Hill Voice, 23 February 2023, Sylhet: A 12-point demand has been made, including the ban on the cutting of natural trees of Jhimai Khasiapunji in Kulaura Upazila of Moulvibazar. Speakers made these demands at the civic gathering today Friday (February 23).
The demonstration was organized under the banner of ‘Adivasi Paribesh Raksha Andolan’ with the support of total of 12 organizations including Bangladesh Environment Andolan (Bapa), Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, Kubraj Antapunji Development Organization. More than five hundred men and women of different Khasis and Garopunjis of the Kulaura upazila participated in the rally.
The procession started at Bangabandhu Udyan in Kulaura Municipal at around 12 noon. The demonstration was held under the chairmanship of Pratyush Asakra, president of Kubraj Antapunji Development Organization and the welcome address was delivered by Bapa’s representative Joseph Gomez and Jhimai Khasiapunji Montry (Punji Pradhan) Rana Surong. The concept paper was read by Flora Babli Talang, general secretary of Kubraj. The gathering was moderated by Kapaeeng Foundation representative Helena Talang.
Executive Director of ALRD Shamsul Huda, Bapa president of Sylhet branch and former registrar of Shahjalal Science and Technology University Jamil Ahmed Chowdhury, teacher of Shahjalal Science and Technology University Mohammad Emdadul Haque, CPB President of Moulvibazar District Committee Khandkar Lutfur Rahman, Awami League Vice President of Kulaura Upazila Committee Aurobindo, General Secretary of Kuaura Branch of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad Goura Dey, General Secretary of Moulvibazar District JASAD Mainul Islam, Central Executive Committee Member of Bapa Abdul Karim Chowdhury, President of Greater Sylhet Tripura Development Council Janak Debbarma, Divisional Coordinator of Bangladesh Environmental Law Association (BELA) Sylhet Shah Shaheda, President of Bangladesh Adivasi Chhatra Sangram Parishad Alik Mree and others spoke in the gathering.
Punji Montry (Punji head) Rana Surong said that there are 72 Khasia families in their Punji. They have been living there for more than 100 years. Jhimai Tea Garden owned by Kedarpur Tea Company is located next to it. In 2012, the government renewed the lease of 661.55 acres of land in favor of Jhimai tea plantation, ignoring the traditional land rights of the Khasias, their traditional way of life and existence. Jhimaipunji also falls in that land. Now the tea garden authority is conducting a campaign to cut down two thousand trees in the name of expanding tea cultivation. Cutting trees will damage the environment. Khasi people will lose their livelihood. He alleged that this attempt is being made to evict the Khasi people.
Speakers said that the amount of forest is already decreasing day by day. Banshmahal (Bamboo plantation) has been destroyed. Natural vegetation is no more what it used to be. Forests are being taken over by the dominant in the name of social forestry. But Khasi people love forest nature. Their livelihood is around forest nature. The trees of the forest are being saved by their mercy. In the name of expansion of tea plantations, natural trees of Khasiapunji are being cut down. This effort should be stopped.
The demands made in the demonstration include to stop conspiracy of tree felling of Jhimai Khasiapunji; remove all obstructions of the tea plantation authorities from the roads of Punji; cancel the lease of land to the Kedarpur tea company and provide permanent settlement of the land traditionally occupied by the indigenous peoples; withdraw false cases filed against indigenous peoples of various Punjis including Dulukchara, Belkuma and Nunchara; declare Khasia Betel Cultivation as a ‘Special Agricultural Heritage’; stop sheltering of influential land grabbers under the guise of social forestry; stop taking up social forestry projects on indigenous lands; ensure education, health, clean water, improved communication system for indigenous peoples; form a separate land commissions for restoration of dispossessed lands of indigenous peoples; provide security of livelihood to Khasi people; implement ILO Convention 107 along with all international instruments on the rights of indigenous peoples ete.
Before the demonstration, a protest march came out from Bangabandhu Udyan. The procession returned to the main road of the town.