In Bangladesh, Christian family struggles to save its property

DAVID PAMTHET, 17, AN ETHNIC KHASI PRESBYTERIAN, lives with his mother Welentina Pamthet, 42 and two sisters in Ichhachhara Khasi in northeastern Bangladesh. There are about 300 people from 50 Christian families in the village. Khasi, a mongoloid group, mostly rely on betel leaf farming for survival. There are about 40,000 mostly Christian Khasi people in some 94 villages in northeastern Bangladesh. Since 2020, David’s family has been in a dispute with a Muslim man over a five-acre betel leaf plantation, the only source of income of the family. David’s father, Jasper Amlorong, 52, inherited the family property, but a Muslim man, Rafiq Mian, a Dubai-returnee, used fake land documents to occupy the property.

As Aid to the Church in Need’s 2021 Religious Freedom in the World report notes, in Bangladesh, “ethnic and religious minorities are highly vulnerable to land grabbing.” However, it is a socio-economic issue and not an expression of Muslim anti-Christian animosity.

After a legal battle the family got back the property on November 9. Hours later, Rafiq and 50-60 armed men attacked the village. Several houses, shops and a small chapel for local Catholics were vandalized, and five villagers were injured. Rafiq has threatened to re-occupy the property and filed fabricated court cases against 12 Khasi villagers. Jasper Amlorong, 52, died on January 30, following three years of battle against cancer, leaving his family in a massive crisis. David spoke to Aid to the Church in Need about the ordeal of the family:   

“I was a student at a Catholic High School in Lokkhipur, Kulaura until last year. Now I have left the hostel and the school. My father’s death left our family in a massive financial crisis, so my family cannot afford to pay 3,000 Taka (US$ 36) monthly fees for me anymore.”

“I have two sisters, aged 16 and 13, who go to schools with support from my relatives and neighbors. I have been looking after the family and our betel leaf plantation since my father became ill. As he died, it is almost impossible to continue my education now.”

Welentina Pamthet points to her family’s betel plantation

“My father was diagnosed with colorectal cancer about three years ago. Until last year, he received treatment at home. As his condition worsened, he was taken to capital Dhaka for better treatment. He didn’t survive and died on January 30. Our family has spent more than 700,000 Taka (US$ 8,252) for his treatment and we borrowed huge sums from individuals, which we are struggling to payback.”

“The plantation needs an investment of about 50,000 Taka (US$ 589) each season and we can make an income of about 100,000 Taka (US$ 1,179). We usually borrow money from others for investment and pay back after harvest season.”

“My father inherited the ancestral property and we have valid land titles. But Rafiq obtained fake land documents and occupied the property. My father filed a criminal and land occupancy case to get back the property and the Court verdict was in our favor. Yet, Rafiq Mian and his men attacked the village and injured villagers. He has also threatened our family and our neighbors several times that he will re-occupy the plantation and evict Khasi villagers. He has also filed to two false cases against villagers.”

“Church leaders, human rights activists and civil society leaders visited the village and offered us hope and support.”

 “Since our family was already in crisis due to my father’s illness, it intensified when Rafiq Mian attempted to occupy our betel leaf plantation. We have already spent more than 300,000 Taka (US$ 3,537) for court cases. At present, our family is running on loans from neighbors and relatives. We have more than 300,000 Taka (US$ 3,537) loans to pay back, but no income. If Rafiq re-occupies our plantation, we will be completely ruined.”

“Since the crisis started, we have received some financial support from a Catholic mission in Lokkhipur and also from KUBORAJ, the inter-Khasi village organization. KUBORAJ is also supporting us with money and legal assistance to continue with court cases. We badly need more financial support to run the family and also assistance to continue our legal battle.”

“We hope to get justice one day and we don’t want to see such abuses of minorities. Khasi people in various places have similar land problems and they need support from good people to live in peace with dignity.”

—Rock Ronald Rozario