There are 39 Jum farming families in Longkom Mro Para, Jaychandra Tripura Para and Rengyen Mro Para in Sarai Union under Lama Upazila in Bandarban. Jum farming is the main of their occupations. Daily wages is essential to make ends meet for their livelihood. Even in this poor state of life and livelihood, Lama Rubber Industries Company has taken away their relief.
On April 26 this year, around 400 acres of Jum farming lands and natural forests in three Jum cultivator villages were set on fire. While this led to food shortage of the families dependent on natural forest and Jum cultivation, the natural environment is facing huge damage, including the extinction of wildlife. Locals and victims alleged that the fire was set by the men of Lama Rubber Industries Company. As the incident published in media, the local administration became active. The National Human Rights Commission also takes an active role. Several administrative investigation teams were formed. Well-wishers from different parts of the country stood by the side of the three villagers who were suffering from food crisis.
As members of a civic delegation, a few of us went to Longkom Mro Para, Jaychandra Tripura Para and Rengyen Mro Para last May 20 amidst the stormy month of Boishakhi turbulent weather. I saw many malnourished sick children and talked to some school goers. However, the majority of children do not go to school. They see only miles of rubber plantations, but not school.
The impression of poverty is evident in life of the villagers. The shortage of safe and usable water is acute. People of all ages, including children often suffer from diarrhea. There, deaths by diarrhea is common phenomenon. Villages without electricity literally live in the dark. An influential group wants to wipe out the existence of that deprived life. After our return, there was a terrorist attack on Rangdhajan Tripura, the organizer of Bhumi Raksha Andolan in Sarai Union on July 13. He had to stay in Chittagong Medical College Hospital for several days.
The incidents followed by are more alarming. On September 6, poison was sprinkled on the hill stream, the only source of water in Rengyen Mro Para. This happened to floating up the dead crabs, shrimps, small fish of various species in it. The people of the villages could not even use the water of the streamlet for a week. The villagers were compelled to share the previously stored water for survival. Allegations were made against the Lama Rubber Industries Company for spreading poison.
We, the civic delegation, went to the affected neighborhoods and promised to set up a pre-primary school to the deprived children. Since June, initiatives have been taken to raise funds for the school through social media. With the necessary funds collected, discion was taken to start the construction work of the school on September 17 on the Education Day. The people of the three villages also took preparation. A delegation including two professors of Dhaka University Sadeka Halim and Robayet Ferdous, Zakir Hossain, the chief executive of the Nagorik Udyog, poet Shahed Kayes and myself were preparing to go to Lama. As time for the construction of the school drew nearer, confusing campaigns were launched on Facebook through real and fake names.
A vested quarter continued saying that the delegation would not be allowed to enter in Sarai union. We were on watch to the the sparking situation and reduce the size of our delegation. Zakir Hossain, Shahed Kayes and I left Dhaka, but could not reach to Sarai Union. On September 17, a ‘blockade’ was called on the road leading to the three villages of Sarai Union. As usual, there, checkpoints were set up and batons were used to search vehicles. It ia clear that Lama Rubber Industries Company had an involvement behind the whole process.
In such a situation, there was a news, on September 24, more than three hundred banana saplings of a Jum farmer in Rengen Mro Para were cut down. Rengen Karbari alleged that people of Lama Rubber Industries Company were behind it. The news was also published in press midea. There was a storm of criticism on social media as well. It is also known from the media that the people of the rubber company along with the police ran a chain of obstacles in the construction of the school for the deprived children of three neighbourhoods. The representative of the company claims that the villagers were building the establishment at the company’s site. In fact the place is far away from the plantation of the rubber company.
Incidentally it is clear Lama Rubber Industries Company seems to be powerful enough. A lot have been written in the press against their misdeeds. But none could touch the tip of the pelage of the company. Despite incidents one after another – fires in Jum farms and village forests, terrorist attacks, poisoning onto water sources, cutting of banana saplings – we have heard nothing about evildoers being brought under the law. As a result, they have become more reckless.
Standing on the verge of destruction of life and livelihood, three Jumma village residents are now living in fear of eviction. However, the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord was signed on December 2, 1997 for these ends. Instead, 25 years after the signing of the Accord, three villagers are suffering from existential crisis due to the oppression of the rubber company. If the Accord was fully implemented, the endangered villagers would have regained their land rights. If the CHT Land Disputes Settlement Commission have been able to carry out its activities properly for resolution of land disputes, the land ownership of the three villages in Lama would have been secured.
The news of hope is that the National Human Rights Commission is playing a responsible role in protecting the rights of the three indigenous villages in Lama. We have learnt that Bandarban Hill District Council raised question over the validity of the rubber company’s lease while investigating the fire at Jum farms on April 26. Because the lease was given to the rubber company without the consent of Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council and Bandarban Hill District Council. This process is a clear violation of the CHT Accord and the Regional Council Act and the Three Hill Dstrict Council Act enacted by the National Parliament in view of that Accord. However, the rubber companies and their patrons pay no worth to the CHT Accord and its provisions.
They want to wipe out Longkom Mro Para, Jaychandra Tripura Para and Rengyen Mro Para in Lama in defiance of the law and the decision of the National Human Rights Commission.
Dipayan Khisa: Information and Publicity Affairs Secretary, Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum