IN BANGLADESH, land governance has been a case of mismanagement and corruption. For ethnic minority community it is a case of violent dispossession of and eviction from their ancestral lands. The attempt at evicting the Khasi community in Moulvibazar from their betel leaf gardens is one of many such recent examples of land grabbing. On September 27, a group of muscle men led by a local leader allegedly assaulted the Khasis living at Katabari Paan Jum to take illegal control of their land. Later in October, the accused land grabber filed fabricated case against members of the community living there for generations. A social welfare organisation, Kubraj Antapunji Unnayan Sangstha, has added that Khasi families are living in fear of life as the land grabber has threatened them, ransacked their homes and vandalised the nearby church on a number of occasions and deprived them of their meagre income that they were making from cultivating betel-leaf. In this situation, the community members have urged the authorities to protect their life and livelihood from the wrath of the land grabber.
In Bandarban, members of Mro community have been protesting against the construction of a luxury hotel and tourist spot in Chimbuk Hill area since early November. They alleged that about 1,000 acres of jhum land were being grabbed for the project, which, if implemented, would displace six villages of the Mro community, and indirectly affect 70–116 more villages and leave around 10,000 jhum cultivators landless. The International CHT Commission has pointed out that the Bandarban Hill District Council, which reportedly transferred the title of the land for the hotel, cannot in fact do so as the council does not have the legal title to the concerned land. All tourism and development activities in the CHT, as per the Chattagram Hill Tracts Accord, are supposed to take place with the informed consent of the community, and approval from the Hill District Council and CHT Regional Council. The Amnesty International meanwhile reminded the government that the action contravenes Bangladesh’s commitment to protecting the rights of the Mros under the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, 1957.
For a true democracy, it is crucial to uphold the rights of the minority community. In what follows, the government must take actions to protect the land rights of Khasi and Mro community. It must immediately investigate the allegation against the land grabber in Moulvibazar and ensure that the life and livelihood of the Khasi community is protected. Similarly, it must review the approval of a luxury hotel in Bandarban to see if any violation of existing land regulations and CHT Accord has taken place and consider a halt to the construction. At the same time, the government must reassess the merit of a tourist project at the expense of a community that is still deprived of access to education and health facilities.
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