“There was a conspiracy against us which caused us great harm; now we are being offered relief. Who knows what other conspiracy is being hatched against us!” said Paolush Master, one of the affected Santals in Madarpur of Gobindaganj upazila.
“We have informed the authorities concerned of our demands. Until those demands are met, we will not accept government relief,” he said.
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There is a deep-seated mistrust among the Santals regarding the government authorities and they do not trust the administration to help them, several Santal leaders told the Dhaka Tribune.
Sources said since the attack, the local administration has been trying to reach out to the Santals in order to give them relief items, but the victims have yet to respond.
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Elderly Santal women sit in despair after they were attacked and evicted from their homes on November 6, 2016 Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune
Gobindaganj Upazila Nirbahi Officer Md Abdul Hannan, Upazila Project Implementation Officer Zahirul Islam and Sapmara union's Ward 6 member Abdur Rouf went to the villages yesterday morning to distribute relief among 1,500 Santal families.
In addition, the district administration assured the Santals that 10 acres – nearly 4.05 hectares – of land in Gobindaganj's Katabari area would be alloted to them to build houses.
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But the Santals refused to accept it, saying they wanted their ancestral land to be returned to them.
“We went to Madarpur around 8am and summoned the Santal leader in the village, Barnabas Tudu, to inform him about the relief. Hearing us, he left saying he was going to speak with the Santal families and leaders and let us know. But he never contacted us. We called him on his mobile phone, but he did not answer,” Rouf told the Dhaka Tribune.
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Three generation of Santals-Father, sons and granddaughter, sit on despair after they were attacked and evicted from their homes on November 6, 2016 Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune
“They let us know what their demands are. The Santals demand to be rehabilitated on the same farmland of the sugar mill that they were evicted from,” he added.
The Santals also demanded that the barbed wire fence around the land be removed and sugarcane farming on the land be stopped; cases against Santals be withdrawn; actions be taken against Gobindaganj lawmaker Abul Kalam Azad and Sapmara Union Parishad Chairman Shakil Ahmed Bulbul; the victims be compensated for their losses; punishment for the frauds who took money from them for the land; and justice for the three Santals who were killed in the clash.
Santals still wary of everyone
Traumatised by the violent attack that destroyed their homes, the Santals are living in fear and anxiety.
“We feel betrayed. No one has kept their promises to us. They [the attackers] took our ancestral land away from us,” said a Santal man, a look of distrust and terror on his face.
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The clash has also affected the long-standing harmonious coexistence between Santals and Bangalis in the areas, said Subhash Hembrom, a resident of Madarpur village.
“We have been living here along with Bangalis peacefully and cordially for years. But that relationship is at stake now because of a few cheaters,” he told the Dhaka Tribune on Sunday.
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A poster of the Land Recover Committee in Gaibandha's Gaobindaganj Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune
“We were led to believe by the cheaters that we would be able to build our home on the land. Those same cheaters led the eviction drive against us,” he added.
He further said the affected Santals have been living in fear that they would be arrested by police and leave the area at night to avoid arrest.
They do not have faith in the local administration either, fearing the authorities are not impartial and would not come to their aid.
“Both the district and upazila administrations and the local school teachers have been trying to reach out to them, but they are not trusting anyone. Since the attack, even the Santal children have stopped coming to school,” said Abdul Baki, headmaster of Shahebganj Farm Government Primary School.