Indian Catholic News

High Court orders investigation into Santal arson attack

The indigenous community had their settlement destroyed by hired thugs and police, video footage shows.


The Bangladesh High Court has ordered an investigation into accusations that police torched indigenous homes during the eviction of Santal squatters in November.

A two-member High Court bench passed the order on Dec. 14, asking the chief judicial magistrate to submit within 15 days. The court also directed the police to hand over their case reports.

The court move was prompted after the appearance of footage of police setting light to Santal homes. Al Jazeera first broadcast the exclusive footage on Dec. 11 and then it went viral.

The full video shows police wrecking Santal homes, setting fire to them and guarding the area while the houses burned.

See the footage here in this Al Jazeera report:

About 2,500 Santals, mostly Christians, were forced off disputed land in Govindaganj in Gaibandha district by workers from the Rangpur Sugar Mill with support from the local administration on Nov. 6-7.

Three Santal men were killed and over 20 people, including police officers, were injured in a series of clashes as the Santals tried to resist the eviction.

The attackers also looted property and livestock and 600 squatter homes. Most of the evicted people have been living in two nearby villages, in makeshift tents or even under trees.

"Police approached the village firing blank shots and people fled their houses. I have seen police setting fire to our houses," said Emmanuel Baskey, a Santal man.

Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi, chairman of the Catholic bishops' Justice and Peace Commission slammed the police over the incident.

"This is an absolutely barbaric act and police must find the members involved immediately," the bishop said.

"From the beginning people accused the police of taking part in the eviction and setting fire to homes but they flatly denied it. After the video came out, they became tight-lipped, which means they were involved in the attack and siding with the mill authority and local politicians," Bishop Rozario added.

Ashraful Islam, police chief in Gaibandha district, refused to comment.

"The matter is under investigation after the High Court directive. So, it's not right to comment on the arson attack now," he said.

Church responds to crisis

After the attack and eviction, various voluntary organizations and church groups provided food, clothes, medicines, tarpaulin and tents to several hundred people.

"All the people have received blankets but we don't have warm clothes, not even for our children. People, especially children, are suffering from cold-related diseases but there is no medicine. We also don't have enough food to eat," said Barnabas Tudu, a Santal.

Bishop Sebastian Tudu of Dinajpur Diocese said that he visited the Santals twice and promised support.

"Our priests, nuns and Caritas are in touch with the affected people as they are living in miserable conditions. We have been offering them aid," Bishop Tudu said.

The prelate added that the church is also advocating for justice for the attack and seeking to help the community get their land back, the cause of the original protest.

"We have spoken to political leaders and government officials, looking for an amicable solution; if necessary we'll sit with government ministers. But we are doing it through backdoor channels, otherwise vested interests behind the attacks might accuse the church of fueling unrest," the bishop added.

Source: UCAN

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