Who will stand by the Mru peope?
The word “Mro” means human being. I came to know this after a long time. Even after celebrating the golden jubilee of independence ,the state is very far from them. Attacks are carried out against them very often but no one is being brought to book. There is no remedy.
Mru people said maybe they will no longer be able to stay in this land. Their homesteads were torched and vandalised at the beginning of the New Year. Neither was any case was filed against this was nor anyone arrested. Prothom Alo on 2 January carried a report that said ‘Mrupara in Lama is again under attack, houses torched and looted’. Newspapers published photographs of this torched and vandalised houses. A photograph showed a rather helpless Mru woman with a child strapped to its mother with another two children and her husband standing in front. The debris of a house and scattered utensils were in the background. I saw reports and photos of this incident in Prothom Alo and the Daily Star.
Both the report and photograph have spread in social media. The New Year for the Mru people in the hills began with this attack, looting and cruelty against them. Attacks on these Mru people have been going on unabated for long. They were attacked many a time in 2022. Poison was mixed in their source of drinking water.
Mru farmers started banana groves which were cut down, their jhum crops were burned down. Newspapers ran reports of these. Even the civil society in Dhaka issued statements condemning the attacks. The National Human Rights Commission has also investigated the incidents and directed the deputy commissioner and police super to take action.
I saw a newspaper report (Prothom Alo, 10 November, 2022) that said Bandarban Zilla Parishad has recommended cancelling the lease of land for rubber cultivation. The Zilla Parishad report said, the land was leased out in 1996 on condition of starting rubber cultivation within five years. But the rubber cultivation has not begun even in 25 years. There are questions over the process of leasing the land if we take into consideration the hill people’s traditional ownership.
I become acquainted with some Mru people when I began writing columns in newspapers regularly since my return visit to Chimbuk Hill in the 90’s. We Garo people call ourselves ‘Mandi’ which also means human being. The Santals call them Har. Har also means human being. Many years later, I came to know that the people of Bom community call them Lai or Laimi which also means human being. The rights situation of these “human beings” in our country is not in a good state. The newly carried out attack on the Mru people in Lama at the beginning of the New Year gave this message anew.
As per the 2022 population census, the population of Mru community in Bangladesh is 52,455. In this nation of 165 million people, the people of Mru community are extremely helpless now.
Whatever tall talks we make about development, about Padma Bridge, metro rail or Karnaphuli Tunnel, or about per capita income of US $2,847, at the end of the day, the civility, developed situation and humaneness of this state will depend on the situation of ethnic minority communities. We have to realise the country is doing well if the marginal people, both from across religions and communities, do not live in safety. All the talks of development will be considered as empty. I feel the state is making a cruel mockery with its citizens when I find the per capita income of $2,847 on government documents and the situation of the people of Mru, Hajong or Santal communities.
The biggest task of a civilised state is to stand by the people who are the most vulnerable, helpless, marginal and from the minority community and save them from the attack of influential and powerful people.
Kindly ask a Khshia person from Kulaura, how is he? No one was brought to book though his property was attacked. Be honest and ask Dwijen Tudu, a Santal man from Gaibandha, ask the daughter of Alfred Soren from Mohadevpur in Naogaon, the wife of Piren Snal in Madhupur, Cholesh Richil’s daughter Priyanka, Kalpana Chakma’s brother from Baghaichhari, or Bichitra Tirki from Gomastapur or the family of Narendra Munda from Shyamnagar. Ask them how they are. I can tell you about innumerable incidents. I will be happy if get an answer from them that they are happy. But the truth is no action was taken against violation of human rights there. Still we are going ahead smoothly!
We cannot make the people of the dominant community make understand that this country is for all. At least, that was thought at the beginning. We said in the Proclamation of Independence that we will ensure equality, human dignity and social justice for all. How far the country has moved away from that pledge! Despite this we must acknowledge that there are people of different ethnicities other than Bangalees in this land.
Now I want to give you a piece of information, from the government documents. As per a gazette notification the cultural affairs ministry issued on 23 March 2019, there are 50 ethnic minority communities in Bangladesh. The International Mother Language Institute has published a survey report that said there are 41 languages in the country. Apart from Bangla and Urdu, remaining 39 languages are of us.
This government organisation itself said 14 languages have become extinct from here and a few more are endangered. This is the situation of people of ethnic minorities in our country.
In the election manifesto in 2018, ruling Awami League said it would form a commission for minority communities if it forms government. But no visible advancement was made in the last four years. I want the land commission start working soon and draw up plans to resolve land problems. I want the state to stand by the people of Mru community. But I cannot be much hopeful in the current situation.
We need to be hopeful at the beginning of New Year. We also hope one day this state will be more democratic and humane. There will be a sensitive indigenous policy in place and the main theme of that policy will be – indigenous touch. The sentences of that policy will be written with infinite humility, purity and kindness.
We all have to take the state to its proper place together. There will be points that would help people to people communication. Words like no truth is greater than human being or the blood of all people is red under the one sky will be true. There will be steps to merge the Padma-Meghna-Jamuna-Surma rivers with Sangu-Maini-Bugai-Someshwari. Life will connect with life - let this be our eternal aspiration.
* Sanjeeb Drong is a columnist and cultural activist. He can be reached at [email protected]
** This op-ed has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza