Routes -‘Nizor Desh, Nizor Mati’ illegal land grabbing in Bangladesh is a ‘Trend’

Aggressive and illegal land grabbing in Bangladesh has become a ‘historical trend’ as Foreign ‘Probashi’ Bangladeshi citizens are being deprived from their ‘routes’ by heartless people of Bangladesh.

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Bangladesh’s antiquated land records management system (and the corruption involved with it) is contributing to ever growing land disputes, depriving British Bangladeshis from their rightful lands and properties.

Hundreds (if not thousands) of foreign Bangladeshi citizens are being deprived of their routes – the rightful ownership of their lands – by fraudulent family members, law enforcement agencies, the judicial system, and aggressive and illegal land grabbers by hired goons: the so-called politically backed ‘gundas.’

With land prices having increased – and therefore demand for these pieces of land having increased too – land grabbing syndicates have been set up to target landowners, especially those that are owned by expatriates. These syndicates have support from many criminals and influential individuals, using forged documents to try to steal the land from under the real owners’ noses. The process is often helped along by corrupt lawyers and government officials, making it extremely hard for the landowners to do anything about it.

Instead of fighting for their rightful assets, for many ‘probashi’ foreign dual citizens of Bangladesh it has now become a case of ‘running for your life’ back to the UK. This is as well as the poor, who have been driven away to live in squats and slums in the cities. Things can get violent in these cases, with local ‘thugs’ being employed to intimidate landowners with guns and other weapons – the stealing of the land doesn’t just happen on paper.

Right to property is recognised as being a fundamental human right in both the national and international instrument of law – e.g. the constitution of Bangladesh has guaranteed (among others) human rights, principles of ownership, and rights to the property, with article 17 of the UDHR 1948 stating that, “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property”(Scientific Research Publishing 09/2015).

If the above statement is correct, why is it that so many British Bangladeshi dual citizens are suffering the never-ending aggressions of illegal land grabbing with no adequate resolutions from either the British or the Bangladesh government, despite both countries’ governments being fully aware that this is a major problem which needs to be addressed?
On their official website, the British government states the following clear message: “The British High Commission has no authority to intervene on behalf of British nationals of Bangladeshi origin with regard to land or property problems.”

The Bangladeshi government, however, seems to have a ‘don’t care’ policy, despite the British Bangladeshi people’s hard-earned remittance, which has been making its way to Bangladesh since the first generation entered the UK over fifty years ago, and which has no doubt benefited Bangladesh immensely.

According to many British Bangladeshis here in the UK, the situation is “unfair and unjust, where anyone and everyone in Bangladesh takes advantage of these land disputes, which has become a trend,” further stating that as a “result of the injustice we are facing and have been facing for years, our current generation of children are losing their identity. They have nothing to show as their ‘routes’ or where they come from.”

Children and grandchildren of the first generation British Bangladeshis feel they have been let down by their fathers and forefathers, the Bangladeshi people, and the Bangladeshi government.

A property dispute study conducted by the BRAC Human Rights and Legal Services, and the Policy Research Institute (PRI), found that one in five Bangladeshi households suffer from land disputes, and that all of these had to pay bribes to arbitrators.

This means that roughly four million households in Bangladesh may be currently facing land disputes. 18.3% of households surveyed with pending land disputes revealed that, on average, the police alone were paid Tk 22, 270 as a bribe. The survey also revealed that many landowners have experienced physical assaults on either themselves or their family members, and that they also fear physical harm in the future.

The study further confirms that households involving females in the disputes were prone to more violence and repression during these conflicts, stating that the women faced a tougher task of fighting discrimination.

The findings also state that Dhaka – the capital of Bangladesh – is the region with the most land disputes, followed by Sylhet. According to a senior economist for PRI, “Land conflicts are serious in Bangladesh and a considerable share of the population is suffering from this phenomenon.”

According to another report by Dhaka Alert Net, 1.9 million legal cases are languishing in the judicial system, choking Bangladesh’s courts for years at a time.

In a nation of 160 million people, with a centuries-old British colonial period land registration system, forgery of land documents have been and still are very common; land and property owners often find that their properties have been sold to others without their knowledge. The buyers in these cases are also oblivious to the issues, paying huge sums of monies to purchase these lands, only to then find themselves in land disputes. People are often forced to spend vast amounts of monies on both sides – not worth the hassle.

The often-heard phrase “Kagoj zar, zaga tar” – who owns the paper, owns the land – has no real value in these cases, as many assets with clear deeds are either fraudulently taken by bribed officials or illegally seized by trusted relatives (or the hired hands acting as ‘gundas’ or ‘goons’ for their ‘masters’), along with political party support or the support of local law enforcement agencies.

The Bangladesh authorities are in the process of digitising the land registry system, which will make it difficult to manipulate (unlike the manual system). However, it is believed to be a race against time to unclog the system before a new wave of disputes arises, which is more than likely to happen.

As Professor Liaquat Ali Siddiqui of Dhaka University said, “Modernisation of the land record system can help minimise the complications,” also adding that if “the land documents for a piece of property were forged, it could take a long time for the genuine owner to prove ownership.” This is the exact problem that is being faced by the British Bangladeshis, who are fighting an endless battle with no hope for success.

The Bangladeshi government should take into consideration the immense contributions that the British Bangladeshi people have made – and still are making – and help them with a decent system to fight their cases without them being harassed or intimidated. Perhaps they could create an Alternative Dispute Resolutions (ADR) System based in the UK in order to prevent corruption, as British Bangladeshi people have received little or no help from the so-called Probashi Cell.

The British Bangladeshi people have already sacrificed enough for their motherland, and the Bangladeshi government should strongly consider taking some responsibility so these people can maintain their identity for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren thereafter. This land grabbing simply cannot be tolerated any longer, so we need to allow these landowners to keep their identity – their ROUTES – NIZOR DESH, NIZOR MATI.

Bangladesh – Our routes our assets – we have every right to hold on to what is rightfully ours!