An uneasy calm prevails at Aslom Punji in Sreemangal under Sylhet division following an attack on members of the ethnic Khasia community that left one killed and 10 injured on May 30 this year.
Deputy Commissioner Md Kamrul Hassain of Moulvibazar District under Sylhet Division declined to make any comment on the present situation.
He said that he could not make any comment as an investigation into the incident was going on.
The incident of the attack took place following a move to extend a tea garden up to the land of the Khasia community where they cultivate betel leaf to earn their living.
Talking to the local people, this correspondent learnt that the construction of two houses at Aslom Punji (also known as Nahar Punji 1) under Sreemangal Upazila on May 30 led to an attack and counter-attack between the workers of Nahar Tea Garden and Khasia people which left one people killed and 10 people injured. The Khasia community depends on the hilly trees for betel leaf cultivation to earn their living.
But the poor members of the ethnic community are now passing their days in extreme panic and distress for lack of security.
On October 14, a group of journalists and representatives of the civil society visited the area talked to the victims at the the spot called Aslom Punji where the incident had taken place.
The journalists talked to the family members of the victims, local people, local government representatives, law enforcement agencies and employees of the tea estate.
The local people including Ranadhir Kumar Dev, Upazila Chairman of Sreemangal, said that the Khasia people were attacked by the officials of Nahar Tea Garden and its workers.
"The Khasia members were forced to respond to resist the attack as the company officials and workers attacked them," he said.
Nahar Tea Garden workers and Sanchari Tati, 30, wife of deceased Nitai Tati, 45, a casual labourer of Tipra Chora Tea Garden claimed that the Khasia head Dibarmin Poham shot Nitai although officer-in-charge of Srimongal Thana said that no bullet was fired from his licensed gun.
Joseph Gomez, a local Catholic priest, claimed that there had been a bad intention behind the incident as the Nahar Tea Estate wanted to grab this Punji.
"This is a conspiracy plotted by the tea garden company through developing enmity between the two tea garden workers and the Khasia community enjoyed a harmonic relationship since long," he said.
Asrin Psaart, one of the injured persons belonging to Khasia, noted that they had a harmonic relationship with the tea garden workers.
"The workers also work for our Paan Jum. The company paid only Tk 65 to each labourer, but we pay Tk.150 to each of the tea garden workers. We also join human chains in support of their demand for increasing their salary. So I do not see any reason for which they would attack us unless the company provike them," she said.
She also demanded government's recognition for her community members as citizens of this country. She claimed their forefathers and they were born there. About one lakh Khashia people are living in Bangladesh.
Pijush Kanti Bahtatr, Manager of the Nahar Punji, said that the government had ordered extension of the tea garden. So by hook or by crook they will extend it.
The Khashia people said that if the garden was extended they would lose their abode and the land to cultivate betel leaf.
About this the manager said that his company would give them job, residence and other facilities.
Shakti Pada Tripura, Organizing Secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous People's Forum, said that the government should take necessary steps to provide permanent settlement to Khasia people on their ancestral land for ensuring their traditional livelihood.
"If authorities extend their tea garden forcefully to Khasia people's land, it will destroy existing Paan Jum and their livelihood", he added.
Makhonlal Karmakar, Chirman of Bangladesh Tea Laborer Union of greater Sylhet, said that the tea garden is the main source of discord.
He also said that after the dispute the owner of the tea garden and its workers confined the Khasia people for seven hours. Later with the help of BGB, police and other local people they controlled the situation.