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Dhaka Tribune

Betrayed and deceived: How Madarpur's Santals lost everything

Update : 11 Nov 2016, 05:33 PM
Before being elected chairman of Sapmara union, he was involved in a popular movement advocating for the local indigenous Santal community's claims over land now controlled by a government sugar mill. On Sunday, the same man stood by and watched as police fired at the community and his followers set fire to their homes. The betrayed community is in shock after this 180-degree turnaround by the man they helped put in office. The man is Shakil Ahmed Bulbul, the president of upazila Chhatra League and newly-elected Sapmara UP chairman in Gobindaganj upazila under Gaibandha district.
Also Read - Rangpur sugar mill clash: 1 Santal dies, 1,000 families flee
The land in question was acquired by the then-East Pakistan government in 1962 for the mill. In 2014, some found that the contract for acquisition had been violated by the mill authority and a committee was formed to reclaim the land. Bulbul was named the president of this Shahebganj-Bagda Farm Bhumi Uddhar Songram (land recovery movement) Committee.santals madarpur Two elders from the Santal community sit on the streets of a neighbouring village which has become their refuge. Mehdi Hasan/Dhaka TribuneSantals who have now fled to neighbouring villages, told the Dhaka Tribune that it was at the urging of Bulbul four months ago that they, along with some Bangalis, took to a 100-acre piece of the 1,842-acre sugarcane farm and built 600 new homes. It was not only the UP chairman; some claimed local lawmaker Abul Kalam Azad also gave assurances that he would also stand beside the community in their struggle for land. The burnt remains of those shanties have now been flattened with a tractor.How the tables turnedBulbul contested the chairmanship of Sapmara union parishad in March. The community says that it was after his polling victory that he turned against the Santals. In a union with about 18,000 voters, the nearly 1,500 adults from the community were a certain vote bank for the aspiring politician. Even at a recent rally at Shahebganj Bazar, MP Abul Kalam Azad gave assurances to the community that he would honour their demands.  
Also Read- Special: Madarpur, a godforsaken village
But both the men were present to look on as the community was violently thrown out, not even given the chance to take their belongings. It began on Sunday with an attack in which Bulbul and Azad's men took part, the Santals said. Police stood by as the men set fire to the homes. Later they also locked in a battle with the community, with Santals using primative bows and arrows and police using live rounds in return. Three men from the village have died so far from gunshot wounds. Rumila Kisku told the Dhaka Tribune how she had lost her home and all her belongings in the fire. She has two children; one is in class nine and the other one in class two. “Did we not vote for them? How did they become chairman, MP? Are we not citizens of this country? Why does the government not look after us?” she said.

'Take what you can'

Victims alleged that the goons of MP Azad and Bulbul led the attack on the village. Those who spoke to journalists were mostly women. Among them were Taran Murmu, Mikai Murmu, Ajiran Begum and Rumana Begum, former residents of the village. “Police have filed a case against many of our men. They have run away for fear of arrest,” one of them said.
Also Read: Sugar Mill clash: Another Santal dead
They claimed that during Sunday's attack there had been at least 4,000 people from nearby villages as well as policemen, sugar mill guards and goons working for the two politicians. They also named several people from Kothiabari, Rampura and Goalpara villages. Some said immediately before the attack, there was an announcement on a megaphone. “'Take what you can,' they said over the mic,” said Sri Ezekiel, one of the victims. The goons launched into the shanties, looting everything they could.Gaibandha Sugar Mill Floup -02 (08.11.2016) (1) A Santal home was set on fire during violence between farmers of the community and workers of a local sugar mill on Sunday, November 6, 2016 Dhaka Tribune“There was nothing we could do when we saw a giant flame reaching out to the sky,” he said. Responding to the Dhaka Tribune's queries, Bulbul admitted that he stood over the eviction of the villagers but denied any wrongdoing. “I resigned from the land recovery committee in January,” he said. “There is this man named Shahjahan Ali, who is the general secretary of that committee. He is the one who told the Santals to build homes on that land,” he added. “Besides, some organisations and leftist groups also had a hand in this,” Bulbul alleged. Abul Kalam Azad MP could not be reached for comments.
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