October 25, 2010

Land Grab And Protests In Bangladesh

The population of Bangladesh is increasing and there is a growing demand of land mass for housing. As it is already considered a densely populated country, finding empty lands for development of housing complexes can be a tough ask. Political and business powerhouses grab government and private lands and the security forces or the law can barely do anything to protect the rights of general people.

Shahjahan Siraj describes in a podcast report at Panos London how land owners are turning beggers because of land disputes:

Disputes over land are the biggest single cause of court cases in Bangladesh. It’s usually the rich and powerful who win.

Recently in the Rupganj Upazilla near capital Dhaka Bangladeshis saw another kind of land grab. Protests of land-owners turned deadly as more than 50 people were injured and one person died (three more reported missing) from the clashes with the security forces. At least 10000 people were demanding cancellation of the government decision to acquire about 5,000 bighas (appx. 1653 acres) of land in Rupganj for an army housing project. The police has brought charges of vandalism against approx. 4000 people as they torched an army camp.

According to media reports [bn] the army had established 4 camps in Rupganj Upazilla 6 months ago and were carrying out the land acquiring tasks from there. Locals said that the personnel from these camps were forcing them to sell off their land very cheaply.

The Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) in a press release alleged that a vested group has instigated landowners and local people through spreading 'hostile' and 'fearful' rumors against army and the army housing project in the area. They denied about the existence of army camp naming them temporary offices manned by army officials to facilitate the project.

Some bloggers are reacting with anger over this incident. Blogger Dinmojur at Somewherein Blog writes in details about the army housing project (AHS) and how the army approached with the difficult task of acquiring so much land (1653 acres) for the project:

জমি কেনা বেচার সামান্য অভিজ্ঞতা যার আছে, তারা সহজেই বুঝবেন, একসাথে এত জমি কখনই সেচ্ছায় মানুষের কাছ থেইকা কিনা যায়না। ভিটাবাড়ি, পারিবারিক কবরস্থান এবং টিকে থাকার একমাত্র অবলম্বন কৃষিজমিটুকু কে-ই বা স্বেচ্ছায় বেচতে চায়! [..]

ফলে আর্মি তেরছা রাস্তা ধরলো। [..] ইউনিফর্ম এর জোর দেখায়া তারা ২৪ টি মৌজায় সব ধরণের জমি কেনা বেচা বন্ধ কইরা দিল। তাগো সাফ কথা, জমি যদি কেউ বেচতে চায় তাইলে সেনাবাহিনীর কাছে বেচতে হইব। আর জোর জবরদস্তিই যখন করতেই হইল তখন আবার ন্যায্য দাম কিসের?

Those who have the faintest idea of buying and selling land knows one can never purchase all that land together without force. Not everyone will want to sell their ancestral house, family graveyard, and their means of livelihood. [..]

So the army took the hard path. [..] Showing their power of uniform they stopped all buying-selling of land in 24 Moujas. They had only one demand - if anybody wants to sell land then they will have to hand it over to the army. And as they had to assert power why buy at a fair price?

The blogger posts evidence that the formal approval for the project from the land authorities is still pending. But the AHS project has already received payment of installments from potential buyers - many army officers for this project. The blogger also points to the advancing business interests of Bangladesh army. A recent BBC documentary showed how Bangladesh army has become a big conglomerate.

However, blogger Osthir Prithibi has questioned the hyped criticism and negativity against the army and requested not to jump into conclusion without much information.

Blogger & journalist Maskwaith Ahsan at Somewherein Blog vents his frustration on the politics behind the incident and the blame game:

এখনো আমরা চালাক মানুষরা ভাবছি,আগুন লেগেছে রুপগঞ্জে। আমাদের কী। আগুন কতো দ্রুত আপনার চৌকাঠে আসতে পারে তাতো জানিনা আমরা। আমাদের বালিতে মুখ গুজে দেশপ্রেম বিলাসের নিষ্কর্মতায় আমরা নূরহোসেন, রিসিল, জামালদের লাশের অংক কষে যখন ব্রেকিং নিউজ দেখছি,

তখন যুদ্ধাপরাধীরা রুপগঞ্জের ঘটনাকে কীভাবে ঘোলা করে যুদ্ধাপরাধীদের বিচার পন্ড করা যায় তার রেসিপি তৈরী করছে।বিএনপি এখন ত্যানা পেচিয়ে আওয়ামী লীগকে অজনপ্রিয় করে তুলবে। কারণ বিএনপির শয়নে সপনে জাগরণে শুধু ক্ষমতায় যাওয়া। দেশের চেয়ে দল বড়। মানুষের চেয়ে জমি বড়।

We clever people still are contemplating - there is fire in Rupganj, so what! We don't know when this fire will spread in our houses. We stick our head in the sand in leisure and inaction and watch the breaking news counting..Nur Hussain, Richil, Jamal.. all these dead bodies...

Then the war criminals will try to exploit this incident to stop the trial against war criminals, BNP (opposition party) will try to shed some popularity of Awami League (ruling party). Because the only goal of BNP is to come to power again. The party is greater than the country. And of course the land is greater than the people.

Mustak Khasru at Somewhere In Blog writes [bn]:

ষোল কোটি চৌচল্লিশ লক্ষ মানুষ যে দেশে বসবাস করে সেই দেশে ভুমি অধিগ্রহনের জুজুটি আইন করে বন্ধ করে দিতে হবে। [..] কৃষি নির্ভর দেশের আবাদী জমির পরিমান জ্যামিতিক হারে কমছে তা এখনি বন্ধ করতে না পারলে সামনে মানুষ মানুষের মাংশ খেতেও দ্বিধা করবে না।

The law of acquiring land in the country of 166.4 million people should be repealed. The cultivable land in this agriculture based country is decreasing exponentially. If we can't stop it people will be hungry and turn carnivorous.

The protests of Rupganj perhaps has made Bangladeshis realize that the lower middle class has overcome the fear of army in this democratic country but the weary middle-class has to wake up.

First published in Global Voices Online.


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