Translated by MUSTAFA ZAMAN
with the Victims
"I am happy that you all have come to see us. Please
help us live our lives ... and look after us ... entreats
an elderly woman, whose name is Prya Dasi, a villager let
me know. Prya Dasi has lost her sight and her hearing too
has diminished. She pleads for the "safety" of her
Twenty-six days after the incident, the community
that was subjected to merciless beating, humiliation and continuos
persecution by a group of miscreants out to grab their land,
saw no signs of empathy from the local authorities. As she
allows me to take a snapshot of her, I ask her how old she
is. "Four kuri and five," a villager chips in. This
means four into twenty, plus five; which makes her 85. At
this age she has enough reason to worry over the safety of
her community. The land the usurpers are out to grab is the
sacred cremation ground that has been a part of this village
for as long as she remembers.
Prya Dasi lost her husband "eight years
after the war of independence in 1971". "Where will
we be if they take this land away from us. My husband is lying
in that land and I too deserves a place in that shoshan (cremation
ground)", Prya Dasi intones.
The land-grabbers are oblivious to such emotional
attachment of people to their land. They are even disrespectful
to the traditional life-style of a minority, which has been
the part of the demographic landscape since time immemorial.
The usurpers have often threatened the people with eviction
from their households.
the fateful day, during the atrocious attack, the whole community
found itself at the receiving end of a premeditated aggression.
Some received severe beating and some ended up with near-fatal
injuries. Gouri Das, around fifty, was brutally attacked.
On the palm of her right hand, she bears the deep gash of
being struck by a sharp weapon. There is another cut on the
right side of her head. As she speaks it becomes clear that
there is little she remembers of the mayhem, as she was knocked
unconscious from the first few blows she received. She does
however, remember her first attacker. "It was Kader,
son of Mafizuddin, who struck me on the head with a sharp
weapon," she asserts. She cannot tell "who else
beat her up later". As she gained consciousness, she
found her sari missing.
Hari Dasi, another 40 year-old villager, found
herself in the same predicament. She was literally trampled
by a bunch of men, men who knew no mercy. Hari Dasi testifies
that "the pain is still there after all these days".
"I had to spend a thousand taka to get well, though I
have not yet recuperated," she relates.
The patch of land, the main cause of the atrocity,
lies besides a pond. We went to have a look at it for ourselves.
For the Hindus of this region it is a sacred ground, as it
is their final resting-place. Broken earthenware is scattered
all over the ground, signs of cremation punctuated by mounds
of earth, under which the remains of the dear ones are buried.
Who would want to usurp such a religiously significant land?
But here in Gopalpur there are people who are even ready to
put an end to others' lives to gain a patch of land.
the cremation ground, we meet Bimala Rani Das, a sexagenarian.
She is straightforward in her appeal, "I want peace,
this land always belonged to my community, I have seen so,
since my childhood. Why do they want to grab this land now,
I don't know! My husband died and was cremated on this very
ground. When I die I would like to be cremated here, please
see to it that it happens," she continues.
Even girls of the Hindu community at Gopalpur
village have stopped going out of the house in fear of these
miscreants who openly harass them on the streets.
Malati Rani, a seventeen-year-old girl, had
to stop going to school altogether. She had studied up to
class ten at the local Jalsheen high school, and it came to
a halt last year. Young men from the land grabber group used
to swear at her every day on her way to school.
with the question of why she stopped going to school from
which she received a stipend, Malati is hesitant. Her answer
to why she quit school is short: "they swear at me."
same reason stopped Shilpi Rani, age 16, from going to school
two years earlier. The list goes on. There are several others
of this age group whose willingness to pursue education has
been stymied by the local goons. Chandana, Kalpana, Shilpi,
Niasha, Sabitri and Madhubala's dreams were dashed for the
Many parents have stopped even their smaller
children from going to Jalsheen School. To avoid harassment
they now send them to Ruail primary school, which is in the
adjacent village Ruail.
But with daughters, parents are more cautious,
as the feeling of insecurity multiplies when it comes to a
community in search of security
In the face of the worst attack on the Hindu community by
the group of land-grabbers and their henchmen, not much has
been done by the authority to mitigate the victims. Our encounter
with the authority took place while we were on our way to
the Gopalpur village. We met a constable who suddenly blocked
our way with a "salute" and inquired about our mission.
He introduced himself as being a constable of the Dhamrai
thana. His name was Imdadul Haq. The two men he was accompanying
to the thana were Lackshan Chandro Mondal and Subhash Sarkar.
They were on their way to the thana along with "relevant
papers" -- the deeds of their land.
We inspect the summons notice from the thana
that these two men received but found that there was no mention
of who they were suppose to report to or meet. No officer's
name was mentioned in the notice. As we ask constable Haq
about this, he has only one thing to say, "I was ordered
to take them to the thana and I am just following orders."
as we lock ourselves in conversation with Subhash, one of
the plaintiffs, he with disappointment, "We have been
to every possible source, we urged them to help us and to
give us shelter, but to no avail," "We went to the
chairman Matiur Rahman. He advised us to remain under the
umbrella of the law. We have been so for last few years, still
we are finding ourselves at the receiving end of merciless
beating every year," Subhash continues. He also adds
that, "The main goal of these people (land-grabbers)
is to evict us from our own land and households. We have been
subjected to atrocities since as long as I can remember. You
will not find a single man in this community who was not beaten
up at least once."
Lakhshan recalls the previous year's incident.
"When they scooped out all the fishes out of the pond
beside the cremation ground and the temple, a case was filed.
Even the newspapers took it up. At first the law enforcing
agency seemed very active, but soon everything died down,"
The most disturbing aspect is that the community
has been kept at its tether's end for the last couple of years,
and the lip service meted out by the investigating officer
in charge has amounted to little and the attacks, harassment
and other forms of abuses continues unabated. As usual the
hands of the law, as usual, fail to reach out to these people
when they are in such dire situations.
Lakhshan's desperation is evident. "The
same group has committed these crimes this year and with greater
brutality than last year's attack. In the past women were
spared. This time they were not; many were even forcefully
It was Lakhshan who filed the case on behalf
of his community. So, he and his companion are supposed to
go to the thana. As the duo leave us behind, what happens
at the thana that day, on November 28, we are eager to know.
We go back to the village the following day to find out.
we look for Lakhshan on November 29, we fail to track him.
He is nowhere to be found. Luckily, we catch hold of his companion
of the previous day. Subhash tells us that as they went to
the thana, they were "made to wait for the OC for the
whole day." "As the daroga (OC) arrived, after prevaricating
for sometime, he said 'I am happy that you have come' and
then cautioned us not to 'babble' in front of the journalists.
The OC's resolve was firm, as Subhash's words testify. He
said, "It is the police who will bring justice, it is
the police who will catch the criminals. So be careful what
you say in front of others."
Subhash is an eye-witness to what took place on November 2.
He helps us reconstruct the scene.
It was around ten thirty in the morning when
a group of people installed a water pump to siphon out the
water from the pond next to the cremation ground. The ground
is only 27 acres, but it has been a source of a lot troubles
since the day the land grabbers targetted it as the next piece
of land for usurpation. The miscreants consisting of Lal Miah
(35), Ibrahim (38), Jahangir (28), Kader (30), Mojibor (37),
Zohurul (25), Ziaur (19), Malek (25), Hashem (20) and a few
others were there to obstruct anyone from the Hindu community
who would intervene. There was a string of women who stood
in a circle, guarding the water pump. When the people of the
community rushed to put a stop to the siphoning, one of the
men said, "charaler po (son of a commoner), don't cross
the limit, if you do, we will file a case for repression against
women and will throw you out of this country."
Subhash and his fellow men were not to be
deterred as their livelihoods were at stake. They waved off
the threats and "forced the group of people from keeping
the water-pump running." He has a clear explanation for
their action, "If we cannot protect our own religion
what's the use in keeping on living. This small patch of land
has been our cremation ground, it has been so since the time
of our ancestors."
"We ignored their threats and made them
stop the water pump. But, we did not realise the consequence
of that would be so devastating," Subhash hastens to
What followed after that was something no
one from Subhash's community ever anticipated. The band of
men, who installed the water pump and were trying to siphon
the pond, rushed toward the paddy field, where they kept their
weapons hidden. Armed with machete, sticks and lances, they
swooped on the community that had little protection from the
authority, let alone any influential group or men.
The invading men went looking for women and
children. They scrambled inside their houses. They beat them
up, slashed them and plundered their homes and even went so
far as to taer off the women's clothes.
families have categorically being victimised by this "land-grabbing
clique." It is more a case of wresting properties from
the weak than of religious persecution. As Hindus of the locality
are the weakest, they keep losing their lands to aggressors
who reign the localities with their muscle as well as social
and political clout. This is the reality of Bangladesh, and
the village of Gopalpur is no exception.
the Hindus claim that there is a moratorium, an unofficial
one though, on cremation on the sacred patch of land that
they call shoshan. The perpetrators have been trying
to enforce this even before the attack.
The victims got little respite from the Dhamrai
thana. No officer from the police station or administration
went to visit the scene of the crime. Even from the political
fold, no representative showed up to console the victims,
to assure their security. It was only when the news of it
hit the press that the apathetic administration received a
Even the location of the Gopalpur village,
as stated in the police record, is confusing. In the recent
record it is ten kilometres south of the Dhamrai thana. Last
year, in the FIR placed by the community it was placed at
a distance of 16 kilometres. A farming village in the Nannar
Union, it lacks proper communication infrastructure and is
locked by the water bodies that surround it. The Hindus live
on a two acre mound of earth, 65 families are squeezed together
to pursue their traditional way of life.
hour-long mayhem that went on in this village left many of
the villagers seriously injured. Harilal (18), Naresh (20),
Nepal Rani (50), Neel Kamal (70) were the ones who received
serious blows. The septuagenarian Neel Kamal, was not at the
spot. He was out in the field. The perpetrators spotted him
there as they were returning after completing their 'adventure'.
"Before I could make anything out of the situation I
collapsed," Kamal testifies.
He is the former member of the Union. "I
have been trying to compromise a lot to come to an amicable
solution. However, I have been beaten up four times by this
group." Neither was he spared on November 2. He was out
on the field and it was Zahurul, the son of the mastermind
behind the attack, who attacked him. Zahurul's father Ibrahim
led the group that swooped on the families of 64 households.
The brutality continued in other forms following
the atrocious attack. Josna Rani, the daughter of the aging
ex-member, had been manhandled while she was coming to Gopalpur
to see how her father was doing after the beating.
As she was nearing her father's house, a group
of four or five men hurled abuses at her and snatched a box
of sweets she had been carrying. Josna wants justice for what
has been done to her father. She echoes her community's appeal:
"Please make sure that these abuses stop, so that we
are safe outside our house."
the second day of our investigation, we get the chance to
meet Modhu Mondol, who sheds some light on the land-grabbing
spree. "There are only eight to ten acres of land remaining.
The rest have already changed hands," Mondol laments.
Another villager named Santosh Mondol remembers how, after
the demolition of the Babri Mosque in India, "the other
cremation ground was usurped by the same group at that time.
Atrocities followed by grabbing of their land; it is a vicious,
manmade cycle. "My own land is in the process of usurpation,
the local miscreants have built their houses on my land. And
the 180 decimal of the cremation ground and the pond is what
they are after now," testifies Sontosh.
at the Doors of the Law
Our next destination was the police station in Dhamrai. We
wanted to know how far the law-enforcing agency has advanced
at bringing the culprits to justice. We met Tareq Kamal, the
Officer in Charge (OC) of Dhamrai thana, at mid noon. He let
us know that, he "is trying to resolve the land dispute."
"We are even trying to round up the accused," he
However, it is everyone's knowledge that the
accused are freely roaming around the locality. The villagers,
who were unwilling to divulge their names, believe that, "the
accused will never be arrested, as they have political connections."
When we confront the OC with this doubt expressed by the local
people, Kamal's answer is curt. "Many people will say
many things, they are incorrect in most occasions" he
Twenty-seven days after the filing of the
FIR, no one was arrested. How will the villagers rely on the
authority, let alone the words of the OC? The biggest sign
of inaction is that while the accused are said to be absconding,
there have been no attempts on the part of the police and
the authority to seize the properties of the accused in their
absence, which is the normal practice.
the accused were no where to be found. On November 28, we
conducted a kind of door-to-door search to meet with them.
Everybody was missing from their own houses. At Kader's home,
his wife Sufia says outright, "He is not home, he went
out to meet the local MP (Member of Parliament)."
Another absconding accused Aziz left his house
in the morning. So did Ibrahim and Sona Miah. However, at
Sona Miah and Ibrahim's house, Ibrahim's wife Zohra Begum
informs us that he "went out with Kader in the morning."
we press her for her opinion on the incident, she obliges,
though with her own brand of truth, "They have committed
the crime and now they have filed a case against us. They
let their cows loose to graze on our fava-bean field and when
my son Zia intervened the people of the Hindu para started
beating him up. Then we all rushed to the spot to stop the
beating. Later I heard that they filed a case." She is
adamant about aligning us along her line of thinking. As we
tell her in her face that we have been roaming around the
village and had not seen any sign of fava-bean field anywhere
she retorts "What is it matter if you didn't see it,
aren't there people in the village who did? They have seen
Although, in our two-day long investigation
we have heard people utter the names of the goons of the men
behind the attacks, no one has dared to even whisper the names
of these patrons. "If 'they' change, the lives of our
people will change," this was an opinion that many shared
among themselves but dared not to say out in the open. Although
no names were uttered, there was a clear hint that three land-grabbers
have been trying to transgress one land after another. Many
allege that these 'three' are operating "with the connivance
of a powerful local BNP leader.
Although no names were uttered, the Hindu
community of Gopalpur is unanimous on the malpractice of these
three men. Many believe that "They are experts in making
forged documents." Besides making forged papers to prove
their lawful ownership to lands, they specialise in bribing
the relevant authority to advance their act of usurpation.
And there is an aspect to the land-ownership law, it says
that those who occupy the land are the owners, this is one
law that they readily take advantage of. To occupy, the land-grabbers
use their thugs, who flex their muscles at the opportune moments,
as they did on November 2 this year.
Political clout makes things easier for the
land-grabbers. It is a common knowledge of the villagers that
the local MP, Ziaur Rahman, is a mentor of sorts to Badesh
Fakir, one of the accused. According to many of the villagers
Fakir himself usurped 140 decimal of land that previously
belonged to the Hindus.
There have been efforts to investigate the
incidents of land grabbing by the government and the administration.
The assistant commissioner, magistrate and at times the local
OC submitted their findings, and their reports have always
tilted in favour of the minority. However, things stall at
the stage when it comes to taking steps. The flow of bribes
keeps things at a stand still. Many even say that sometimes
the government officials take bribes from both sides. But
there must be steps on the part of the authorities to bring
this land-grabbing spree to a halt.
continuous and silent exodus among the Hindus is thus inevitable.
"There were people like Dhonoram and Pagol Sarkar, who
left in the face of repression. Now they are after Santosh
Mondol and his son Haripodo Mondol, Moron Mondol, Lakhshan
Chandra Ashanondo and Subhash." Who says this These are
the brave people who stand in the way of the land-grabbers.
To clear their way and to cloud the situation,
the land-grabbers have filed a case with counter allegations
accusing the people of the Hindu community. Thirty-five of
them have been made perpetrators in a crime that did not take
place. The story of letting the cows lose on the fava-bean
field and the attempt to murder is what they are staking on.
Looting of cash and gold has also been attached to these cases
and those accused Hindu villagers have been branded as the
the struggle continues…
Before we leave, one last walk around the village brings us
to the Kali Mandap. We meet Phul Basana,
the 55 year old woman, whose hand bears a deep gash -- a mark
made by a sharp weapon. She was in her house on the fateful
day. The perpetrators burst into their house and started charging
on her husband. Witnessing the plight, she and her son rushed
to the rescue. "During the attack while Lal Mia, one
of the attackers, aimed his machete at my scull I saved myself
by obstructing the blow with my hand," explains Basana.
She just wanted to save her husband and son.
Unless the authorities come forward and protect
the members of this community these attacks will recur year
after year. Until all their land has been usurped.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004