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The sword of Damocles still hangs over Sadhana Tila

HWHRF Review: Issue-04, November 03, 2007

THE ultra communalist elements within the Bangladesh army deployed in Chittagong Hill Tracts have not abandoned the plan to capture Sadhana Tila in Babuchara. After failing to grab the land by brazen display of force and intimidation in August-September 2007, these elements have now changed their strategy. Simultaneously with a propaganda campaign, they are trying to use the court of law to achieve their objective. They have got the civil administration to cook up false land documents to support their claim.

Acting upon an eviction petition filed by one Rezaul Karim (son of Tofazzal Hossain of village Maddyo BoalKhali Asram, Dighinala), the District judge of Khagrachari Mohammad Shahadat Hossain on 26 October ordered Mr. Sneha Moy Chakma, General Secretary of Sadhana Tila Bana Vihar committee, to give his written statement on the issue by personally appearing in the court on 23 January 2008. The court also ordered the parties to maintain status quo until the next order is issued.

On the other hand, the settlers are learnt to have managed to obtain false documents pertaining to the Sadhana Tila lands. However, the tell-tale sign of forgery is all too evident. All the documents called “Jamabandi”, which contains description of the land, the boundary, form of ownership etc, were signed on 21 October 2004, although the lands are shown to have been settled between 1984 and 1985. Moreover, the documents further shows that the settlers have been paying taxes against the said lands through the government treasury since long before their land settlements. According to the present land management system in the CHT, no land can be settled without written permission of the Headman of the area concerned and land taxes are normally paid to the government through the Headman. Therefore, since the deeds of land settlements have been executed without the consent of Mr. Sattyendria Chakma, the Headman of the area, and since the land taxes have not been paid to him, these land documents are prima facie null and void in the eyes of law.

In order to create public opinion in their favour the Dighinala Zone’s second-in-command Major Qamrul Hassan, the mastermind behind the recent land grabbing in Dighinala, began communicating with the local media personnel and invited a group of local correspondents to his camp in the third week of September. This resulted in the publication of some news features in Jai Jai Din (Dhaka, 27 September), the Daily Purbokone (Chittagong, October 8), the Chattagram Manch (Chittagong, 27 September) and the Daily Janata (Dhaka). All these news features are almost identical and made attempts to justify the claim of the settlers.

In the meantime, various government officials kept visiting the area on various pretexts. On 21 October, the Chittagong Divisional Commissioner went on a tour of the area in the name of visiting an orange plantation created with financial assistance from the CHT Development Board. One has to cross over Sadhana Tila area to reach the plantation. He was reported to have held secret talks with Deputy Commissioner of Khagrachari District and Dighinala TNO regarding Sadhana Tila land. On 22 October, Major Qamrul Hassan wanted to visit the orange plantation. However, due to bad weather he had to cancel his trip. On 23 October, ex-UP member Mohammad Mujibor Rahman threw a picnic party at the same location in which the Dighinala TNO was also present. Reliable sources confirmed that he held secret meetings with the settler leaders in the guise of picnic. It was believed that the settlers had discussed their next course of actions in these meetings.

And this assumption was not totally unfounded. On 24 October the Dighinala TNO called a meeting “to sort out the dispute over Sadhana Tila land”. The meeting was attended by UP chairmen, members, headmen and settler representatives. The TNO spread out a map and began to show the locations of Sadhana Tila and the so-called “Khas” lands that are claimed to have been settled with the Bengali settlers. Then he let the meeting know that the government would survey the area and mark out the land given to the settlers. The Jumma representatives vehemently protested the decision of the government and asserted that there was no vacant land in Sadhana Tila. Despite that, the TNO remained adamant in his decision.

Thus the conspiracy is still on to capture Sadhana Tila, an area comprising 300 acres of land that houses a Buddhist temple, a meditation centre and a sizable Jumma habitation. Back in 1983, the government settled 812 illegal Bengali settler families in the area after evicting 15 – 20 Jumma families including Nandi Charan, Rangi Charan, Nipul, Arun Devi Bap and Guipeda Chakma. However, in the face of strong resistance put up by the Jummas, about one-fifth of these settlers left the CHT forever and as for the rest, the army pulled them out of the area in 1986 and re-settled them in various places including Merung, again after driving Jummas from their ancestral lands. During the last 22 years since 1986, the government and the settlers kept complete silence and did never protest when the returnee Jumma refugees settled there and built a temple and a meditation centre. This is because the settlers knew the Sadhana Tila land was not theirs.

The land problem stems from the fact that the government does not recognise traditional land laws of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In total disregard of these laws approximately 400,000 illegal plain settlers were brought in between 1979 – 1984 and settled on lands which traditionally belong to the Jumma people. The settlers are used as a tool of ethnic cleansing against the Jummas.

Hill Watch Human Rights Forum provides accurate, objective and reliable information on human rights abuses in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. For further details contact: hwhrf_99@yahoo.com or hwhrf.cht@gmail.com

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