Bangladesh: Police Have Few Clues in Killing of Aboriginal Christian

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
160122-BD-christian-620 Luis Soren’s widow, Jugita Hemrom (right), stands with their children, Shyamoli, 13, and Joy, 8, in front of their home in Chopra, a village in northwestern Bangladesh.

Bangladesh police have many questions and few answers as they investigate the brutal killing of an aboriginal Christian farmer in the northwestern district of Naogaon.

The burned body of Luis Soren, 40, a member of the Santal minority, was discovered in a rice paddy near his home on Jan. 9, a day after he went to meet friends in a neighboring village.

Soren’s head was injured, and his hand and legs were tied with the shirt and lungi he was wearing, according to police. Mahfuzur Rahman, a medical officer at the hospital where an autopsy was performed, said that Soren had been strangled.

“We have yet to get any clue to the cause of the murder. The place is very peaceful and almost crime-free. This is no doubt a cold-blooded murder,” investigating officer Abdur Razzaq told a correspondent from BenarNews, who traveled to the district where the killing occurred.

“He was carried to the paddy field after the murder; he was not killed there,” Razzaq added.

Niamatpur Police officer-in-charge Obaidul Haque said more than one person was involved.

“This is premeditated. Burning a human body is a matter of strong nerve. No ordinary man can do it,” Haque said.

‘My heart sank with fear’

Chopra, Soren’s home village in Naogaon’s Niamatpur sub-district, is about 340 km (210 miles) from Dhaka. It sits in the middle of rice paddies, and is connected with an unpaved main road by a narrow strip of land (pictured).

During rainy seasons, the 35 Christian and Santal families in the village must walk in order to leave the village.

Soren’s widow Jugita Hemrom, 30, said she and her husband had worked in a paddy field until 4 p.m. on Jan. 8. They ate, and then her husband left, saying he was going to the next village, Jabripara, to drink wine. He promised to return early.

Soren often went to Jabripara, about a kilometer from his house, to drink with friends there.

“He did not come even after 8 p.m. I went out and asked others about his whereabouts, but nobody saw him. I could not sleep as he never did this,” Hemrom told BenarNews.

In the morning, she and Soren’s brothers searched for him. At around 4 p.m., villagers told them that a burned body was found in a paddy field in Jabripara.

“My heart sank with an unknown fear lest the body was my man’s. I told my daughter to go, but she refused. I pressed her and she accompanied me to the spot. By the time I reached there, the police had packed the body to take it to the station,” Hemrom said.

“Just looking at his feet and a piece of the shirt, I recognized that he was my man. Me and my daughter started screaming,” she said.

Land grab?

Soren’s parents converted to Catholicism before he was born. The family home sits adjacent to the local Catholic Church (pictured).

Hemrom suggested that Muslim extremists were behind the murder, a theory dismissed by a local priest and police, who said a land dispute could be to blame.

“We are still confused about why he was killed,” Hemrom said. “We have been living peacefully with our Muslim brothers in the adjacent Musolman Para.”

She said she would struggle to feed the couple’s two children, Shyamoli, 13, and Joy, 8.

“I will not file any case as I have no wealth,” Hemrom said, adding, “Allah would try the killers.”

The Rev. William Mermu said Soren had no issues with anyone.

“We cannot assert at this stage that the militants killed him. The Christians in Niamatpur have not received any threats from Islamists. Again, land related disputes can be a cause. So, we want a fair investigation on the murder,” he said.

Soren sold most of his land for 120,000 takas (U.S. $1,520) and repaired their house. Neighbor Somoy Soren, 60, said he heard that people had tried to take the rest of Luis Soren’s land.

“The family members would not tell anything to you or police for fear,” he said.

Police agreed that a land dispute could be the cause.

“We will examine whether he was killed for land-related disputes and what his wife may not know,” said Haque, the Niamatpur Police officer-in-charge.

Fazle Hossain Badsha, the chairman of a parliamentary caucus on indigenous people in Bangladesh, said that the Santal and other aboriginal people in the northwestern districts have been subjected to attacks from powerful local people who try to take their land.

“The state must protect them,” he said.


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