Muslims in Bangladesh Seize Land Used by Church

Bengali-speaking settlers file case against Christians; one threatens, ‘I will finish your life.’

DHAKA, Bangladesh, September 1 (CDN) — Bengali-speaking, Muslim settlers have seized five acres of abandoned government property used by a church and falsedly charged Christians with damaging the land in southeastern Bangladesh’s Khagrachari hill district, Christian leaders said.

Kiron Joti Chakma, field director of Grace Baptist Church in Khagrachari district, told Compass that the settlers had taken over the church building and the five acres of land in Reservechara village in June and filed a case on Aug. 4 against five tribal Christians. The Bengali-speaking Muslims had come from other areas of Bangladesh in a government resettlement program that began in 1980.

“In the case, the settlers mentioned that the Christians had cut the trees and damaged the crops on their land and that they should pay 250,000 taka [US$3,690] as compensation,” said Chakma. “We cultivated pineapple in the land around the church. But the settlers damaged all of our pineapple trees and built two houses there.”

The government has allowed the Christians to use the land. Tribal leaders said that land-grabbing in the area hill tracts, undulating landscape under Dighinala police jurisdiction 300 kilometers (186 miles) southeast of the Dhaka, began again during the army-backed interim government of 2007-2008.

“It is still continuing, and our demands to stop land-grabbing do not rate very high with the administration and law enforcement agencies,” said one of the accused, 32-year-old Mintu Chakma.

When he went to the police station regarding the false case filed against the Christians, he said, the leader of the Bengali settlers was there and threatened him in front of officers, telling him, “I can devour dozens of people like you – I will finish your life.”

Church leaders have informed a nearby army camp of the seizure. Military officers said they would take action, but they have done nothing so far, Christians said.

“Our leaders informed the army zone commander, and he assured us they would take necessary action, but nothing has happened so far against those land grabbers and arsonists,” said 25-year-old Liton Chakma (Chakma is the name of the tribe), one of the Christians accused in the Grace Baptist case.

The Muslim settlers had burned a Seventh-day Adventist Church building in 2008 in Boachara village, close to the Grace Baptist Christians’ village, in an effort to frighten tribal people away from becoming Christian, said Liton Chakma. He told Compass that Bengali settlers had also hindered their attempt to construct the church building in August in 2007.

“Many new believers saw nothing had happened to the arsonists, and many of them reverted to their previous Buddhism,” he said. “The army and local administration allowed them to run wild. They always threaten to beat us and file cases against us.”

Mintu Chakma said that Muslim settlers seized a garden next to his house in 2007.

“They not only destroyed my pineapple garden, but they built a mosque there,” he said.

Land Ownership

Local police inspector Suvas Pal told Compass that neither tribal people nor Bengali settlers were the owners of that land. It is government-owned, abandoned land, he said.

“The Bengali settlers claim that the land was assigned to lease to them, but we did not find any copy of lease in the deputy commissioner’s office,” said Pal. “On the other hand, the tribal people could not show any papers of their possession of the land.”

Investigating Officer Omar Faruque told Compass that the Muslim settlers had built two houses there, though they did not live there or nearby.

“I told the Bengali settlers that if they [tribal Christians] worship in the church there, then do not disturb them,” said Faruque.

Dipankar Dewan, headman of the tribal community, told Compass that the tribal Christians have an historical claim to the land.

“The land belonged to the forefathers of tribal Christians, so they can lay claim to the property by inheritance,” said Dewan.

During conflict between tribal people and Bengali people in the hill tracts, the tribal people left the country and took shelter in neighboring India, leaving much of their land abandoned. Bengali settlers took over some of the land, while the government leased other tracts to Bengali settlers, Dewan said.

“Many lands of the tribal people were grabbed in the hill tracts in the two years of state-of-emergency period of the previous army-backed, interim government,” he said. “Those Bengali settlers tried to grab the land during the tenure of the army-backed, interim government.”

Members of the Shanti Bahini, tribal guerrillas who fought for autonomy in the hill tracts, ended a 25-years revolt in the Chittagong Hill Tracts area in 1997 under a peace treaty in which the government was to withdraw troops and restore land acquired by settlers to local tribesmen.

Some 2,000 Shanti Bahini guerrillas surrendered their weapons following the 1997 treaty. But the tribal people say many aspects of the treaty remain unfulfilled, including restoration of rights and assigning jobs to them.

The guerrillas had fought for autonomy in the hill and forest region bordering India and Burma (Myanmar) in a campaign that left nearly 8,500 troops, rebels and civilians killed.

Recently the Awami League government ordered one army brigade of nearly 2,500 troops to pull out from the hill tract, and the withdrawal that began early last month is expected to be completed soon. Four brigades of army are still deployed in the hill tracts comprising three districts – Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban.

Report from Compass Direct News 


Recent Incidents of Persecution

Karnataka, December 19 (Compass Direct News) – Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal on Dec. 14 attacked a Christmas program of Christian social organization Helping Hands and accused the director of forcible conversion in Bangarapet, Kolar. The intolerant Hindus disrupted the program of the organization, which helps rural women and children, and accused Samuel Moses of trying to forcibly convert women and children, reported the Evangelical Fellowship of India. The extremists burned gospel literature and took Moses and his accountant to the Bangarapet police station. The Christians were detained in the police station for about nine hours, with the incident publicized on local broadcast and print media. The Christians were later released without charges. Police Inspector Chinnana Swami told Compass that the Christians were detained for questioning but police found no forcible conversion and the case has been closed.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists allegedly belonging to the Hindu extremist Rakshane Vedike on Dec. 8 attacked a pastor, accusing him of forceful conversion in Ibrahim Pura, Bellary. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that at 5 p.m Assembly of God pastor N. Satyam and another Christian were on their way home from a prayer meeting organized by convert Krishna Veni when a mob of about 25 extremists led by Sidesh Mallesh and Mahendra Bhatt dragged the Christians from an auto-rickshaw, cursed them in foul language, beat them and falsely accused the pastor of forceful conversion. The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported that police arrived and took the Christians to the police station, where about 100 Christians later protested against the violence. The Christians were released without charges at 11:30 p.m., and the matter was settled peacefully between the two parties, EFI reported.

Andhra PradeshHindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Dec. 7 beat a pastor in Bhainsa Mandal, Adilabad district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that at about 7 p.m. Bethel Church pastor Prabhu Das and church members identified only as Mark and Raju were on their way back from a prayer meeting when nearly 25 Hindu extremists armed with wooden batons surrounded them and angrily questioned them about their reason for coming to the village. The extremists repeatedly slapped Das and Mark and snatched Raju’s bag, which contained a Bible, and the latter fled. A local pastor told Compass that on identifying Das as pastor, the extremists falsely accused him of forcible conversion and beat him up with their batons on his hands and legs. Raju phoned a Christian who came with a vehicle and took Das to a private nursing home for treatment for a fracture in his left hand. Later he was admitted to the Adilabad Government Hospital. Das has declined to file a First Information Report, saying he has forgiven his attackers. A local pastor told Compass that on Dec. 12, the Pastors’ Fellowship of Adilabad presented a memorandum to the superintendent of police requesting security for pastors of the district.

Madhya Pradesh – Nearly 20 Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Dec. 5 beat pastors Pangala Bhai and Limba Bhai in Palasapara village in Meghasah Tehsil. The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported that at about 3 p.m. extremists surrounded Pangala and Lima of Indian Evangelical Team as they were returning home from a prayer meeting. Using foul, abusive language, the extremists falsely accused them of forceful conversion, beat them and robbed a mobile phone and cash. The village council chief took the injured pastors to a private hospital. The pastors have not filed a case against the attackers, saying they have decided to forgive them, EFI reported.

Punjab – Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal on Dec. 2 attacked two Operation Mobilization (OM) workers in Sangur. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that the extremists attacked Pani Garhi and Kiran Bhai as they were distributing gospel tracts in the area. OM men’s team leader Imocha Naorem told Compass that the extremists took the Christians to the police station after verbally abusing and slapping them. Police refused to file a complaint but gave a stern warning to the extremists not to disturb the Christians again.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists on Nov. 26 accused pastor Vantakesh Nayak of forceful conversion and beat him along with four other Christians in Davanagere. The All India Christian Council reported that the Christians had gone to a nearby village to open up a new shop with prayer when the extremists stormed in and assaulted them, tearing their shirts. The intolerant Hindus filed a police complaint of forceful conversion against the pastor in Honnalli police station. Investigating Officer Jai Laxman told Compass that the Christians were detained only as a preventative measure, that they have been released and that the case is closed.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists on Nov. 25 attacked a pastor, accused him of forceful conversion and vandalized his vehicle in Devarakonda, Telangana. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that pastor Srinivas Naik and two Christians, K. Raju and one identified only as Naresh, were screening the Jesus film at DNT government hostel with prior permission of the hostel warden. As the Christian team was about to leave the extremists surrounded them and pulled them down from their vehicle. The police arrived at the scene and managed to stop the extremists from burning the vehicle. The team members were arrested under Section 295(A) of the Indian penal code for “hurting religious feelings” and were later released on bail.

Madhya Pradesh – Hindu extremists on Nov. 24 attacked and abducted a pastor in Mandla district. Gospel for Asia (GFA) missionary pastor Nandiram Chauhan had gone to conduct a prayer service in the morning when 10 Hindu extremists on bikes began harassing him, a GFA representative told Compass. They snatched the pastor’s bicycle from him, as well as his mobile phone and gospel tracts, forced him onto one of their bikes and headed towards a forest where about 150 extremists waited. They locked him in the room of a structure there. At 8 p.m. about 20 Hindu extremists entered his room and assaulted him, and he was dragged to a waiting jeep. After asking permission to relieve himself, he fled, managing to escape to a Christian’s home in a nearby village with the attackers in hot pursuit. Christians escorted him to his village. A GFA representative told Compass that a police complaint has been filed, and officers assured the Christians that stringent action would be taken against the culprits. At press time, no arrests had been made.

Orissa – Orissa police on Nov. 22 arrested three Christians on false charges of “attempting to rape and murder” in Guntaput, Koraput district. The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported that the coordinator of Good Shepherd Community Church (GSCC), the Rev. Abiram Singh, said that a worker from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh identified only as Nanda filed a police complaint against three believers from GSCC, Rajat Kuldip, Saliman Kondhpan and Gokul Kondhpan, for “attempting to rape and murder” a tribal woman. The woman, Radha Pangi, told Rev. Singh she had not been attacked and had no idea why the Christians were accused. The Christians were released on bail on Nov. 28. Police are now searching for another three Christians from the GSCC for questioning, according to EFI.

Karnataka – Police disrupted a Sunday worship service on Nov. 2 in Bagalkot, halted it and warned a pastor not to conduct future services, according to the Christian Legal Association. Officers told pastor Basappa Adapur of Shalom Full Gospel Association not to conduct another worship meeting without obtaining prior permission from the Deputy Commissioner. Hindu nationalists in the area have been known to harm Christians who did not inform police that they were meeting for worship, according to police, so for their own security Christians must get permission to meet. Police also collected information on the 25 Christians attending the church.

Report from Compass Direct News