01, Nov 2018 | CJP team
Adivasi leader Sokalo Gond has been released on bail today, in what is a major victory for CJP’s and AIUFWP’s campaign to free Adivasi human rights defenders who have been incarcerated in the course of their struggle for forest rights. We are positive that this will boost our campaign to aid the ongoing fight for forest rights.
Sokalo Gond, executive committee member of the All-India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP) has finally been released on bail, ending a months-long ordeal that began on June 8, 2018, when she, along with Kismatiya Gond, Sukhdev Gond and two others were clandestinely picked up by the police at the Chopan railway station in Sonbhadra, Uttar Pradesh. They were returning from meeting Uttar Pradesh forest minister Dara Singh Chauhan and the state forest secretary. In fact, Chauhan had promised in their meeting that he would look into violence, allegedly in connivance with the forest department, perpetrated on those residing in Lilasi village, Sonbhadra. CJP and AIUFWP filed a Habeas Corpus petition in the case.
CJP has been closely following how Adivasi women of Sonbhadra are being systematically bullied and harassed. Many of them face fake cases filed on false or trumped up charges. We are fighting for the human rights defenders in court, and also intervening in everyday episodes of institutional violence in the area. Please donate generously to support these efforts.
CJP’s and AIUFWP’s efforts for the release of Sokalo and the other forest rights activists even drew the attention of political parties such as the Congress and Samajwadi Party, who voiced support for their release on social media and other platforms. In August, Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted that he was concerned about the women, and urged local Congress leaders to follow up on the matter. Kismatiya and Sukhdev were eventually released in late September, and Sokalo was granted bail in early October, but still had to wait nearly a month for her release due to procedural delays.
Nanak Gond and others accompanied Sokalo on the six-hour journey back home to her village, Majali in Sonbhadra.
Sokalo has been a fierce Adivasi leader, fighting for her community, which comprises 70% of the Sonbhadra district. Despite 2006’s Forest Rights Act (FRA) that guarantees them their land, Adivasis across India have faced displacement due to so-called ‘development’ projects. The FRA has not been effectively implemented, in spite of its passage. However, Sokalo has remained unbowed. “We will not beg, we will claim our lands back. It is clear to us that the Government is not supporting us. Our movement will win our rights back, I am sure!” she told CJP late last year. Her recent incarceration was not her first; in 2015, she and others were arrested right before a major rally in support of a 100-day nationwide campaign for land and labour rights set to begin. Then, she spent a month in Mirzapur jail.
Just days before her release on Thursday, November 1, 2018, a group of activists visited Sokalo in Mirzapur jail. They reported that in spite of her discontent at her freedom being curbed, Sokalo was still in good spirits about her fellow Adivasis struggle for jal, jangal, jameen (water, forest, land). Even as she was led back into the prison after the short visit, she raised the slogan “Inquilab Zindabad“.