Although the police and administration have given assurances of security, the Mro minority living in Banarban’s Lama Upazila is still terrified in the wake of the arson and vandalism on Jan 1.
Seventeen days have passed since the attack, but residents of three adjacent villages in the area have been unable to return to their regular lives and were still in a panic on Tuesday. The damaged houses have not been repaired and their residents have taken shelter with other families.
"We are still scared to go to the market," said Rengweng Mro, the chief of the Rengyen Mro Para village, adding that it takes less time to go to the Sarai Keaju Market via Quantum Road. But workers from the rubber company frequent that road, he said. “We take a different route out of fear."
"Or we send the women of the family to the market. We do not go to the market if we have less than five people, even when we need things urgently. We go to the market in groups of at least six to seven.”
The attackers set three houses on fire and demolished three more in the Mro villages around 12:30 am on Jan 1. They also vandalised two other houses and looted cash, household furniture and cattle from the villagers.
The villagers filed a case against the people of Lama Rubber Industries Limited over the incident. The company, however, denied the allegations and claimed that the Mro people themselves set fire to their own houses to entrap the company.
A delegation from the National Human Rights Commission, or NHRC, visited the site twice after the incident.
“We have instructed the local administration and law enforcers to ensure security,” NHRC chairman Kamal Uddin Ahmed said, assuring the residents during his visit on Tuesday.
“There is no fear of daytime attacks. But we get scared at night. Everyone in the village is afraid of another night attack,” Rengweng told bdnews24.com on Tuesday.
"Every night, we stand guard in groups of two to five people. We split up into three groups on three sides of the village. We let the women and children sleep. The men stand guard from 2 am to 3 am, sometimes until dawn, so that we can move to a safe place if we notice something happening.”
“The boundary of the rubber company plantation is half a kilometre away from our village. Company workers stay in a tong room. Torchlights are always lit at night. There was an attack once. We can’t say that nothing like that will happen again. Because of this, we have set our own guards on some sides of the village out of fear and desperation,” added the village head.
Asked about the safety of the residents, local UP chairman Md Idris told bdnews24.com that two days after the attack, the village chief once told him they were afraid to come to the market.
He said he also asked the villagers to give a list of those who threatened them from the rubber company, but they did not provide one.
"Still, we have told the people of the rubber company not to intimidate or harass anyone from Mro and Tripura villages in any way," Idris added.
Rengweng said the company had too many employees to identify. “We don't know everyone's name. Who would I name?"
Singchang Mro, another resident of the same village, said, "Although three villages are in the same area, our Rengyen Para is a little away from the other two. That's why we’re more anxious. If something happens, it will take a long time for someone to come.”
Twenty-eight families live in Langkom Mro and Joychandra Tripura, two nearby villages.
Rengweng said he is sheltering three families in his house. There are two other families in Nale Mro’s house and another family has taken shelter in Rengwai Mro's house.
The affected families have, so far, received blankets and rice and three of the families received six bundles of corrugated iron sheets from Bandarban Red Crescent and Tk 10,000 from Gram Unnayon Sangathon, a non-governmental organisation for rural socio-economic development. They received rice, pulse, potatoes and salt from Gonoshasthaya Kendra, a public health centre, in Cox's Bazar.
SI Delwar Hossain, chief of the union's Keaju Bazar police outpost, told bdnews24.com that police have been vigilant in the area after the attack.
“It hasn’t become so bad that someone will do anything to the villagers when they’re headed to the market.”
“There may be a land dispute, but no one would accost someone on their way to the store.”
Iftekhair Alam Chowdhury, the rubber company director, denied the allegations of threats. Instead, he brought counter allegations of threats made by the minority group.
“Many employees of our rubber company have stopped going to the plantation next to the neighbourhood in the face of threats from the Mro. Some employees have already left their jobs out of fear. And why would our employees threaten them on the way to the market?”
“It seems that we have created our own risk by investing so much money here,” he added.
[Writing in English by Arshi Fatiha Quazi; editing by Shoumik Hassin]