Satyaban Chakma has three acres of land in the Bhushanchhara mouja (Holding Number R-168). His brother Kanduijya Chakma has five acres of land in the same mouja (Holding Number R-54).
These 12 acres of plots were registered in 1974. The brothers fled to the jungle, after 110 Paharis were killed on May 31st, 1984 by the 26 Bengal Regiment, 17 BDR Battalion and Bengali settlers in Barakal.
They returned to the region after the 1997 Accord. As there was nobody on their plot, they started rice and other farming there immediately.
Then in 2006, three Bengalis filed cases claiming ownership of the land. As per the law, the Deputy Commissioner, Rangamati, asked both sides to stay away from the land pending resolution of the dispute.
In reality, while the Pahari families could no longer visit the land, the other side continued to use the plots.
Meanwhile, Sadeq Ali bought three acres from Khalilur Rahman in 2008. According to him, Khalil got the land from the government in 1982-83 (Holding Number R-787, Mouja 148, Bhushanchhara).
It turns out that this plot is part of what was registered to Kanduijya Chakma.
That is, the same plot of land registered to Satyaban and Kanduijya in 1974 was re-registered to Khalil and others in 1982-83, and Khalil had sold it on to others.
Such double registry and re-selling of Pahari land to other Bengalis are not isolated incidents– it happens across the CHT.
While one hoped that the 1997 Accord would have put an end to such disputes, this has not been the case.
For example, about 1,200 people fled to India from Bhushanchhara during the insurgency, and while almost all of them returned after the Accord, only a handful of them could reclaim their land, and even those are now mired in lawsuits.
The land dispute was at the centre of pre-Accord negotiations. Jana Sanghati Samity wanted a political settlement based on repatriation of the Bengali settlers to the plains.
This was to be followed by resolution of other land issues. This was rejected by the then Awami League government.
The compromise was the Land Commission, which was to be headed by a retired Supreme Court judge and composed of three Circle Chiefs of the region and three Hill district chairmen.
The Commission was supposed to resolve thousands of disputes one by one.
The Land Commission hardly got started during the four post-Accord AL years. As BNP-Jamaat were against the Accord, implementation of the Accord remained on hold under them.
While the Commission was resurrected after the AL returned to power, its newly appointed chairman, Justice Khademul Islam Chowdhury, is acting in clear violation of the Accord.
Recently, he has asked the CHT and Land Ministries to conduct a land survey of the region.
The Accord clearly states that a land survey will occur only after the refugees who returned from India and internally displaced persons are fully rehabilitated and the Pahari landless have received land.
It is self-evident that if a survey is done before the disputes are resolved, those possessing the land, often illegally, are likely to be duly recognized as owners.
The three Circle Chiefs have written to the Commission Chairmen stating the above, and claiming that he was acting unilaterally without consulting them.
And now the final question, which is really the primary question. With regards to the Paharis, the attitude of BNP-Jamaat is clear, but what does the Awami League want?
While foreign donors are willing to assist with repatriation of the Bengali settlers, the AL is dead against it — indicating its real attitude.
It appears that they are more interested in grabbing land under the cloak of securing the border and maintaining national security.
Writing the last paragraph, I wonder whether the title is wrong. A few pieces of papers are all thousands of Paharis have as far as rights to their ancestral land.
That land has been in possession of others for two or three decades now. They petition ministers-legislators-researchers journalistanyone willing to listen with these pieces of papers.
No one has done anything with these petitions. So, this land survey will probably not change anything in reality, except hitting the last nail on the coffin of Pahari aspirations.
But then again, hasn’t that nail been hit long ago?
Translated by Jyoti Rahman; abbreviated from essay published in BdNews24, July 28th, 2010.
Writer : Priscilla Raj