Van Gujjars demand for forest rights, local representatives offer support

Hundreds of forest-dwellers across Shivalik mountain range assembled on Thursday to discuss the threat of eviction and the creation of a tiger reserve with local representatives and organisations.

Van Gujjars

Rights of Van Gujjars should be secured before creating a tiger reserve in Shivalik forest, said members of the Van Gujjar Yuva Sangathan and Forest Rights Committee of Shivalik Saharanpur on the morning of October 15, 2020.

The demand was made during a ‘Van Gujjar Discussion’ meeting to discuss the issue of tiger reserve and the forced removal of the community from the forest area – a blatant violation of the Forest Rights Act of 2006. Hundreds of angry Van Gujjars came to the meeting from far flung areas of Shivalik to denounce the forced removal from their ancestral land.

Saharanpur MP Haji Fazlur Rehman who attended the event promised his support to the community.

“I am with you all the way. I will present your grievances before the Parliament. I would like you to draft a memorandum detailing your problems with which I can present your argument,” he said, following which the Youth Committee took up the responsibility of creating a questionnaire.

Similarly, All India Union of Forest Working People’s (AIUFWP) General Secretary Ashok Chaudhury also voiced his solidarity with the forest-dwellers.

“You [Van Gujjars] have protected the forest and kept it safe. The forest department was created to sell this land. You all are the real guardians. For this service, the AIUFWP completely supports you,” he said.

Van Gujjars

The participants resolved to send letters to the district administration expressing their non-consent for the creation of a tiger reserve. Moreover, they stated that if the administration tried to force their consent, the community would observe a protest at the District Magistrate’s office.

Earlier, the community had complained to the Lucknow administration that the Saharanpur administration had threatened to evict them if they did not assent to the creation of a tiger reserve. However, they insisted that the government must first remove the illegal firing ranges which pose a real problem in tiger reserves.

The Shivalik mountain range is the ancestral home of many Van Gujjars in Saharanpur, Haridwar, Dehradun, Bijnor and Himachal Pradesh. Their community enjoys a cultural title unique from Adivasis and depends heavily on forests for their pastoral livelihood.

Yuva Sangathan member Ameer Hamza said his organisation decided to hold a meeting with the Shivalik Gujjars after receiving their complaints on September 29.



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