Skip to main content
Sabrang
Sabrang
Dalit Bahujan Adivasi

Struggle for forest rights, not an isolated movement: AIUFWP

Forest rights activists celebrate small victories and discusses regional mobilisation before concluding 2nd National Conference of AIUFWP and beginning a new year

Sabrangindia 04 Dec 2021

AIUFWP

As many as 7,000 (seven thousand villages)  in India still aren’t recognised as per their revenue to enjoy benefits of the Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA), reported the All India Union for Forest Working People (AIUFWP) during its second national conference between December 1 and December 3, 2021.

Forest and Adivasi activists gathered in New Delhi to discuss the state of forest rights amidst the present political situation of the country. AIUFWP members discussed the challenges in the implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA).

Speaking during the briefing session of the conference, AIUFWP General Secretary Ashok Chaudhary said, “Our mission is to ensure that the forest rights movement is integrated into other democratic movements. It is important to understand the struggle as a fundamental political issue related to India’s political-economic structure.”

Looking back at the history of the forest rights struggle, he recalled how millions of forest dwelling communities fought for their rights during colonial rule. After a long struggle the FRA was passed to “undo the historical injustices suffered by forest dependent communities.”

The FRA put in place a three-stage process by which the rights of indigenous and other forest dwelling communities were to be recorded and recognised. It listed thirteen types of rights, including individual rights and community rights over land being cultivated, rights to non-timber forest produce, and most crucially, the right to protect and conserve forests which no Indian law had ever recognised as a right before. It also provided immense legal support to the forest-dwelling communities, allowing a proper process for rehabilitation in cases of their eviction and several other protective laws. The AIUFWP has been working for the last seven years to ensure the regularisation of this law across India. Doing so ensures land and livelihood security to indigenous communities.

“However, so far, the law has been regularised only in parts of Uttar Pradesh and north West Bengal. So, the Union is focused on assisting evicted communities reclaim their land, provided they are satisfied with the state of the land. We’ve already succeeded in this regard in places like Sonbhadra, Dudhwa, Kaimur,” said Chaudhary.

Forest rights not an isolated issue

During the conference, AIUFWP members resolved to keep voicing the need to shift the power related to forest decision in the hands of local Gram Sabhas. For the same, members stressed that forest rights is not an isolated movement.

Chaudhary said that the recent farmers' struggle has largely impacted adivasis as well, who are farmers as well. He argued that land rights and forest rights are integral issues that weave in problems related to labour, human rights.

“The main point is not to see the struggle in isolation because forests contain many diverse communities. It is not just farmers or labourers. Forests also have minorities that have suffered during the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.

Accordingly, he also sympathised with members of the Gujjar and Muslim communities who tolerated severe xenophobia during Covid-19.

To show their support for other democratic mobilisation in India, President Sokalo Gond along with many other members headed towards farmer protest sites on December 4.

AIUFWP regional reports

The second-half of the conference began with regional reports of communities. The Kaimur delegation talked about how women members reclaimed forests despite being sent to jail. The Bihar government’s forest department has not claimed the land. While conflict persists in the area, the women said they will stand firm in asserting their legal and constitutional rights. Leaders considered this an achievement in itself.

Similarly, delegates from Kerala reported how community members were surrounded by authorities and disallowed from stepping outside their area. Latest reports said that the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) party members have approached locals for talks.

Further, communities in the northern part of West Bengal are struggling to regulate the FRA owing to territorial autonomy. While two districts managed to realise this goal post-elections, the Gorkha region remains autonomous.

AIUFWP’s women trailblazers

The strength of women leaders in the movement was highlighted all the more when another woman was elected President by the Union on Friday – Sokalo Gond. According to leaders, women leadership is a crucial step in the way of women empowerment.

“It is important to acknowledge women’s contributions. Sometimes men struggle in being led by women. However, in the forest rights struggle and during the session, the women led the whole discussion,” said Chaudhary.

Sokalo Gond is also among the women forest rights defenders from Lilasi village, who stood up against police brutality in May 2018. She was illegally detained and along with Kismatiya Gond, for months until a sustained campaign by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) helped their release.

For her Presidential speech to attendees Sokalo said, “We know we need to challenge the ruling regime, and for that we need to firstly, make sure the four district members present here voice their grievances. We will show them our work to improve health and education and our next generation will get the opportunities we didn’t.”

AIUFWP

The rights activist also challenged the Supreme Court’s 2019 order that called for the large-scale eviction of forest-dwellers, based on the Indian Forest Act 1927.

Introducing AIUFWP Team

Aside from Sonbhadra’s Sokalo, the AIUFWP went through many place-holder changes. While Jarjum Ete became the President Emeritus, former General Secretary Ashok Choudhary became the Working President. Similarly, former Deputy General Secretary Roma Malik became the General Secretary.

Dehradun Adivasi leader and veteran activist Munni Lal became the Treasurer and Delhi’s Amir Khan took the post of National Organising Secretary. Seven individuals took up the post of Vice-President including three women: CJP Secretary Teesta Setalvad, Malapurram’s Chitra M. R. and Lakhimpur Kheri’s Nabada Rana. Other VPs are Mujhahid Nafees, Kishore Thapa, Balkeswar Kharwar and Mata Dayal. Newly appointed AIUFWP Secretaries are K. Krishnan, Sarath Cheloor, Shiva Sunwar, Tapas Mondal.

Towards the conclusion of the event, the AIUFWP thanked other organisations like the National Trade Union of India (NTUI) for attending the event and expressing their support for the struggle. NTUI General Secretary Gautam Modi promised the Union’s continued support in the communities’ efforts to protect their jal, jangal, zameen.

Related:

Teesta Setalvad calls out modern day "zamindars" who are trying to usurp control of India's forests
AIUFWP’s 2nd National Conference begins in New Delhi
AIUFWP’s second National Conference to discuss land, legal, constitutional rights and more
Jal, Jungle, Zameen: Chhattisgarh Adivasis march 300kms to oppose coal mining projects

Struggle for forest rights, not an isolated movement: AIUFWP

Forest rights activists celebrate small victories and discusses regional mobilisation before concluding 2nd National Conference of AIUFWP and beginning a new year

AIUFWP

As many as 7,000 (seven thousand villages)  in India still aren’t recognised as per their revenue to enjoy benefits of the Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA), reported the All India Union for Forest Working People (AIUFWP) during its second national conference between December 1 and December 3, 2021.

Forest and Adivasi activists gathered in New Delhi to discuss the state of forest rights amidst the present political situation of the country. AIUFWP members discussed the challenges in the implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA).

Speaking during the briefing session of the conference, AIUFWP General Secretary Ashok Chaudhary said, “Our mission is to ensure that the forest rights movement is integrated into other democratic movements. It is important to understand the struggle as a fundamental political issue related to India’s political-economic structure.”

Looking back at the history of the forest rights struggle, he recalled how millions of forest dwelling communities fought for their rights during colonial rule. After a long struggle the FRA was passed to “undo the historical injustices suffered by forest dependent communities.”

The FRA put in place a three-stage process by which the rights of indigenous and other forest dwelling communities were to be recorded and recognised. It listed thirteen types of rights, including individual rights and community rights over land being cultivated, rights to non-timber forest produce, and most crucially, the right to protect and conserve forests which no Indian law had ever recognised as a right before. It also provided immense legal support to the forest-dwelling communities, allowing a proper process for rehabilitation in cases of their eviction and several other protective laws. The AIUFWP has been working for the last seven years to ensure the regularisation of this law across India. Doing so ensures land and livelihood security to indigenous communities.

“However, so far, the law has been regularised only in parts of Uttar Pradesh and north West Bengal. So, the Union is focused on assisting evicted communities reclaim their land, provided they are satisfied with the state of the land. We’ve already succeeded in this regard in places like Sonbhadra, Dudhwa, Kaimur,” said Chaudhary.

Forest rights not an isolated issue

During the conference, AIUFWP members resolved to keep voicing the need to shift the power related to forest decision in the hands of local Gram Sabhas. For the same, members stressed that forest rights is not an isolated movement.

Chaudhary said that the recent farmers' struggle has largely impacted adivasis as well, who are farmers as well. He argued that land rights and forest rights are integral issues that weave in problems related to labour, human rights.

“The main point is not to see the struggle in isolation because forests contain many diverse communities. It is not just farmers or labourers. Forests also have minorities that have suffered during the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.

Accordingly, he also sympathised with members of the Gujjar and Muslim communities who tolerated severe xenophobia during Covid-19.

To show their support for other democratic mobilisation in India, President Sokalo Gond along with many other members headed towards farmer protest sites on December 4.

AIUFWP regional reports

The second-half of the conference began with regional reports of communities. The Kaimur delegation talked about how women members reclaimed forests despite being sent to jail. The Bihar government’s forest department has not claimed the land. While conflict persists in the area, the women said they will stand firm in asserting their legal and constitutional rights. Leaders considered this an achievement in itself.

Similarly, delegates from Kerala reported how community members were surrounded by authorities and disallowed from stepping outside their area. Latest reports said that the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) party members have approached locals for talks.

Further, communities in the northern part of West Bengal are struggling to regulate the FRA owing to territorial autonomy. While two districts managed to realise this goal post-elections, the Gorkha region remains autonomous.

AIUFWP’s women trailblazers

The strength of women leaders in the movement was highlighted all the more when another woman was elected President by the Union on Friday – Sokalo Gond. According to leaders, women leadership is a crucial step in the way of women empowerment.

“It is important to acknowledge women’s contributions. Sometimes men struggle in being led by women. However, in the forest rights struggle and during the session, the women led the whole discussion,” said Chaudhary.

Sokalo Gond is also among the women forest rights defenders from Lilasi village, who stood up against police brutality in May 2018. She was illegally detained and along with Kismatiya Gond, for months until a sustained campaign by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) helped their release.

For her Presidential speech to attendees Sokalo said, “We know we need to challenge the ruling regime, and for that we need to firstly, make sure the four district members present here voice their grievances. We will show them our work to improve health and education and our next generation will get the opportunities we didn’t.”

AIUFWP

The rights activist also challenged the Supreme Court’s 2019 order that called for the large-scale eviction of forest-dwellers, based on the Indian Forest Act 1927.

Introducing AIUFWP Team

Aside from Sonbhadra’s Sokalo, the AIUFWP went through many place-holder changes. While Jarjum Ete became the President Emeritus, former General Secretary Ashok Choudhary became the Working President. Similarly, former Deputy General Secretary Roma Malik became the General Secretary.

Dehradun Adivasi leader and veteran activist Munni Lal became the Treasurer and Delhi’s Amir Khan took the post of National Organising Secretary. Seven individuals took up the post of Vice-President including three women: CJP Secretary Teesta Setalvad, Malapurram’s Chitra M. R. and Lakhimpur Kheri’s Nabada Rana. Other VPs are Mujhahid Nafees, Kishore Thapa, Balkeswar Kharwar and Mata Dayal. Newly appointed AIUFWP Secretaries are K. Krishnan, Sarath Cheloor, Shiva Sunwar, Tapas Mondal.

Towards the conclusion of the event, the AIUFWP thanked other organisations like the National Trade Union of India (NTUI) for attending the event and expressing their support for the struggle. NTUI General Secretary Gautam Modi promised the Union’s continued support in the communities’ efforts to protect their jal, jangal, zameen.

Related:

Teesta Setalvad calls out modern day "zamindars" who are trying to usurp control of India's forests
AIUFWP’s 2nd National Conference begins in New Delhi
AIUFWP’s second National Conference to discuss land, legal, constitutional rights and more
Jal, Jungle, Zameen: Chhattisgarh Adivasis march 300kms to oppose coal mining projects

Related Articles

Sunday

03

Jan

Pan-India

Saturday

05

Dec

05 pm onwards

Rise in Rage!

North Gate, JNU campus

Thursday

26

Nov

10 am onwards

Delhi Chalo

Pan India

Theme

Taliban 2021

Taliban in Afghanistan: A look back

Communalism Combat had taken a deep dive into the lives of people of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Here we reproduce some of our archives documenting the plight of hapless Afghanis, especially women, who suffered the most under the hardline regime.
2020

Milestones 2020

In the year devastated by the Covid 19 Pandemic, India witnessed apathy against some of its most marginalised people and vilification of dissenters by powerful state and non state actors. As 2020 draws to a close, and hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers continue their protest in the bitter North Indian cold. Read how Indians resisted all attempts to snatch away fundamental and constitutional freedoms.
Migrant Diaries

Migrant Diaries

The 2020 COVID pandemic brought to fore the dismal lives that our migrant workers lead. Read these heartbreaking stories of how they lived before the pandemic, how the lockdown changed their lives and what they’re doing now.
Delhi HC

Hate Speech and Delhi Pogrom 2020

A spate of provocative speeches, that amount to hate speech in law and should be prosecuted allowed blood letting to spill on the streets of north east Delhi in February-March 2020

Campaigns

Sunday

03

Jan

Pan-India

Saturday

05

Dec

05 pm onwards

Rise in Rage!

North Gate, JNU campus

Thursday

26

Nov

10 am onwards

Delhi Chalo

Pan India

Videos

Dalit Bahujan Adivasi

Why are Adivasis protesting against power projects in Ajodhya Hills?

Adivasis and local residents, opposed to the newly proposed hydel power project in the remote Ajodhya Hills in West Bengal, are heightening their prolonged protests against these projects. Watch this sabrangindia exclusive to hear what Adivasi Activists, local residents, forest dwellers and environmentalists have to say.

Dalit Bahujan Adivasi

Why are Adivasis protesting against power projects in Ajodhya Hills?

Adivasis and local residents, opposed to the newly proposed hydel power project in the remote Ajodhya Hills in West Bengal, are heightening their prolonged protests against these projects. Watch this sabrangindia exclusive to hear what Adivasi Activists, local residents, forest dwellers and environmentalists have to say.

IN FACT

Analysis

Taliban 2021

Taliban in Afghanistan: A look back

Communalism Combat had taken a deep dive into the lives of people of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Here we reproduce some of our archives documenting the plight of hapless Afghanis, especially women, who suffered the most under the hardline regime.
2020

Milestones 2020

In the year devastated by the Covid 19 Pandemic, India witnessed apathy against some of its most marginalised people and vilification of dissenters by powerful state and non state actors. As 2020 draws to a close, and hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers continue their protest in the bitter North Indian cold. Read how Indians resisted all attempts to snatch away fundamental and constitutional freedoms.
Migrant Diaries

Migrant Diaries

The 2020 COVID pandemic brought to fore the dismal lives that our migrant workers lead. Read these heartbreaking stories of how they lived before the pandemic, how the lockdown changed their lives and what they’re doing now.
Delhi HC

Hate Speech and Delhi Pogrom 2020

A spate of provocative speeches, that amount to hate speech in law and should be prosecuted allowed blood letting to spill on the streets of north east Delhi in February-March 2020

Archives