Pirgacha: St. Paul’s Church

Rev. Eugene E. Homrich, CSC, returned to Bangladesh on Feb. 28,1992. On March 2, 1992, Bishop Francis Gomes, Bishop of Mymensingh Diocese told him to open a new Parish in Pirgacha Village and separate from Jalchatra Parish. I was told that Fr. Alex Rabinal had been appointed Administrator in my place in Jalchatra. We were supposed to open a new Mandi Parish in January 1993. The people in Dorgacholla revolted and said they had been promised a Parish. They locked the church and did not allow anyone to come to Mass.
I arrived in Pirgacha on Ash Wednesday and had a grand welcome. We had Mass under a mango tree by the boys’ boarding. We had to purchase two “pakis” of land for Tk. 8000 from Jimber Mri, the local kamal and leader for the rectory, storerooms and eventually the girls’ boarding. Fr. Alex Rabinal, CSC, Fr. Ponen Kubi, CSC and Fr. Peter Rosario came to Pirgacha and determined the position for the rectory. We sunk a well, 1.5 inch, 110 ft. and 20 ft. filter. Ground broken March 19th 1992 and the first bricks and building material arrive.
SDA built a church in North Chunia. The young boys broke the church and beat up the SDB preacher who promised land, houses, cows, etc. Fr. Homrich lived in Monendra Nokrek’s house for six month.. The new house was finished and the priest moved in on June 1, 1992.
Bishop Francis had a bad heart attack in Bhalukapara on June 11 and Fr. Charley Houser, CSC is VG running the Diocese.
Feb. 1, 1993, Fr. Benjamin Gomes, SX becomes my assistant. Bishop announces that Pirgacha, St. Paul’s will become separate from Jalchatra January 1, 1993. The Catholic population was 6288, Baptist 1201, Oxford 584, SDA 143, pagan 1031 and catechumen 120.
Forest Department is trying to take Mandi lands and the Asia Development Bank gives unsupervised loans which are misused to plant 8000 acres of useless rubber trees. The sal and 60 other species are being sold to 63 saw mills and many false cases are started against the Mandis. Ford foundation gave one million to reforest ate the village of Pekamari. When I told the Ford representative she canceled the loan. State Minister for environment Gayishor Ch. Roy called a meeting in dokhala. I told him President Zia said not to touch Tribal Lands either here or in the North and Foreign Aid from Asia Development Bank depends on the proper use of loans and Human rights violations will cancel the loans. Zakir chairman #9 Union and Hobi chairman #11 said they will throw me out of the country and burn down the Mission.
Wangala celebrated and the new science building given by the British Government dedicated in Oct, 1993. Bethany Ashram opened for deliveries and “foolish Virgins”. Unmarried girls of all faiths come, deliver and give me the baby which is adopted according to the faith of the mother through the courts.
Feb. 1994 refused Fr. Homrich, CSC a visa because I stopped the loan to the Forest Department from Asia. Development Bank because the Forest Dept. was taking tribal lands. No cultivated lands are to be taken by the Forest Department. William Dajel and Michael Simsang started a case #506 against Fr. Homrich, CSC. He filed a blasphemy case against them and they case was dropped.
Papal Nuntio Adriano Bernadini gave schools in Sainamari, Bhutia, Kedjai, Beduria, Joynagacha. Margareta Weiser gave the new Primary School in Pirgacha. she works from Germany for Tribals in Asia. The Italian Bishops gave the new class room in the High School. William Dazel called the final football tournament on the High School field without permission. I put Section 144 in place so they all fled.
After 14 years of waiting we finally got our own Pirgacha Post Office on June 24, 1995.
The new Postmaster will be Jugadesh Rema from Thanarbaid. The new High School classrooms given by the Italian Bishop’s conference blessed by the Nuntio on March 6, 1996.
The Forest Department shot and killed Bihesh Nokrek of Joynagaccha, father of six children. Sainamari Church destroyed by a tornado. The church was built only two years ago in 1994. Arif Niase set up a knitting factory for 95 Mandi women.
Dr. Emilio A. Rozario a Planning Specialist with the Madacor Group said the Bangladesh government intents to remove 16,000 Garos to protect the forest. The World Bank is supposed to finance the project. I said President Zia promised that the Garos would never be evicted in the town Hall meeting in Mymensingh on Feb. 14, 1976. Major General Dustigir also promised that Garos will now be taken in civil service jobs and the armed services.
The Forest Department decided to make an eco-park on 3000 acres of forest land. No Mandi villages are included. The Mandis formed a procession near Jalabada. Piren Snal shot and killed and Utfol Nokrek of Beduria shot and paralyzed for life. 25 other Mandis in the procession have bird shot under their skin. Government decided to drop the wall project.
Bishop Ponen Kubi, CSC was consecrated in Mymensingh on Feb. 13 2004. His family lives in Jalabada. He was educated in Jalchatra High School, Notre Dame college and the Banani Major Seminary.


Murder in Madhupur: the bigger issue
The Daily Star, Dhaka Sunday May 13, 2001
In Bangladesh, forests can be found in the coastal areas (Mangrove), in the Hill region (Sylhet and CHT) in the plains (Dhaka, Tangail, Mymensingh, Jamalpur, Rangpur and Dinajpur) and small forests are even found in the villages, surrounding homesteads, However, deforestation is damaging the ecology of the country at an alarming rate. Despite the popular campaign of "cut one tree plant two to replace it" and strict laws against violators of forest land, the black Market is still doing a roaring trade in illegal logging.
The Madhupur forest in the districts of Tangail and Mymensingh is, to date, the largest surviving forest of the plains. It used to occupy 250 square miles, but deforestation has reduced it to more than half its original area. This has been the cause of a lot of resentment from the Koch and Mandi (also known as Garo) tribes who live in the area today. The mandi people have been living in the Madhupur forests for several hundred years, cultivating rice, fruits mainly pineapples and vegetables and conserving the produce of the forest. According to the British Zamindari system, the forest and the inhabitants came under the Zamindari of the Rajah of Natore who, in turn, dedicated the area to the god Gobinda as a gift (debottor). Throughout the British Raj, the Mandi people cultivated the high land under lease and could register the lowland in their own name.
In 1978, the Mandi recorded their lowlands under the Indian Tenancy Act. 1878. In 1956, a forest settlement Officer tried to repeal this act and a notice of eviction was gazetted, but not served on the Mandi people. Since the Partition in 1947, the land claims of the Mandi people have been under increasing jeopardy.
In 1962, the government of Pakistan established a 500-acre farm in Kakraid under Madhupur Thana, and resettled displaced Bangali farmers on Mandi prescription lands in Aronkhola.
In 1968 and 1969, eviction notices were sent, to the Mandi of Chunia village by the Divisional Forest Officer of Mymensingh.
There was no mention of resettlement or compensation for the evicted families. This sort of forced displacement by the Bangali settlers, often with false documents, and the authority continued throughout the years and in 1977, President Ziaur Rahman suggested that the tribals form a Tribal Welfare Association (TWA) to protect their own interests. This came into being on 15 June 1977. The Association produces a 15-point demand regarding land, security, education and the power and authority to decide their own development. The demand petition was never answered. In 1978 Divisional Forest Officer and District commissioner of Tangail issued eviction notices to 200 homesteads comprising of about 800 families, in order for the government to create a national park. As compensation they were offered 1000 taka per homestead and also one acre of land. Ironically, the 200 acres of land offered as compensation was already registered and occupied by poor Bangali refugees.
In 1980, the Rasulpur Range Officer was ordered by the Government to occupy 100 acres of Mandi land in Joynagacha, Bondoriachala and Kedjai. Some of the Mandi people there had land-owing documentation dating back 130 years. About 200 non tribals (Bangalis) were brought in to settle there, set up a sub office and plant mulberry trees. In May 1981, the Forest Department hired local thugs to try and occupy land by force. After the Proclamation of Martial law in 1982, a martial law Order was sent to the Union Chairman and village government head to evict those forcibly occupying government forest.
Land grabbing still exists and the classic pattern is that investigations are carried out, commissioners are set up and promises are given. After the initial excitement and anger has worn away, the matter is quietly dropped and forgotten. Even the media forget the issue and do not follow up on such matters. In 1984, over 42,000 acres in the Madhupur forest were classified as forest land meaning land belonging to the state Forest department but the Mandi were not consulted in this matter. In 1986, Rubber plantations began threatening the forest ecology. The first plantation was 15,000 acres big and established in the Madhupur forest. Private entrepreneurs took over the Mandi land without compensation and in January 1990, the government announced that 25,000 acres of Madhupur forest were now planted with rubber trees. With another 40,000 acres to be developed with funding from the Asian Development Bank. Faced with pressure from human rights groups, the ADB withdrew funding. Much of the forest has been destroyed and the rich sal and teak trees uprooted and other plants and wildlife wiped out.
Land grabbing is one of he major problems faced by tribal people all over the country. Land is taken by force, fraud or bribery and it is difficult for the tribal people to establish their rights. One of the causes for this is the sad lack of education and ignorance of the law. Another reason is discrimination. While the constitution advocated every person equal right under the law, in various occasions, tribals are considered to be second-class citizens. These are the reasons why access to legal recourse is not found and why many prefer to keep quite about injustices, done to them. Some fear violence and retribution from local Bangalis, while others are exasperated by the fact that the law enforcing agencies in the locality do nothing to protect them from wrongful acts. such as land grabbing, forced eviction and even crimes such as rape and murder.

Crucial Problems of the Indigenous Peoples of the Madhupur Forest, Tangail, Bangladesh

01. Indigenous Peoples are living at Madhupur area for at least two centuries. They are the original inhabitants of the area.

02. Bangladesh Govt. refuses to recognize the rights of the indigenous people to the ancestral and traditionally occupied lands and natural resources in the Madhupur Jungle.

03. The Indigenous people of the Madhupur Forest area try to preserve the environment in the area by preserving the local species such as (Sal (sorea robosta) and other native trees and medicinal plants, wild birds and animals) but FD has destroyed the forest for personal gain with the help of outsiders and wealthy thieves. Guni, Chief Conservator of Forest was sentenced to 12 years last month when a fortune was discovered in his house.

04. The Indigenous population of Madhupur are victims of Government plans to plant foreign trees on their crop lands, plans to evict the people and establish the National Park, Eco Park, Firing Range of Air force etc. Five times the BD government has planned to evict the Indigenous People with the help of the ADB. WB, etc. The ADB funded social forestry Project is designed to relocate mainstreams population in the adivasi (IP) inhabited area, virgin forests destroyed and give to influential persons.

05. At least 6000 false forest cases have been filled against innocent people. Corrupt officials file the cases and the legal structure is completely corrupt. The last two Conservators of Forests have been sentence and are in jail for corruption. The court cases go on for years and are completely false and the legal system is corrupt. It is an open plan of the BD Govt. against the Indigenous people with the help of foreign donors. ADB has destroyed the forests with their unsupervised loans. Now ADB is “financing” the development of the unique Sunderbans! The main objective of filling forest cases against the Indigenous peoples is to destroy them socially and economically.

06. In 2003–2004 during the protest against the Eco-Park project implementation, FD and Police filed 28 false cases against 95 innocent IPs in the Courts. Victims are facing those cases and are economically ruined. 25 Garos were shot by the police and Forest Department. One boy died and one is paralyzed for life. Many still have lead in their bodies from the shootings.
07. FD claims that Indigneous People are illegal occupants of the Madhupur Forest. FD/Govt. doesn’t recognize ILO convention article No. 107, rectified article no. 169 and recent declaration of UN on IPs rights. the IP have lived here for centuries.

08. Permanent settlement of the lands of IPs is needed according to the present Bangladesh land laws. There should be a clear demarcation of lands belonging to the Forest Department and the Indigenous people who paid
land taxes for their homestead and low lands to the Hindu Zamindar of
Natore for many years.

09. Under the present situation there is no security for the Indigenous people in Bangladesh. They have been driven out of the country and their lands confiscated by the Governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh many times.

10. There is no system for the Indigenous People for higher education, Govt. jobs such as local Govt. body, Union Parishod, Upazila Parishod, District Council and Parliament to protect their civil rights and their demands are rare.

11. Donors give and provide economic social and political priority to CHT-approximately for the 600,000 people, but there is no donors that give attention or priority for the Indigenous People numbering over 2 million in the plain lands . Donors fund for the IP development through Bengali led NGOs, which are often, have a negative impacts on IPs development.

12. Religion fanaticism as well as prejudiced cultural policies of the State regime increasingly arrest ethnic and cultural diversity in the country.

From The Indigenous People of the Madhupur Forest (25,000 citizens of