As many as 40 Adivasi families hailing from Bhil and Barela tribes in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh have spent the last six days roofless in the leftover ruins of their village. The destroyed settlement, now a mixture of rubble and dirt, is where once stood homes, and fields of crops. But, on July 10, 2021 a mob, allegedly supervised by police and forest officials, illegally evicted over 200 people with little concern for the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic or the monsoon season.
On Saturday, the unassuming villagers of Negaon-Jamniya went about their everyday activities, assured by a month-old High Court order that barred demolition and eviction in their area until July 15.
However, at the end of the day, the villagers suffered various atrocities such as looting of personal property, assault, abduction and illegal confinement by a mob comprising nearby villagers. Survivors said they did not receive any prior eviction notice.
Adivasi village ruined
According to people’s organisation Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS), the mob ransacked houses and destroyed fields by spraying poisonous chemicals. Speaking to Sabrang India, Adivasi leader Madhuri said that two villagers Mahesh and Ramlal suffered physical injuries during the attack.
“The forest department has decided on its own that we are invading the land when in fact, under the Forest Rights Act, this land belongs to us,” sadid Madhuri asking, “But regardless, what kind of government action is this to invite villagers from nearby villages to attack us?”
Working for the community, she said that villagers living in the ruins have suffered continued attacks for the last week. This despite the fact that the mob already looted grain, cattle, money and household goods from the families.
“Everything owned by these families was looted or destroyed — 130 quintals of food grains, Rs. 63,800 in cash, a shop worth Rs 80,000, Rs.12,000 worth of jewellery, five cycles and four mobile phones and over 300 chickens, 16 goats and 1 calf. Another calf was killed during the destruction of homes. They are left with nothing but the clothes on their backs,” said JADS in a press release.
JADS has released a detailed list of property loss in their complaint letters to the Chief Minister, Forest Minister and Tribal Affairs Minister along with the district administration.
Along with property loss, three Adivasis and three social activists were taken away to the Forest Development Corporation office for over 10 hours. Villagers alleged that detained adivasis were tied with ropes.
When news of the mob attack spread, hundreds of Adivasis gathered for a massive sit-in outside Khandwa SP’s office. Officials released the six people in light of the huge protest.
However, the administration has filed complaints against the detainees. The JADS said that the villagers have still not been informed about the details of these complaints although they were forced to sign blank papers.
The forest department took their signatures under Section 41 of the CrPC that allows arrest without warrant but did not hand over notices. Meanwhile, three phones were confiscated. Among their demands, villagers have asked that the phones be returned and the forcibly signed papers be dismissed.
Adivasi demands and administrative inaction
For nearly a week now, surviving Adivasis have voiced the need for immediate compensation and action with regards to the crimes committed during the illegal eviction.
Enraged by the attack, villagers demanded the immediate arrest of Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Charan Singh and other officials under the Prevention of Atrocities Act and other relevant provisions for supervising the wrongdoings that unfolded that day.
Moreover, they demanded immediate ration relief for the evicted families, left stranded during a pandemic. Villagers also require compensation for the loss of personal belongings. However, they are yet to hear from the state government.
“Adivasis have warned the administration that they will intensify their struggle if these basic demands are not met. There has been no action to punish those responsible for this brutal violation of adivasis’ constitutional rights. No relief has been provided so far to the over-200 people who remain homeless and have had their food grains looted,” said the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS) in a press release.
A blatant violation of Adivasi rights
When SabrangIndia spoke to the Khandwa police, Additional Superintendent of Police Prakash Parihar said that the incident occurred due to the illegal encroachment of the tribal community.
“The tribals came and cut down 90 hectares of land. They were to be removed from the place,” he said.
However, when asked about the court order for a stay on Adivasi eviction, the official directed the question to the forest department, and the forest department has been unavailable for comment so far.
Meanwhile, Bhil and Barela villagers condemn the eviction as a violation of not just High Court orders but the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006. The concerned families are claimants under the FRA that protects them against evictions until the verification process of claims is complete. In this case, the verification has not even started.
Regarding the incident, the JADS said just as freedom fighters in their community like Tantia Bhil, Vir Singh Gond, Ganjan Korku, Bhima Nayak fought the British colonists, the current generation continues to fight against a similar exploitative regime in free India.
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