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     Volume 4 Issue 14 | September 24, 2004 |

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Giving Back Land to the Landless


A few days ago I met some Santals and they told me that they were now working as sharecroppers in their own lands. Being poor, illiterate and a minority group, they have been constantly being exploited and oppressed by those who have more power. Their lands have been grabbed through fraudulent practices; sometimes they have lost their land because our complex land laws do not give them the support they need.

To the indigenous people land is very important and our agricultural methods have originated from them. They call the land-- Ma-- meaning mother and some times it means more than that. Complicated land laws and the land systems often have a negative effect on poor people, more so in the case of indigenous groups.

Among the few organisations working on this issue Samata is one of the pioneers. On September 12, the National Policy Advocacy Cell of Samata organised a daylong discussion meeting with women journalists. The main objective was to create awareness about the proper distribution of Char-lands and to establish a separate land commission for the ethnic people of the plain land.

In the inaugural speech Samsul Huda, the advisory member of Samata, stated how the people of the Chars (who live in the sandy land recovered from the river bed) are suffering due to ineffective laws related to Alluvium and Diluvium. In the river when a new land rises, some individuals use their muscle power to grab that land eventhough it legally belongs to the landless. He also added that indigenous people are mostly affected by the land system of the country and in most cases it is the women and children who are vulnerable.

Jahid Rahman and Sultana Akhter Ruby, researchers of Smata presented two concept papers at the meeting. According to the law, said Rahman, alluvium land means the land which is devoured by the river and Delluvium means a deposit of sand caused by former action of flowing waters.

In Riverine Chars in Bangladesh, a report by Irrigation Support Project for Asia and Near-East found that in our country there are approximately 1722.89 sq.km char lands which can accommodate at least 150 million land less people through proper distribution.

Samata is trying to make people aware about the loopholes of the present land system of the country and they want to amend the laws of Alluvium and Delluvium. State Acquisition and Tenancy Act 1951 was amended in 1994 and according to this act there are a lot of problems for the poor to acquire the land.

The main problems of the present laws include : The government cannot seize the Delluvium lands and so cannot distribute the lands to the landless. Violence is a regular consequence of land disputes and the law only encourages the practise of fake deeds.

So for the poor landless people this law should be amended. Through proper distribution of the char lands almost 1560,384 people can be rehabilitated.

Sultana Akhter Ruby, in an another presentation explained why they are campaigning for the separate land commission for the ethnic people of plain lands.

Land issues are a major worry for the indigenous people in our country. Our government has usually ignored their land rights, as our land system doesn't have any concept of vested land or common property. The Government has occupied a lot of their lands in the name of 'development' or 'reserved forest'. Modhupur reserve forest is one of them. Indigenous people of the plain land gradually lost their lands and as their traditions and culture is land oriented, they lost their identity as well. The Government, suggested Ruby, should respect their traditional and customary land rights and form a separate land commission for them.

One of the other reasons behind the sufferings of these people is that we do not address them as indigenous they need constitutional recognition in order to survive.



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