On 6 November a dispute over land sparked violence against the tribal minority by police and Muslims. The toll is two dead, six wounded, several missing, and looted Santal homes. The bishop of Dinajpur laments that “Our people live in fear and cannot leave their homes”. He calls on the government to provide justice.
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – An attack on tribal Santal Christians last Sunday (6 November) in Gaibandha District (northwestern Bangladesh) left two people dead, and six others wounded. For human rights activist Jotirmoy Borua, this "was premeditated.”
“We received information that local police and Muslims attacked Tribals to take away their land," he said.
On that day, local Christians, mostly ethnic Santal Catholic, clashed with the police because of a land dispute. Witnesses noted that police had arrest warrants for 300 Santal, who fled to avoid jail. Others defended themselves with bows and arrows injuring some agents.
Tribal homes were ransacked and looted. As a result of this, people are starting to go hungry for lack of food, said Fr Samson Marandy, the parish priest in Mariampur. Christians dare not leave their home to go to work or to school for fear of Muslim retaliation.
The reason for the dispute lies in the fact that "After 1962, the government bought 774,000 hectares of land that belonged to the Santal, where they grow sugar cane,” the clergyman explained.
“The agreement provided that the land would be used only for this type of crop. If another crop was introduced, the land would go back to the original owners. In 2003, the local government suspended sugarcane production and so local Tribals asked for their land."
"We saw police attack minority Christians,” said Bangladesh Christian Association (BCA) president Nirmol Rozario. “Since they are tribal, police thought they were weak and struck them hard. We condemn this indecent act and demand an investigation."
Yesterday, the BCA organised a protest in Dhaka, attended by more than 200 people.
"I am very concerned by the incident; some people are also missing,” said Mgr Sebastian Tudu, bishop of Dinajpur and a tribal Santal.
“Our people live in fear and cannot leave their homes for security reasons, he told AsiaNews.
“I think,” he added, "that the attack was carried out because the victims are a minority and Christian. I call on the government to ensure the security of our people."