Ten non-government organisations campaigning for land and human rights of marginalised people on Wednesday called on the government to protect Khasi families living at Jhimai Punji in Sylhet.
They held a press conference at the National Press Club informing about the illegal occupation of the lone entrance to Jhimai Punji where about 500 Khasi people live beside Jhimai Tea Garden authorities, a concern of Kedarpur Tea Company Limited.
‘About 72 adivasi Khasi families have been confined to their village as Jhimai Tea Garden authorities seek to expand the garden illegally occupying adivasi land,’ said Bangladesh Adivasi Forum general secretary Sanjeeb Drong as he read out the written statement at the press conference.
He said the role of Khasi population in protecting forest, bio-diversity and environment is undeniable and a threat to their existence could easily be defined to a threat to natural forest and wildlife.
The inhabitants of Jhimai Punji need to walk down a two-kilometre stretch road to come out of their village in remote Sylhet but the road has been blocked by a gate built by Jhimai Tea Garden authorities in 2015, said Sanjeeb.
The tea garden authorities do not allow any vehicle bound for the village to pass through the gate, not even ambulance for picking the sick, said Sanjeeb.
On November 15, when a truck tried to enter the gate carrying building materials for an under-construction church in the village it came under attack launched by the garden authorities, he said.
At least two Khasi people travelling in the truck had to be hospitalised after the attack and are still undergoing treatment at Moulvibazar General Hospital, he said.
The written statement said the government leased out land to the tea garden authorities concealing the fact that there was a Khasi village on 406 acres of hilly land where Khasi lived for decades.
The statement said Khasi people had 350 acres of Jhimai Punji allocated from a Jaminder for the cultivation of betel leaves in 1935.
After the Jamnderi system was revoked, Khasi people failed to get the land registered in their name because of bad communication and illiteracy during the land survey in 1956, said the statement.
In August, 2015, the government leased 661.55 acres of land to Jhimai Tea Garden for 37 years, without referring to the existence of a Khasi village in the area, said the statement.
The tea garden authorities are now trying to cut down 2,096 trees in and outside the leased area to expand the garden, said the statement.
Trees are very important part of livelihood for Khasi people for cultivating betel leaf, said the statement.
‘The state is trying to constrict the rights of citizens and we all need to resist the ill government attempt,’ said Oikya NAP president Pankaj Bhattacharya. Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan vice-president MA Matin said that trees are carbon sink and their nurturing is something Khasi people do with utmost care.
‘The government must protect Khashi people to protect the environment,’ he said.
Bangladesh Legal Aid Services Trust chief legal adviser Nizamul Huq Nasim, Association for Land Reform and Development executive director Shamsul Huda, Nijera Kori coordinator Khushi Kabir, Research and Development Collective general secretary Mesbah Kamal and representative of Khasi people from Jhimai Punji also attended the press conference.
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