Garo and Khasi indigenous peoples face eviction
Written by Sanjeeb Drong, Bangladesh
Sanjeeb Drong is a layman and a close collaborator of the Oblates working with these indigenous people in Bangladesh.
The Garo and Khasi indigenous communities live in the north and northeastern part of Bangladesh close to the Indian border. The majority of the Garos and Khasis live in Meghalaya, India. Some of them live in Tripura, Koch Bihar, Assam and Mizoram. Their total population in Bangladesh is about 120,000. The Garos and Khasis belong to a matrilineal society and most of them have become Christians through the years.
For centuries, the indigenous peoples in Bangladesh have been facing the severe effects of government policies like land grabbing, forceful migration, and human rights violation including the colonial policy of divide and rule.
Since 1947, after the British rule, the then government of Pakistan organized a population transfer program to the Garo region; thousands of Bengali Muslims settled on indigenous land. Now the indigenous peoples have become a minority in their own homeland.
Hundreds of Garo and Khasi villages completely disappeared. Land was the source of life and livelihood for them. But lands were taken by outsiders from the indigenous peoples. After the loss of land, many of these indigenous people migrated to the towns and cities for jobs.
The Bangladesh Government does not have any policy for the development of indigenous populations. Many times these people have faced forceful eviction from their homeland in the name of development projects like dams, national parks, Eco-parks, protected areas, reserve forests and even military bases Thus, indigenous peoples have become the most marginalized and vulnerable group in the country. Bangladesh, in its thirty five years of independence, has never recognized these indigenous peoples in the constitution.
Eco-park posed to evict Khasis and Garos nations from Modhupur Forest
The indigenous peoples of Modhupur Forest are now in danger. About 25,000 Garos are facing serious violations of human rights: killing, torture, oppression from filing false cases, imprisonment, rape etc. The state policy of Bangladesh is going to destroy their life totally by evicting them forcibly from their ancestral homeland.
The Bangladesh Government plans to establish an Eco-Park in the Moulvibazar district, which will take up more than 1,500 acres of indigenous peoples’ ancestral land for tourism. This plan was initiated by the government in July 2000 without consultation of or consent of the indigenous peoples who have been living in the area for centuries. Nor did the government mention the villages of the Khasi and Garo people in their project proposal; instead, the government treats them almost as illegal inhabitants of the forest.
Seven indigenous hill villages will be affected: 1,000 Khasi and Garo families will face forceful eviction from their homelands where they have been living for thousand of years.
Indigenous peoples have been struggling for a long time to cancel the Eco-park project, but the government continues to support it. This is the source of continuing tension within the Garos and Khasis communities.
The Garo and Khasi indigenous peoples in Bangladesh seek international support for their very survival.