From the Editor-in-Chief: The worries that assail us

Enayetullah Khan
Thursday, November 17th, 2016
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Let the message go out loud and clear: the unsavoury elements who ravaged and looted the homes of Santals in Gaibandha on 6 November must be brought to justice. The magistrates who ordered the police to fire on the Santals as they demonstrated to protest the drive to evict them explain why they did so. One of the magistrates has said he along with four other magistrates was compelled to order the police to shoot because of the situation. That decision resulted in the deaths of three Santals and the arrest of quite a few others.

 

It is an embarrassment that the police and local villagers together went on the attack against the Santals, a community which like so many others in the country has been losing land and identity over the past many years. There are the many instances of the Garo community being forced out of their homes and ancestral land. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, it is not unusual for Bengali settlers to do everything they can to keep the local tribes, especially the Chakmas, on the fringes. These are realities that should never have been there. It all began with the decision by the Ayub Khan regime in the early 1960s to build the Karnaphuli dam, a move which displaced thousands of tribal people and sowed the seeds of a conflict whose ramifications are yet being felt in an independent Bangladesh.

 

The question which we can now ask ourselves is very basic: Must this happen in a country considered home for all citizens irrespective of colour, creed, belief, et cetera? Indeed, let us broaden the nature of the question: in a country which has always prided itself on its secular moorings, how do conditions arise where such religious segments of societies as Hindus regularly come under assaults? It is not merely the fact that rabid fanatics within the Muslim community, all with links to rightwing politics, have pounced on our religious minorities on one pretext or another. What is immensely more shocking comes through finding some of the very people espousing secularism engaged in repression on the religious minorities. The recent assault on the Hindu community in Nasirnagar, Brahmanbaria has raised some disturbing questions. That no concrete action has been taken, that only promises of finding out the culprits involved have been made in the end could push the entire incident under the rug. That must not be allowed to happen.

 

That brings us back to the Santal issue. The High Court has ordered that the Santal men under arrest and undergoing treatment in hospital must have their handcuffs and ropes removed. We welcome the move by the High Court, for its decision is a clear reflection of public outrage at the grossly crude manner in which the Santal community has been treated. Let this move be followed by a proper and swift investigation of those whose role in Shapmara caused all that misery for the Santals.

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