Molestation charges against Dudhwa National Park Deputy Director

The Deputy Director allegedly molested a woman belonging to Tharu tribe while she was rearing goats in the forest

Dudhwa national park

As per a complaint filed by a Tharu woman, an FIR has been lodged against the Deputy Director of Dudhwa National Park, Manoj Kumar Sonkar, on charges of molestation as well as under provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The FIR has been lodged by Gauriphanta police station in Lakhimpur Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh.

On August 1, a Tharu woman was rearing some goats in the forest when Sonkar arrived with his patrolling team and questioned her on why she was rearing goats there. She replied saying that she was doing this on her own farm. Hearing this Sonkar got infuriated and allegedly hurled abuses and casteist slurs at her while also gripping her arm and pulling her close forcefully, while she resisted. When other women started gathering there, Sonkar, with his patrolling party, left while taking away two goats and one villager. This drew the villagers’ ire and they blocked the road.

The police reached on the spot and only after the forest officials let go the two goats and the villager, did the villagers regain composure. Thereafter the FIR was lodged against Sonkar.

This is not the first time that the forest department has gotten itself into trouble by harassing the forest dwelling tribes-persons. In an incident on July 1, forest officials clashed with Tharu tribe living in Kajaria village in Lakhimpur Kheri district whereby some armed forest officials came to the village and allegedly fired some shots in the air, molested a few women (tore their clothes as well), and beat up some youngsters. An FIR was also lodged then against a few forest officials at Gauriphanta police station. In this incident, Citizens for Justice and Peace along with All India Union of Forest Working People have filed a petition with the National Human Rights Commission, of which the commission has taken cognisance.

In 2012, thousands of women had tried to enter the forest with their bullock carts in a demonstration of the rights given to them by the FRA 2006. They were brutally attacked by the forest officials and policemen. Nivada Rana, a Tharu woman leader of Kajaria village was seriously injured. In 2019, Nivada Rana was one of the three women who, alongwith CJP and AIUFWP, filed an intervention in the Supreme Court to defend the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006. 

While the people of these villages have lived here for centuries, official records indicate evidence on paper dating back to at least 200 years. In 1978 when Dudhwa Reserve Forest was carved out of this area, the Tharu people found themselves facing eviction. A long and bruising legal battle followed that only came to an end when the historic FRA was passed in 2006. Ever since the FRA 2006, in recognition of historical injustices meted out to forest dwelling communities granted them community right over their land, their run-ins with the forest department have intensified. And because the FRA 2006 gives unprecedented power to forest working women, it is not surprising that they find themselves at the receiving end of brutal attacks. 



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