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Santals have right to save their property: Says NHRC boss

Our Correspondent, Gaibandha.
[ Carrying their traditional weapons, bows and arrows, Santals of Gaibandha's Gobindaganj march at Madarpur in the upazila yesterday demanding return of their properties. Photo: Star ]

The Santal community has every right to save their property, but attacks on them are not acceptable and the matter should not be taken easily, said Kazi Reazul Hoque, chairman of National Human Rights Commission Bangladesh.
He was addressing a Santal gathering on Madarpur Church premises yesterday after visiting two Santal villages of Joypurpara and Madarpur in Gobindaganj upazila.
A ten-member probe team led by Reazul Hoque visited the Santal villages and talked to the villagers. The team went there to probe the Santal eviction incident from Sahebganj cane farm.
Earlier, hundreds of Santal people staged a protest demonstration equipped with bows, arrows and lethal weapons and demanded their ancestors' property back. Later they gathered in front of the Madarpur Church.
The authorities of Rangpur Sugar Mill leased out the government-acquired land breaching the terms of contract agreement, the NHRC chairman said, asking why the Santal community would not get their ancestral land back as per the agreement.
The probe committee would submit its report to the government and the parliamentary committee on Adivasi affairs, he added.
“You have been evicted from your ancestral land and suffering from insecurity of life and property.You are now protecting yourselves with bows and arrows, but you should not take the law in your hand,” he told the Santal community.
Those who have evicted the Santal community did something beyond their jurisdiction and would be brought under the rules of law, the chairman said, urging the government to ensure security and rehabilitation of the affected Santal families.
The human rights chairman also alerted the local administration to protect the Santal community.
The probe body recorded witnesses of 10 Santal victims of eviction, arson and looting.
The rights chairman was accompanied by Director (investigation and complaint) Sharif Uddin, lawmaker Fazley Hossain Badsha,convener, parliamentary committee on Adivasi affairs,lawmaker Tipu Sultan and Prof Mesbah Kamal of Dhaka University.
On November 6, a clash between the Santals and sugar mill labourers as well aspolice took place at Sahebganj cane farm of Rangpur Sugar Mills that left two Santal men dead and 30 people, including eight policemen, injured. Six Santal men have also been missing since then.
The police evicted 1,500 Santal families from the cane farm, while houses of Santal community were looted and came under arson attack.
Earlier on July 1, demanding their ancestral land, the Santal community occupied more than 100 acres of land at Sahebganj cane farmand erected makeshift sheds there. They also cultivated aman paddy on the land.
The Santal community still demands rehabilitation on the land, from which they have been evicted.

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