01/26/2021, 14.30
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Tribal Christians protest for their land rights

by Sumon Corraya

A great rally was held yesterday. Ethnic Garo and Koch have lived in the Madhupur forest (​Tangail) for   centuries. In 1962, the government announced that the forest was publicly owned. Now the Forest Department wants to evict tribal communities.

Tangail (AsiaNews) – More than a thousand ethnic Garo and Koch, most of them Christians, held a rally at the Madhupur bus stop in Tangail yesterday to protest against their expulsion by the Forest Department from land they claim as their own.

Thousands of ethnic Garo and Koch live in the Madhupur forest, ​Tangail, in the Diocese of Mymensingh. They have lived in the area for hundreds of years but they have no papers proving ownership.

In the past, they got land from a local owner, but in 1962, the government announced that the forest was publicly owned and named it the Madhupur National Park, managed by the government’s Forest Department.

In the forest, Garo grow pineapple, ginger, banana, rice, papaya, etc., but are often told by the Forest Department to leave the land. On 14 September last year, Forest Department staff cut down 500 banana trees as part of the eviction order. Yesterday, a protest spokesperson said that the Forest Department had issued an order for the Garo and Koch to leave the land again.

“The Forest Department often issues eviction orders,” said Eugene Nokrek, a Christian Garo who heads the Joanshahi Adabashi Unnoyon Parishad, a tribal rights organisation, speaking at the rally. “But we won’t obey the notice. We have been living in this land for hundreds of years; if we leave this land, where will we go? This land is like our mother.”

Many Garo and Koch women were also present at the protest, carrying banners and signs saying: “Our land our mother”, “Stop the eviction conspiracy”, “This land is my mother, we will allow others to grab it from us”.

“I strongly condemn the Forest Department,” said Garo elder Ajoy Mree, vice president of the Bangladesh Indigenous Forum. In his view, there is plot to expel them. “Before the establishment of the Department, we lived here; so without discussions, it is not possible to evict us.”

He wants tribal people to be allowed to take care of the forest since they have lived there for a long time. The forest will be safe under their care and love.

Garo student leader Alik Mree said countless cases have been filed against members of the Garo and Koch communities over the land issue.

In one case, a tribal leader was killed during a land right dispute. “Piren Slal was killed over land rights, but we still haven't gotten justice for his killing,” the student leader said. “We are persecuted. Instead of getting justice, hundreds of lawsuits have been brought against us for protesting over land rights.”

Protesters have announced that they will stage a large demonstration on 31 January if the government does not stop the eviction of the tribal people.

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