26, May 2018 | Sushmita
Two incidents of violation of fundamental freedoms of Adivasi Forest workers took place recently in Sonebhadra, UP. One on May 18, in which as many as 12 Adivasi women from Lilasi village, Dudhi were seemingly falsely accused of cutting trees, and hence taken to the Nevarpur thana and harassed throughout the day by police. Another on May 22, when several police officers entered the Lilasi village and assaulted Adivasi women, in which some got seriously injured. Now, Roma, the General Secretary of All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP) has written to the Sonebhadra District Magistrate (DM) highlighting these issues and demanding an independent investigation.
Following both the incidents, there has been a huge police and security forces presence in the village and an environment of fear and threat looms over Adivasis. When Adivasi women approached Nevarpur and Dudhi police stations to file FIRs and also requested the hospital authorities who treated them to give them a medical certificate of the assault on them, both their demands were summarily rejected. Now, a malicious campaign is being propagated against them, in which the version of Adivasi women is either not present, or has been portrayed in a very detrimental manner.
CJP has been closely following how these Adivasi women, who are a part of a peaceful struggle for land rights in Sonebhadra, are being systematically bullied and harassed. Many of them face fake cases filed on false or trumped up charges. CJP stands with the AIUFWP in their demand for the immediate implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006. To show your support for these brave women, who are determined to get their rights despite belonging to oppressed, vulnerable and marginalised communities, please donate generously.
In the letter written on behalf of AIUFWP, Roma notes that despite the fact that it has been eleven years since the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 was passed, hardly any steps have been taken to systematically implement it, while the structural exploitation of Adivasis continues unabated.
Highlighting the incident of May 21 Roma points out that there was one sided action from police, seemingly on fallacious accusations that the Adivasi women of Lilasi village were cutting trees (which had been planted under a supposed Afforestation Project in 2005). In her letter Roma says that the police entered their huts and abused them physically. Admitting that the women had to retort, possibly in self-defense, she says there is no doubt that the incident of violence was initiated by the S.O. of Nevarpur.
Roma also highlights that before any investigation could take place or any substantial proof of their alleged crime (of chopping trees) could be found, and especially in the absence of any lady police officer, the women were beaten mercilessly, in a barbaric manner. Even adolescent and young girls were not spared. Earlier, even on May 18 women were harassed and attempts were made to arrest them under serious offences. However, Roma added that Human Rights defender Teesta Setalvad took note of the issue and called up local police stations asking them to stop the harassment right away.
Roma’s letter points out to the DM, that as per provisions of the law, he should have initiated an independent probe into the entire episode. A dialogue should have been initiated with the villagers. She also draws his attention to the provision of the FRA 2006 that any conflict or controversy that ensues in the domain under his jurisdiction, should ideally go through the DM. The DM has the responsibility to pay heed to such violations and conduct investigations.
Despite the fact that the villagers of Dudhi area, had initiated the process of claiming their lands and submitted Dava on March 23, of which a receipt Pavati was also handed over to the villagers by Deputy District Magistrate, the villagers were not updated about the latest status of their claims. Instead they were met with brute force. Roma says that as per the FRA 2006, Section 4(5), the rule is that the time till the process of admission of the Davas isn’t completed, any kind of dispossession or harassment can’t be meted out to the indigenous population. And if such an incident takes place then as per the Section 7 of FRA Act, the involved officers shall be reprimanded.
In her letter she alleges that the Secretaries of Vanadhikar Samiti, Kismati and Sukhdev Gon, who were injured during the alleged incident of police violence on May 23, are not able to get their medical tests done because doctors from Nevarpur and Dudhi government hospitals have refused to treat them on the grounds that they didn’t have an FIR report with them. She further alleges that the police didn’t register the FIR as they turned vindictive towards the Adivasis and even when Roma called the Superintendent of Police (SP), he spoke to her in a manner that was unexpected and regrettable. She said that the SP told her, “You instigate people and action will be initiated against you”. Roma expressed her anger saying she doesn’t expect that an officer of such a senior stature should misuse his power to threaten her and implicate Adivasis and her in false cases.
She emphasised on the need for an unbiased investigation into the entire episode and questioned the apprehensions of the administration in not even letting the Adivasis register FIRs and medicals. She added that numerous number of false cases have been filed by the administration against them despite the on ground situation being significantly different.
She highlighted that AIUWP has always taken the course of democratic mode of resistance and struggle and believes in dialogue. In view of their past work with the Adivasis and their full co-operation and adoption of democratic and peaceful methods, justice should be delivered in this case. She urged the DM to not intervene in any fallacious and vindictive campaigns going around against them, and instead help the Adivasis in getting justice.
Copy of letter in Hindi can be read here: