The Santals, the largest indigenous group on the Indian subcontinent, have always lived off of the land, but in recent years holding on to their ancestral grounds has become a struggle.

During the Pakistan period (1962) the government acquired the land from the Santals for a sugar cane farm. It was agreed that the land would be returned to the original owners if it were used for farming any other corps. However, the agreement was violated and the mill authority leased out the land for farming other crops. According to local upazila land office, only 92-97 acres of 1842.3 acres of the land were being used for farming sugarcane in 2014-15 fiscal year. The local Santals had complained about this infringement of the contract but nothing positive happened. The recent clash erupted when the Santals resisted illegal harvesting by mill workers.

On 6 November 2016 a sudden attack upon indigenous people and Bengali farmers by police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and local goons hired by Rangpur sugar mills authority & influential political elements was taken place at Shahebganj Bagda farm of Rangpur Sugar Mills in Gobindaganj upazila under Gaibandha district aiming to evict indigenous and Bengali farmers.

In this attack, at least two indigenous Santal men were shot dead, three indigenous Santal villagers were arrested and 30 people including 17 indigenous men and 8 law enforcers were severely injured. The deceased were identified as Shyamal Hembrom (35) and Mongal Mardi (50). Moreover 50-60 more indigenous men were missing after the incident and more than 1200 families have fled due to the looting, vandalizing, arson attack of their houses. A false case was lodged against 42 indigenous and Bengali farmers mentioning the name and more 400 unknown villagers with Gobindaganj police station.
© Anik Rahman 2021
Using Format