35 Adivasis arrested after face-off with Forest Department

Two Adivasi activists associated with the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS) claim that they were threatened with arrest during policeRepresentation Image

Burhanpur, March 2023: Two Adivasi activists associated with the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS) claim that they were threatened with arrest during police questioning following the arrest of 35 other Adivasi activists after a face-off with the Forest Department in Madhya Pradesh’s Burhanpur region. The two have been also called for questioning today.

The region has seen a history of violence against Adivasi communities by the notorious Forest Department. The Forest Department periodically attempts to illegally “evict” Adivasis of Pachayat Baldi from their land by using force, sometimes employing violence and intimidation tactics such as illegal detention, physical assault, and even money extortion. This is a violation of section 4 (5) of the Forest Rights Act which does not recognize eviction at all. These section of the emancipator law states that forest dwelling person from a Scheduled Tribe or other traditional communities should not evicted or removed from the forest land they occupy until the recognition and verification procedure is complete.

In a statement released by JADS recently, they detail the following: JADS activists received a call from the locals of Baldi Panchayat on February 2, 2023 informing them about the illegal arrest of four people – two men and two women. They were picked up from their homes and taken to an unknown location with no information given to their families, a violation of settled law and jurisprudence. At this stage when this happened, JADS activists immediately contacted the DFO (District forest officer) and District Collector, Burhanpur, asking them to intervene in the matter and ensure that due process of law was followed. Anxiously looking for those who were picked up, other villagers went to the Range Office in Burhanpur and heard shouts and screams and other sounds of torture from the office building. Thereafter there was a reported clash between villagers and the forest staff after this. It was after this ‘confrontation’ that around 20 men and 15 women were arrested by the police while they were on their way back to their village.

The very next next day, Antaram Awase, a young Advisadi activist, and Nitin, a graduate from TISS, went to meet the DFO, SP and District Collector, to find out what had happened. Instead, they found themselves implicated in the conflict for merely speaking to the arrested villagers on the phone. The two were in fact not in Burhanpur at the time. They have called the two for questioning on March 9, yesterday.

These two activists, both Antaram and Nitin have been working with JADS for over five years and are at the forefront of the campaign to spread awareness about legal Forest Rights. JADS, currently active with tribals across four districts in MP – Barwani, Khargone, Khandwa and Burhanpur – is a community led organisation and plays an important role in highlighting illegal fellings of trees on Adivasi land and underhanded attempts to suppress their forest rights. The attempt to implicate the two JADS activists can only be read as an attempt to suppress this campaign.


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