Condemning the brute firing by the Bihar Police on Kaimur’s Kharwar Adivasis, peacefully protesting the consistent harassment by the forest department and non-implementation of the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 on September 10-11, 2020, CPI (M)’s Brinda Karat who is also vice president of the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch’s Vice-President asserted that Adivasis had prime claim to their ancestral lands.
She was speaking at an online press conference organised by the All India Union of Forest Working Peoples (AIUFWP), Citizens for Justice & Peace (C
JP) and Delhi Solidarity Group (DSG) on October 23. The protesters had followed all legal procedures to exercise their democratic right to protest, she added.
A fact-finding report was released during the conference which contained details of the on the spot visit, investigation detailing the series of events that culminated in the firing at Adhaura block. It concluded by listing the community’s persistant demands for the repeal of the 1927 Indian Forest Act, the implementation of the Forest Rights Act of 2006, the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act and the recognition of Kaimur hills as a scheduled area under Schedule V of the Constitution.
Karat praised the community for their consistent stands and courageous protests and supported their demand for a judicial inquiry into the firing against the 1000 assembled protesters, quashing of the false cases and FIRs lodged against 29 of them (seven of them were arrested and jailed and released on bail only on October 16), prosecution of the offending officers and compensation for the aggrieved protesters.
The Video of her speech can be viewed here
Further, Karat also supported the adivasis’ demand to reconsider the tiger reserve plan and pointed out that according to the 2006 amendments to the Wildlife Protection Act, such projects cannot be undertaken without the prior consent of the Scheduled tribes living in the area. She argued that forest officials are not only violating the Forest Rights Act but they are also violating amended clauses under the Wildlife Protection Act which passed by the Environment Ministry.
“These “ease-of-doing business policies” of the Modi Govt will destroy natural resources, the land and livelihood rights of Adivasis,” Brinda Karat asserted. Whether through mining companies, irrigation projects, tourism, timber industries, the aim was the same : privates companies are being allowed to exploit our natural treasures, she said.
She questioned the manner in which the FIRs had been filed against the KMM and the basis on which the officials called them a Maoist organisation when they were only protesting peacefully and democratically.
“If you examine the FIRs lodged by the police against the protesters, they are completely baseless. They had sought permission to protest there. They had a right to protest at the spot. Yet, the forest department wreaked havoc in 108 villages and burnt down one of their offices,” said Karat. Karat encouraged the Adivasi communities to assert “Yes! This is my ancestral land!” (Ye meri baap ki zameen hai!) the next time anyone questions their right to reside in forests.
Karat heavily criticised the Nitish-government for one of the worst performances in terms of forest land and livelihood rights. While enumerating that the records of other state governments were also poor, she stated that Bihar’s record under Nitish Kumar was the very worst: Bihar under Nitish Kumar has just not recognised or accepted community rights claims of Adivasis and Forest Dwellers. Even on individual claims under FRA 2006, Karat said that only 8,000 claims have been filed in Bihar of which only 121 pattas have been sanctioned!
“This is an undeclared battle against the government. Kaimur is not the first instance of an attack on Adivasi rights. There has been a persistent attack by the government on the legal rights of forest dwellers. People need to remove this anti-adivasi government in the state,” she said. Bihar goes to polls next week and this region votes on October 28.
Teaccher and Adivasi leader Subhash Kharwar, part of the local Kharwar community and also victim of the assault narrated the plight of the agitating Adivasis of Kaimur who had been struggling for over three decades to assert their rights. Adhaura;s Adivasis continue to make the same demands that they did two decades ago that they had made on the day of the firing:
“The government does not listen to us. We do not have health facilities. The one hospital in the district has been turned into a military (CRPF) camp. Our schools only stand as a concrete structure with no teachers. There is no electricity, no roads to connect our villages to the main district. We have no mode of communication barring the one BSNL tower. All this while, we are called Naxalites and have to deal with forest officials who deny our right to this land,” he said.
Building on this notion, CJP Secretary Teesta Setalvad stated that out of 108 adivasi villages, 72 villages had educational facilities, 22 villages had transport, only 13 villages had banks, 11 villages had health facilities and by 2011, 2 villages managed to receive electricity.
Setalvad said that the grievances of these communities are a serious issue which needs to be well-understood by journalists covering urban issues as well. “As journalists, we also need to look towards forests, especially during elections. We hope that this fact-finding report will help voice the issues in the area. The CJP stands with Adivasis, be it to navigate legal situations or to fight false cases and complaints,” she said.
About the fact-finding report
The Fact-Finding was carried out d by a four-member team including AIUFWP’s Amir Sherwani Khan and Matadayal, DSG’s Raja Rabbi Hussain and Supreme Court advocate Aman Khan who visited six villages from September 23 to September 27.
The report summarises the event that demanded a judicial inquiry into the firing, prosecution of officials responsible for firing and the withdrawal of false cases lodged against members of the Kaimur Mukti Morcha (KMM.)
Speaking about his experiences while collecting data, Khan said that he was especially frustrated by the fact that the tribal community was neither given forest nor were they allowed employment under the MGNREGA scheme.
He also mentioned that families of some of the detained or injured were never informed about the incident. Thus, many people were unaware about the protesters’ whereabouts.
Similarly, Matadayal talked about the fear among people to voice their complaints against officials. He suggested lodging a complaint from the Adivasi’s side against the police and forest department – an initiative that the CJP-AIUFWP would readily offer support for.
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