The minority lives in constant fear of forced expropriations. Some 1,500 Christians have been displaced following a land dispute in Dinajpur. In Dhaka, a Catholic man continues to pay the bills of his house, even after it was illegally occupied by a Muslim. For clergyman, "the government and the expropriators consider us weak.”
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Thousands of Christians, mostly of tribal and humble origins, are being persecuted in Bangladesh over land. AsiaNews has collected the stories of some of them, whose daily life is one of fear, threats or homelessness.
In 2016 in Gaibandha, in the Diocese of Dinajpur, a land dispute sparked violence by Muslims against members of a tribal minority with police complicity. Four Christians, most of them ethnic Santal Catholics, were killed and some 30 people were wounded, including nine agents.
"Last week I visited families in a Santal village whose houses were expropriated by government agents,” Fr Samson Marandy, parish priest of Our Lady of Sorrow Church, told AsiaNews.
“In all about 1,500 Christians live in inhumane conditions,” he explained. “Some NGOs have provided them with metal sheeting to build makeshift shelters.”
"Even though the victims formally complained about it and called on the government [to intervene], they have been abandoned and the administration has been silent. I do not know what’s behind it. I think they should protest more and file written complaints to get justice."
One of the Christians, Joseph Murmu, said that "the government has behaved badly [with the people]. We want to get our land back."
There is a similar story in Dhaka, that of the Abraham Cruze, a 65-year-old Catholic who lost his small four-room house near the Catholic church in Tejgaon. A local Muslim named Md Saifulla occupied his land on 15 October 2015, escorted by fifty armed people. They broke into the house and evicted his family.
When he speaks about what happened, he gets emotional. "For two years, I have been asking for help from important people such as the archbishop of Dhaka and other Christian leaders. But so far, all my efforts have been in vain," he said. "I had a small house and now I am a homeless person; I live with some of my relatives," added a teary Abraham.
The Catholic man, who is now retired, shows the utility bills (gas and light) that, paradoxically, he still has to pay. "My house is occupied, I do not live there anymore, yet I keep paying my bills”. He tried to meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and wrote to her twice but received no reply.
"I doubt my letters ever got to the Prime Minister's Office," he laments. "If she knew about my situation,” he is convinced, “she would have taken appropriate action immediately and I’d have my house back."
Jumur Gomes, a Catholic woman, lives in Kafrul Quasi parish, also in Dhaka. She said that a few years ago she sold her house to a construction company that was supposed to give her a flat in exchange.
Instead of the house, she only got death threats. Together with her widowed mother and sister, she now lives in a rented house in the same neighbourhood.
"We are Christians and for this reason we are persecuted,” she bemoans, “Even police do not protect us."
Babaly Talang, a young Catholic woman from the Diocese of Sylhet, said that hundreds of tribal Khasia families live in fear of eviction by those who have seized lands in the parish of Srimangal to grow tea.
She said that "the Khasia are a mountain tribal people, who grow betel leaves, but local influential people want to drive us from our land."
Fr Liton Hubert Gomes, coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission for the Archdiocese of Dhaka, said that "in the Diocese of Mymensingh several thousand Catholics fear for their land.”
“The government plans to create a nature park in Madhopur, Netrakona District. If this were the case, Christians would become victims of expropriations."
"Bangladesh’s religious minorities, above all Christians, are victims of forced expropriations precisely because they are Christians. The government and the expropriators consider us weak."
Photo: Terézia Bašová