Tura, Feb 9: Tempers are flaring and protests have erupted here in the Garo Hills region against plans by the Bangladesh government to evict thousands of Garos residing in the neighbouring country’s forest region of Modhupur.
The Bangladesh government has been attempting for a long time to push the indigenous Garos out of the forest region which it claims as government land with an intention to set up an eco-park. The attempts, in recent months and weeks, have become more intensified forcing the Garos in Bangladesh to rise up and protest.
These protests have been going on for well over a week in the neighbouring country as leaders appeal to the world, particularly India, to make their government in Dhaka see reason. Thousands of concerned Garos from the northeast and beyond have been tuning in to social media, particularly Youtube, to witness the protests.
Angered by the Bangladesh government’s move to evict them, Garos from this region have joined in and on Tuesday staged a protest outside the West Garo Hills Deputy Commissioner’s office in Tura.
Led by the Garoland State Movement Committee, the protesters shouted slogans and condemned the eviction drive.
“We stand in solidarity with the indigenous Garo people of modhupur in their opposition to the eviction notice served to them by the forest department and want the Bangladesh government to stop the eviction because the Garos in Modhupur are the indigenous tribal who have lived on the land for generations,” said GSMC Chairman Nikman Ch Marak.
The GSMC has shot off a letter to Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma urging him to pursue the matter with the government of Bangladesh and other authorities.
In their letter, they stated that the Garos are being subjected to various harassments as authorities term the bonafide Garos as illegal occupants of the land.
“The Garos had inherited this land from their forefathers since time immemorial. The failure to recognize the bonafide Garo settlers in very unfortunate on the part of the Bangladesh government which may go even up to the international attention,” stated the letter to chief minister Sangma.
They also point out that being an indigenous tribe that had predominantly inhabited the land for hundreds of years, the Garos of Modhupur are protected under the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).
It is felt that unless some form of diplomatic pressure is exerted on Dhaka, there appears to be no solution in sight to this burning issue. The only positive part in this confrontation is that the current regime in Bangladesh led by Sheikh Hasina is more friendly to India then the previous BNP government of Begum Khalida Zia.
Who are the Garos of Modhupur?
According to well-known professor Soma Dey from the University of Dhaka who produced a book on her research, the Garos have been considered as the earliest inhabitants of Modhupur Garh forest.
In the matrilineal society of Garos, women play the role of major provider of their family sustenance through exploiting the biological resources of the forest. But the degradation of natural sal forest, which has become severe after the liberation war of Bangladesh, has made their task difficult. They are trying hard to cope with the degrading status of the sal forest. Various changes have already taken place in their traditional social structure and economy.
A part of the Pleistocene terrace area of central Bangladesh, Modhupur is situated over the uplands of Mymensingh and Tangail districts of central Bangladesh. The region is famous for the dry deciduous sal (Shorea robusta) forest and forest-dwelling ethnic communities, especially the Garos.
It is believed that Garos, who love to claim themselves as Mandies meaning human beings, have been living in the forest for hundreds of years. The forest, acting as natural boundary, kept them apart from the plain landers for a long time. This isolation and high dependency on forest resources for livelihood has resulted in the formation of their distinct societal structure and cultural practices.
Garos, by tradition, are matrilineal, mentions Professor Dey in her research book.
The most detailed write up on the Garos of Modhupur come from none other than world famous American professor of Anthropology and Sociolinguistics Late Robbins Burling, who passed away just one month ago in the United States.
Burling, who authored the book ‘Rengsanggre’ about tribal life in a Garo village outside of Tura, published another famous book on the Garos of Bangladesh called “The Strong Women of Modhupur”.
The book reviews the history of the Garo people of both India and Bangladesh since they were first encountered by the British more than two centuries ago. It describes the older Garo culture that is now remembered as “traditional”, and it tells of the events that have affected the Garo of Bangladesh since the end of colonial rule.
The book then turns to the life of the Garos of Modhupur, among whom the author has lived on several occasions since 1984. The technology and agriculture that is practiced today is described along with the way in which work is organized. Particular attention is paid to the unusual matrilineal kinship organization of the Garos and to the special role that women play in this society. Outside influences that have brought Christianity, better education, new technology, and new kinds of jobs to the Garos are discussed.
The book concludes with a chapter that evaluates policies that might affect the Garos and considers the role that Garos may play in Bangladesh in the future. Professor Burling is a professional anthropologist who has written extensively for a specialized anthropological readership, but he has written this book for a wider audience, and reading it requires no specialized background. The book contains both general information about the Garos and accounts of the author’s personal experience with the people. It should appeal to the Garos themselves, to readers who have known or worked with the Garos, and to all Bangladeshis who want to know more about their fellow countrymen.