A 150-year-old Zaminder Bari in the the northeast village of Panidhar has withstood the test of time and elements and has been the home to three generations of a Hindu family.
The house is not only of historic importance but also cultural, for it houses a deity that locals cherish.
However, this place of worship in Barlekha upazila of Moulvibazar is now under threat of a local influential land grabber.
Landlord Ramkumar Purakayastha gave his land and the Zaminder Bari to his three sons through a debutter (endowment) agreement.
His sons looked after their ancestral property and after their deaths, the land was in the possession of the next generation.
At present, the land is in the custody of the Zaminder's grandsons -- Rudrendro Kumar Roy Purakayastha, Romakanto Roy Purakayastha, Radhakanto Roy Purakayastha, Shamakanto Roy Purakayastha and Arobindo Kumar Roy Purakayastha.
One of them passed away while three of them worked for the government their whole lives.
A local influential, Lal Mia, is occupying the land for six to seven months now, said 78-year-old Shamakanto. “He has also forcibly built a tin-built home on 50 decimals of land and is looting crops from our land every year.”
This correspondent tried to speak to locals about Lal Mia, but it seemed like no one wanted to speak up, apparently out of fear.
Ranjit Kumar Roy, joint director at Bangladesh Bank in Dhaka and son of late Romakanto, said Lal Mia was trying to grab six acres of their land by forging signatures on documents.
“The last time I visited was on March 23. I saw the tin-built home and asked Lal Mia to explain what was going on. He said he had the documents to build a home there.”
That was the first time that Ranjit was given photocopied sheets of a 'power of attorney' deed.
“Lal Mia threatened me and said that he would kill me if I went back to our home,” he added.
“I couldn't even pay my land tax to the AC-land office for the last two years as the grabber has submitted false deeds there. Lal Mia also mocked me later, repeatedly saying that we would not be able to pay land tax anymore as the local land office is under his control,” said Ranjit.
“I submitted a written petition with the Moulvibazar DC office on April 2. From there, I went to the office of the superintendent of Moulvibazar. The SP was very positive, assuring me that there was no way to take power of attorney on a debutter property.”
He was referred to the Barlekha Police Station. Ranjit filed a petition with Barlekha police requesting the station to take it as a first information report (FIR), but police officers refused to record it that way.
“This is our home, where we grew up and hold cherished memories. We all gather two to four times a year to celebrate our religious festivals or on holidays, but now there is no peace. My paternal uncle and his family are living there, but always in fear,” said Ranjit.
Rajib Purakayastha, a US citizen, who is currently in Dhaka to take care of his ill father Radhakanto, said, “I have also received threats over the phone.”
Lal Mia is harassing them to take complete possession of the land on the basis of fake documents, he added. “I filed a GD with Ramna Police Station recently, fearing for my safety.”
Denying the allegations, Lal Mia, son of late Mokhlish Ali in Muchegul village in the same upazila, said Radhakanto gave him power of attorney over the land on January 12, 2016. “Since then, I have been looking after all aspects of the land.”
Ranjit of Bangladesh Bank said Lal Mia forged the signature of Radhakanta, who has been suffering from dementia and has been bed-ridden for at least the last two years.
“Technically speaking, this is a debutter property that cannot be transferred or sold. In that case, how the property can be registered in the Barlekha sub registrar's office under his name should also be investigated by higher authorities,” he added.
“He notarised a number of false documents from Topkhana Road in Dhaka, which is evidently fake, in bids to grab the Zaminder Bari, the temple on it, family crematorium, pond, paddy fields, and other infrastructure.”
Referring to recent attacks on the Hindu communities, Faruq Mahmud Chowdhury, president of Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik, Sylhet chapter, said fundamentalist groups continue to attack the Hindus, as the government did not take punitive action against the unscrupulous locals.
He demanded effective measures from the government to prevent the illegal grabbing of debutter properties and ensure security of members of the minority community.
Debdulal Dhar, officer-in-charge (investigation) of Barlekha Police Station, said he received complaints from Ranjit on the matter of land grabbing. “I am preparing an investigation report that will be submitted to the OC soon.”
“We are ready to help the minority families,” he added.
Tofayel Islam, deputy commissioner of Moulvibazar, also told The Daily Star that the matter was under investigation.