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Santals demand return of land, not rehabilitation

12:00 AM, November 23, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, November 23, 2016

A team from Ekatturer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul committee led by its adviser Justice Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik yesterday visited Santal villages Madarpur and Joypurpara and talked to the families affected due to their eviction from Shahebganj sugarcane farm area in the district.
A report will be prepared on the basis of the affected people's statement for submitting to the Prime Minister's Office and other offices concerned, Justice Shamsuddin said.
At a public hearing in front of Madarpur church on the issue, the committee members recorded statements of five affected Santal people as witnesses.
In 1962 government acquired 1842 acres of lands for cultivation of sugarcane to run Rangpur Sugar Mills but the mill authority later stopped sugarcane cultivation there and illegally leased it to some influential local people, the witnesses said.
The lease holders started cultivation of different crops and dug 12 ponds on the land for fish cultivation.
Backed by the local lawmaker, Shakil Ahmed Bulbul, chairman of Sapmara union parishad (UP), Rezaul Karim Rafique, chairman of Katabari UP, and a few local leaders organised the Santal community on the issue of returning their forefather's landed property, the witnesses said.
The local leaders also helped the Santals to erect sheds on July 1 and realised several lakh taka as donation from the ethnic community for helping to get back their land.
But betraying the Santal community, they later started cooperating with the police and local administration to evict the Santal families, said the witnesses.
On November 6, police launched an eviction drive that led to killing of two Santal men and serious injuries to several others.
The witnesses alleged that their houses were looted and burnt during the eviction.
They demanded return of their forefathers' land as per land record of 1940.
After the public hearing, local Santals brought out a demonstration demanding rehabilitation of evicted Santal families on the farm's land, compensation for arson and looting during the eviction, and justice of killing Santal men.
Visiting the croplands of Shahebganj sugarcane farm, where the Santal community earlier planted aman seedlings, the deputy commissioner of Gaibandha and mill officials yesterday decided to start harvesting the paddy today to distribute it among the Santals, as per a directive from the High Court.

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