15, Jul 2019 | CJP Team
Villagers and forest dwelling people from as many as twelve villages in Sonbhadra, Uttar Pradesh (UP) gathered to commemorate the death anniversary of human rights defender Sokalo Gond’s son, Mithilesh Gond, on Sunday, July 14.
Mithilesh died six years ago in a Hindalco hospital located in Renukoot, UP reportedly because of the negligence of the doctors there. His condition demanded an immediate blood donation, however, even after 12 hours of being in the hospital, the then Chief Medical Officer (CMO) there, Dr. Pramod Yadav allegedly delayed giving blood to the 13 year old boy.
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An investigation into this matter led to the conclusion that there was indeed negligence on the part of hospital authorities. However, no action was taken against the callous doctors. Instead, villagers who protested this along with Sokalo, were charged in false offences.
Lack of basic healthcare is a common occurrence in the far flung villages of Sonbhadra, especially the Adivasi and forest dwellers’ hamlets. More often than not, the people, who have little or meagre economic resources, are turned away and are made to hop from one hospital to another.
This is inherently also linked to the subsequent governments’ apathy towards the condition of forest dwelling communities. With the recent Supreme Court order on ‘eviction’ of those families whose claims (as per FRA, 2006) to forest land have been rejected, these communities –already alienated from any state welfare schemes –find themselves on the brink of another life and death struggle, over livelihood and land. It was in these dire circumstances that, Sokalo, a vibrant womans leader of her people, called for for this commemoration of her son’s death as yet another occasion to strengthen the democratic movement of traditional forest dwellers and Adivasis.
As many as 100 or so people, braved rains and travelled for hours after their morning farm work, to Majhauli to commemorate the Shahdat (Martyrdom). Villagers from Lilasi, Bidar, Jorua Khad, Dhooma, Bom, Basauli, Baghuar, Gurda, Majhauli etc. gathered. All these villages are significant for the struggle they have carried on to claim community and individual forest rights under the FRA.
The program was organised near a site which the villagers intend to convert into a school under Sokalo’s guidance. Sokalo has a vision for the school to be able to train the residents of nearby villages in indigenous, medicinal techniques, as well as to form a co-operative to manage forest produce.Sokalo, told Sabrangindia that those who gathered for the commemoration were in good spirits. They’ve resolved to challenge the Supreme Court order, and on July 22, the day that has been marked as National Protest day by forest rights groups, they’ll present a memorandum in Robertsganj district headquarters with their demands. She said that they’ll even motivate the new and young generation to join the struggle.
The state administration was especially vigilant during the program. Sokalo reported that a vehicle with around 10-12 police officers made rounds of the area a day before July 14, the Shahdat diwas. On July 14, they were present since 7 am in the morning till about 6 pm in the evening.
“The administration were worried at the simple fact that we commemorated the martyrdom of Mithilesh, Didi,” she said on a confident tone. She said that the Lekhpal too, who was present had received repeated calls from the District Magistrate (DM), Sub-Divisional Magistrate SDM Sokalo thereafter asked some members of the administration, “What is the problem? Why do you need such heavy security for such a simple thing as the commemoration of my son’s death?”
Reportedly, the Lekhpal (a base level revenue official)* said, “Madam, everyone [in the administration] is feeling threatened by your name. We have received order from ‘above’ to be present here.” Sokalo also told us that all the ‘concern’ of state authorities was probably because there was an assumption that the villagers would protest in front of Hindalco.
Sokalo sounded firm and resolute with the democratic protest and also confident of taking this forward.
*Lekhpal is a clerical government employee entrusted with responsibilities of village revenue record keeping and also keeping accounts of the fields, crops etc. While a District is headed by a District Collector, under whom there is a Sub Division headed by SDM; a Tehsil headed by Tehsildar; a Pargana headed by Revenue Inspector; thereafter there is the Revenue Village headed by a Lekhpal