11/16/2016, 15.33
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After attack that ended in killings in Gaibandha, Christian Santals refuse government aid

by Sumon Corraya

Police and local Muslims attacked Tribals in a land dispute. Two died and six were wounded. As people live in fear, children are kept out of school. Some Christians are still on the run; others did not go back home. With winter approaching and food scarce, despair is setting in.

Gaibandha (AsiaNews) – Christian Santals, violently attacked last week by local police in a land dispute in Gaibandha District, have refused aid that some government representatives offered them.

On Monday, some government representatives visited Gobindoganj to hand out basic necessities, but the victims rejected the aid. "The police killed two brothers,” one of the victims, anonymous for security reasons, told AsiaNews. “We saw their blood flow. How can we ever accept government aid?"

"Local political activists tried to extort statements in favour of the government,” local Christians explained. “They called us in one by one and told the media and activists to praise the police and the government."

Violence broke out 6 November over a land dispute. Police and local Muslims attacked tribal Santals, mostly Catholics.

Witnesses say that police had arrest warrants for 300 people who fled to avoid jail. Others defended themselves with bows and arrows injuring some policemen. Tribal homes were ransacked and looted. The attack culminated with the killing of two Christians and the wounding of six more.

Yesterday, two of the wounded were moved to a local prison, after they were admitted to the Rangpur Medical College Hospital. Their treatment by the police has sparked a wave of indignation, as the wounded were handcuffed and tied to the stretcher carrying them.

Christians say they have lived in fear since the day of the attack. The conflict and the continuing tension affect some 2,500 Christians. Children have stopped attending school, lack food and winter is coming. "I have no clothes, and at night I cannot sleep because of the cold," said Jewal Murmu.

The Missionary Sisters of Charity brought the little aid that has arrived. Subash Murmu said that he received a lungi for himself and a sari for his wife. The sisters also handed out rice, but their help is not enough. "In these conditions we cannot work and earn a living," he said.

Meanwhile, the government seems hard-pressed over the recent spate of attacks against religious minorities. Yesterday the cabinet committee on law and order issued a warning to law enforcement officials to act forcefully against officers who fail to contain the attacks against minority groups.

The committee noted that the attack against Christians and the acts of vandalism against Hindu temples and believers have put "the government in an awkward situation."

For his part, Industry Minister Amir Hossain Amu added to the controversy by claiming that "the land does not belong to the Santals. Indeed, land grabbers use the Santals to occupy the land, and then take it from them later.”

According to Fr Samson Marandy, a parish priest in Mariampur, "many Santal men are still on the run, to avoid arrest, and every day the faithful gather in front of the small church in Madarpur, where the violence took place."

Mamunir Rashi, principal of the primary school in Burjuk RG Adabashi, noted that "at least 90 students are not in school. The parents believe that the children are not safe."

Bangladesh has a population of about 152 million inhabitants with a Muslim majority (89.8 per cent). The Christian community (0.2 per cent of the population) and Hindus (9.1 per cent) have been subjected to numerous attacks and land grabs. Experts note that the reason is not so much religious as economic.

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