One year since an eviction drive destroyed their homes and livelihoods, the Santals of Gaibandha are still to be rehabilitated and compensated despite government promises to deliver justice to the ethnic minority group.
A tripartite clash broke out between the Santals, police and Rangpur Sugar Mill workers on November 6, 2016 following a move to evict the minority from a disputed area of land.
The clash left three Santal men dead and 20 other people injured, including nine policemen.
A year later, over 200 Santal families are living under the open sky while some are confined to shanties at Madarpur and Joypurpara.
Many of the injured Santals still bear the marks of injury on their bodies.
“Police fired bullets in my arms and legs on that day,” said Choren Shoren. “I cannot get proper treatment and medicines for not having enough money. None of the actual attackers were arrested; they are still living a free life.”
It is the mental damage, however, that troubles the victims the most.
“I am still traumatised. I made my house with all my life savings and they burnt it in front of my eyes,” said Barnabas Tudu, one of victims of the eviction.
“Now I am living in a shanty under the open sky. We can’t go out of the area due to repeated threats from the mill owners and workers. I am living an inhuman life with my family.”
Another injured Santal man, Bimol Kisko, said the offers of treatment and medicine had been confined to the immediate aftermath of the attack.
“Nobody offers any help any more. Many have promised us justice but the culprits have not been punished yet. Even the deputy commissioner of the district has been moved to another place,” he said.
Swapan Tudu, another of the affected Santals, said that although the government had initiated a rehabilitation project for 300 Santals, it was not being implemented on acceptable terms.
“We have been disagreeing with that since the very beginning. We want to live on our own land, not in asylum. The government will have to take an initiative to return our land to us,” he said.
Gaibandha Deputy Commissioner Goutam Chandra Pal said a rehabilitation project was in progress already.
“Santals will be able to live there. They can cultivate crops and earn their livelihoods. Besides, Santals will get preference in different government projects,” he said.
Santals lodged two different cases with police following the attack: one identifying 33 people by name and address; and another which listed thousands of unknown people as the attackers.
Among these, only eight to 10 people were arrested in the last one year and they too are free on bail.
Two other cases were filed, by the police and the mill administration.
The Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) said it is investigating the two cases filed by Santals.
“The attack on Santal village is a national issue. We are investigating the matter with importance,” Gaibandha Superintendent of Police (PBI) Anwar Hossain said.
“Union Parishad member Shah Alam, who was directly involved with the attack, and some of his aides have been arrested already. We hope that we will be able to finish the investigation and submit the charge sheet soon.”
The article was first published on Bangla Tribune