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Dhaka Tribune

A community buzzing with stories of resistance

The marginalized communities in the Banishanta union showcase immeasurable resilience

Update : 09 Jan 2023, 05:48 PM

As part of the Catalytic Grant Programme, by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), Climate Justice Resilience Fund (CJRF), and Global Resilience Partnership (GRP), the resilient team is working on livelihood adaptation practices of marginalized communities in the Banishanta union, Dacope Upazila, Khulna. While collecting the research data from the field, the team came across a group of farmers with a lot to say. This article showcases the stories of unheard voices from the union. 

“Who are you? Where are you from?” asked the men distressfully. “Why do you people give wrong reports to your seniors?" The people from the union curiously asked the team all these questions. They also wanted to know: "It is for us that there is now a plan to dump the sand on our land. Why did you write that our land is infertile? Can't you see the rice? Can't you see the green? Does this look infertile to you?” We were completely surprised by their allegations and took the time to understand the situation. Getting a grasp of things, we calmed them down and introduced ourselves. 

The hint of anger on their faces slowly changed to sadness. To upgrade Mongla port, there is a plan to dredge the Passur river under the ECNEC project and dump the sand on the farmlands of the Banishanta union. Around 3000-5000 people are dependent on these 300+ acres of double cropping fields for their income.

These people now spend sleepless nights, wondering whether their only source of livelihood will be gone in the name of development. The question still remains in people's minds: Why this agricultural land? Even though there are several options to dump this huge amount of dredging sand eg, the proposed airport and 6-lane road not so far from the Mongla port.

However, such struggles are not uncommon for them. Many of them migrated from Mongla decades ago, due to land-grabbing issues, and settled here to live peacefully. They have also been victims of shrimp cultivation, forced by outsider elites and powerful opportunists. Overnight, their lands were turned saline and turned into ghers (shrimp farms). During that time, crop production in the region declined drastically.

Even homestead crops and vegetables died in high salinity. People suffered from poverty and fresh water scarcity for months. “When there was salt water here, per bigha land used to produce 5-7 tonnes of rice; now in the same land, we can cultivate 20-25 tonnes of rice,” says a farmer.

These people do not have much, but their collective power has driven shrimp cultivation out of the area. The region has changed drastically over the decade and the people have newer sources of livelihood, such as watermelon cultivation. After difficult, long fights, they have managed to come out of the vicious cycle, but now the cycle has started once again. 

For the past few years, the people of this area have been very worried about their agricultural land being filled with sand without any notice from the concerned authorities. News reports have been published to draw attention to the fact that this land is not infertile and unworthy of dumping sand, but no legal action has been taken.

“We are tired of these constant fighting,” says Dikolpo with a hopeless look on his face. They have been impacted by floods and cyclones such as Sidr, Aila, and Amphan over the years and now humans have put another challenge in front of them. As a developing country incited by helplessness, we often seem to neglect the long-term benefits for the short-term ones. 

The Mongla port is heavily dependent on the farmers of the union. Every day they send thousands of tons of crops, vegetables, milk, and other items from here. To avoid spending more money on sand disposal, authorities might end up paying more in the long run.

The loss of conversion of this agricultural land to barren will be beyond anticipation. The farmers can earn Tk1,00,000-1,50,000 within 60-70 days with an investment of only Tk15,000 through watermelon cultivation. Who will be paying for this loss? The compensation proposed by the authority is Tk2,00,000/acre for ten years is nothing compared to the treasure the lands provide. This fertile land is like a mother to them, which they never want to lose.

The people of Banishanta are survivors who are put back into the cycle of suffering once more. The current situation is torment for them, living in the fear of losing everything at any time is a thought one cannot fathom for long. They know that they do not have much power, but that is not going to keep them down. The depth of resilience is as real as their hardships. No matter which situation they are put in, they collectively fight their way out. They will fight forever if they have to, but that is not going to scratch their spirit. They have set their hearts ablaze.

Afsana Afrin Esha is working in the Institute of Water and Flood Management (IWFM), BUET as a research associate, her research interest is mainly in the intersections of human geography and environment and her current research focus on resilient water infrastructures. She can be reached at [email protected]

Md Hasibul Hasan is working in the Institute of Water and Flood Management (IWFM), BUET as a research associate, his research interest is mainly in the intersections of human geography, water, and environment and his current research focuses on water conflicts. He can be reached at [email protected]

Mahabuba Hasan Lima is working in the Institute of Water and Flood Management (IWFM), BUET as a research associate, her research interest is in the water security of marginalised communities. She can be reached at [email protected].



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