Household consists of wife, younger brother (Probhash), and brother’s wife. Of Pratap’s three children, one son works in Khulna in a pharmaceutical company, one son, of school-going age, lives with him. His daughter is married. Probhash has two sons, one of school-going age living with them, and another living in Khulna.
Radhanagar village, Modhukhali, Polder 20, Deluti Union, Paikgacha Upazila, Bangladesh
Regularly migrates to various parts within Khulna and outside—as far as Faridpur and Gopalganj upazila—as agricultural labourer.
Agricultural labour, brother works in agricultural labour and as a mason
Pratap Sarker has seen first-hand how his village has changed over the course of a mere forty years. A resident of Radhanagar village in Modhukhali of Deluti Union in Paikgacha upazila of Khulna, Pratap today works as a seasonal labourer. He explains that even during his father, Amulya Sarker’s time—who had to migrate to India during the Liberation War in 1971—the conditions were not as bad as they are today. There are no jobs, no vegetation, no drinking water—morok legeche (there is a famine), in his words. Most people of the area work as seasonal labourers, travelling within and outside Khulna to earn a living. But once, he says, their area was bountiful, and people from far away would come here looking for work.
Pratap’s story is tied to that of the conflict over land that is characteristic in rural Bangladesh, as well as to the rise of export-oriented commercial shrimp aquaculture in the country beginning in the 1980s. Radhanagar, which is part of Polder 20 (polders are embanked areas in coastal Bangladesh created through a Dutch-funded water management project in the 1960s) has little vegetation and no pasture for cows. Everywhere one looks, there are fields of saline water: shrimp farms or ghers.
The loss of livelihood of people like Pratap who lived off agriculture is tied to the rise of shrimp aquaculture. This is not only due to the conversion of agricultural land for ghers but also due to the increasing soil salinity in the area resulting from brackish water shrimp farming.
What followed was a struggle for possession as his elder brother spent resources trying to regain control over the land, while the land was being converted for shrimp farming by the outsider. False cases were filed against Pratap’s older brother, Anjan Sarker, to discourage him and their father. He faced police harassment, and according to Pratap, all of these wore him out, and eventually killed him.
Pratap’s story parallels the history of the land he once worked. His brother and he had laboured as sharecroppers on a piece of land for years, before finding out that his grandfather had actually bought that land in the 1960s. Learning of this, Pratap’s family had filed a case to regain possession of the land in 2000, and even received a verdict in their favour. But after that the story gets complicated: the previous owner had in the meantime transferred power of attorney to a third person, who in turn had sold it using forged documents to a bahiragoto— ‘outsider’. What followed was a struggle for possession as his elder brother spent resources trying to regain control over the land, while the land was being converted for shrimp farming by the outsider. False cases were filed against Pratap’s older brother, Anjan Sarker, to discourage him and their father. He faced constant police harassment, and according to Pratap, all of this wore him and eventually ended up killing him. Both Amulya and Anjan passed away within a year of each other around seven or eight years ago.
With his father and brother dead, and their resources spent, Pratap and his younger brother Probhash decided to no longer try regaining the land that was rightfully theirs. They lost all access to the land in 2018, and from being a farmer, he became an agricultural labourer. Now, he travels from his village to markets near Khulna town—an expensive trip—in the hope of being chosen, from hundreds of others like him, by landowners needing labourers to work in their fields. Contracts are made, with specific durations and arrangements, and as he explains, he has to spend half the year outside his village. The wages vary according to the market, and for survival, he says, he has been all over the country—going as far as Faridpur and Gopalganj. His brother, who is like him an agricultural labourer, at times works as a mason. With agricultural jobs difficult to come by, women in the area, Pratap says, usually work to clear hyacinth from shrimp ghers, an activity which has harmful health effects on these women.
Prabhash joined Nijera Kori’s landless grouçs (bhumiheen samity) during the 1990s, when the murder of a landless woman, Karunamoyee Sarder, in Polder 22 by goons hired by a shrimp farm-owner had led to a mass movement against the industry. Today, he lives on a piece of land which he says is government-owned vested property, which raises the concern of what happens to their homestead if the government decides to repurpose the land for anything else.
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