11/07/2017, 16.33
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No justice a year after the attack in Gaibandha against Santal Christians

by Sumon Corraya

A protest was held yesterday to remember the attack of November 2016 when police and Muslims looted houses and seized lands belonging to tribal Christians. Investigations have led to three arrests, but the accused are out on bail.

Gaibandha (AsiaNews) – A year after a violent attack by police against Santal Christians in Gaibandha district over a land dispute, the victims still live in terror of fresh violence.

Since then, the latter have not been able to go back to their homes and have not their seized property returned.

To keep alive the memory of what happened a year, the Bagda Farm Bhumi Uddher Sangram Committee organised a protest in Gobindaganj, scene of the attack, drawing some 1,500 tribal Santals, most of them Christian.

On 6 November 2016, a group of police agents and a crowd of Muslims attacked local Christians, mostly ethnic Santal Catholics, over a land dispute.

The clash caused the death of three Christians and the wounding of about 30 people, including nine agents.

Some witnesses said the police had arrest warrants for about 300 Santals, who fled to avoid incarceration. Others defended themselves with bows and arrows, wounding some agents. Tribal homes were searched and looted.

Sebastian Hembrom, a Catholic Santal who is a member of the Mariampur Church, spoke to AsiaNews about the incident.

"Criminals attacked us with the help of the police and seized our lands,” he said. “A year later, the police have not yet completed their investigation. We see no progress, and we are worried. We have demanded justice and our land restored. We also want security."

Fr Shimson Marandi, also an ethnic Santal and parish priest in Mariampur, noted that Christians are concerned "because we are persecuted. We did not get justice, much less our lands back. We live in fear."

The greatest concern, he added, "stems from the fact that if we do not get justice, the attackers could be encouraged to carry out more attacks."

The priest said that more than 1,500 huts were burnt and the properties of the residents stolen.

Investigations have led to charges against 33 people, including a local politician and chairman of the sub-district of Sapmara Union. However, only three people were arrested, then released on bail.

According to Anwar Hossian Migha, a police officer, the reason behind the delay is due to "the time needed to investigate. The victims were unable to provide adequate evidence."

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