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Wicked human rights infringement in Nihar

09/06/2014: Bangladesh

The Marist Brothers of the District of Asia carry on the dream of Marcellin Champagnat, in Moulovibazar (Bangladesh), by working to provide secondary education for the children of the workers in the tea plantations. Through their blog, the Brothers of  Moulovibazar sent us a article written by Fr. Joseph Gomes, OMI that denounce the infringement of human rights in Nihar.

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In the Sreemangal tea plantations area under the District of Moulvibazar, there are two groups of populations. On the one hand the tea gardens workers, and on the other hand the Khasi Tribal people, who live in villages (punjis) enclaves in the tea plantations where they primarily cultivate betel leaves (a stimulant much appreciated in the entire Indian subcontinent). The first group lives in slave-like conditions, with very low wages maximum Tk. 68 per day (65 cents of euro), without the rights to own land or home, without the right to Labor Unions representation. The second group, the Khasi, has been living here for generations but do not have documents to prove it, and are at the mercy of the predatory tea companies, which constantly threaten to expel them from the land of their ancestors.

That is exactly what happened on May 30th in the Nahar-1 Khasi punji. Mr. Pijush Kanti Bhattacherya, the manager of the Nihar Tea Estate company (Abul Khayer Group of Industries), taking advantage that the Khasi men were out working in the fields, invaded the village in which there were only women and children, trying to evict them by force. The most infamous was that they mobilized for that their workers from nearby tea plantations, that is, they mobilized poor against poor. But no one expected that women and children were to stand up and defend themselves; there was fighting, violence, and some ten people were injured from both sides including four Khasi ladies, with such bad luck that one of the invaders died at the hospital three days later.

As a result, for several days Nihar Punji has been besieged by the police and the tea workers; no one could enter or leave, putting at risk the lives of children and elderly. Now violence seems to calm down, but the company Abul Khayer Group of Industries is trying to take advantage of the death (totally unwanted) of one of its workers to, once and for all, expel the Khasis and take possession of the village to enlarge the surface destined to the production of tea.

The Khasis are also reacting, supported by some organizations for the defense of Human Rights such as Transparency International Bangladesh, some local Indigenous Organizations, the Catholic Diocese of Sylhet and some Religious Congregations (Holy Cross, Oblates and Marist Brothers).

In this situation both the parties have filed cases against each other in Sreemangal Police station. Most of the Khasi men are in fear and out of the village in order to avoid arrest by police. Police from Sreemangal are going to the Khasi village practically every day and threatening by saying “if we do not find men in the village we will arrest women”. The Khasi women are very courageous and saying to the police in reply that “if you arrest us and put us into the custody take our children too along with us”.

We expect the traditional Right to own the land of their ancestors to be recognized.  Hopefully the tea companies will moderate their greed. Hopefully the managers will stop using their poor semi-slaves workers to invade the land of Khasis.  We hope the Government of Bangladesh will be sensitive to the existence of Indigenous peoples governed by a traditional ancestral law even without papers or written documents proving it. And we wish peace and harmony based on the respect for the human beings.

http://maristmoulovibazar.blogspot.it/

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Fr. Joseph Gomes, OMI

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