World Rainforest Movement

India: the Police and the Forest Department attack women that fight for their lands

In yet another incident, the tribal and dalit women of village Harna Kachar, Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh, had to bear the brunt of atrocities by the Police and the Forest Department.

A mob of more than 300 that included Police, Forest Department, revenue officials and dominant sections of the village participated in the attack where more than 20 women were injured. They were ruthlessly beaten by sticks, their belongings –clothes, utensils, grains, cycles, livestock, etc– were looted, and around 100 of their huts were lit on fire. This atrocity was inflicted on tribal and dalit women after the implementation of the historical 2006 forest rights act.

Just in a span of one month this is yet another incident of caste clash instigated by the Forest Department and the Police so that the tribals are not able to form their organization and struggle for their lost land rights. In August 2008, more than 300 huts of tribal and dalit people were razed to the ground by setting them on fire by a particular caste group known as Yadavs under the instigation of the Forest Department and the Police. A strong action was taken by the District Magistrate and the instigator Yadavs were booked under the Scheduled Caste & Schedule Tribe Act. The Police and the Forest Department were desperate to take revenge of this defeat.

The clash with women has been going on since the Police and the Forest Department built up pressure on women to evict tribals from the 150 acres of occupied land that tribal people claim belong to them. In one of these clashes, a policeman snatched the saree (Indian women dress) of one of the women. A newspaper reported that women got angry and used their sarees as weapons, in almost a half naked protest where they opened their sarees and threw them at the Police force who had to run away. But on 24th September 2008, the Police force came prepared –with only two Police women as a token presence- and started abusing women and beating them. Women had already pushed their men away and took a frontal position to face the Police force. The Police and the Forest Department started setting their huts on fire and then attacked and stripped the women.

The struggle for forest land has been going on in this area since the last few years where the tribal and dalit people and other poor sections under the leadership of women are asserting their rights and demanding their land back which had been illegally taken over by the Forest Department after independence. The struggle was further intensified after the enactment of Forest Rights Act 2006 and last year a big movement was launched in this region where thousands of acres of land are in possession of tribal people. This has created a big debate on the issue of land reform in this region where especially the upper caste, landlord dominant sections, feudal lords, industrialists, land mafias and mining lobby have felt threatened. They are using all measures to sabotage this movement.

The land dispute in this area is famous at the national level. All the committees formed to solve the disputes have enumerated in detail how the tribal land was robbed off in this area. These reports also mentioned how the tribal lands were transferred to the outsiders which still hold them. Later on, various commissions have also reported the root cause of evolution of Maoist activities in land disputes and non implementation of proper land reform and appropriation of land by the land lords, feudal lords and upper caste sections of society. However the movement around land has done a heavy churning in this region.

The spontaneous movement launched by poor people of this area has become a challenge to the authority of the administration especially the Police and the Forest Department who want Maoist activities to continue, as it is easy for them to crush the movement with the excuse of a law and order problem and also because there are lot of funds for elimination of Maoists. This movement has reduced the Maoist activities and the administration now has to face the uncomfortable matter of having to address –against their wishes- the land and forest issues.

The women who have been badly beaten in the incident are:

1. Manmati devi w/o Bhutan Kharwar
2. Tejmani devi w/o Mukund Chero
3. Tejmani deviw/o Rakesh urao
4. Jaso devi w/o Bigan Urao
5. Biswa devi w/o Jokhu Panika
6. Bachia devi w/o Rangilal Gond
7. Fulmatia devi w/o Lachuman urao
8. Indri devi w/o Birbal Gond
9. Kalpatia devi w/o Narayan Dusadh
10. Kalawati devi w/o Phulchand Urao
11. Phulkumari devi w/o Naresh Biyar
12. Bhukli devi w/o Ramkishun
13. Vidhyawati devi w/o Devchand
14. Asha devi d/o Lakku ( 10 month old child)

The officials who were involved in this attack :

1. Station Officer, Vindhamganj, Sheshdhar Pandey
2. Baleshwar Yadav, Forest inspector, Vindhamganj
3. Chandrika Prasad, Forest Inspector, Vindhamganj
4. Jhagro Ram, Forest guard, Vindhamganj
5. Santosh Kumar Tripathi, Forest Guard,Vindhamganj
6. Ashapati Ram, Forest guard, Vindhamganj
7. Ramesh Kumar Gupta, Forest guard, Vindhamganj
8. Premnath, Beat watcher, Vindhamganj
9. Subedar Bhargav, Mali, Vindhamganj
10. Jadunath Yadav, Pradhan pati, Harna Kachar
11. Ashok Yadav s/o Basdev yadav
12. Vivek s/o Bal Mukund
13. Keshwar s/o Prayag
14. Manmati w/o Ramgati gond.

We have demanded that:

1. A high level judicial enquiry should be set up on this matter, in line with assurances made by District Magistrate Mr. Ajay Shukla.
2. All the officials in this incident should be punished and suspended.
3. The villagers who instigated this caste violence should also be arrested and cases of Scheduled Cast and Scheduled Tribe Act, human rights violation, women violence should be implicated.
4. The forest rights act 2006 act should be implemented in the right spirit.
5. A high level dialogue should take place to resolve the matter of land dispute in Kaimur region.

By Roma, NFFPFW (Kaimur) / Human Rights Law Centre, e-mail: romasnb@gmail.com/

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