UP MLA writes to CM, highlights plight of Sonebhadra Adivasis

Sanjay Garg demands investigation into false cases, highlights witch-hunt of AIUFWP

Roma Sukalo
Image: https://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com

Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh (UP) MLA, Sanjay Garg made a submission to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Yogi Adityanath on behalf of the Adivasis in Sonbhadra region highlighting the constant persecution of Adivasis, the false and illegal arrests of All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP) leaders Sukalo, Kismatiya Gond and others and the subsequent witch hunt and targeting of the union.

Background of the letter submission
Kismatiya Gond (Secretary, Forest Rights Committee), Sukalo Gond (Treasurer of AIUFWP) and Sukhdev Gond were picked up in a clandestine manner from Chopan railway station by the Sonbhadra police on June 8, 2018. They were arrested just as they were returning after a meeting with the state forest minister, Dara Singh Chauhan and the Forest Secretary in Lucknow in which the minister had assured that he would look into the matter of previous police assaults on Lilasi villagers in connivance with the Forest Department.

Previously, the UP police picked up and detained Adivasis from Lilasi and made them go through harrowing procedures for about a day, on May 18. Later, on May 22, they entered the village, completely unwarranted and assaulted women and children, in which Kismatiya Gond had sustained severe injuries. Sukalo was constantly highlighting how the village was turned into a police camp. Bulk FIRs were filed against the villagers on the pretext of an “afforestation project,” the details of which wasn’t known to anybody!

CJP’s campaign and responses from political parties
Following CJP’s and AIUFWP’s campaign for their release and our Habeas Corpus petition filed in Allahabad HC, recently, even political parties such as Congress and Samajwadi Party have raised their voices for their release on social media and other platforms, with Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeting that he feels concerned about both the women and that the local Congress ministers should follow up on this.

Soon after, a Counter Affidavit was filed by the Sonbhadra Police, on August 14, in which they alleged that both the women are ‘wanted’ in criminal cases, shockingly after two months of their illegal arrests.

However, in the last hearing of the Habeas Corpus petition Allahabad HC directed the SP Sonbhadra to produce Adivasi Human Rights Defenders, Sukalo and Kismatiya Gond in Court on September 7.

New letter argues role of Union, its importance
The recent letter submitted by Sanjay Garg highlights the plight of Adivasis in the region and focuses on the important work being done by the AIUFWP in the region and counters all claims to tarnish its image.

The letter says, the important issue of the rights of Adivasis, which should have been taken into cognisance by officials of the highest level, have been left to the whims and fancies of a “Van Daroga” and some police officials.

Vijendra Kumar, the Van Daroga had filed a case 28/ 2018 which had big loopholes and should have been ideally investigated by District Magistrate or SDM to ascertain the facts as they are the Authorities empowered to do so, and responsible for the implementation of the FRA according to the Act of 2007. However, instead of any such responsible intervention (and investigation) of the authorities required under the Act, the matter was left to police and forest department who are the vested interests identified by the 2007 law for their anti-Adivasi stances.

The letter highlighted that in this entire episode of the harassment and exploitation of the Adivasis of Sonbhadra, the most shocking issue is that apart from the three arrests, there have been two more arrests, namely that of the Pradhan (Chief) of Gram Murta, namely Chandrika Gond and Gram Raspahri’s Krupa Shankar Panika, who is also the candidate of Obra legislative assembly’s Swaraj Abhiyan.

Witch hunt of Union leaders
The letter brings to attention the serious issue of the witch hunt of AIUFWP’s General Secretary Roma and union member Ashok Chaudhary and the demonising of the union and its activities.

“This kind of painting of a union in a bad light, despite its commendable work in grave and harsh situations, is a “criminal offence”. We also like to draw your attention to the fact that Roma and Ashok Chaudhary, who are the union members and have been named in the FIRs, are actually not related with the incidents in any way,” the letter said. Infact, all they are doing is “educating the Adivasis about their rights.”

It questioned that if Adivasis in the area don’t unionize themselves, how will they be able to negotiate for their rights. It also said that the right to unionize is a constitutional right.

The submission drew attention to the fact that Roma and Ashok Chaudhary, both post holders of the AIUFWP are seasoned social activists and have also represented various committees of the government and the state.

Further, that Roma was a special member of the joint review committee constituted by the Environment Ministry and Tribal Ministry of the central government in 2010, to ensure the correct implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2005. And between 2009 till 2012 she was also the special invited member of the special committee formed as per the FRA for the state of UP, to keep a vigil on the implementation of the Act.

Not only this, both of them have represented the cause of Adivasis and the status of their rights, including implementation of FRA on many national and international forums.

Adding that “the AIUFWP is neither communal, nor casteist,” the letter said that the union is committed to a harmonious and peaceful co-existence of various socially marginalised groups, such as the working class Dalits, Adivasis and women.

The letter highlighted the expansive work of the union and mentioned the fact that not only Kaimur, but the union has a presence in more than 17 states of the country. In fact it played a crucial role in the conceptualisation of the FRA. “Then why does it always happen that when a social organisation raises the questions of the rights of Adivasis, attempts are made to harass those associated with it?” it questioned.

Issue of false cases in Sonbhadra, UP
Highlighting the grave issue of 200-600 named and unnamed people mentioned in the FIR in question, the letter added that the issue of implication of Adivasis in fake cases by both, Forest department and the police  is rampant in the Kaimur area. In fact, it said that the union even conducted a public meeting in 2011 and study in which there was a startling revelation that merely in Sonbhadra area there were more than 10000 false cases on Adivasis. More seriously, as many as 80% of those implicated in these false cases were Adivasi women.

Hence, instead of claiming their forest rights and being able to live a life of dignity, all the Adivasis are entangled in, are these false cases, making multiple rounds of courts and police station. Now the exploitation has reached its peak. Several reports by various government and non- governmental agencies, one being central SC/ST Commission’s 29th report which, recognising the land disputes prevalent in Sonbhadra gave several recommendations.

Demands in the letter
The people of Sonbhadra, through this letter, demanded :

  1. There should be a comprehensive inquiry into the status of forest land in the village Lilasi and the land captured by illegal means by alleged goons should be surveyed/ found out. The entire matter should be investigated by CBCID or any other responsible agency.
  2. There should be an investigation into the illegal arrests of Adivasi leaders namely Sukalo Gond, Kismatiya Gonda, Krupashankar Panika and Sukhdev Gond, whose names dont even appear in the FIR. The concerned officials should be punished and the victims should be compensated for the harassment meted out to them.
  3. Strict action should be taken against those officers taking the correct course of law and order into their hands and sending Adivasis to jails on false cases without conducting proper investigation.
  4. False FIR on villagers and AIUFWP union members should be immediately quashed and responsible officials should be punished as per FRA Section 7 and SC/ST Act Section 3(1)(G) and FIR should be lodged against them.
  5. Adivasis should be allocated land as per the community resource rights claims that they filed on March 23.

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