Image Courtesy: Twitter
Social media has been flooded with videos of Adivasis dancing and celebrating their win over corrupt forest officials. Burhanpur Adivasis had been protesting outside the SDM office in Nepanagar against the harsh and illegal Forest Conservation Rules, 2022 and the long standing non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in the district. The protestors have occupied the Nepanagar Tehsil Office, in Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh.
A group of approximately 4,000 tribals had been staging a protest outside the Burhanpur collector office since January 24. Through this protest, the adivasis were expressing their outrage against the inadequate implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and the day-to-day interference of Forest Department personnel on their farmlands. On January 24, thousands of Adivasis demanded that the district administration immediately begin implementing the FRA, threatening to initiate a continuous protest until the process of their claims was completed.
For more than two days, Adivasis demanded that their forest rights claims be verified through the Gram Sabha, that wrongfully processed claims be returned, and that the MP Vanmitra portal be reopened for those who were illegally denied the opportunity to register their claims due to the closure of the MP Vanmitra portal. Additionally, the Adivasis had alleged everyday harassment by forest cops and the involvement of forest officials in the illegal felling of trees to mint money.
Adivasis were especially adamant about FRA compliance, realizing that FRA implementation is being deliberately slowed to facilitate forest diversion with the new revisions in the Forest Conservation Rules, 2022. The new Forest Conservation Rules allow for the transfer of land to projects before the verification of claims is concluded, which violates the Gram Sabha’s rights. Adivasis are obvious that the state is dragging on forest rights in order to facilitate forest diversion.
Aside from the execution of the Forest Rights Act, protesters in the tribal-populated Nepanagar town in Burhanpur district sought decent schools, electricity, jobs, and a mandi. Tribals have claimed to be forced to travel to Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and other states in quest of work. Families with children stated that they were becoming bonded laborers in the sugarcane fields by taking a “advance” of only Rs. 15,000 – Rs 20,000 for three months, and they are also subjected to sexual exploitation.
After a long continuous protest staged by the resolute Advisis, they can be seen welcoming the hard-earned victory midst songs and slogans. The triumphant Adivasis of Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathanhave now ended the protest.
The video can be viewed here:
VICTORY FOR ADIVASIS OF BURHANPUR AS OCCUPATION OF NEPANAGAR SDM OFFICE BY OVER A THOUSAND ADIVASIS ENDS; RESOLUTE ADIVASIS RETURN WITH ALL DEMANDS FULFILLED, KICK-START VERIFICATION OF CLAIMS FOR ENTIRE DISTRICT pic.twitter.com/3sxfoTPiCQ
— Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (@JADS_mp) February 9, 2023
Details of the protest staged
Following their arrival at the collectorate, the irate tribals sought to meet with District Collector Bhavya Mittal in order to hand over a memorandum and lay out their demands. The collector, however, refused, sending her subordinate SDM Deepak Chouhan and Lakhan Aggrawal, joint-secretary, Burhanpur Tribal Affairs Department, to meet with the protesters.
The outraged tribal protestors confronted SDM with probing questions concerning the Forest Rights Act and its violations, to which he failed to respond. In a video, a protester can be heard saying: “The officers do not know the laws, cannot enforce them, and have the audacity to take action against wrongdoers. We can handle the administration if they leave the chair.”
The demonstrators also claimed in front of the officials that forest officials and police officers frequently asked for money from tribal farmers whose land applications are pending and who live near the forest.
Protesters said that people who refused to pay forest officials were labeled as “outsiders” or “encroachers,” and that their ready-to-harvest crops or even homes were mowed down by JCBs. “They demand money from farmers for running tractors and threshing machines in their fields under the guise of enforcing forest restrictions. They also make money by selling forest produce and expensive woods “claimed AntramAwase, a JADS-affiliated tribal activist.
Previous instances of abusefaced by the Adivasis of Burhanpur
On July 9, 2019, Adivasis of Gram Panchayat Siwal situated in Burhanpurwere fired upon with pellets by the Forest Department as they attempted to protect their sown crops from being destroyed by forest officials, revenue officials and the police. When the villagers protested, they were fired with pellet guns, leaving four injured.
Following the brazen denial of tribal rights by the forest administration and the state machinery, the Adivasis of Burhanpur had gathered at the Burhanpur collectorate to register a strong protest against the Forest Department’s illegal firing and its constant violations of the Forest Rights Act and government orders. The Adivasis occupied the collectorate square and eyewitnesses recounted with anger the event of forest department Ranger Rajesh Randhawe shooting at Adivasis.