Police Brutally Assault Adivasi Forest Workers: Sonbhadra, UP

Acute repression against women and children Adivasi women has been allegedly unleashed by the state police in the Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh since last Saturday. On May 18, even as the Workshop on ‘Community Rights Governance & Forest Rights Act, 2006’ (organised by the All India Union of Forest Working People-AIUFWP) was underway, at Lucknow, human rights defender Sukalo received a frantic call from the villagers of Lilasi, a small village in Dudhi tehsil of Sonebhadra district, Uttar Pradesh. There was panic among the Adivasi villagers of this far-flung hamlet as they informed Sukalo that 10-12 villagers, mostly women had been picked up from the village and taken to the Nevarpur thana. The reason for the actions of the police appear to be retaliation for the collective actions of Adivasis in putting their rightful claims over forest land as granted by the Forest Rights Act of 2006.

Forest Workers
Image Courtesy: cjp.org.in

This thana is at a distance of 20 kilometers from Dudhi, which in turn is 30 kilometers away from Lilasi, the village from where they were picked up! CJP secretary, Ms. Teesta Setalvad, who was also a participant at the workshop, addressing a key session on Constitutional Rights, Forest Rights (the Law For and Against Empowerment of Adivasis) along with Roma, general secretary of the AIUFWP. They immediately then contacted CJP team about these arrests.

Rest of the story may be read here.

Latest Update
On May 22, around 9.30 am, again, CJP received a call from Sukalo informing us that police had entered Lilasi village again and was assaulting the villagers. When the CJP team spoke to one of the villagers, Sukhdev, who was assaulted, he informed us that 3 vehicles of Police forces had arrived at the village and started intimidating the villagers and even entered their huts. After this, in the villagers’ words, the police went on a rampage and assaulted about 15-16 women which included two girls aged ten and fifteen years. The police forces had sticks as well as guns and even intimidated villagers with a revolver. They were constantly asking them, “Are you the owners of the forest that you were cleaning it?”

Despite assurances from the Secretary of the Forest Department, Mr. Sanjay Singh, the police forces returned to the village at aroun 2.30 pm and continuing intimidating the residents. CJP team is trying to contact the Secretary of Forest Department to request him to stop the unwarranted actions and assaults immediately. Today a heavy platoon of the police has been posted in the area.

Context behind these sudden arrests
Days before the arrests by the police, the Pradhan (the Village Head) of the village, who also belongs to the ‘Baniya’ caste group (an economically powerful section of village society) had been regularly visiting the  huts of these Adivasis, goading them to sign some papers. For some months before, since these villagers had worked on NREGA projects for over two years –for which they hadn’t received their wages– this Pradhan mislead them into believing that if their signed these documents they would receive wages due to them. The villagers, who are largely illiterate, signed the papers. Only after the subsequent arrests –and utterly baseless allegations made by the police —they now realise that the documents they signed were not to accrue long pending NREGA  wages as they were mislead into believing –but something else. They do not yet have a clue as to what papers they have put their signatures on.

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