The Santal families evicted from Shahebganj-Bagda Farm of Rangpur Sugar Mills at Gobindaganj in Gaibandha refused on Monday to take relief materials provided by the upazila administration.
Earlier on Saturday, they also rejected a government proposal for their rehabilitation on 10 acres of Khas land at Katabari of Gobindaganj, saying that they did not want to be rehabilitated elsewhere as landless people rather they wanted their ownership on the farm land.
Gobindaganj upazila administration on Monday offered 20kg rice, 1kg red lentil, salt, vegetable oil, potatoes and two blankets to each of the 1,500 evicted Santal families.
A truck loaded with the relief materials was seen standing in the road at Madarpur, a nearby Santal village where most of the evicted Santals took shelter, no Santal was seen to take the goods.
Joseph Tudu, one of the evicted Santals, said that they wanted nothing from the government that evicted them from their ‘forefather’s land’ on
He, however, avoided the question about poor presence of the Santals at the village on Monday.
Another Santal woman said that they were asked by the Santal leaders not to receive any relief materials from the government until their demand of restoration of their ownership on the farm land
Gobindaganj upazila nirbahi officer Abdul Hannan told New Age that the upazila administration sent the relief materials to the Santal village being directed by the Gaibandha deputy commissioner.
‘None of the Santals came to take the relief…Even I request them to take the relief by visiting door to door but they did not come up,’
the circumstances leading to the incident and its aftermath.
This is the first time the government has talked to the press about the November 6 Gaibandha unrest that left at least two Santals killed and several hundred houses of a Santal village burned down.
Adivasi leaders and rights groups have been requesting the government for restoring the displaced Santals to their homes. They argued that freeing government land through police firing was a heinous act.
Video clips showing Bengalis setting fire to the thatched houses in the Santal village as law enforcing agencies watched went viral on the social media after the attack.
The secretary claimed that the drive to remove the Santals, who are skilled archers, came only after they attacked the law enforcers on November 6.
‘Some of the Santals set their own houses on fire while being evicted to draw on people’s sympathy so that they could return to the land very soon,’ said Mosharraf.
Locals burned down some other houses, he added.
He said he learnt from media reports that there were two deaths during the unrest, but was not certain about the cause of the deaths as he did not get the post-mortem reports.
‘The Santals were acting on the instructions of the land robbers who were using them for occupying the land,’ said Mosharraf.
‘Thankfully, losses of lives and property were not as high as it had been anticipated,’ he added.
He read out a few lines from a report of an unspecified intelligence agency to support his claim that a vested quarter was instigating the Santals.
He claimed that the instigators were identified and observed that it was not right time to disclose their identities.
The victims have alleged that local Awami League leaders had encouraged them to resettle in the land that the government had acquired from their forefathers for establishing Rangpur (Mahimaganj) Sugar Mills in the 1960s.
Mosharraf avoided a direct reply to questions if he had any intelligence on local AL leaders being involved in the incident.
He said, ‘The vested quarter is still instigating the Santals not to accept the government’s offers of rehabilitations.’
While he repeated that the Santals had no right to the land they were removed from, he said the government had offered to provide them with employment and a place to live, but elsewhere.
‘They (Santals) don’t even have any documents. They don’t even know which part of the vast land was owned by their forefathers. How do they expect the land to be restored to them, even if we want to?’ asked Mosharraf.
‘The message from the government is clear: the land has been freed from illegal occupation, and there is no likelihood of bringing them (Santals) back (to the land),’ he concluded.
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