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Santals in Gaibandha: Worried about the missing

12:00 AM, November 12, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:27 AM, November 12, 2016

The situation is still tense at Gaibandha's Gobindaganj upazila after Sunday's attack on the Santal community leaving two of them dead.
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, Philimon Baske, a local leader of the Santals said, “We are really worried about our missing men. Three of us are missing.”
The panicked Santals are not going out of their homes as the situation has not become normal yet, said Rafayel Hasda, another local leader of the indigenous community.
“We are so afraid of further attacks that we can't even go outside to bring food. We also can't look for work,” he said.
On Sunday, the local Santals clashed with a group of Bangali settlers and labourers of Rangpur Sugar Mills. Police fired shots to control the situation leaving two Santal men dead and 15 others injured.
Santal houses were flattened with tractors later that night.
The clash broke out over land dispute.
Meanwhile, ruling Awami League leader Mahbubul Alam Hanif yesterday told The Daily Star that a delegation from the party would visit the Santal community in Gaibandha today.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is sending the team to get firsthand report on the situation there, he said.
Yesterday, the Santals in Gaibandha said they would not take any aids from the local administration unless their problems are solved.
Philimon Baske said they have already asked every member of their community to obey the decision.
He also urged them to share their food in case there is any scarcity.
On Thursday, some non-government organisations distributed rice, lentil, cloths and money among the victims.
Meanwhile, Romesh Soren, 40, who, according to the Santal leaders, was killed during the clash on Sunday, was buried at his Sentajuri village on Thursday night.
However, Subrata Kumar Sarker, officer-in-charge of Gobindaganj Police Station, said Romesh had a natural death.
Sumi Murmu, a Santal woman, who works as a farm worker, said she had been without work since Sunday and there was no food at her home for the family.
On Friday, Philip Gain, director of the Society for Human and Environment Development (Shed), visited the upazila.
 He told The Daily Star that he went to Madarpur, Joypur, Shahebganj and Golapganj villages and saw the locals staying after splitting into small groups for “safety”.
Till yesterday, the evicted Santals were yet to file any case in connection with the looting and arson attack on their properties on Sunday.
Philimon Baske said they wanted to file a case but none of them was willing to go to the police station fearing arrest. Many of the Santal men were staying outside their villages out of the same fear, he added.
During the Pakistan regime in 1952, the government acquired 1,840 acres of land at Shahebganj to set up a sugarcane farm.
The deputy commissioner's office acquired the land for the then Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation, which established Rangpur (Mahimaganj) Sugar Mills between 1954 and 1957. The original land owners were given only Tk 8.07 lakh for the vast land. Later in 1962, the DC office, on behalf of the land owners, signed an agreement with the corporation.
The deal stated that the land was acquired for cultivation of sugarcane by the mill authorities. If the land was used for farming any other crop, the corporation will surrender the land to the government (the DC office).
However, the agreement was violated as the mill authorities leased out most of the land in 2004 for cultivation of crops like rice, wheat, mustard, tobacco and maize.
The Santals started erecting houses on the land about six months ago after they learnt that the mill authorities were planting other crops illegally, said Philimon Baske, who is the president of Sugar Mill Land Recovery Committee.


Earlier yesterday, AL leader Hanif made an announcement at Sheikh Hasina's Dhanmondi political office of sending a delegation from the party to Gaibandha.
The five-person team would try to find out the real culprits behind the incident. “The culprits will be apprehended, regardless of their party affiliation,” he said.
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