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Give Farmers A Respite from Jotdars (Big Land Owners)

Will someone listen to the poor farmersí tearful appeal?

In the countryís southern coastal districts, harvesting on the chars (sort of islets newly emerged) is a bloody affair year after year. Jotdars (big land-owners) and their henchmen called lathials turn out to be the evil incarnation. To the small farmers who cultivate the unclaimed lands to produce ĎAmaní paddy there, the bands of lathials prove to be a scourge. It is them who act as mercenaries for the jotedars to forcibly take away the crop cultivated by the toil of the small farmers. Thus the jotedars add to their huge stocks of paddy they harvest from their own lands. The lathials Ėthemselves poor people-- play in the hands of the big landowners against their own class of people. Not only do they help the land-owners but are also used as an instrument of torture. They commit the most barbaric crimes against the cultivating farmers to please their patrons.

Jotdars

The Permanent Settlement Act was imposed in Bengal in 1793 following the seizure of Dewani (the governorship) of Bengal from Mughal rulers by the British East India Company in 1765. Bengal thus came under the formal subjugation of Britain, the world's largest imperialist power at that time. During initial years of administration, confusion over collection of revenue reached such an extent that 17709 a terrible famine resulted (Hamilton, 1810). It took ten million Bengali lives, one-third of the population.
It is believed that the Permanent Settlement, which established bougeios property rights of land, fundementally altered agrian Bengal from traditional self-contained, motionless, egalitarian society to one with a dynamic peasantry, differentiated along capitalist lines (Throner, 1962).
From 1820 onwards, thePermannent Settlement gave rise to numerous interest groups between the Zamindars and the peasents. The new Zamindars had no local connection and for this reason they were compelled to involve local influentials, the Jotdars, in the process of revenue collection (Islam, 1985).

This year we come across yet another piece of distressing news. The Land and Revenue Department of the government has come up with a ploy apparently to show where its sympathy lies. Across several chars of Galachipa, Patuakhali the department has become very active now. It hoists red flags right in the harvesting period. The purpose, as the department claims, is far from innocent. It claims that it has to do the job with a view to stopping blood-letting in the islets. But a closer scrutiny will reveal that they have an ulterior motive. When the crops are ready for harvesting, the department put the lands on lease. The jotedars become the sole beneficiaries of this move because the farmers who tilled the land will get nothing. On the other hand, the men from the Land and Revenue Department get in the process an opportunity to pocket some unearned money. They realise Tk 1,500 for each acre of land but the government rate is just Tk 300. They complain that in the cultivating season, no one is interested to take the land on lease.

Adibashi (Aborigin) houses torched in Naogaon, Rajshai

aborgin- santalDec 5, 2003: A number of influential persons of Bhatrandhra village under Niamatpur upazila under Naogaon district torched 17 houses of the adibashi people who were living in khas land.
According to a delayed report received here today,17 adibashi families numbering about 70 people had been in khas land by constructing shanties at Bhatrandhra village for a long time. One Bhabendranath Burman along with some of his relatives had been claiming that the land belong to them. Bhabendranath also filed a case with the court in this connection which has not yet been disposed of. Bhabendranath had been trying the evict the adibashi families for a long time.
Failing to evict them, Bhabendranath along with some of his relatives and friends stormed into the village at noon last Tuesday (2 December) and torched the houses by forcing the inmates out of the houses. As a result, all the 17 houses of the villages were burnt to ashes. Being shelterless, those landless adibashi families have been passing their days in deplorable condition. Last noon, the Upazila Nirbahi Officer(UNO) and police visited the spot. (The Independent, December6, 2003)


Clearly this is a ploy for both the jotedars and the men of Land and Revenue Department to serve each otherís interests. The report says that this has been going for years, although we come across this news for the first time. Clearly, the poor farmers cannot manage enough money for taking lease of the land. So they try to cultivate the land with the aim of taking the harvest home. But the jotedars who have the economic power and other means to take lease of the land wait until the poor farmers have put their labour and input into the cultivation of the land. Their aim is to reap otherís harvest at a minimum cost. What a mockery, the men from the Land and Revenue Department simply become an accomplice to the jotedars in this most monstrous complicity!

This is no way of saving the small and landless farmers from utter ruination. If the government policy is not pro-poor, such people will either become beggars or perish from the face of the earth. Maybe, they cannot claim ownership to the lands they have tilled but there is no logic to deprive them of their fair share of the crop grown by their sweat. The administration should immediately come to their rescue. It is not difficult to help the farmers who have grown the crop. But it is a crime to aid those who did nothing to grow the paddy and are set to take away the harvest home. Will someone in the administration listen to the poor farmersí tearful appeal?

Poverty

Bangladesh did not make notable progress in income-poverty reduction since independence. The income-poverty trends since the early nineties based on the unit-record data of the Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) show the following pattern. Between 1991/92 and 2000, the incidence of national poverty declined from 58.8 to 49.8 per cent, indicating a modest reduction rate of 1 percentage point per year. It is not remarkable in terms of our investment in the development field.

The problem of poverty in Bangladesh is a structural one and therefore it should be addressed through structural changes or reforms. Poverty originates in the unequal command over both economic and political resources within the society and the unjust nature of a social order which perpetuates these inequities. We may term these inequalities as structural injustice. Such injustice remains pervasive in most societies exposed to endemic poverty.

It is, however, not enough to recognise the salience of structural issues in the poverty discourse without addressing the political economy which underlies the structural features of a society. Poverty originates in the unequal command over both economic and political resources within the society and the unjust nature of a social order which perpetuates these inequities. We may term these inequalities as structural injustice. Such injustice remains pervasive in most societies exposed to endemic poverty.

So, if we really want to reduce poverty we have to address these structural injustices and create access of the deprived poor, more specifically the landless poor over assets which can play an important role in providing livelihood to the deprived people.

Land is the most significant natural asset in the country. However, majority of the people do not possess any land. But, there is a considerable amount of 33 lakh acres of khas (government owned) land in the country. As per the existing policy, these lands should be entitled for use by the real landless people.

Unfortunately, in reality, an unholy coalition of some corrupt bureaucrats, politicians, local elites and influentials is illegally occupying these resources through false documents and show of muscle power. The poor have little power to contest this injustice.

At the grassroots level, the nearest political institution is 'Union Parishad'. If this institution acts properly it can play a very significant role in poverty reduction and overall development of the country. However, this institution is captured mostly by local elite and influential people.

In the patriarchal society, the poorest of the poor are women. They are virtually neglected and deprived from the fruits of development. Violence against women is one of the major obstacles to overcome the problems.

Grabbing the Buriganga River, Dhaka

A river is a large stream of water flowing in a bed or channel and emptying into the ocean, a sea, a lake, or another stream; a stream larger than a rivulet or brook. Transparent and sparkling rivers, from which it is delightful to drink as they flow, says Macaulay in praise of the river. But look at the pitiable plight of the Buriganga river: why cannot we even protect the lifeline of Dhaka city? Why are the Dhaka City Corporation and the government itself are so inert or powerless? If the government cannot take action against a few dozen swindlers who have outright grabbed the Buriganga river, the lifeline of Dhaka city, then how can they govern the country? It is a big enigmatic question.

We do not know for sure the actual age of the Buriganga river, it may be three thousand years or four thousand years or even more. Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, was established on the banks of the river Buriganga in early 17th century.

Unfortunately, there has been unauthorized occupation on bank-side land, illegal encroachment into the river. The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) identified in May 2001, 204 illegal structures built on both banks of the river. In July 2001, BIWTA prepared a new list of 309 illegal establishments. However, environmental activists assert that the illegal structures may be as high as 5,000.

The Buriganga Bachao Andolon or BAPA (Save Buriganga Movement) has the singularly significant contribution to the protection and prevention of the lifeline of Dhaka city. The river is further polluted by discharge of industrial effluents into river water, indiscriminate throwing of household, clinical, pathological and commercial wastes, and discharge of fuel and human excreta. In fact, the river has become a dumping ground of all kinds of solid, liquid and chemical waste of bank-side population. A survey in 1999, says the BAPA, revealed that the water of Buriganga, Turag, Dhaleshwari, Balu, and Narai flowing around the greater Dhaka city had been completely polluted.

The report concluded that the water of these rivers posed a serious threat to public life and was unfit for human use. People, living near the rivers, use the water because they are unaware of the health risks and also having no other alternative. This causes incidents of water borne and skin diseases.

On the face of such a deteriorating situation, Buriganga Bachao Andolon (Save Buriganga Movement) started to mobilize mass support to save the river. Achievements of the BAPA are worth mentioning. The meetings, demonstrations, rallies, seminars etc on illegal encroachment and subsequent degradation of the rivers have influenced other organizations to affiliate with BAPA and government agencies to take remedial measures (K.M. NURUL HUDA, 27. 07. 03).

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