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Rangpur sugar mill clash: 1 Santal dies, 1,000 families flee

Published at 11:39 PM November 07, 2016
[[ A person setting a house of the Santal community on fire in police presence on Sunday DHAKA TRIBUNE ]]

Over 1000 families yesterday left Shahebganj-Bagda Farm area under Rangpur Sugar Mills at Gobindaganj in Gaibandha after looting and mass arrest drives.

“Around 1000 to 1200 families have moved to nearby villages after mass looting took place at Shahebganj-Bagda Farm of Rangpur Sugar Mills at Gobindaganj, claimed leaders from indigenous communities.
Valuables, including domestic animals and crops were looted from their makeshift houses from morning till noon in presence of law enforcers,” Jatiya Adibasi Parishad President Rabindranath Soren told the Dhaka Tribune yesterday evening.
Earlier, a clash took place after Santals of Sahebganj-Bagda farm in Gaibandha chased a group of Rangpur Sugar Mill staff who came to reap sugarcane on the sugar mill’s plantation area on Sunday morning.
Rabindranath Soren and Shahebganj-Bangda Farm Bhumi Uddhar Sangram Committee Vice-President Philimon Baske told the Dhaka Tribune that four of their men sustained wounds from bullet fired by police.
They said when police came to the spot, the Santal people, carrying arrows and bows attacked the police. Police in retaliation fired back, triggering a clash between the Santals and police that left four Santals with bullet injuries and nine police shot by arrows.
On Sunday night, one of the injured Santals, Shyamal Hembrom (35), died.
Hembron was declared dead when his bullet-ridden body was taken to Dinajpur Medical College Hospital on Sunday evening. In addition, another 17 people from both the parties also sustained injuries.
Rabindranath Soren and Shahebganj-Bangda Farm Bhumi Uddhar Sangram Committee Vice-President Philimon Baske told the Dhaka Tribune that four of their men sustained wounds from bullet fired by police.
Rest of the injured Santals, Dijen Tutu, Choron Soren and Bimol Kishku, are now undergoing treatment at Rangpur Medical College Hospital.
The local Santals have long been in dispute over the land after the mill authorities started leasing the land to the locals for cultivation of rice and other crops violating the contract.
The erstwhile Pakistan government acquired 1842 acres of land from Santals for the sugar mill authorities under a contract that only sugar cane would be farmed there, they said.

Also Read- 30 injured as Santals and police clash over land

Although the agreement stated that the lands would be returned to the original owners if it is used for any other purposes, it did not happen in reality although the mill authorities have long been allowing tobacco and rice farming for years on the land.
According to the indigenous leaders, as the contract was violated, four months ago, indigenous Santal people and some Bangali locals occupied around 100 acres of land, building makeshift houses there, and demanding return of their lands that belonged to their forefathers.
Local sources at Gobindaganj said the mill was closed from 2003 to 2008, but came into partial operation from end of 2008.
“The mill opens in condition that the leasers will have to harvest at least 10% as sugarcane and other products can be harvested to rest 90% of the space. This is a violation of law,” said sources.
Lease was given to local influential- political and well off people- including Katabari 2 no union chairman Rezaul Karim Rafiq and former MP Monowar Hossain Chowdhury’s younger brother Liton Hossain Chowdhury etc, added sources.
During a visit, Santals living in the area alleged to the correspondent that the local people who came with police looted their valuables including tin and bamboo of their makeshift houses, along with the domestic cattle.
Meanwhile, many indigenous people of the area left the spot after a case was filed against 350 people, including 38 named ones, on Sunday night.
Gobindaganj Police Station Office in Charge Subroto Kumer said their sub-inspector Kalyan Chakraborty filed the case.
Meanwhile, Gaibandha deputy commissioner Abdus Samad along with top police officials visited the Sahebganj Suger Cane farm yesterday.

No one claimed body

Meanwhile, no one has yet claimed the body of Shayamol Hembron from Dinajpur Medical College Hospital as of filing of the report at 8:00PM.
Dinajpur’s Kotwali Police Station Officer in-Charge Redwanur Rahim said the body has been kept at the morgue after its postmortem, but no one claimed the body yet.
Meanwhile, Rangpur Sugar Mill managing director Abdul Awal, however, claimed that the allegations of the Santals were baseless and unfounded.
“The mill would reopen from December this year and we were harvesting sugarcane as a preparation. When our contractor went to the land for cutting crops, the local people protested and attacked our staffs,” he claimed.
In reply to a query over why the land was leased to other people who harvested other crops, he said: “Following government rule, the authorities lease the land to well-off people of the area. We can do that.”
He said: “If the mill breaches any terms of the contract, the land should be reclaimed by the government, not by the locals. But the Santals have illegally occupied the land of the sugar mill following instigation of some people.”
Contacted over the issues, researcher Pavel Partha told the Dhaka Tribune: “This is the biggest combined movement of common people since the Phulbari’s tragic incident. It is created by original landowners.”
He also said violating the agreement, the mill authorities are now leasing the land for harvesting products other than sugar cane like fish, maize, and other products that clearly shows it breaches the contract.

Santals want their land back

Shahebganj Bangda Farm Bhumi Uddhar Sangram Committee vice president Philimon Baske told the Dhaka Tribune that they are not carrying out the doing the movement being instigated by anyone.
He said: “While acquiring the land, sugar mill authorities made an agreement with the original land owners that the land would be returned to real owners if any crop except sugar cane is harvested on the land. They are producing rice and tobacco for few days.”
“Despite breaching the conditions, they (authorities) did not return the land to us, so the land was occupied,” he added.
“We want our land back, as the authorities violated the contract,” he demanded.
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