22, Oct 2021 | CJP Team
In July 2020, the Tharu Adivasis of Kajaria Village in Dudhwa Tiger reserve, Lakhimpur Kheri, UP were assaulted by forest officials and local police who even fired shots in the air, molested women and beat up some youngsters. Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) and the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP) immediately wrote to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) which in turn sought an Action Taken Report (ATR) from UP’s Forest Department. However, in absence of a response for over a year, the NHRC has decided to take some serious action.
Taking note of the inaction on the part of Forests and Wildlife Department, UP, as it failed to submit a report sought by the Commission, the NHRC has now issued conditional summons. The Commission noted that even after a lapse of a year, no report or any response was received from the Forest department and hence, it has deemed it necessary to take coercive steps against the department directing personal appearance of the Secretary of the Forest Department before the Commission on November 29, in case the reports are not received by the Commission on or before November 22. In case NHRC receives the requisite reports by November 22, the appearance of the Secretary will be dispensed with.
Among its four pillars of action, the land and livelihood rights of Adivasis and traditional forest dwellers, is one. CJP, with its expertise in navigating cases of human rights violations in the courts and beyond has been active on the issue; partnering with the All India Union of Forest Working Peoples (AIUFWP) since 2017 to battle any setback to these rights in the courts. This includes legally fighting back against malicious prosecution of leaders of the community and defending the Forest Rights Act, 2006 in the Supreme Court. We stand with the millions of Forest Dwellers and Adivasis whose lives and livelihoods are threatened. Please support our efforts by donating here.
Brief background of the case
As a precursor to the deliberate attacks that took place on July 1, 2020, the forest officials had allegedly started harassing the Tharu Adivasis by digging trenches of approximately six feet on the periphery of the village, in June 2020, to prevent them from accessing the forests. This not only led to drying of trees but also stopped the drainage of rain water from the adjacent fields leading to water logging and destruction of their wheat crop!
On July 1, 2020 the forest officials came to the fields, allegedly fired shots in the air, molested women and beat up some youngsters. One such young man, Suvendar Rana has recorded a video of himself retelling the horrific incident whereby forest officials including forest ranger Alok Sharma came to the village while the villagers were working on the field and started an unprovoked, violent assault. He recounted that they beat them up with lathis and hence they fled from there. He further said that the officials then started attacking and molesting his mother, even tore the clothes of many women working at the field, including those of his mother.
One policeman even reached the spot, however instead of helping the villagers started hurling casteist slurs at them and abused them.
The joint complaint by CJP and AIUFWP had stated, “The Tharu community of Kajaria village has been repeatedly harassed and threatened by the public servants with the intention of establishing fear in the minds of the community and to make them subservient to their authority. But the community being dauntless is still standing strong and willing to fight for their rights despite unfavourable and hostile surroundings with no guarantee of their own and safety of their loved ones.”
Tharu Adivasis and their struggles
The Tharu Adivasis have been fighting to get a claim over the forest lands for years now. In July 2013, Tharu Adivasis from 17 villages of the Dudhwa National Park region had filed the claims of around 2,150 families for community forest rights provision under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA).
Filing of claims is an elaborate and carefully laid down procedure that has been devised to help traditional forest dwellers and Adivasis draw up claims to the land they have been tilling for decades, even centuries. The deliberate erasure of this history from Indian land revenue records dates back to colonial, British times. Read more here.
While their claims are still pending to be approved to grant them community rights over these lands, they were harassed by forest officials, needlessly and unlawfully, for tilling on lands they have been working for generations. While they have been struggling to reclaim their rights over these lands, they are compelled to put up a fight with forest officials and bear the brunt of their injustices while also going through the justice system to fight for their human rights as well.
The NHRC’s strong response in this regard gives a new momentum to the struggles of these Adivasis who bravely returned to those same lands where they were attacked and continued to carry on with their livelihood.