The atrocious ways of encroachment

Shihab Sarkar   | Monday, 16 May 2022

Starting with grabbing others' dwellings, their legally owned croplands, rural vacant lots, forests or hills whole or in part to rivers or canals, syndicates of grabbers can devour anything in this country. After a few days of commotion and legal battles between the aggrieved party and the aggressor over the spots of contention, the confrontational postures begin fizzling out. The encroachers continue to tighten their grip on the grabbed objects, with the victims giving up their legal claim to their legally owned possessions after putting up a futile resistance. If the victims approach the locally based informal mediators, few are handed justice. The lopsided verdict in most of the battles goes against the already losers. The people around them take the role of impassive onlookers. After posing as the ones with no bias for any of the two parties, they eventually start showing their allegiance to one, especially those with muscle power or money.

This has been going on in this land since system of ownership of objects, justifiably or forcefully, came into force. No matter if the rulers belonged to feudal system, monarchies or modern democracies, the system continued to operate like before. In a vaguely distant continuity, the culture of intrusion remained unchanged. Here external intervention or the dictates of conscience hardly worked. This perturbing subject proves one truth: Lots of people are born to remain defeated, and vice versa. This bitter reality remains in force in the mostly non-enlightened communities. The Third World countries comprise a large segment in this category. To the woes of many of us, Bangladesh has a major place among these territories. Thus claiming a portion of a river to be their own and, that too through the ages goes naturally with Bangladesh.

Such a case was discovered in a central district of Bangladesh. In a small obscure village under the jurisdiction of an upazilla in that district, an 'influential' family has long been claiming a pretty large portion of a river to be theirs. The family's present descendants say that their forefathers over three hundred years back had purchased that part of the river from the then ruling Subedar of Bengal. As a result, the 'royal court-blessed' family has been enjoying the exclusive right to using the river's water. The villagers other than those belonging to that privileged family cannot use the river's water. The river is also off-limits to the local fishermen outside the family mentioned. A legal suit was filed recently by the local river saving activists to make the whole river accessible to the villagers in the vicinity.

The episode of 'purchasing' rivers, canals or 'haors' doesn't end here. Clandestine occupation of these water bodies has long been integral to the country's many areas. There are inaccessibly remote areas, where rivers are mostly plundered. Theft or purchase of water bodies is associated with the general people's timidity. Any passive postures do not befit a man of masculine qualities. Despite the neighbourhoods around being aware of them, and their misdeeds, few can command enough courage to stand in their way. Evidently, they do not nakedly demonstrate their heroism. There is an informal public relations department, whose job is to tell the general people, and also the rivals of the river looters, encroachers to be exact, about the invincibility of their masters. Due to the crime scenes being located in the outback areasof rural Bangladesh, the authorities concerned remain mostly in the dark about the activities of grabbing public places. However, a section of devil-may-care media people rob the river-grabbers of their getting away with these criminal activities. Nowadays, the electronic media journalists appear to be more effective in exposing the grabbers than their print media counterparts. The reason is clear. In their TV footage they can present graphic details of various kinds of the social culprits' anti-people activities.

Given this fact, few illegalities going against public interests remain beyond public view these days. The incorrigibly arrogant of the culprits wear a look of caring a fig about the media exposure of their criminalities. Moreover, they flaunt their hotline connections to the ruling party' local leaders --- and to the mid-level administrative functionaries. Laying claim to portions of a river as their own, by way of their 'purchasing' it has resulted from long-drawn-out machinations. Nobody can authenticate the exact number of such broad-daylight lootings of water bodies, public forests, hills, roads etc. Claiming many public places across the country to be legally owned private possessions has started becoming institutionalised. Earlier, the practice was confined to a few traditional areas. They mainly included rivers and different types of public lands. All this has reached such a dead end of sorts triggering violent hostilities that the grabbers in the rural and city outskirts have got engaged in looking for newer areas. In fact, their compulsiveness in intruding into areas meant for public use now take them to unthought-of territories.

In accordance with these utterly abominable practices, innovative encroachers have lately turned to rural bridges. This may prompt many sensible persons to find themselves in a quandary. A sloppily built concrete bridge may cave in shortly after its construction. It could beabandoned completely after the opening of a boat service connecting the two banks of the narrow river. These spectacles are all too common across Bangladesh. But there is a striking aspect of bridge encroachments. Of late, a print media photograph of a grocery shop in the middle of a bridge benumbs the faculty of thinking by the saner segments of people living in the area. Likewise, a dwelling house built on a ramshackle bridge continues to trigger both incredulity and indignation among majority of the people living nearby.


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