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Chhattisgarh: Cases against 726 tribals withdrawn

These cases were withdrawn based on the report of a Committee formed in March 2019 to protect tribals from harassment

05 Jun 2021

Image Courtesy:nationalheraldindia.com

The Chhattisgarh government has withdrawn cases against 726 tribals from naxal affected areas, based on the recommendation of a committee, reported The Hindu. As many as 594 cases were registered against these members of tribal communities, as per a Public Relations Department official.

The Committee was formed in March 2019 headed by Justice (retd) AK Patnaik to review police cases filed against tribals in the insurgency areas, especially Bastar. The Hindu reported that the review was a part of the state’s three-pronged strategy of building trust, ensure security and bring development to tribal areas to rid them of left-wing extremism.

The district officials and the police were also given the task to review cases within their jurisdiction and they identified 365 cases against tribals for speedy trials. The Patnaik committee had recommended withdrawal of 626 cases of which 594 have been withdrawn from courts, and the rest are pending withdrawal. The review of cases was a decision taken by Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel after he came to power in December 2018.

Related:

Urgent action needed against spread of Covid in tribal areas!
Move Van Gujjar families forced to live in tents, to pucca houses: Uttarakhand HC
Silger firing: Collector orders probe, requests protesters to return home

Chhattisgarh: Cases against 726 tribals withdrawn

These cases were withdrawn based on the report of a Committee formed in March 2019 to protect tribals from harassment

Image Courtesy:nationalheraldindia.com

The Chhattisgarh government has withdrawn cases against 726 tribals from naxal affected areas, based on the recommendation of a committee, reported The Hindu. As many as 594 cases were registered against these members of tribal communities, as per a Public Relations Department official.

The Committee was formed in March 2019 headed by Justice (retd) AK Patnaik to review police cases filed against tribals in the insurgency areas, especially Bastar. The Hindu reported that the review was a part of the state’s three-pronged strategy of building trust, ensure security and bring development to tribal areas to rid them of left-wing extremism.

The district officials and the police were also given the task to review cases within their jurisdiction and they identified 365 cases against tribals for speedy trials. The Patnaik committee had recommended withdrawal of 626 cases of which 594 have been withdrawn from courts, and the rest are pending withdrawal. The review of cases was a decision taken by Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel after he came to power in December 2018.

Related:

Urgent action needed against spread of Covid in tribal areas!
Move Van Gujjar families forced to live in tents, to pucca houses: Uttarakhand HC
Silger firing: Collector orders probe, requests protesters to return home

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Urgent action needed against spread of Covid in tribal areas!

A forest rights group demands that the Government of India act to support tribal and forest dwellers affected due to Covid second surge

04 Jun 2021

Image Courtesy:newindianexpress.com

Provide a response team for tribal and forest dwelling communities adversely affected by the second wave of Covid-19, demanded civil society organisations, activists, researchers in a letter to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) on June 4, 2021.

The group said, “Covid-19 spread, which was sparse during the first wave, has increased and intensified this year compounded with poor or non-existent health service.”

Accordingly, members recommended: 

  • a government Covid-Response Cell to collect data, communicate preventive protocols and conduct RT-PCR and special vaccination drives; 
  • special monitoring of health care structure and services; 
  • immediate removal of forest-entry restrictions, allowing indigenous people to exercise rights approved by their respective Gram Sabha; 
  • state government support for transport of forest produce, its procurement and marketing to prevent distress sale; delivery of essential materials like food grains, vegetables, medicines, masks, sanitizers etc.; 
  • effective coverage with all social security schemes such as MGNREGA.

On the aspect of livelihood, the group said, “Nearly 87 percent of Adivasis are forest dependent. Minor forest produce collection, transport and sales are affected by the lockdown. State procurement and special measures to address livelihood and food security are largely absent or ineffective. Other calamities such as cyclones, forest fires and untimely rains have further pushed them to severe distress.”

The group also suggested activating State Tribal Welfare departments to ensure effective implementation of the above recommendations. It suggested that the State Tribal Welfare departments and MoTA can work together to streamline a flow of information allowing easy monitoring of the situation, status of services and response to emergencies.

Signatories like Madhu Sarin and CR Bijoy of Campaign for Survival and Dignity, Soumitra Ghosh of the All India Forum for Forest Movement, Neema Pathak Broome of Kalpavriksh, noted that 21 particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) already reported Coronavirus infection.

Prior to the letter, the group submitted a report to the government in May 2020 highlighting problems faced by Adivasis and other forest dwellers during the first wave. It demanded urgent action, including creation of a task force for quick response towards the situation.

While it is unclear whether officials responded to the report at the time, nowadays Adivasi areas lack effective and accessible health care facilities. Absence of basic equipment like oximeters, medicines, and capacity to deal with emergencies have compounded the crisis. Even to access basic health facilities, one has to travel to far away district headquarters where healthcare facilities are functioning at full-capacity.

Related:

Move Van Gujjar families forced to live in tents, to pucca houses: Uttarakhand HC
Return Assam’s land and forests to the indigenous and Adivasi people: DSG
Covid-19: Assam struggles as 90 Tea Garden workers test positive
Father Stan Swamy to remain in Taloja jail till June 7

Urgent action needed against spread of Covid in tribal areas!

A forest rights group demands that the Government of India act to support tribal and forest dwellers affected due to Covid second surge

Image Courtesy:newindianexpress.com

Provide a response team for tribal and forest dwelling communities adversely affected by the second wave of Covid-19, demanded civil society organisations, activists, researchers in a letter to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) on June 4, 2021.

The group said, “Covid-19 spread, which was sparse during the first wave, has increased and intensified this year compounded with poor or non-existent health service.”

Accordingly, members recommended: 

  • a government Covid-Response Cell to collect data, communicate preventive protocols and conduct RT-PCR and special vaccination drives; 
  • special monitoring of health care structure and services; 
  • immediate removal of forest-entry restrictions, allowing indigenous people to exercise rights approved by their respective Gram Sabha; 
  • state government support for transport of forest produce, its procurement and marketing to prevent distress sale; delivery of essential materials like food grains, vegetables, medicines, masks, sanitizers etc.; 
  • effective coverage with all social security schemes such as MGNREGA.

On the aspect of livelihood, the group said, “Nearly 87 percent of Adivasis are forest dependent. Minor forest produce collection, transport and sales are affected by the lockdown. State procurement and special measures to address livelihood and food security are largely absent or ineffective. Other calamities such as cyclones, forest fires and untimely rains have further pushed them to severe distress.”

The group also suggested activating State Tribal Welfare departments to ensure effective implementation of the above recommendations. It suggested that the State Tribal Welfare departments and MoTA can work together to streamline a flow of information allowing easy monitoring of the situation, status of services and response to emergencies.

Signatories like Madhu Sarin and CR Bijoy of Campaign for Survival and Dignity, Soumitra Ghosh of the All India Forum for Forest Movement, Neema Pathak Broome of Kalpavriksh, noted that 21 particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) already reported Coronavirus infection.

Prior to the letter, the group submitted a report to the government in May 2020 highlighting problems faced by Adivasis and other forest dwellers during the first wave. It demanded urgent action, including creation of a task force for quick response towards the situation.

While it is unclear whether officials responded to the report at the time, nowadays Adivasi areas lack effective and accessible health care facilities. Absence of basic equipment like oximeters, medicines, and capacity to deal with emergencies have compounded the crisis. Even to access basic health facilities, one has to travel to far away district headquarters where healthcare facilities are functioning at full-capacity.

Related:

Move Van Gujjar families forced to live in tents, to pucca houses: Uttarakhand HC
Return Assam’s land and forests to the indigenous and Adivasi people: DSG
Covid-19: Assam struggles as 90 Tea Garden workers test positive
Father Stan Swamy to remain in Taloja jail till June 7

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Move Van Gujjar families forced to live in tents, to pucca houses: Uttarakhand HC

The families were on their annual migration route to Govind Pashu Vihar National Park, when they were denied entry despite having permits, and were forced to live in tents

27 May 2021

Van Gujjars

The Uttarakhand High Court has directed authorities to ensure Van Gujjar families, who have been living in tents after being denied entry in the national park, are accommodated in ‘pucca houses’. 

Van Gujjars are a nomadic tribe who have been residing in forest areas of the state for centuries. The bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma observed that Article 21 of the Constitution of India forbids the State from reducing the lives of its people below the animal existence.

At a previous hearing on March 17, the court had come down heavily on the state government for constituting a committee that was not competent to examine the issues and rights of Van Gujjar community, and said that it did not appreciate the lacunae left by the government while constituting the Committee and neither did it appreciate the Committee forcing the petitioner to go before another competent authority to raise its grievances.

Petitioner’s affidavit

The petitioner, Arjun Kasana filed an affidavit highlighting that Van Gujjars, a forest dwelling community have been residing in the forest areas for last more than hundred years and are a nomadic tribe. During this time of the year, they come down to lower areas of the state and some families have migrated to Govind Pashu Vihar National Park, Uttarkashi, while holding valid permits to enter and make a living. 

The affidavit states that they have not been allowed to enter the park by the Deputy Director, Mr. Komal Singh and the families were hence, forced to live in tents and are living a hand to mouth existence as they are even unable to sell milk to neighbouring villages owing to the lockdown. The petitioner filed a supplementary affidavit with photographs of families living in tents in the open. The petitioner prayed that arrangements be made for these families by the District Magistrate and the park’s Deputy Director.

The Advocate General, SN Babulkar contended that their migration may endanger the wildlife and unless they test negative for Covid-19, they cannot be permitted to enter. To this, the petitioner responded that it is the government’s duty to conduct these tests and until such tests are arranged a reasonable arrangement should be made to save their lives.

Court’s observations

The court, after perusing, the photographs held that “Article 21 of the Constitution of India forbids the State from reducing the lives of its people below the animal existence. Every citizen not only has a right to live, but also has a right to live with dignity”, the court pointed to the callous attitude of the Deputy Director of the Park, and of the Civil Administration, which it said forced the families to survive in conditions, which are below the animal existence.

“A bare perusal of the photographs submitted with the Supplementary Affidavit clearly reveal that families are forced to live in open tents, in open field, under the open sky. The photographs also show small children, and new born babies, being wrapped in blankets, and sleeping on the ground. The photographs also reveal that some cattle are tied next to the tent, and some cattle have died,” said the court.

The court held that prima facie, the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution is being violated and hence, directed the Collector, District-Uttarkashi, and the Deputy Director of the Park to ensure that these families are comfortably accommodated in “Pacca houses”.

“They shall be provided with food, water, and medicines. They shall also be provided with fodder for their cattle. It is further directed that all the families shall be tested for Covid-19. In case, they are found to be negative, and if they are valid permit holders, arrangements shall be made to permit them to enter the Park for the duration allowed by law,” the court ordered.

The court directed both authorities to file a compliance report with regard to substantial steps taken by them to implement these directions before June 15.

The matter will be next heard on June 16.

The order may be read here:

 

Related:

Uttarakhand HC raps government over incompetent committee for examining Van Gujjar rights

Uttarakhand HC pulls up Centre for “callous attitude” on oxygen allocation

Ineligible for Covid bail, undertrial moves SC against Uttarakhand HPC’s rule

Move Van Gujjar families forced to live in tents, to pucca houses: Uttarakhand HC

The families were on their annual migration route to Govind Pashu Vihar National Park, when they were denied entry despite having permits, and were forced to live in tents

Van Gujjars

The Uttarakhand High Court has directed authorities to ensure Van Gujjar families, who have been living in tents after being denied entry in the national park, are accommodated in ‘pucca houses’. 

Van Gujjars are a nomadic tribe who have been residing in forest areas of the state for centuries. The bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma observed that Article 21 of the Constitution of India forbids the State from reducing the lives of its people below the animal existence.

At a previous hearing on March 17, the court had come down heavily on the state government for constituting a committee that was not competent to examine the issues and rights of Van Gujjar community, and said that it did not appreciate the lacunae left by the government while constituting the Committee and neither did it appreciate the Committee forcing the petitioner to go before another competent authority to raise its grievances.

Petitioner’s affidavit

The petitioner, Arjun Kasana filed an affidavit highlighting that Van Gujjars, a forest dwelling community have been residing in the forest areas for last more than hundred years and are a nomadic tribe. During this time of the year, they come down to lower areas of the state and some families have migrated to Govind Pashu Vihar National Park, Uttarkashi, while holding valid permits to enter and make a living. 

The affidavit states that they have not been allowed to enter the park by the Deputy Director, Mr. Komal Singh and the families were hence, forced to live in tents and are living a hand to mouth existence as they are even unable to sell milk to neighbouring villages owing to the lockdown. The petitioner filed a supplementary affidavit with photographs of families living in tents in the open. The petitioner prayed that arrangements be made for these families by the District Magistrate and the park’s Deputy Director.

The Advocate General, SN Babulkar contended that their migration may endanger the wildlife and unless they test negative for Covid-19, they cannot be permitted to enter. To this, the petitioner responded that it is the government’s duty to conduct these tests and until such tests are arranged a reasonable arrangement should be made to save their lives.

Court’s observations

The court, after perusing, the photographs held that “Article 21 of the Constitution of India forbids the State from reducing the lives of its people below the animal existence. Every citizen not only has a right to live, but also has a right to live with dignity”, the court pointed to the callous attitude of the Deputy Director of the Park, and of the Civil Administration, which it said forced the families to survive in conditions, which are below the animal existence.

“A bare perusal of the photographs submitted with the Supplementary Affidavit clearly reveal that families are forced to live in open tents, in open field, under the open sky. The photographs also show small children, and new born babies, being wrapped in blankets, and sleeping on the ground. The photographs also reveal that some cattle are tied next to the tent, and some cattle have died,” said the court.

The court held that prima facie, the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution is being violated and hence, directed the Collector, District-Uttarkashi, and the Deputy Director of the Park to ensure that these families are comfortably accommodated in “Pacca houses”.

“They shall be provided with food, water, and medicines. They shall also be provided with fodder for their cattle. It is further directed that all the families shall be tested for Covid-19. In case, they are found to be negative, and if they are valid permit holders, arrangements shall be made to permit them to enter the Park for the duration allowed by law,” the court ordered.

The court directed both authorities to file a compliance report with regard to substantial steps taken by them to implement these directions before June 15.

The matter will be next heard on June 16.

The order may be read here:

 

Related:

Uttarakhand HC raps government over incompetent committee for examining Van Gujjar rights

Uttarakhand HC pulls up Centre for “callous attitude” on oxygen allocation

Ineligible for Covid bail, undertrial moves SC against Uttarakhand HPC’s rule

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Silger firing: Collector orders probe, requests protesters to return home

In the firing that took place on May 17, the police claimed that 3 “maoists” were killed, while villagers deny the same

25 May 2021

MaoistRepresentation Image | PTI
 

The District Collector has directed the Magistrate to conduct an inquiry into the firing by security personnel in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma that led to, reportedly, 9 deaths. As the reports of the firing came in, police claimed that those killed were “Maoists”, a claim completely denied by the residents of Silger village. 

Also, the villagers claim that 9 persons were killed, while the police maintain that 3 persons died in the firing. The families of three deceased have returned the sum of Rs. 10,000 provided to them, and travelled 17 km to Hirapur village to meet the officials. Sukma collector Vinit Nandanwar requested the protesting villagers to return home while announcing a magisterial probe into the matter.

The representatives of the tribal communities met the Inspector General of Police and the collectors of Sukma and Bijapur districts on May 23. “The probe has been set up under the executive magistrate and the report is expected to be submitted within a month,” Nandanwar said, as reported by Indian Express.

The firing took place outside the new CRPF camp on May 17. The security forces meanwhile alleged that it was “Naxal cadres, in the garb of protesting villagers,” attacked the Silger camp with “stones and gunshots… our men returned the fire and managed to bring the situation under control,” Bastar IG P Sundarraj had said.

For 10 days, more than 5000 people from over 30 villages have been protesting the decision to set up a security camp at Silger, Sukma. The police maintain that the villagers were protesting the new camp “under pressure from Maoists”. 

The Indian Express’s report from the spot on May 17 states that a villager alleged they “were beaten up by the security forces” when they went to submit the memorandum. “We also got angry and some of our people pelted stones at their vehicles and at the camp. First, the security personnel threw tear gas bombs, and then opened fire,” Krishna Kadti, 18, a Class 12 student from Jagargunda told IE adding, “people in the front fell, some of them died. When we tried to go get their bodies, we were lathi-charged again. That led to a stampede and several people fell over each other.”

 

Related:

Silger police firing: Bela Bhatia, Jean Dreze stopped from meeting survivors

Chhattisgarh: Villagers allege police fired, killed peaceful protesters at Sukma security camp

Chhattisgarh: 5 police personnel killed, 14 injured in alleged Maoists attack

Silger firing: Collector orders probe, requests protesters to return home

In the firing that took place on May 17, the police claimed that 3 “maoists” were killed, while villagers deny the same

MaoistRepresentation Image | PTI
 

The District Collector has directed the Magistrate to conduct an inquiry into the firing by security personnel in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma that led to, reportedly, 9 deaths. As the reports of the firing came in, police claimed that those killed were “Maoists”, a claim completely denied by the residents of Silger village. 

Also, the villagers claim that 9 persons were killed, while the police maintain that 3 persons died in the firing. The families of three deceased have returned the sum of Rs. 10,000 provided to them, and travelled 17 km to Hirapur village to meet the officials. Sukma collector Vinit Nandanwar requested the protesting villagers to return home while announcing a magisterial probe into the matter.

The representatives of the tribal communities met the Inspector General of Police and the collectors of Sukma and Bijapur districts on May 23. “The probe has been set up under the executive magistrate and the report is expected to be submitted within a month,” Nandanwar said, as reported by Indian Express.

The firing took place outside the new CRPF camp on May 17. The security forces meanwhile alleged that it was “Naxal cadres, in the garb of protesting villagers,” attacked the Silger camp with “stones and gunshots… our men returned the fire and managed to bring the situation under control,” Bastar IG P Sundarraj had said.

For 10 days, more than 5000 people from over 30 villages have been protesting the decision to set up a security camp at Silger, Sukma. The police maintain that the villagers were protesting the new camp “under pressure from Maoists”. 

The Indian Express’s report from the spot on May 17 states that a villager alleged they “were beaten up by the security forces” when they went to submit the memorandum. “We also got angry and some of our people pelted stones at their vehicles and at the camp. First, the security personnel threw tear gas bombs, and then opened fire,” Krishna Kadti, 18, a Class 12 student from Jagargunda told IE adding, “people in the front fell, some of them died. When we tried to go get their bodies, we were lathi-charged again. That led to a stampede and several people fell over each other.”

 

Related:

Silger police firing: Bela Bhatia, Jean Dreze stopped from meeting survivors

Chhattisgarh: Villagers allege police fired, killed peaceful protesters at Sukma security camp

Chhattisgarh: 5 police personnel killed, 14 injured in alleged Maoists attack

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Kolhapur’s Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj and his battle for Dalit-Bahujan communities

The beloved ruler is supposed to be the first king to introduce affirmative action policies in education and employment for the benefit of Dalit communities

06 May 2021

Shahu maharaj

Nowadays, a 25-paise postage stamp sporting the face of Rajarshi Shahu Chhatrapati is hard to come by. However, in the instances it does, both collectors and Ambedkarites alike will recognise the personality as a leader who earnestly worked to uplift the Dalit communities in Kolhapur.

As per the first-issue citation of the stamp, Shahu was hailed as “a social revolutionary, a true democrat, a visionary, a patron of the theatre, music and sports.” True to these words, Shahu was first and foremost, an ally of the Dalit-Bahujan communities in his princely state, and supposedly the first king to declare affirmative action for socially-disadvantaged communities. May 6, marks his death anniversary after 47 years of commendable work as a reformer.

Although born as Yeshwantrao in the Ghatge Maratha family on June 26, 1874, the young Shahu was adopted by Queen Anandibai at the age of 10. This and the consequent influence of Jyotirao Phule inspired a desire to abolish caste segregation and untouchability.

Over the years, he worked to provide primary education to all, regardless of caste. In 1918, he wrote to the then Bombay Governor Lord Sydenham saying, “The principle that majorities have no need of separate representation doesn’t hold good in a province where a selfish minority [Brahmins and similar advantaged castes] is likely to get the power.”

He thus started various initiatives such as the Hostel movement to provide hostels for Panchals, Devadnya, Nabhik, Shimpi, Dhor-Chambhar communities as well as for Muslims, Jains and Christians. He also called for a moral and material progress scheme, announced free and compulsory education, encouraged female education and the establishment of libraries. On July 26, 1902, he also implemented 50 percent reservation for Dalit and other disadvantaged section of society. Moreover, he ensured employment for students following the completion of their education.

Among other things, the Rajarshi is most famously known for the Vedokta controversy. At the time, Brahmin priests of the Royal Religious advisors refused to perform rites for non-Brahmins in accordance with Vedic hymns. However, unwilling to give Brahmins a special status, Shahu removed the priests and appointed a young Maratha as the religious leader of non-Brahmins. He gave that person the title of Kshatra Jagadguru – the world teacher of Kshatriyas.

Although this earned much scorn from non-Dalit groups, Shahu went on to abrogate the archaic Balutdari system in 1917. It stated that an “Untouchable” and their family will work for the entire village without compensation in return for a small portion of land. Then, he declared a law in 1918 that abolished the economic slavery of Mahars under the oppressive Vatandari system and introduced land reforms to enable Mahars to become owners of land.

Another thing about Shahu Maharaj that appealed to Dalit communities was his affinity with Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. Artists Dattoba Pawar and Dittoba Dalvi introduced the two revolutionary leaders to each other. Their common goal to uplift oppressed communities inspired many such meetings between 1917–1921.

In 1920, they organised a conference wherein Shahu made Ambedkar the Chairman, believing that he would lead to the betterment of Dalits in India. As a token of this faith, he donated Rs. 2,500 for the other’s newly established ‘Mooknayak’ newspaper.

Other than such broad policies, he also established the Miss Clarke Boarding School for segregated groups and Vedic Schools allowing all to learn the scriptures and Sanskrit. As for adults, he started special schools for village heads to make for more competent administrators.

Under his rule, people were to treat each other as equal regardless of social status or caste. This meant that Dalits could use the same wells, ponds, hospitals as Brahmins. Inter-caste marriage was encouraged and revenue collectors became democratically-elected posts rather than hereditary titles. Further, he prepared gymnasiums and wrestling pitches to preserve the sport.

For women, he legalised widow remarriage, prohibited child marriage and called for a law banning the devadasi tradition wherein girls were offered to Gods as sacrifices and then sexually exploited by priests.

These and several such efforts in social, political, educational, agricultural and cultural dimensions of society inspired the title of Rajarshi (royal saint), bestowed upon him by the Kurmi warrior community of Kanpur. His achievements lost their lustre following his demise in the turmoil of national and regional politics. Nonetheless, sympathisers and supporters of Shahu and his beliefs continue his legacy even today.

Related:

Ambedkar and the call to Conversion!

Dalit trailblazer, Vira Sathidar succumbs to Covid-19

IIT Prof’s meltdown, abuse of students is a lesson on how not to teach

Supporting caste: A peek at the massive machine behind the enormous Maratha rallies

Kolhapur’s Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj and his battle for Dalit-Bahujan communities

The beloved ruler is supposed to be the first king to introduce affirmative action policies in education and employment for the benefit of Dalit communities

Shahu maharaj

Nowadays, a 25-paise postage stamp sporting the face of Rajarshi Shahu Chhatrapati is hard to come by. However, in the instances it does, both collectors and Ambedkarites alike will recognise the personality as a leader who earnestly worked to uplift the Dalit communities in Kolhapur.

As per the first-issue citation of the stamp, Shahu was hailed as “a social revolutionary, a true democrat, a visionary, a patron of the theatre, music and sports.” True to these words, Shahu was first and foremost, an ally of the Dalit-Bahujan communities in his princely state, and supposedly the first king to declare affirmative action for socially-disadvantaged communities. May 6, marks his death anniversary after 47 years of commendable work as a reformer.

Although born as Yeshwantrao in the Ghatge Maratha family on June 26, 1874, the young Shahu was adopted by Queen Anandibai at the age of 10. This and the consequent influence of Jyotirao Phule inspired a desire to abolish caste segregation and untouchability.

Over the years, he worked to provide primary education to all, regardless of caste. In 1918, he wrote to the then Bombay Governor Lord Sydenham saying, “The principle that majorities have no need of separate representation doesn’t hold good in a province where a selfish minority [Brahmins and similar advantaged castes] is likely to get the power.”

He thus started various initiatives such as the Hostel movement to provide hostels for Panchals, Devadnya, Nabhik, Shimpi, Dhor-Chambhar communities as well as for Muslims, Jains and Christians. He also called for a moral and material progress scheme, announced free and compulsory education, encouraged female education and the establishment of libraries. On July 26, 1902, he also implemented 50 percent reservation for Dalit and other disadvantaged section of society. Moreover, he ensured employment for students following the completion of their education.

Among other things, the Rajarshi is most famously known for the Vedokta controversy. At the time, Brahmin priests of the Royal Religious advisors refused to perform rites for non-Brahmins in accordance with Vedic hymns. However, unwilling to give Brahmins a special status, Shahu removed the priests and appointed a young Maratha as the religious leader of non-Brahmins. He gave that person the title of Kshatra Jagadguru – the world teacher of Kshatriyas.

Although this earned much scorn from non-Dalit groups, Shahu went on to abrogate the archaic Balutdari system in 1917. It stated that an “Untouchable” and their family will work for the entire village without compensation in return for a small portion of land. Then, he declared a law in 1918 that abolished the economic slavery of Mahars under the oppressive Vatandari system and introduced land reforms to enable Mahars to become owners of land.

Another thing about Shahu Maharaj that appealed to Dalit communities was his affinity with Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. Artists Dattoba Pawar and Dittoba Dalvi introduced the two revolutionary leaders to each other. Their common goal to uplift oppressed communities inspired many such meetings between 1917–1921.

In 1920, they organised a conference wherein Shahu made Ambedkar the Chairman, believing that he would lead to the betterment of Dalits in India. As a token of this faith, he donated Rs. 2,500 for the other’s newly established ‘Mooknayak’ newspaper.

Other than such broad policies, he also established the Miss Clarke Boarding School for segregated groups and Vedic Schools allowing all to learn the scriptures and Sanskrit. As for adults, he started special schools for village heads to make for more competent administrators.

Under his rule, people were to treat each other as equal regardless of social status or caste. This meant that Dalits could use the same wells, ponds, hospitals as Brahmins. Inter-caste marriage was encouraged and revenue collectors became democratically-elected posts rather than hereditary titles. Further, he prepared gymnasiums and wrestling pitches to preserve the sport.

For women, he legalised widow remarriage, prohibited child marriage and called for a law banning the devadasi tradition wherein girls were offered to Gods as sacrifices and then sexually exploited by priests.

These and several such efforts in social, political, educational, agricultural and cultural dimensions of society inspired the title of Rajarshi (royal saint), bestowed upon him by the Kurmi warrior community of Kanpur. His achievements lost their lustre following his demise in the turmoil of national and regional politics. Nonetheless, sympathisers and supporters of Shahu and his beliefs continue his legacy even today.

Related:

Ambedkar and the call to Conversion!

Dalit trailblazer, Vira Sathidar succumbs to Covid-19

IIT Prof’s meltdown, abuse of students is a lesson on how not to teach

Supporting caste: A peek at the massive machine behind the enormous Maratha rallies

Related Articles


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Return Assam’s land and forests to the indigenous and Adivasi people: DSG

A detailed fact-finding report confirmed that the Azure Power company secured land for its solar power project at Mikir Bamuni Grant village by illegal and fraudulent means.

30 Apr 2021

AssamRepresentation Image
 

Assam’s Karbi and Adivasi communities in Mikir Bamuni Grant village in Nagaon district have lived and cultivated the 93 acres of land that was allegedly illegally secured by the Azure Power Forty Private Limited, said a DSG fact-finding report on April 30,2021.

For over a year, indigenous people and farmers in the area have been protesting the forceful takeover of their land for the construction of a 15 megawatt solar power plant by Azure Power Forty Private Ltd.

To verify these claims in the absence of any attention by local representatives, an All-India Fact-Finding Committee (FFC), constituted by Delhi Solidarity Group, responded to villagers’ appeals. Recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, also known as Green Nobel Prize, Prafulla Samantara from Odisha, Environment Support Group member Leo Saldanha from Bangalore, Centre for Financial Accountability member Bhargavi Rao from New Delhi and Delhi Solidarity Group member Amit Kumar were part of this team.

Between January 27 and January 29, members met impacted communities, Nagaon district police and revenue officials to research and gather evidence for the “The Anatomy of a Solar Land Grab - Report of a Fact-Finding Committee relating to Human Rights Violations, and Environmental & Social Impacts of 15 MW Solar Power Plant being established by Azure Power at Mikir Bamuni Grant Village, Nagaon, Assam.”

It stated that the Azure Power company was assisted by district authorities, revenue officials and police in forcibly taking over cultivated land of villagers, in abject violation of judicial orders, laws and policies.

“The construction of the solar part was undertaken with blatant abuse of police power, employed to terrorise local people into submission, and this including a variety of serious human rights abuses. Despite widespread media coverage in local dailies, no action has been initiated against guilty officials by the state government. Shockingly, the office of the Governor of Assam has been found to be involved in authorising the illegal transfer of land,” said the team in a press release.

Samantara pointed out that the Assam government, especially Nagaon administration, played a crucial role in the “corporate capture of resources” dispossessing indigenous and Adivasi people from their lands and livelihoods. Meanwhile, he alleged that the police assisted the takeover by blatantly violating people’s human rights. The Assam government has served the interest of Azure Power at the cost of human rights, livelihood, and fundamental rights of villagers, he said.

Further, the team noted that not only was the land in question cultivated for decades by local communities, it was also full of standing crops at the time of demolition. The report condemned local agricultural officials for falsely claiming that there was no cultivation for over a decade. The report said the village and its fertile land was part of an active elephant corridor and an ecologically sensitive zone that will be blocked by the construction of a solar plant.  

Kumar, who has extensively researched land and environmental laws relating to industrial corridors and mega infrastructure projects, said as per the Assam (Temporary Settled Areas) Tenancy Act 1971 clearly states that the land should have been transferred in the name of Mikir Bamuni Grant farmers. Moreover, the move also violates the Assam Fixation of Ceiling on Landholdings Act 1956.

“We were shocked to learn that these lands were first transferred to descendants of the original land grant landholder, occupancy tenant's rights over the land were deliberately ignored, and then the purchase of this land by Azure Power was accommodated by revenue officials,” he said.

Kumar said that the state government is dispossessing indigenous people from the land, by facilitating illegal transfer just as Britishers sold huge areas to big Zamindars while calling the land “wasted and uncultivated”.

Meanwhile, Saldanha said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promotion of 450GW of energy production from renewable sources is fraught with various inconsistencies, particularly the lack of appreciation of various details relating to finance demanded, and social and environmental impacts.”

He pointed out that the message to state governments instructs them to assist the transnational and national private sector to secure land in any manner. Such so-called ‘just transitions’ which are claimed as responding to challenges of climate change, are outside the purview of India’s environmental laws despite specific directions from Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal that such projects must be subordinated to environmental clearance review, said Saldanha.

Rao said, “The diversion of cultivated lands that fail in an active elephant corridor to Azure Power’s solar park, is perhaps only the beginning of a transformation of the Nagaon region to industrial infrastructure. There has been absolutely no consultation with local communities. The fact that we found elephants moving through the villages on two of the three days we were at Mikir Bamuni, exposes the Forest Department consented to the project when they should have declared the area an ecologically sensitive elephant corridor to protect elephants.”

She also mentioned disturbing accounts of women and children of terrorisation by police and company officials. As such the report demands that the government immediately halt the construction of Azure Power solar plant and take steps to restore the land to its former glory.

The FFC holds that the cost of this operation must be borne by Azure Power in consonance with the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Further, an enquiry must be initiated into the illegalities and fraud perpetuated by state officials to facilitate the unlawful transfer of land.

The report also asserts the immediate need for the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to bring solar plants and other renewable energy projects under social and environmental review as directed by the National Green Tribunal (South Zone). This decision was also asserted by the Supreme Court of India. The team recommended to all Azure Power’s Mikir Bamuni solar plant financiers to critically evaluate the basis for financing, and take necessary action for violations of various safeguards.

The full report may be viewed below:

 

Related:

Assam rocked by earthquake, people left vulnerable amidst Covid-19

EXCLUSIVE! River erosion washes away over 35 percent of Assam’s agricultural land

First Covid, now floods; NRC work still on hold in Assam

Floods wreak havoc on 31 out of 33 districts in Assam

Return Assam’s land and forests to the indigenous and Adivasi people: DSG

A detailed fact-finding report confirmed that the Azure Power company secured land for its solar power project at Mikir Bamuni Grant village by illegal and fraudulent means.

AssamRepresentation Image
 

Assam’s Karbi and Adivasi communities in Mikir Bamuni Grant village in Nagaon district have lived and cultivated the 93 acres of land that was allegedly illegally secured by the Azure Power Forty Private Limited, said a DSG fact-finding report on April 30,2021.

For over a year, indigenous people and farmers in the area have been protesting the forceful takeover of their land for the construction of a 15 megawatt solar power plant by Azure Power Forty Private Ltd.

To verify these claims in the absence of any attention by local representatives, an All-India Fact-Finding Committee (FFC), constituted by Delhi Solidarity Group, responded to villagers’ appeals. Recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, also known as Green Nobel Prize, Prafulla Samantara from Odisha, Environment Support Group member Leo Saldanha from Bangalore, Centre for Financial Accountability member Bhargavi Rao from New Delhi and Delhi Solidarity Group member Amit Kumar were part of this team.

Between January 27 and January 29, members met impacted communities, Nagaon district police and revenue officials to research and gather evidence for the “The Anatomy of a Solar Land Grab - Report of a Fact-Finding Committee relating to Human Rights Violations, and Environmental & Social Impacts of 15 MW Solar Power Plant being established by Azure Power at Mikir Bamuni Grant Village, Nagaon, Assam.”

It stated that the Azure Power company was assisted by district authorities, revenue officials and police in forcibly taking over cultivated land of villagers, in abject violation of judicial orders, laws and policies.

“The construction of the solar part was undertaken with blatant abuse of police power, employed to terrorise local people into submission, and this including a variety of serious human rights abuses. Despite widespread media coverage in local dailies, no action has been initiated against guilty officials by the state government. Shockingly, the office of the Governor of Assam has been found to be involved in authorising the illegal transfer of land,” said the team in a press release.

Samantara pointed out that the Assam government, especially Nagaon administration, played a crucial role in the “corporate capture of resources” dispossessing indigenous and Adivasi people from their lands and livelihoods. Meanwhile, he alleged that the police assisted the takeover by blatantly violating people’s human rights. The Assam government has served the interest of Azure Power at the cost of human rights, livelihood, and fundamental rights of villagers, he said.

Further, the team noted that not only was the land in question cultivated for decades by local communities, it was also full of standing crops at the time of demolition. The report condemned local agricultural officials for falsely claiming that there was no cultivation for over a decade. The report said the village and its fertile land was part of an active elephant corridor and an ecologically sensitive zone that will be blocked by the construction of a solar plant.  

Kumar, who has extensively researched land and environmental laws relating to industrial corridors and mega infrastructure projects, said as per the Assam (Temporary Settled Areas) Tenancy Act 1971 clearly states that the land should have been transferred in the name of Mikir Bamuni Grant farmers. Moreover, the move also violates the Assam Fixation of Ceiling on Landholdings Act 1956.

“We were shocked to learn that these lands were first transferred to descendants of the original land grant landholder, occupancy tenant's rights over the land were deliberately ignored, and then the purchase of this land by Azure Power was accommodated by revenue officials,” he said.

Kumar said that the state government is dispossessing indigenous people from the land, by facilitating illegal transfer just as Britishers sold huge areas to big Zamindars while calling the land “wasted and uncultivated”.

Meanwhile, Saldanha said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promotion of 450GW of energy production from renewable sources is fraught with various inconsistencies, particularly the lack of appreciation of various details relating to finance demanded, and social and environmental impacts.”

He pointed out that the message to state governments instructs them to assist the transnational and national private sector to secure land in any manner. Such so-called ‘just transitions’ which are claimed as responding to challenges of climate change, are outside the purview of India’s environmental laws despite specific directions from Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal that such projects must be subordinated to environmental clearance review, said Saldanha.

Rao said, “The diversion of cultivated lands that fail in an active elephant corridor to Azure Power’s solar park, is perhaps only the beginning of a transformation of the Nagaon region to industrial infrastructure. There has been absolutely no consultation with local communities. The fact that we found elephants moving through the villages on two of the three days we were at Mikir Bamuni, exposes the Forest Department consented to the project when they should have declared the area an ecologically sensitive elephant corridor to protect elephants.”

She also mentioned disturbing accounts of women and children of terrorisation by police and company officials. As such the report demands that the government immediately halt the construction of Azure Power solar plant and take steps to restore the land to its former glory.

The FFC holds that the cost of this operation must be borne by Azure Power in consonance with the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Further, an enquiry must be initiated into the illegalities and fraud perpetuated by state officials to facilitate the unlawful transfer of land.

The report also asserts the immediate need for the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to bring solar plants and other renewable energy projects under social and environmental review as directed by the National Green Tribunal (South Zone). This decision was also asserted by the Supreme Court of India. The team recommended to all Azure Power’s Mikir Bamuni solar plant financiers to critically evaluate the basis for financing, and take necessary action for violations of various safeguards.

The full report may be viewed below:

 

Related:

Assam rocked by earthquake, people left vulnerable amidst Covid-19

EXCLUSIVE! River erosion washes away over 35 percent of Assam’s agricultural land

First Covid, now floods; NRC work still on hold in Assam

Floods wreak havoc on 31 out of 33 districts in Assam

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SC recognises how intersection of gender, caste and disability makes one a soft target

While hearing a case realted to the rape of a visually impaired woman from a Scheduled Caste, the court also laid down guidelines on how to deal with complainants with disabilities in their interaction with the judicial system

29 Apr 2021

CasteImage: Jan Arendtsz (CC BY-ND 2.0)
 

The Supreme Court, while dealing with a case of rape committed on a girl belonging to Scheduled Caste and being visually disabled, held that application of section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act should not be shunned for the reason that the offence was not committed “only on the ground” that the victim was a member of the scheduled caste/tribe.

While the bench of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice MR Shah set out guidelines for dealing with cases where the complainant is disabled, it pointed out how courts tend to render the witness of such prosecutrix to be of less importance. The bench also raised questions about previous judgements of the apex court where Section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was given limited meaning. In some precedents the court interpreted Section 3(2)(v) to mean that the offence should have been committed “only on the ground that the victim was a member of the Scheduled Caste.” The bench held this exposition to be debatable.

Background of case

The bench was dealing with a case where a visually impaired girl belonging to Scheduled caste was raped by a friend of her brothers, who came into the house after confirming that no one was at home and committed the offence of rape on March 3, 2011.

The Andhra Pradesh High Court had affirmed the conviction of the appellant, Patan Jamal Vali, for offences under Section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 and section 376(1) of the Indian Penal Code. He was sentenced to suffer imprisonment for life for both offences, to run concurrently.

Before the High Court, it was contended by the appellant that the offence under Section 3(2)(v) of the SC/ST Act is not established as the offence was not committed on the ground that the survivor belonged to a Scheduled Caste. However, the High Court declined to accept this submission while observing that the section provides that the offence gets attracted if it is committed against a person knowing that such person is a member of a Scheduled Caste.

At the outset, the apex court held that offence of rape was made out and was proved beyond doubt basis the consistent evidence of the witnesses and the medical evidence. The court then went on to analyse whether offence under the SC/ST Act was made out.

The caste factor

“When the identity of a woman intersects with, inter alia, her caste, class, religion, disability and sexual orientation, she may face violence and discrimination due to two or more grounds,” the court stated.

The court observed that caste, religion, class, disability and sexual orientation are not merely “add ons” to the oppression that women may face and that gender oppression is oppressive in the same way for all women, only more so for women suffering marginalisation on other grounds. The bench referred to a socio-legal book by Shreya Atrey whereby it is stated that “a failure to consider violence perpetrated based on multiple identities results in an inaccurate portrayal of the violence at issue which may impact the ability to obtain relief”.

“While the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Act specifically mentions commission of rapes against SC & ST women as a form of atrocity committed against the SC & ST communities, it does not specifically articulate the distinct disadvantage women of these communities face on account of casteism, patriarchy and poverty at the same time,” the court held. The court stated that in this case, a distinct individualised experience was created for the survivor on account of her gender, caste and disability.

Under Section 3(2)(v), an enhanced punishment of imprisonment for life with fine is provided where

(i) The offence is committed by a person who is not a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe;

(ii) The offence arises under the Penal Code and is against a person or property and is punishable with imprisonment for a term of ten years or more; and

(iii) The offence is committed “on the ground that such person is a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe” or such property belongs to such a person.

The court observed that the use of the phrase “on the ground” means “for the reason” or “on the basis of” and is an example of a statute recognising only a single axis model of oppression. The court held that such models ignore that “when oppression operates in an intersectional fashion, it becomes difficult to identify, in a disjunctive fashion, which ground was the basis of oppression because often multiple grounds operate in tandem.”

Precedents of the apex court

The court then considered the precedents where it was held that since there was no evidence to show that the offence was committed only on the ground that the victim belonged to scheduled caste, the offence under the SC/ST Act is not established. The court pointed out Khuman Singh v. State of MP (Criminal Appeal 1283 of 2019 decided on August, 27 2019) and Ashrafi v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2018) 1 SCC 742  where the court interpreted Section 3(2)(v) to mean that the offence should have been committed “only on the ground that the victim was a member of the Scheduled Caste.”

The court stated that the “correctness of this exposition is debatable”.

“The statutory provision does not utilize the expression “only on the ground”. Reading the expression “only” would be to add a restriction which is not found in the statute. The statute undoubtedly uses the words “on the ground’ but the juxtaposition of “the” before “ground” does not invariably mean that the offence ought to have been committed only on that ground. To read the provision in that manner will dilute a statutory provision which is meant to safeguard the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes against acts of violence which pose a threat to their dignity,” the court observed.

The court held that denying the protection of Section 3 (2) (v) on the premise that the crime was not committed against an SC & ST person solely on the ground of their caste identity is to deny how social inequalities function in a cumulative fashion and also renders the experiences of the most marginalized invisible. “A true reading of Section 3(2)(v) would entail that conviction under this provision can be sustained as long as caste identity is one of the grounds for the occurrence of the offence,” the court said. The court, however refrained from referring the matter to a larger bench and kept the point open for debate for a later date and case, as the outcome of this appeal does not confirm conviction under the SC/ST Act.

The court observed that at the trial stage, the prosecution did not lead any separate evidence to show that the accused committed the offence on the basis of caste identity. It said, 

“As we have discussed above, due to the intersectional nature of oppression PW2 faces, it becomes difficult to establish what led to the commission of offence – whether it was her caste, gender or disability. This highlights the limitation of a provision where causation of a wrongful act arises from a single ground or what we refer to as the single axis model.”

The 2016 amendment

The amendment to the SC/ST Act in 2016 substituted the words “on the ground of” with “knowing that such person is a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe”, thus decreasing the threshold of proving that a crime was committed on the basis of the caste identity to a threshold where mere knowledge is sufficient to sustain a conviction.

However, the incident in this case took place before the 2016 amendment and hence, the same is not applicable in this case. The court took the view that the evidence does not establish that the offence in the present case was committed on the ground that such person is a member of a SC or ST and hence, set aside the conviction under the SC/ST Act.

The court also refused to interfere with the life sentence awarded under section 376(1) of the IPC while taking into consideration that the offence is serious and is compounded by the position of the prosecutrix who was visually disabled and belonged to Scheduled Caste.

The disability factor

The court then looked at this case through the lens of ‘disability and gender’ and observed that women with disabilities, who inhabit a world designed for the able-bodied, are often perceived as “soft targets” and “easy victims” for the commission of sexual violence. It is for this reason that our legal response to such violence, in the instant case as well as at a systemic level, must exhibit attentiveness to this salient fact. The survivor in this case is a girl blind from birth and hence, the court delved deep into the social standing of a person with disabilities. The court cautioned, “we do not mean to subscribe to the stereotype that persons with disabilities are weak and helpless, incapable of charting the course of their lives…Such a negative presumption of disability translating into incapacity would be inconsistent with the forward-thinking conceptualization of disabled lives embodied in our law and, increasingly, albeit slowly, in our social consciousness.”

The court held that her personality cannot be reduced to her visual disability alone but the court has to exhibit sensitivity to the heightened risk of violence and abuse that she was rendered susceptible to, by reason of her disability. The court analysed the difficulties faced by women with disabilities to have access to the criminal justice system as well as the judicial system. The court, after referring to certain studies and reports including the Justice JS Verma Committee report of 2013, set out some guidelines to make criminal justice system more disabled-friendly:

(i) The National Judicial Academy and state judicial academies are requested to sensitize trial and appellate judges to deal with cases involving survivors of sexual abuse. This training should acquaint judges with the special provisions, concerning such survivors, such as those outlined above. It should also cover guidance on the legal weight to be attached to the testimony of such witnesses/survivors, consistent with our holding above. Public prosecutors and standing counsel should also undergo similar training in this regard. The Bar Council of India can consider introducing courses in the LL.B program that cover these topics and the intersectional nature of violence more generally;

(ii) Trained special educators and interpreters must be appointed to ensure the effective realization of the reasonable accommodations embodied in the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013. All police stations should maintain a database of such educators, interpreters and legal aid providers, in order to facilitate easy access and coordination;

(iii) The National Crimes Record Bureau should seriously consider the possibility of maintaining disaggregated data on gender-based violence. Disability must be one of the variables on the basis of which such data must be maintained so that the scale of the problem can be mapped out and tailored remedial action can be taken;

(iv) Police officers should be provided sensitization, on a regular basis, to deal with cases of sexual violence against women with disabilities, in an appropriate way. The training should cover the full life cycle of a case involving a disabled survivor, from enabling them to register complaints, obtain necessary accommodations, medical attention and suitable legal representation. This training should emphasize the importance of interacting directly with the disabled person concerned, as opposed to their care-taker or helper, in recognition of their agency; and

(v) Awareness-raising campaigns must be conducted, in accessible formats, to inform women and girls with disabilities, about their rights when they are at the receiving end of any form of sexual abuse.

The court also examined instances where testimony of a disabled prosecutrix is not given much consideration or at times not even recorded with adherence to legal procedure. It said,

“Testimony of a prosecutrix with a disability, or of a disabled witness for that matter, cannot be considered weak or inferior, only because such an individual interacts with the world in a different manner, vis-a-vis their able-bodied counterparts. As long as the testimony of such a witness otherwise meets the criteria for inspiring judicial confidence, it is entitled to full legal weight.”

The complete judgment may be read here:

 

Related:

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Shift Siddique Kappan to Delhi for medical treatment: SC to UP Gov’t

SC recognises how intersection of gender, caste and disability makes one a soft target

While hearing a case realted to the rape of a visually impaired woman from a Scheduled Caste, the court also laid down guidelines on how to deal with complainants with disabilities in their interaction with the judicial system

CasteImage: Jan Arendtsz (CC BY-ND 2.0)
 

The Supreme Court, while dealing with a case of rape committed on a girl belonging to Scheduled Caste and being visually disabled, held that application of section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act should not be shunned for the reason that the offence was not committed “only on the ground” that the victim was a member of the scheduled caste/tribe.

While the bench of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice MR Shah set out guidelines for dealing with cases where the complainant is disabled, it pointed out how courts tend to render the witness of such prosecutrix to be of less importance. The bench also raised questions about previous judgements of the apex court where Section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was given limited meaning. In some precedents the court interpreted Section 3(2)(v) to mean that the offence should have been committed “only on the ground that the victim was a member of the Scheduled Caste.” The bench held this exposition to be debatable.

Background of case

The bench was dealing with a case where a visually impaired girl belonging to Scheduled caste was raped by a friend of her brothers, who came into the house after confirming that no one was at home and committed the offence of rape on March 3, 2011.

The Andhra Pradesh High Court had affirmed the conviction of the appellant, Patan Jamal Vali, for offences under Section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 and section 376(1) of the Indian Penal Code. He was sentenced to suffer imprisonment for life for both offences, to run concurrently.

Before the High Court, it was contended by the appellant that the offence under Section 3(2)(v) of the SC/ST Act is not established as the offence was not committed on the ground that the survivor belonged to a Scheduled Caste. However, the High Court declined to accept this submission while observing that the section provides that the offence gets attracted if it is committed against a person knowing that such person is a member of a Scheduled Caste.

At the outset, the apex court held that offence of rape was made out and was proved beyond doubt basis the consistent evidence of the witnesses and the medical evidence. The court then went on to analyse whether offence under the SC/ST Act was made out.

The caste factor

“When the identity of a woman intersects with, inter alia, her caste, class, religion, disability and sexual orientation, she may face violence and discrimination due to two or more grounds,” the court stated.

The court observed that caste, religion, class, disability and sexual orientation are not merely “add ons” to the oppression that women may face and that gender oppression is oppressive in the same way for all women, only more so for women suffering marginalisation on other grounds. The bench referred to a socio-legal book by Shreya Atrey whereby it is stated that “a failure to consider violence perpetrated based on multiple identities results in an inaccurate portrayal of the violence at issue which may impact the ability to obtain relief”.

“While the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Act specifically mentions commission of rapes against SC & ST women as a form of atrocity committed against the SC & ST communities, it does not specifically articulate the distinct disadvantage women of these communities face on account of casteism, patriarchy and poverty at the same time,” the court held. The court stated that in this case, a distinct individualised experience was created for the survivor on account of her gender, caste and disability.

Under Section 3(2)(v), an enhanced punishment of imprisonment for life with fine is provided where

(i) The offence is committed by a person who is not a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe;

(ii) The offence arises under the Penal Code and is against a person or property and is punishable with imprisonment for a term of ten years or more; and

(iii) The offence is committed “on the ground that such person is a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe” or such property belongs to such a person.

The court observed that the use of the phrase “on the ground” means “for the reason” or “on the basis of” and is an example of a statute recognising only a single axis model of oppression. The court held that such models ignore that “when oppression operates in an intersectional fashion, it becomes difficult to identify, in a disjunctive fashion, which ground was the basis of oppression because often multiple grounds operate in tandem.”

Precedents of the apex court

The court then considered the precedents where it was held that since there was no evidence to show that the offence was committed only on the ground that the victim belonged to scheduled caste, the offence under the SC/ST Act is not established. The court pointed out Khuman Singh v. State of MP (Criminal Appeal 1283 of 2019 decided on August, 27 2019) and Ashrafi v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2018) 1 SCC 742  where the court interpreted Section 3(2)(v) to mean that the offence should have been committed “only on the ground that the victim was a member of the Scheduled Caste.”

The court stated that the “correctness of this exposition is debatable”.

“The statutory provision does not utilize the expression “only on the ground”. Reading the expression “only” would be to add a restriction which is not found in the statute. The statute undoubtedly uses the words “on the ground’ but the juxtaposition of “the” before “ground” does not invariably mean that the offence ought to have been committed only on that ground. To read the provision in that manner will dilute a statutory provision which is meant to safeguard the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes against acts of violence which pose a threat to their dignity,” the court observed.

The court held that denying the protection of Section 3 (2) (v) on the premise that the crime was not committed against an SC & ST person solely on the ground of their caste identity is to deny how social inequalities function in a cumulative fashion and also renders the experiences of the most marginalized invisible. “A true reading of Section 3(2)(v) would entail that conviction under this provision can be sustained as long as caste identity is one of the grounds for the occurrence of the offence,” the court said. The court, however refrained from referring the matter to a larger bench and kept the point open for debate for a later date and case, as the outcome of this appeal does not confirm conviction under the SC/ST Act.

The court observed that at the trial stage, the prosecution did not lead any separate evidence to show that the accused committed the offence on the basis of caste identity. It said, 

“As we have discussed above, due to the intersectional nature of oppression PW2 faces, it becomes difficult to establish what led to the commission of offence – whether it was her caste, gender or disability. This highlights the limitation of a provision where causation of a wrongful act arises from a single ground or what we refer to as the single axis model.”

The 2016 amendment

The amendment to the SC/ST Act in 2016 substituted the words “on the ground of” with “knowing that such person is a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe”, thus decreasing the threshold of proving that a crime was committed on the basis of the caste identity to a threshold where mere knowledge is sufficient to sustain a conviction.

However, the incident in this case took place before the 2016 amendment and hence, the same is not applicable in this case. The court took the view that the evidence does not establish that the offence in the present case was committed on the ground that such person is a member of a SC or ST and hence, set aside the conviction under the SC/ST Act.

The court also refused to interfere with the life sentence awarded under section 376(1) of the IPC while taking into consideration that the offence is serious and is compounded by the position of the prosecutrix who was visually disabled and belonged to Scheduled Caste.

The disability factor

The court then looked at this case through the lens of ‘disability and gender’ and observed that women with disabilities, who inhabit a world designed for the able-bodied, are often perceived as “soft targets” and “easy victims” for the commission of sexual violence. It is for this reason that our legal response to such violence, in the instant case as well as at a systemic level, must exhibit attentiveness to this salient fact. The survivor in this case is a girl blind from birth and hence, the court delved deep into the social standing of a person with disabilities. The court cautioned, “we do not mean to subscribe to the stereotype that persons with disabilities are weak and helpless, incapable of charting the course of their lives…Such a negative presumption of disability translating into incapacity would be inconsistent with the forward-thinking conceptualization of disabled lives embodied in our law and, increasingly, albeit slowly, in our social consciousness.”

The court held that her personality cannot be reduced to her visual disability alone but the court has to exhibit sensitivity to the heightened risk of violence and abuse that she was rendered susceptible to, by reason of her disability. The court analysed the difficulties faced by women with disabilities to have access to the criminal justice system as well as the judicial system. The court, after referring to certain studies and reports including the Justice JS Verma Committee report of 2013, set out some guidelines to make criminal justice system more disabled-friendly:

(i) The National Judicial Academy and state judicial academies are requested to sensitize trial and appellate judges to deal with cases involving survivors of sexual abuse. This training should acquaint judges with the special provisions, concerning such survivors, such as those outlined above. It should also cover guidance on the legal weight to be attached to the testimony of such witnesses/survivors, consistent with our holding above. Public prosecutors and standing counsel should also undergo similar training in this regard. The Bar Council of India can consider introducing courses in the LL.B program that cover these topics and the intersectional nature of violence more generally;

(ii) Trained special educators and interpreters must be appointed to ensure the effective realization of the reasonable accommodations embodied in the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013. All police stations should maintain a database of such educators, interpreters and legal aid providers, in order to facilitate easy access and coordination;

(iii) The National Crimes Record Bureau should seriously consider the possibility of maintaining disaggregated data on gender-based violence. Disability must be one of the variables on the basis of which such data must be maintained so that the scale of the problem can be mapped out and tailored remedial action can be taken;

(iv) Police officers should be provided sensitization, on a regular basis, to deal with cases of sexual violence against women with disabilities, in an appropriate way. The training should cover the full life cycle of a case involving a disabled survivor, from enabling them to register complaints, obtain necessary accommodations, medical attention and suitable legal representation. This training should emphasize the importance of interacting directly with the disabled person concerned, as opposed to their care-taker or helper, in recognition of their agency; and

(v) Awareness-raising campaigns must be conducted, in accessible formats, to inform women and girls with disabilities, about their rights when they are at the receiving end of any form of sexual abuse.

The court also examined instances where testimony of a disabled prosecutrix is not given much consideration or at times not even recorded with adherence to legal procedure. It said,

“Testimony of a prosecutrix with a disability, or of a disabled witness for that matter, cannot be considered weak or inferior, only because such an individual interacts with the world in a different manner, vis-a-vis their able-bodied counterparts. As long as the testimony of such a witness otherwise meets the criteria for inspiring judicial confidence, it is entitled to full legal weight.”

The complete judgment may be read here:

 

Related:

Cannot be a mute spectator during crisis: SC on Covid-19 suo motu matter

IIT Prof’s meltdown, abuse of students is a lesson on how not to teach

Shift Siddique Kappan to Delhi for medical treatment: SC to UP Gov’t

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IIT Prof’s meltdown, abuse of students is a lesson on how not to teach

Associate Professor Seema Singh’s humiliation of Dalit and PWD students exposes the class divide in elite institutions

28 Apr 2021

Associate Professor Seema Singh’s humiliation of Dalit and PWD students

The video that has now gone viral for all the wrong reasons of an online preparatory English course held for students belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes as well as persons with disability, at IIT Kharagpur, has once again exposed the class divide in elite institutions, which are staffed by abusive teachers such as the woman, identified as Associate Professor Seema Singh of HSS Department who is heard screaming and abusing students of the course. 

 

 

Singh is so confident that none of the students will be able to lodge a complaint against her that she dares them to do so, and says no harm will come to her. She continues to verbally abuse and threaten students that she will fail them. She claims no harm will come to her even if they complain to the Ministry of Women and Child Care or the Ministry of SC/ST/Minorities. For reasons unknown she screams and verbally abuses them calling them “Bloody Bastards'' again and again, and the students are forced to bear the humiliation silently. “What I have to do, I will do, nothing on earth can prevent me from doing that to you… go anywhere, go to Ministry of Women and Child Care or Ministry of SC/ST/Minorities, nothing will prevent me…,” she is heard saying.

The teacher is not satisfied at that, and soon starts ranting about nationalism to the students berating them for what she perceives is their lack of her idea of duty towards the country. She invokes ‘bharat mata ki jai’ saying it is the "minimum you can do for your country,” and then continues calling them ‘bloody bastards’ which seem to be her favourite swear words. In another clip she says she denied leave to a student who had recently lost her grandfather to Covid-19, saying how did someone dying affect the student when during ‘Covid times’ funeral ceremonies are all curtailed. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by appsc (@appsc.iitb)


The Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC), a student’s collective highlighted the abusive professor’s video and has demanded that she be terminated from her job, booked under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, and that a permanent SC, ST, and OBC Cell at IIT Kharagpur and all other IITs be set up. According to the APPSC, the cell will function as an “anti caste discrimination cell, take strict actions against casual and structural casteism and work towards sensitising the campus about casual and structural forms of discriminations.”

 

 

The videos first emerged Sunday on the Facebook page of ‘IIT KGP confessions’ stated news reports. According to a report in The Print, a student told them that the professor began abusing “because she thought that students did not stand up for the national anthem”.  According to The Hindu, a section of academicians has brought the issue to the notice of the National Commission of Scheduled Castes along with the Ministry of Human Resource and Development describing the abuses as ‘casteist’.

  

Related:

Bihar: Dalit youth humiliated, tortured outside former Panchayat leader’s house

Ambedkar and the call to Conversion!

Medicos Naveen K Razak, Janaki Omkumar give some dance therapy to communal trolls

IIT Prof’s meltdown, abuse of students is a lesson on how not to teach

Associate Professor Seema Singh’s humiliation of Dalit and PWD students exposes the class divide in elite institutions

Associate Professor Seema Singh’s humiliation of Dalit and PWD students

The video that has now gone viral for all the wrong reasons of an online preparatory English course held for students belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes as well as persons with disability, at IIT Kharagpur, has once again exposed the class divide in elite institutions, which are staffed by abusive teachers such as the woman, identified as Associate Professor Seema Singh of HSS Department who is heard screaming and abusing students of the course. 

 

 

Singh is so confident that none of the students will be able to lodge a complaint against her that she dares them to do so, and says no harm will come to her. She continues to verbally abuse and threaten students that she will fail them. She claims no harm will come to her even if they complain to the Ministry of Women and Child Care or the Ministry of SC/ST/Minorities. For reasons unknown she screams and verbally abuses them calling them “Bloody Bastards'' again and again, and the students are forced to bear the humiliation silently. “What I have to do, I will do, nothing on earth can prevent me from doing that to you… go anywhere, go to Ministry of Women and Child Care or Ministry of SC/ST/Minorities, nothing will prevent me…,” she is heard saying.

The teacher is not satisfied at that, and soon starts ranting about nationalism to the students berating them for what she perceives is their lack of her idea of duty towards the country. She invokes ‘bharat mata ki jai’ saying it is the "minimum you can do for your country,” and then continues calling them ‘bloody bastards’ which seem to be her favourite swear words. In another clip she says she denied leave to a student who had recently lost her grandfather to Covid-19, saying how did someone dying affect the student when during ‘Covid times’ funeral ceremonies are all curtailed. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by appsc (@appsc.iitb)


The Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC), a student’s collective highlighted the abusive professor’s video and has demanded that she be terminated from her job, booked under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, and that a permanent SC, ST, and OBC Cell at IIT Kharagpur and all other IITs be set up. According to the APPSC, the cell will function as an “anti caste discrimination cell, take strict actions against casual and structural casteism and work towards sensitising the campus about casual and structural forms of discriminations.”

 

 

The videos first emerged Sunday on the Facebook page of ‘IIT KGP confessions’ stated news reports. According to a report in The Print, a student told them that the professor began abusing “because she thought that students did not stand up for the national anthem”.  According to The Hindu, a section of academicians has brought the issue to the notice of the National Commission of Scheduled Castes along with the Ministry of Human Resource and Development describing the abuses as ‘casteist’.

  

Related:

Bihar: Dalit youth humiliated, tortured outside former Panchayat leader’s house

Ambedkar and the call to Conversion!

Medicos Naveen K Razak, Janaki Omkumar give some dance therapy to communal trolls

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Shocks the judicial conscience: Odisha HC on death of four manual scavengers

The High Court has directed Rs. 10 lakh compensation to manual scavengers’ family who died due to asphyxiation

20 Apr 2021

Odisha
Image: https://ommcomnews.com


“The shameful practice of making persons belonging to the underprivileged and poorest sections of Indian society undertake the hazardous manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks continues unabated notwithstanding the enactment of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. It shocks the judicial conscience, as it should the society’s collective conscience”, said the Odisha High Court in a suo motu case related to the death of two young men in Cuttack, during manual scavenging on April 15.

The court referred to an Indian Express report and said, “The condition of the third worker was critical. Reportedly, one of the sanitation workers entered the sewer line, which was over 15 feet deep, became unconscious inside the tank due to asphyxiation. Two other sanitation workers went inside to rescue him, but they too fell unconscious. The three were brought out with the help of firefighters and rushed to the SCB Medical College & Hospital, Cuttack. The hospital authorities declared two of them, Bishnu Naik of Badamba and T. Prabhakar of Pattapol area of Cuttack, dead, whereas the third one, S. Siba Rao was stated to be receiving treatment.”

The Bench comprising Chief Justice Dr. S Muralidhar and Justice BP Routray cited another incident when two sanitation workers, Sunaram Sardar (55) hailing from Jharkhand and Silup Birua (25) from Mayurbhanj engaged in the maintenance of a sewage tank at Brahmeswar Bagh area under Badagada police limits in the city and died of asphyxiation on March 19.

The Bench remarked, “It is inexplicable that a democratic country governed by the Constitution, the Preamble to which assures to all Indians social justice, equality of status and of opportunity, fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual, should witness, and condone, in the 21st century, the deplorable practice of making humans enter sewer lines and septic tanks that require cleaning, without protective gear, and in that process sacrifice their lives for the better health of their fellow beings.

The court opined that when Article 17, that abolishes the practice of untouchability, was introduced, it was with the hope that the practice of untouchability in general and manual scavenging in particular would not continue in a free and independent India.

The High Court has taken cognisance of the fact that the Secretary, Housing & Urban Development Department, has ordered a joint probe into the Cuttack incident by the Deputy Commissioner (Enforcement), Cuttack Municipal Corporation and the Sadar Tahsildar, Cuttack. “Further it appears that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has called for a report on the incident at Bhubaneswar”, said the court.

As the court took suo motu notice of the tragic deaths of the sanitation workers, it has announced compensation of Rs.10 lakhs each to be given to the families of the deceased workers. The Court is also set to examine the various legal issues that arise from such incidents, including the applicability of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and the Rules thereunder, in case the manual scavenger belongs to these castes.

The Bench has further issued a notice to State of Odisha, Housing and Urban Development Department, Government of Odisha, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe Welfare Department, Government of Odisha, Public Health Engineering Organization, Government of Odisha, Collector, Cuttack, Collector, Khurda at Bhubaneswar, Cuttack Municipal Corporation, Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation and the LC Infra Project Private Limited  that is engaged in the maintenance works of the sewage tanks in the city of Bhubaneswar.

The State has been asked to file an affidavit before the next date of hearing, listing out the steps it has taken thus far to implement, in letter and spirit, the various provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 and the Rules thereunder, as well as the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993.

The matter will be heard on May 10, 2021.

The order may be read here: 

 

Related:

Death by excreta: The cursed lives of India's manual scavengers

Death of manual scavengers: Karnataka HC takes note of the grim situation

K’taka HC questions State on steps taken to use modern technology to replace manual scavenging

PIL filed for implementation of Manual Scavengers Act, Allahabad HC seeks State’s reply

Shocks the judicial conscience: Odisha HC on death of four manual scavengers

The High Court has directed Rs. 10 lakh compensation to manual scavengers’ family who died due to asphyxiation

Odisha
Image: https://ommcomnews.com


“The shameful practice of making persons belonging to the underprivileged and poorest sections of Indian society undertake the hazardous manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks continues unabated notwithstanding the enactment of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. It shocks the judicial conscience, as it should the society’s collective conscience”, said the Odisha High Court in a suo motu case related to the death of two young men in Cuttack, during manual scavenging on April 15.

The court referred to an Indian Express report and said, “The condition of the third worker was critical. Reportedly, one of the sanitation workers entered the sewer line, which was over 15 feet deep, became unconscious inside the tank due to asphyxiation. Two other sanitation workers went inside to rescue him, but they too fell unconscious. The three were brought out with the help of firefighters and rushed to the SCB Medical College & Hospital, Cuttack. The hospital authorities declared two of them, Bishnu Naik of Badamba and T. Prabhakar of Pattapol area of Cuttack, dead, whereas the third one, S. Siba Rao was stated to be receiving treatment.”

The Bench comprising Chief Justice Dr. S Muralidhar and Justice BP Routray cited another incident when two sanitation workers, Sunaram Sardar (55) hailing from Jharkhand and Silup Birua (25) from Mayurbhanj engaged in the maintenance of a sewage tank at Brahmeswar Bagh area under Badagada police limits in the city and died of asphyxiation on March 19.

The Bench remarked, “It is inexplicable that a democratic country governed by the Constitution, the Preamble to which assures to all Indians social justice, equality of status and of opportunity, fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual, should witness, and condone, in the 21st century, the deplorable practice of making humans enter sewer lines and septic tanks that require cleaning, without protective gear, and in that process sacrifice their lives for the better health of their fellow beings.

The court opined that when Article 17, that abolishes the practice of untouchability, was introduced, it was with the hope that the practice of untouchability in general and manual scavenging in particular would not continue in a free and independent India.

The High Court has taken cognisance of the fact that the Secretary, Housing & Urban Development Department, has ordered a joint probe into the Cuttack incident by the Deputy Commissioner (Enforcement), Cuttack Municipal Corporation and the Sadar Tahsildar, Cuttack. “Further it appears that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has called for a report on the incident at Bhubaneswar”, said the court.

As the court took suo motu notice of the tragic deaths of the sanitation workers, it has announced compensation of Rs.10 lakhs each to be given to the families of the deceased workers. The Court is also set to examine the various legal issues that arise from such incidents, including the applicability of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and the Rules thereunder, in case the manual scavenger belongs to these castes.

The Bench has further issued a notice to State of Odisha, Housing and Urban Development Department, Government of Odisha, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe Welfare Department, Government of Odisha, Public Health Engineering Organization, Government of Odisha, Collector, Cuttack, Collector, Khurda at Bhubaneswar, Cuttack Municipal Corporation, Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation and the LC Infra Project Private Limited  that is engaged in the maintenance works of the sewage tanks in the city of Bhubaneswar.

The State has been asked to file an affidavit before the next date of hearing, listing out the steps it has taken thus far to implement, in letter and spirit, the various provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 and the Rules thereunder, as well as the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993.

The matter will be heard on May 10, 2021.

The order may be read here: 

 

Related:

Death by excreta: The cursed lives of India's manual scavengers

Death of manual scavengers: Karnataka HC takes note of the grim situation

K’taka HC questions State on steps taken to use modern technology to replace manual scavenging

PIL filed for implementation of Manual Scavengers Act, Allahabad HC seeks State’s reply

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Forest dwellers to elect village heads for first time in UP

The Vantangiya tribe lives in dense forest areas of Gorakhpur, Maharajganj, Gonda and Balrampur in Eastern UP

15 Apr 2021

Image Courtesy:newindianexpress.com

Members of the Vantangiya tribe, the forest dwellers who live in Gorakhpur and adjoining districts, will for the first time since Independence participate in the panchayat elections on April 15. The tribes folk will exercise their right to vote and elect their own village head in the first-phase voting for Uttar Pradesh panchayat polls. The Gorakhpur Vantangiya villages will vote in the first phase when over 3,500 of tribal voters will choose their own gram pradhan, according to a report in the New Indian Express.

Gorakhpur district has five Vantangiya villages, the adjoining Maharajganj has 18 and Gonda and Balrampur have five each. These areas became revenue villages in 2017. The report quotes social activist Manoj Singh who says these elections will result in the “real empowerment,” of the tribes.

The villagers had voted for the first time in the 2019 general election, but it is the panchayat polls that will have a direct impact as they will choose a leader who is one of them, and who hopefully will be able to relate to their daily concerns and help solve  problems.

According to a 2019 feature in Down to Earth magazine, Vantangiyas have been settled in pockets of eastern Uttar Pradesh for a century, but didn’t have voting rights till the 1990s. They are said to be the one who turned barren lands into forests, however, as is the case elsewhere with other forest dwellers, they too did not have a right over forest produce and continued to lead impoverished lives. According to the report there are about 60,000 Vantangiyas living in Gorakhpur and Maharajgunj districts.

Who are the Vantangiyas and what is their story?

SanbrangIndia’s detailed news feature on the tribe had shown how their history can in fact be traced to when the British were expanding rail lines zeroed in onto the forest of Deori, Nainital, Pilibhit, Lakhimpur Kheeri, Bahraich, Balrampur Maharajganj, Gorakhpur and more in Uttar Pradesh. After passing the Awadh Forest Rules, the British cunningly captured the forests of Bahraich in 1861, and in 1885, they brought in the forest department to control the forest produce. For this, four ranges of Motipur, Chakia, Charda and Bhinga were at breakneck speed in the whole country. To lay a kilometre of a rail line, 60 Sakhu trees had to be sacrificed for their strength. The wood was used to lay sleepers below the railway line and the demand for the wood increased. The Forest officers in the newly minted forest department chopped down many Sakhu forests in the region. The feature on the origins and history of the Vantangiyas may be read here.

Related:

Allahabad HC has not ordered evictions of Surma villagers of Dudhwa Forest
Equity to be maintained between industrialisation and ecosystem: Orissa HC
The rich history of Vantangiya’s are threatened when villages like Mahbubnagar 

Forest dwellers to elect village heads for first time in UP

The Vantangiya tribe lives in dense forest areas of Gorakhpur, Maharajganj, Gonda and Balrampur in Eastern UP

Image Courtesy:newindianexpress.com

Members of the Vantangiya tribe, the forest dwellers who live in Gorakhpur and adjoining districts, will for the first time since Independence participate in the panchayat elections on April 15. The tribes folk will exercise their right to vote and elect their own village head in the first-phase voting for Uttar Pradesh panchayat polls. The Gorakhpur Vantangiya villages will vote in the first phase when over 3,500 of tribal voters will choose their own gram pradhan, according to a report in the New Indian Express.

Gorakhpur district has five Vantangiya villages, the adjoining Maharajganj has 18 and Gonda and Balrampur have five each. These areas became revenue villages in 2017. The report quotes social activist Manoj Singh who says these elections will result in the “real empowerment,” of the tribes.

The villagers had voted for the first time in the 2019 general election, but it is the panchayat polls that will have a direct impact as they will choose a leader who is one of them, and who hopefully will be able to relate to their daily concerns and help solve  problems.

According to a 2019 feature in Down to Earth magazine, Vantangiyas have been settled in pockets of eastern Uttar Pradesh for a century, but didn’t have voting rights till the 1990s. They are said to be the one who turned barren lands into forests, however, as is the case elsewhere with other forest dwellers, they too did not have a right over forest produce and continued to lead impoverished lives. According to the report there are about 60,000 Vantangiyas living in Gorakhpur and Maharajgunj districts.

Who are the Vantangiyas and what is their story?

SanbrangIndia’s detailed news feature on the tribe had shown how their history can in fact be traced to when the British were expanding rail lines zeroed in onto the forest of Deori, Nainital, Pilibhit, Lakhimpur Kheeri, Bahraich, Balrampur Maharajganj, Gorakhpur and more in Uttar Pradesh. After passing the Awadh Forest Rules, the British cunningly captured the forests of Bahraich in 1861, and in 1885, they brought in the forest department to control the forest produce. For this, four ranges of Motipur, Chakia, Charda and Bhinga were at breakneck speed in the whole country. To lay a kilometre of a rail line, 60 Sakhu trees had to be sacrificed for their strength. The wood was used to lay sleepers below the railway line and the demand for the wood increased. The Forest officers in the newly minted forest department chopped down many Sakhu forests in the region. The feature on the origins and history of the Vantangiyas may be read here.

Related:

Allahabad HC has not ordered evictions of Surma villagers of Dudhwa Forest
Equity to be maintained between industrialisation and ecosystem: Orissa HC
The rich history of Vantangiya’s are threatened when villages like Mahbubnagar 

Related Articles


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