3 cops, local men involved

A judicial magistrate in his investigation has found involvement of three police personnel and some local miscreants in setting fire to Santal houses during an eviction drive in Gaibandha on November 6 last year, according to a source who has access to the probe report.

Gaibandha Chief Judicial Magistrate Mohammad Shahidullah, who has conducted the inquiry, submitted the 65-page probe report along with 1,001-page relevant papers to the Supreme Court registrar general's office on Sunday for placing it to the High Court, Deputy Attorney General Motaher Hossain Sazu told The Daily Star yesterday.

“I have not seen the probe report yet, as it is still now at the Supreme Court registrar general's office. The report will be submitted to the High Court tomorrow [today] for its decision,” he said.

The source told this newspaper yesterday that the chief judicial magistrate recorded statements of 106 witnesses during the probe.

Contacted, Shahidullah confirmed that the probe report had been submitted to the SC registrar general's office. He, however, refused to disclose the contents of the report.

On December 14 last year, the HC bench of Justice Obaidul Hassan and Justice Krishna Debnath directed the chief judicial magistrate to conduct an enquiry to find out whether police were involved in setting fire to Santal houses during the eviction drive in Gobindaganj upazila of the district.

In response to a writ petition by three rights bodies, the court asked him to track down those involved in the arson and submit report to it within 15 days.

Later, the HC bench gave more time to the chief judicial magistrate to finish the probe and asked him to submit report by January 31 (today).

The December 14 directive came after different national and global media outlets aired a video content in which a policeman in uniform and a man in a half-sleeve shirt are seen apparently joining another in a pink T-shirt in setting fire to a Santal shanty. The video clip went viral in the social media.

Santals have all along alleged that it was police personnel who had torched their houses. But the district police rejected the allegation and claimed miscreants did it and they are yet to be identified.

During the eviction drive on November 6, three Santals were killed in an ensuing clash with Rangpur Sugar Mills staff and police.

At least 25 people, including nine cops, were injured in the incident.

Several Santal homes were burned down.

In further violation of human rights, police handcuffed three injured Santals who were arrested in a case filed for “attacking police with arrows” during the clash.

Choron Soren, one of 42 people named by police in the case, was shot in the legs. His fellow Santals sent him to Rangpur Medical College Hospital on the night of November 6.

The following morning, he found one of his hands handcuffed to the bed. 

Two other handcuffed Santals were receiving treatment at the RMCH and at the National Institute of Ophthalmology in Dhaka.

Their handcuffs were removed following an HC order on November 14.

THE PETITION

Ain o Salish Kendra, Brotee, and Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD) filed a writ petition on November 16, seeking HC directives upon the government for ensuring security of lives and property of the Santals.

On December 13, they submitted a supplementary petition to the court, attaching to it copies of media reports on the alleged police involvement in the arson.

In its order, the HC bench on December 14 also directed police to take two Santal men's complaints as first information report and probe those.

Victims Swapan Murmu and Thomas Hembrom filed two separate complaints with Gobindaganj Police Station on November 16 and 26 over the eviction drive.

AL JAZEERA FOOTAGE

In a 2:21-minute Al Jazeera video report, broadcast on December 11 last year, a man in a pink T-shirt is seen trying to set a Santal shanty on fire right in front of a group of armed policemen.

Later, a policeman in uniform and another man in a half-sleeve shirt and black pants are seen apparently joining the first man in the act. The shanty catches fire.

Although the Al Jazeera report does not mention when the footage was captured, the date is thought to be November 6 when law enforcers evicted Santals from a disputed land of Sahebganj-Bagda sugarcane farm in Gobindaganj.

The clip was later picked by different other media outlets.

Another video that appeared in the social media shows a policeman throwing some liquid apparently at the same shanty before setting it afire.

The Daily Star has learnt from old documents that Santals owned most of the land before the government acquired it in the 50s.

Though the land was acquired for sugarcane farming to produce raw materials for the Rangpur Sugar Mills Ltd at Mohimaganj in Gobindaganj, a portion of it was leased out for cultivating different other crops, flouting an agreement of 1962.

source: Daily star