Adivasi landlessness and the enemy property law

BANGLADESH- For a people who had been associated with the land since time immemorial, Adibashis find themselves slowly losing their land either due to the dictate of the law, land grabbing, and demands of the times to cope with financial difficulties. Landlessness is a major problem among the Adibashis where 80%-90% of Adibashis are landless and the remaining landed 10% are on the brink of losing their lands.

 

With the entrance of colonizers, they slowly lose their lands. No law had been drafted for Adibashis on their acquired rights on the land during the Hindu and Muslim Badsha rule in the early years from 1200 till the British came in 1747 to the present Bangladesh government (Michael Soren, 2006). Even an earlier law (Indian Tenancy Act of 1878) provided registration of tribal lands under Zamindars (landlords). This law virtually placed aboriginal peoples as not having the right to own lands.

 

Disenfranchisement to their land has been further manifested with some Adibashis not able to have their lands registered during the initial 1922 Cadastral Survey (CS) during the British Rule as these were held by the zamindars. Disenfranchisement to their lands was further manifested in two successive amendments of the land registry. Technical land grabbing was manifested during the 1962 Settlement of Acquisition (SA) and the Revision Survey (RS) in 1972 where a number of registered land owners were changed to names of third person/s without the knowledge of the original owner. Most cases handled by lawyers and filed in court are cases which refer to corrections in the land registry, lawyer Norendranath Tudu said.

 

The flight of Adibashis and Hindus to India during the India-Pakistan war in 1965 led them to flee to India and their properties left in Bangladesh considered as “enemy property” by virtue of the Enemy Property Law. Some came back to find they had no properties anymore, these having been declared as “enemy property”.

 

This followed through with the Vested Property Act in 1974 which considered lands left by fleeing Hindus and Adibashis included, to India during the Liberation War in 1971, was considered “vested” and managed by the Bangladesh government in 1974. Again, this scenario left a number of Adibashis landless.

 

In the plain areas, non-indigenous settlers use the Vested Property Act to occupy indigenous peoples land. With the land considered vested and managed by the Bangladesh government, many a person in the mainstream Bengali community occupied these lands illegally.

 

Another law which was supposed to protect Adibashis of their landholdings preventing transfer to a non-Adibashi without the permission of the revenue officer is the East Bengal State Tenancy and Acquisition Act (EBSAT) of 1950 has become a “lost law” (Michael Soren, 2006). Its implementation has not been strictly followed with a number of Adibashis having sold their land to Bengalis at low prices and without the permission of the revenue officer.

 

Particularly in the northwest part of the Bangladesh, the major problem being faced right now by the indigenous peoples is landlessness. Studies show at least 80% are landless among 100 villages of Godagari and Tanore, while Advocate Saidul Rahman Khan chief guest during the Indigenous Peoples Day celebration in Rajshahi in August 8, 2006 noted some 90% are landless Adibashis. With such a depressing situation, most of the people resort to availing khas lands (government lands open for application) from the government with at least enough space to build a house on. They work as farm workers to rich landowners earning as low as 65 Taka a day, and as sharecroppers getting as low as 1/3 share of the harvest even as they handle both production costs and manual labor.

 

The EBSAT Act of 1950 restricts transfer of aboriginal lands to non – tribals without the permission of the revenue officer. However, its enforcement is a failure causing further dispossession of Adibashis to their ancestral lands.

 

Source: Discourses on Policy Perspectives on Land Rights of the Adivasis of Northwest Bangladesh, by Gina Dizon, Published by Voluntary Service Overseas Bangladesh-Indigenous Community Rights Programme, April 2008

 

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