A cry for justice in Bangladesh's forests

Thousands of ethnic people face an existential threat due to a govt rezoning of their ancestral land
A cry for justice in Bangladesh's forests

Ethnic indigenous students form a human chain in Dhaka in 2016 to protest the government's rezoning of their forest and the harassment of ethnic communities. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews)

January 3, 2004, is a day that will forever haunt Utpal Nokrek, 33, a Catholic from the ethnic Garo community in the Madhupur Sal forest area of Tangail district in central Bangladesh.

Utpal, then 18, had joined 5,000 other Garo people in a peaceful protest rally and march toward the local forest department office to oppose the construction of Madhupur National Park, a state-sponsored eco-park, on their ancestral land.

The Garo people began their protest just as the forest department started building walls, encircling villages and restricting the free movement of communities who had been living there for generations.

An imminent eviction threat was just a matter of days for this mostly Catholic ethnic people.

Suddenly, shots rang out from the police and Utpal was hit in the back, critically damaging his spinal cord and permanently paralyzing his lower body.

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