Forest rangers relent; release Forest Rights Committee Chairman in face of resounding dissent

Kol adivasis celebrate a small victory ushered in by community women who questioned and decried the unlawful arrest of Ranipur’s Forest Rights Committee’s Chairman


Uttar Pradesh’s Kol adivasi women stood victorious in their agitation against forest rangers for the unlawful arrest of local Forest Rights Committee’s Chairman Bhola, on November 1, 2020 at Ranipur village in Chitrakoot district.

Demonstrating true strength in number, Adivasis gathered around the forest ranger office to oppose yet another attempt by the forest department to unlawfully remove Kol adivasis from their occupied land.

Officials, impressed by the protest put forth by the women of the community, eventually gave in and said, “You [Adivasis] should make collective claims of your forest rights so that no one can harass you for occupying this land. Your legal basis automatically becomes stronger by making a claim.”

During the protest, women accused rangers of harassing the Kol community while keeping up a farce about education and enrolment numbers. They also pointed out that the forest department had threatened their main source of livelihood, agriculture. Adivasis further asserted that they would not be deprived of their forest and land rights any longer.

“The law clearly states that you [rangers] cannot enter Adivasi areas or fields without a notice,” said the women under the leadership of All India Union of Forest Working People’s (AIUFWP) National Executive member and forest rights activist Rani.

Rani said that rangers relented after noting the commitment and understanding of Kol women regarding their forest rights.

The conversation between community members and forest officials can be seen below

“The women said they are all Union members and are ready to fight for their rights no matter what,” said Rani.

She added that decades of work to unionise Kol adivasis in Manikpur tehsil and form a women’s organisation had resulted in this day when the forest department not only gave in to women’s demands but also released the unjustly arrested Chairman Bhola.

The incident started when Chairman Bhola was taken away by three or four forest guard officials without a notice or warrant. The news of Bhola’s sudden arrest, who was heading to his field for work, reached nearby agricultural fields where other tribal villagers were harvesting crops.

Women bluntly challenged official’s rash action to arrest Bhola in the absence of any complaint or warrant. They even recorded the entire incident which jarred the officials who could not present an appropriate reply.

“Did Forest Rights Committee Chairperson Bhola misbehave with anyone? Did he fight? If not, then why have you taken him away,” asked the women, the rangers had no answer.

Even so, they confiscated the mobile phone used to record the incident. However, the women persisted and used another mobile to record the happenings yet again.

Adivasis from Chakarhuva, Vidurah and Badadari villages gheraoed (surrounded) the range post about five kilometres away from where Bhola was arrested. Slogans such as “Van Vibhag Murdabad” [Down with the forest department], “Gundagiri nahi chalegi” [Hooliganism will not work], “We demand forest rights” and others were chanted by the crowd.

According to AIUFWP General Secretary Roma Malik, such incidents had occurred in the past as well. In April, DM and SSP-level Union members had to intervene to prevent officials from banning the harvest of sown crops.

They sent letters requesting grievance redressal for Adivasis to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Social Welfare Minister Ramapati Shastri, Forest Minister Dara Sing Chauhan, Principal Secretary of Social Welfare, Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Manikpur and others. The letter cited the Forest Rights Act of 2006 that recognised the land rights of Adivasis.

“Under the law, deprived communities have been recognised as having rights over their ancestral forest lands. The Preamble itself recognises that forest rights have been granted by the Parliament while keeping in mind the historical injustice done to the community. This law is a boon for all deprived communities who have been living in forests since colonial times to protect them from the enslavement of the forest department,” said the letter.

Chitrakoot contains forest areas and Adivasi-dominated districts where tribal and other economically-backward communities depend entirely on forests for their livelihood. Therefore, it is important that communities become sensitised about this law. Despite all this, the forest department continues to harass tribals and misuse lockdown restrictions to trample their forest rights.

“At a time when the forest department should be helping deprived sections from suffering a famine, the officials are trying to evict adivasis from their land,” said the AIUFWP.

The organisation said that even today, there are reports of forest officials forcibly taking possession of people’s land and digging holes in fields while blatantly violating lockdown rules.

The letter also listed Unchdih, Gopipur, Ranipur and Kihunia villages where the forest department continues to harass Adivasi and other deprived communities. Villagers are not allowed to cultivate their land and those who agitate are threatened with legal cases or arrests.

“In Unchdih, forest officials are planting trees on people’s agricultural land. Gopipur Gram Panchayat’s land is riddled with pits while Ranipur villagers have been evicted from their own houses. They are not allowed to farm on their own land. Dissenting women are threatened to have their hair chopped off,” they said.

These threats are a direct violation of the communities’ Right to protection of life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The officials’ behaviour also violates various sections of the Forest Rights Act. A February 20200 Supreme Court order to evict Adivasis was stayed and appealed against.

In light of all this, the AIUFWP questions what entitles the forest department to continue denying Adivasi communities of their rights. They demand a thorough investigation in this regard to punish the offending officers. Moreover, the organisation also demands that the government help the communities cultivate their own land so they do not become victims of famine.


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