Indigenous people declare to resist digging artificial lakes by occupying their farmland in Madhupur

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Hill Voice, 26 April 2022, Madhupur: Various indigenous peoples organizations have announced to resist the digging of artificial lakes by the government’s Forest Department in Madhupur by grabbing the farmlands of indigenous peoples.

The resistance was announced at a protest meeting held under the banner of ‘Sammilita Adivasi Janata’ at Daukhla Chowrasta in Madhupur on Monday, April 25, 2022 at 11:00 am in protest of the plan to occupy the lands of indigenous people for digging a lake.

John Jetra, president of the Bangladesh Garo Students’ Organization (BGSO), said at the protest rally, “What kind of development is this in digging a lake in the name of recreation by destroying agricultural land? We will not allow anyone to sail a pleasure boat on our tears. We will not give up even an inch of our agricultural land for life.”

Alik Mree, General Secretary of the Bangladesh Adivasi Chhatra Sangram Parishad, said, “Indigenous people have been living in the area before the creation of the Forest Department. They have been cultivating this land for their livelihood. In what right does the Forest Department declare a protected forest area by putting up a signboard on the agricultural land of the indigenous peoples? You cannot suppress our fair movement by filing false cases against indigenous leaders to obstruct the land protection movement. On the contrary, the more lawsuits-attack you make against the indigenous people, the more our movement will turn into a fire’.

Tony Matthew Chiran, Organizing Secretary of the Bangladesh Indigenous Youth Forum, said, ‘Indigenous peoples are not against development but oppose inhumane development. If you try to dig a lake on our livelihood, we will form counter resistance. Corrupt forest officials must be withdrawn immediately. The lake excavation plan has to be cancelled.’

Mukul Daru, daughter of Paresh Chandra Mree, land owner and founding president of Jayenshahi Adivasi Unnayan Parishad, said in her speech, ‘Bangabandhu came to Dokhla and Chunia, went to our house and talked to her father. Then Bangabandhu said that the indigenous peoples of Madhupur forest would not be evicted. But today the Forest Department is conspiring to make a lake in our agricultural land in the name of building recreation centre. By putting up a signboard on our land, it says protected forest. When was this land a protected forest? We have been making a living by cultivating here for generations. We the landowners will not allow artificial lakes to be dug on our land. If I have to give blood, I will give it.’

At one stage of the gathering, Chairman of the Upazila Parishad and General Secretary of Upazila Awami League Chharwar Alam Khan attended there. He called upon all concerned to ensure that care must be taken so that no misunderstandings could be created between the people of the local minorities and the Forest Department and local administration.

Speaking as president on the occasion, the Garo leader Ajay A. Mree said, “We have been making a living by cultivating our land for hundreds of years. But the Forest Department often tries to occupy the indigenous peoples’ lands and evict them in the name of development. We will not allow digging of lake in our agricultural land,” he added.

Additional police were deployed at Dokhla crossroads from the morning onwards centering the meeting. The detective police also took position there.

During the meeting, more than a hundred leaders and activists of Upazila Chhatra League and Juba League from Madhupur took position with a convoy of motorcycles. They also gave several exercises in that area.

It is pertinent to mention here that 13 people of Garo ethnic groups have been cultivating 45 bighas of land at Amtali Bieed in the area between Dokhla and Chunia villages of the forest for generations. The Forest Department has taken initiative to dig a lake in four acres of land in the Bieed area. But the owners of the land did not agree to dig a lake there. Several meetings were also held between the land owners and the Forest Department and local people’s representative.

On April 22, 2022, the staff of the Dokhla Range Officer’s Office of the Forest Department hung a signboard on the land. It reads, “Protected forests, no access to the public, development work in progress, authority by order”. After seeing this signboard, there was anger among the local indigenous Garo people. On the night of 23 April 2022, somebody broke that signboard. Dokhla Range Officer of Forest Department Ismail Hossain lodged a complaint with Madhupur Police Station on Sunday afternoon. Several protesters were charged conspiratorially.