Human Rights analysis
Needed separate Land Commission for Adibasis
Md Abdul Kader
More that 45 Adibasi communities live in the length and breadth of the country. Of these 11 ethnic communities live in Chittagong Hill Tracts region and the rest more than 33 in the plains. But these Adibasis are falling victims to various deprivations and deceptions almost everyday and evicted from their own soil. Land has become the main problem for the Adibasis of the plains. Their hardship is increasing as their land right is being squeezed day by day.
In fact the Adibasis of the plains are long victims of deprivation. Whether it was Permanent Settlement or partition of the sub-continent on the basis of two nation theory and the communal riots that followed, or Tebhaga movement, Santhal uprising of Nachole or Indo-Pak war as well as our war of liberationevery time they were found as easy target of oppression and persecution. Many of them lost their last resort of homesteads and became landless.
In fact after the partition their problem of deprivation and eviction from own land turned serious. Their lands were grabbed with forged deeds on a massive scale. Lands in their possession were recorded in others' name or shown as vested property. Many non-Adibasis even forcibly occupied their land with impunity.
Innumerable incidents of such land grabbing and eviction occurred in Santhal domiciled Rajshahi, Dinajpur and Naogaon districts; Khasia domiciled Moulvibazar and Sylhet districts; Mandi or Gaaro domiciled Netrakona, Mymensingh and Tangail districts; Rakhaine domiciled Barguna, Patuakhali and Cox's Bazar districts.
In the abovementioned districts, the Adibasis were evicted from their own land not only by the non-Adibasi land grabbers but also in the name of creating eco-park and preservation of forest land.
True, the awareness about land right is naturally very low among the Adibasis. They have never been enthusiast in preserving their land documents. There is also a historic reason for thisthey believe land is gift of God and it belongs to God. For this, many Adibasis, specially the illiterate and simpler among them seldom tried to institutionally or formally record their right on lands under their possession for generations. And the land grabbers seized this opportunity to deprive the Adibasis of their age-old own land.
This happened in the past and the trend is continuing in the present, and the Adibasis are losing the possession of and right to their own land. There are laws to preserve Adibasi land and provide security to them, but these are never properly applied. This, on one hand, is not protecting Adibasis' land right and on the other, providing the exploiters opportunity to grab their land.
The problem with Adibasi land is a very old one, for this the restrictions imposed in matters of transfer of Adibasi property in the Bengal Tenancy Act 1918 have been set intact in clause 97 of the State Acquisition and Tenancy Act. The Adibasi communities coming under jurisdiction of this Act areSanthal, Banai, Bhuiyan, Bhumij, Dolu, Garo, Barman, Hajong, Ho, Kharia, Koch, Kora, Mog, Maal, Suria Paharia, Sech, Munda, Mundai, Oraon and Turi.
The provisions to be effective under clause 97 of the State Acquisition and Tenancy Act have been described in a few sub-clauses, viz
a. Any Adibasi desirous of transferring his/her territory to a non-Adibasi can only make it effective subject to consideration of Revenue Officer.
b. This clause 97 shall not be effective in matters of transfer of property among their own community.
c. Application of this clause shall not be obstructed because of religious conversion or by religious identity of any Adibasi.
d. The government even wilfully cannot apply or nullify the provisions of this clause by any circular in case of any special community or area.
Clause 97 of State Acquisition and Tenancy Act is virtually the 7th part of Bengal Tenancy Act 1885 -- the added new part is 7th 'A' part. Here were laid the restrictions regarding transfer of Adibasi property.
The 7th A part was kept in fact in our State Acquisition and Tenancy Act. But statistics show that immediately after 1947 the landless Adibasis constituted 20 percent of their population in North Bengal which has now reached to 85 percent and is increasing every year. This means, although the provisions of clause 97 remained in force the process of Adibasis losing their land, being evicted from their land, being oppressed and persecuted has never ceased. It leaves no room for two opinion that the clause 97 is not enough to protect Adibasis' land right, resolve their many-fold problems.
This also necessitates constitutional recognition of Adibasis, ensuring their representation in all aspects of national life, adopting suitable laws to ensure their land right as well as properly implementing the existing laws with appropriate explanation to remove complexity, also adopting law to the effect that the Vested Properly Act shall not be applicable in matters of Adibasi land. To overcome the complexity of permission in case of selling Adibasi land local recommender may be elected from among them with their direct vote.
In Adibasi domiciled areas govt khas land should be leased out to them on priority basis, specially in the name of those Adibasi families who are already living on khas land. In Adibasi forest land areas special steps should be taken to ensure their right to protect and use the forest land. To enhance the Adibasis' awareness towards land right, initiative should be taken at government level. Non-Adibasis should stand beside the Adibasis in their united movement to protect and reestablish their right to land with a view to resolving the Adibasis' land right problems. It is also necessary to arrange for views sharing programmes with staff members and officers of Department of Land and Department of Land Registration at both government and non-government level, so that there created a moral support base.
The Adibasis also fought side by side with the mainstream population in 1971 war of liberation and sacrificed their lives as well. They are also the sons of soil. So it is a shame on us that they are losing their land, evicted from their homesteads in independent Bangladesh. Thus it is duty of the conscientious mainstream population to help them protect their homesteads and lands, culture and language to our national enrichment in diversity. They must be given their traditional right to land now. And for this, constituting a separate Land Commission for Adibasis is the need of the moment.
Md. Abdul Kader is Executive Director, Samata.