Most of the farmers from indigenous communities are poor and heavily in debt. The farmer, Abhinath Marandi who committed suicide, had sold his crops at a low price to a moneylender even before harvesting. There was no irrigation water in that piece of land. Cracks appeared in the land just when the paddy sprouts were appearing. The situation was same at the land of Robi Marandi, another farmer who committed suicide. Before committing suicide, Abhinath Marandi and his cousin Robi Marandi went to deep tube well operator and local leader of Krishak League, a wing of ruling Awami League, Sakhawat Hossain, and pleaded for irrigation water. Sakhawat turned down their plea and said he would not give water. Abhinath Marandi and Robi Marandi said they would drink poison if irrigation water was not given to their land. Sakhawat said, “Drink poison and then I’ll give water.” Following this, they committed suicide by taking poison.
All the people, including the two MPs, addressed the seminar demanded judiciary probe into the incident and asked the people concerned to submit the autopsy and viscera report about the suicide of Abhinath and Robi
That day the indigenous community leaders were recounting the incident this way. Not only in Rajshahi, the situation of marginal and poor farmers is miserable across the country. Politicians pompously say before media that Bangladesh has achieved great success in agriculture and become self-sufficient in food production, but no one is bothered whether the farmers, who have been providing food to 170 million (17 crore) people, could cultivate their land and harvest their crop properly.
At the very moment we have been talking about suicide of two farmers in Godagari, the unripe rice in haor areas are getting washed away by flash floods. Rice of a huge swath has submerged as the authorities could not construct embankment in Gazipur. Untimely floods has submerged the crops by the banks of Teesta river.
Poor people do not have respite even after committing suicide. Locally powerful people tried to colour the suicide of two farmers with a different hue. They said Abhinath Marandi and Robi Marandi died after drinking ‘dochoani’, a type of local alcohol. Police took a signature from Abhinath’s wife on a blank paper. But police was forced to file a suicide incitement case against the deep tube well operator Sakhawat Hossain at the intervention of Rajshahi sadar MP and general secretary of Workers’ Party as Prothom Alo ran a report. Prothom Alo’s Muhammad Abul Kalam Azad went to Godagari police station on 24 March and saw the deep tube well operator, Sakhawat Hossain there. Police showed him papers signed by Abhinath’s wife. Abul Kalam Azad asked them what the proof is that Abhinath Marandi and Robi Marandi died after drinking local alcohol.
At a stage of protest and demonstrations of the indigenous community, police arrested Sakhawat and grilled him taking on remand. Currently he is in jail. But this does not ensure that the families of Abhinath Marandi and Robi Marandi will get justice. In Bangladesh, filing lawsuit or arrest is not enough. The indigenous farmers are aggrieved as well as apprehensive. Representatives of several rights organisations went to meet the families of Abhinath Marandi and Robi Marandi but saw their house under lock and key. None of them wants to talk out of fear. Sakhawat’s supporters have been issuing threats to them.
Families of Abhinath Marandi and Robi Marandi are very poor. They do not have the capacity to bear the expenses to run a case. There can be a little reliability on the committees the executive constituted to investigate the matter. In that seminar an aggrieved Santa student said, “We don’t want any justice. That’s because there is no justice if any Santal person is tortured. Their lands are being taken away forcefully.”
Riverine Bangladesh is now drying up due to lack of water. Though there are 54 transboundary rivers flowing between Bangladesh and India, there is no water sharing agreement except that of Ganges. Upstream country India is channelizing water unilaterally
All the people, including the two MPs, addressed the seminar demanded judiciary probe into the incident and asked the people concerned to submit the autopsy and viscera report about the suicide of Abhinath and Robi. They also demanded appointing experienced and efficient deep tube well operators instead of those with political allegiance.
Another Prothom Alo report points to the problems the farmers face if an operator is appointed on political allegiance. In January, seven farmers filed a complaint against Ziaur Rahman, operator of deep tube well in Kachua mouza, Ranore, Rajshahi, to UNO and irrigation committee president. One of the complainants was retired army person Ibrahim Khalil. He said, “I once declared I would commit suicide as I was not getting any solution even after filing complaint.” Finally Ibrahim Khalil did not have to commit suicide. He got water. But the two Santal farmers in Rajshahi had to give their lives for irrigation water.
There are 15,796 tube wells of BMD in 16 districts in Rajshahi and Rangpur divisions and the amount of land under the irrigation project is 540,000 hectares. Though the government announced to provide low cost electricity for irrigation for the benefit of the farmers, the operators realise excessive money from them. There is no reason to think that the farmers in other parts of the country are in better condition. Accoridng ot a Prothom Alo report on 4 February, a farmer, Safiuddin, committed suicide by preparing gallows in Nalitabari upazila in Sherpur. He committed suicide due to a clash with neighbour farmer Ahammad Ali over setting up a tube well.
Riverine Bangladesh is now drying up due to lack of water. Though there are 54 transboundary rivers flowing between Bangladesh and India, there is no water sharing agreement except that of Ganges. Upstream country India is channelizing water unilaterally. As a result, the water level in northern Bangladesh is going down alarmingly. Once setting up a shallow tube well was enough to draw water but now we need deep tube wells.
When this writer on Friday asked Muhammad Abul Kalam Azad about the autopsy and vicera reports of Abhinath and Robi Marandi, he enquired about those to Godagari police station and Rajshahi Medical College and found the reports are yet to be prepared. Discussion with concerned people reveals the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) has its own lab in Rajshahi. In that case, preparing a viscera report was not supposed to take more than a week. But three weeks have already gone by. Will the case proceedings stop there? Will the families of Abhinath Marandi and Robi Marandi not get justice?
* Sohrab Hasan is the joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. He can be reached at [email protected]
** The article, originally published in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten into English by Shameem Reza