the main perpetrators of the attack yet. We want immediate arrest of the perpetrators and compensation for the victims’ families. The Deputy Commissioner of the Sathkhira district assured us that he will work to return the lands of the indigenous peoples which are grabbed illegally.
Rabindranath Soren, President of JAP said, after the incidents, a delegation teams of JAP visited the spot and protested against the barbaric attack on the indigenous Munda people. The lands of the indigenous Munda people must be returned to them and the attackers must be arrested soon. There has been no justice provided against the human rights violation on indigenous peoples including land grabbing, rape, torture, killing, harassment and so on. We also believe that the government will form a separate land commission for the plain land indigenous peoples in Bangladesh.
Advocate Sultana Kamal, eminent human rights defender said that there have been incidents of human rights violation in the life of indigenous peoples one after another. The duty of the state is to protect the rights of every citizen’s irrespective of race, sex, color, casts and religion. However, after 51 years of the independence of Bangladesh, the indigenous peoples are suffering and being deprived of their basic rights by the Government. The state has failed to protect the rights of its peoples. We need development but if every citizen cannot live with full dignity and respect then we don’t want such development, she added. In the end, she demanded justice for the victims and arrest of the culprits as soon as possible.
It is to be mentioned that, on 19 August 2022 at around 8am a group of 200 goons led by land grabbers Rashedul Islam and Ebadul Sardar carried out a heinous attack on the indigenous Munda people of Dhumghat Antikhali village under Shyamnagar Upazilla of Sathkhira District. 12 Munda people were injured in this attack. Among the injured, Narendra Nath Munda died the next day while undergoing treatment at Satkhira Medical College Hospital. Phonindranath Munda, the son of the deceased’s brother, filed a case at Shyamnagar Police Station on August 20 with 160 to 170 others named as defendants including 22 defendants. The perpetrators also vandalized the houses of indigenous Munda families with local made weapons.
Later, some national level human rights organizations and citizens visited the incident area for fact-finding on 29 August 2022 at indigenous Mundapalli of Dhumghat, Shyamnagar area. The team also included representatives of the local people, NGOs and civil society organizations of Stahkhira District. The team comprises of Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum Pallab Chakma, Executive Director of of Kapaeeng Foundation, Rafiqul Islam, Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD), Dr. Zobaida Nasreen Kona, Teacher of Dhaka Universit, Hasan Habib, Journalist, Sajjad, Journalist of The Daily Star, Madhav Chandra of SoDESH, Krishnapada Munda, Executive Director of Sathkhira Munda Sangstha (SAMS), Louise Rana Gain from Head and ALRD affiliates, local civil society organization and local journalists were present during the visit.