Socheton Nagorik, a platform of civil society members, yesterday alleged that ruling party lawmaker Abul Kalam Azad had taken part in the November 6 attack on Gaibandha’s Santal community.
“Local MP Abul Kalam Azad a year back assured the Santals of peaceful solution to their land dispute, but he finally took part in the attack on them directly,” writer and columnist Syed Abul Maksud said at the press conference at the Dhaka Reporters Unity in the capital.
The same allegation came from the affected Santals. In a meeting with top AL leaders on November 16 at the party’s Dhanmondi office in Dhaka, Jatiya Adibasi Parishad President Rabindranath Soren told AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader how the lawmaker and UP Chairman Shakil Ahmed instigated the premeditated attack.
In that meeting, Soren told Obaidul: “Police opened fire in the presence of local MP and the chairman. MP Azad ordered the police to open fire through a hand mike. We can submit the evidence, if needed. We have VDO footages and still photos as proofs. And when we went to police station to file a case, the police did not take our case. On the contrary, the police after shooting us filed a case against 200-300 persons naming 42 including the dead.”
Abul Maksud yesterday said: “This is not a way to evict anyone from his land. They could have talked to the Santals; police could have arrested some Santals, if needed; but they resorted to shooting indiscriminately to kill the poor Santals.”
He said that the police, local administration and local public representatives acted like the Pakistani occupational forces of 1971 and a group of hired goons acted as their auxiliary force during the attack.
Judicial probe, compensation demanded
Speakers at the briefing also urged the government to form a judicial inquiry committee to probe into the bloody attack that left three Santals dead and over 30 injured.
Some 2,000 Santals were evicted from 15 villages on that day, and the Bangalis who joined hands with the law enforcers looted valuables of the houses before burning them to ashes.
They demanded that the government provide compensation and ensure security of the displaced Santal families so that they can return to their homes and start normal life.
"The government must take responsibility for the treatment of the injured. Those who have violated human rights must be tried and, above all, the rights of the security of the indigenous people must be ensured," Prof Abul Barkat, an economist, said at the press conference.
Barkat said: “The false cases filed against the victim Santals must be withdrawn and the local administrative officials involved in the attacks, carried out in name of eviction drive, have to be removed too.”
Police even handcuffed three Santals while undergoing treatment at hospitals, an act that created massive outrage.
On November 17, after a case was filed by a Santal, following Obaidul Quader’s instructions to Gaibandha police to take Santals’ case, Jatiya Adivasi Parishad President Rabindranath Soren told the Dhaka Tribune that the case had not been filed on behalf of the affected Santals. Police tactfully made a Santal, living outside Madarpur and Joypurpara, file the case to save the real culprits. The plaintiff was not affected during the drive.
The group of citizens visited Gobindaganj upazila's Sahebganj-Bagda Farm area and Madarpur village on November 13, and talked to the displaced Santals, living under the open sky without proper access to food and water.
After the incident, police filed five cases against the Santals for obstructing the law enforcers from carrying out their duties. A fresh case was filed against them yesterday over the arson attack on a sugarcane field in the area.
Prof Barkat said: “Of the 5,500 acres of land there, some 4,500 acres belong to the Santals. The government proposal for establishing a special economic zone on this land is defective. As per the preconditions, an economic zone is not supposed to be built on a land that produces multi crops. Besides, there must be a national highway within 10 kilometers of the zone and navigable river.”
Among others, Coordinator of Nijera Kori Khushi Kabir also spoke at the briefing while Sanjib Drong, general secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, presented the keynote paper.
‘I want Santals ousted, not solution’
Oikya NAP President Pangkaj Bhatyacharya said: “I talked to Industries Minister Amir Hossain Amu seeking a solution over the land issue. But, unfortunately, the minister said that he only wanted the Santals to be ousted, no solution.”
Talking to media, Amu also alleged that a vested interest group wanted to grab the government land using the Santals.
A similar comment came from PM’s Special Envoy and Jatiya Party Chairman HM Ershad, who said that evicting the Santals from the land had been nothing wrong.
Parliamentary watchdog rejects Azad’s account
Meanwhile, the parliamentary standing committee on the home affairs ministry Thursday rejected an explanation of MP Azad over the violent attacks on Gaibandha’s minority Santal community.
The parliamentary watchdog also recommended the government resolving the ongoing problems at Santal villages, said meeting sources.
The committee asked Azad to explain the incident. In reply, Azad held the local chairman and Santals responsible for the incident.
Rejecting the explanation, committee chairman Tipu Munshi said, “Being the local lawmaker, you cannot avoid the responsibility for the incident.”
Asked, Azad told reporters: “A move is going on to make me responsible for the attack. An anti-Awami League force was involved in the attack.”