Lockdown fence meddled: 2 Mro villagers arrested on charge of cutting trees

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Hill Voice, 3 April 2020, Bandarban:  The Facebook status of Buddha Jyoti Chakma, a staff reporter of the Prathom Alo reads that the police arrested 2 Mro villagers including the Karbari (Village Head) on allegation of unlawful entrance with arms in to the lands of Meridian Agro Limited Company located at Dhenkichhara Noapara of Sarai Union under Lama Upazilla of Bandarban hill district, cutting trees and of stealing while having forcefully broken up the entrance gate, which was blocked along with the fence encircling the village – a traditional way of lockdown for prevention of coronavirus infection.

As per the Facebook status, the Meridian Company is to allege that the Mro people equipped with arms unlawfully entered in to company’s plantation on 20 March 2020. They cut 250 akashmoni trees and poached 150 trees more. The worth of poached trees stands BDT 7.5 lac and the trees left damaged cost BDT 5 lac. The Meridian Company had lodged a case with the Lama Police Station against 8 Mro villagers including the Village Head on 29 March 2020.

The police entered the village by breaking the traditional lockdown-fence that was erected for prevention of coronavirus infection as to arrest, in words of police, ‘the formidable terrorists’ on 3 April 2020. Thus, the police forcefully broke the lockdown fence of Dhenkichhara Noapara village and took away 2 Mro villagers arrested. The Mro villagers say that they erected lockdown fence at the entrance of their village in order to get rid of COVID-19 infection – called ‘Para Bandh’ or ‘Puabhong’ as it is done during any calamity following the traditional ritual. But the police spoiled the whole lot by breaking the fence and thereby breaching the socio-traditional measure.

Buddha Jyoti Chakma, has mentioned in his FB status that during the lockdown, as per government order, nobody can be taken arrested under an ordinary case unless being a dreadful terrorist and an accused of being a terrible anti-social element.

Allegation of the Meridian Company against the Mro people of Dhenkichhara Noapara village is not of today. The company has been trying to deplete the village by eviction during the last several years. Once, the Company issued an ultimatum with threatening of arson to abandon the village within one week. In later part of July 2019, the company authority had an attempt to occupy all lands of the villagers using a gang equipped with sticks, called ‘Lathial Bahini’. During this time, the Mro villagers lodged allegation with various department including the Deputy Commissioner of Bandarban hill district. Besides, as the incident got focused in the media, then it was the time for the administration to raise brows.

The Mros are to allege that the Company occupies more than 100 acres of land with a lease of 20 acres per plot. Thus, the Meridian Company illegally seized 3,000 acres of land. On the other hand, in the government offices, there are some people who work for the Company as hired professionals. Because, the law is in the hands of a person who has money. It is for this reason, to the Mro people, the law is another name of their panic. It is with the law, they are trapped and being trapped.

On the contrary, the Meridian Company is to claim that it has valid documents of having the lands measuring more than 3,000 acres in lease for plantation in 1994. While the Mro people argue that the lands in which they are dwelling, are their ancestral plots of lands for Jum-cultivation that has been being practiced since the ages. Does the land belong to anybody by showing a piece of paper?

The conditions that have been enshrined in lease of land for rubber plantation, it is clearly stated that no other plants can be grown except the rubber plants. Moreover, the lease shall cease to exist itself, if the lease holder concerned fails to grow rubber plants within the period of ten years affecting from the date of issue. If it is so, then how the akashmoni trees could have been cut down by the Mros? If at all to have been cut down, they could have cut down nothing but the rubber plants only.

The Mro people say that they did cut the vegetation in their plots of Jum cultivation. For renovation of their homes, they cut 10 to 12 trees from the forest. The trees they collected for the purpose were not from plantation but from forest – informed the Mros.

Inchyawng Mro, a villager, has informed that following identification of a person infected with coronavirus in Cox’s Bazaar district, in Lama, the Upazilla Executive Officer declared lockdown at 8:00 PM on 24 March 2020 to prevent coronavirus infection. But the Company-named land grabbers came to the village with the police at dawn of 25 March 2020. The police had an effort to pick up some villagers. The Mros brought their villages under lockdown on 27 March 2020. During the work of Parabandh, the Company people had been threatening the Mro people. It was the continuation of that trend, the police entered the village breaking down the lockdown fence and took away 2 persons including Longcom Karbari under arrest.

The incident was just similar to what had happened to the indigenous Munda community of Birsa towards the end of Nineteenth century. The Diku land plunderers had snatched away the lands (Murarijagat) from the Mundas by way of getting fake documents done by the police and administration. Now, with the documents of forgery prepared by the administration, the land robbers have become occupants of the lands being dwelt by the Mro people since the period of their fore-fathers.

Now, the Diku bandits have become owners of the lands! What Selucus! Are there the colonialists left in this country as to this day? – Such a question has been thrown off by the senior journalist Buddha Jyoti Chakma.

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