13, Jun 2022 | 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. It took more than a year to respond to the complaint forwarded by NHRC. In fact, the Commission took strong action and issued conditional summons for personal appearance of the Secretary of the Forest Department. The response from the Forest Department only came after this warning by NHRC.
This time round, taking serious view of the non-responsive attitude of the Superintendent of Police (SP), Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh, as it failed to submit a report sought by the Commission, the NHRC issued conditional summons in the name of the SP for his personal appearance before the Commission on July 5 in case the requisite report and copies of the relevant documents are not received by the Commission on or before June 28. In case NHRC receives the requisite reports by June 28, the appearance of the said officer 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.
This is not about one incident, but a series of such incidents, which began with forest authorities harassing the Tharu Adivasis by digging trenches of approximately six feet on the periphery of the village, in early 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!
When this was brought to the notice of the Deputy Collector by the villagers, the forest officials laid low for a few days. But then on July 1, 2020 the forest officials reached the field again, came to the village, allegedly fired shots in the air, and even allegedly molested women and beat up some youngsters!
The villagers managed to get an FIR registered on charges of rape, criminal intimidation as well as penal sections of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, against the forest officials and one policeman who despite reaching the spot at the time of incident, did not protect the Tharu women from being molested but instead started hurling ethnic and casteist slurs at them!
On July 9, 2020, CJP and AIUFWP brought this matter to the attention of the NHRC. After considering the matter on 28.12.2021 as per the response submitted by the Forest Department and the rejoinder filed by CJP-AIUFW, the Commission directed the SP, Lakhimpur Kheri, UP to submit the status/outcome of the case within the period of four weeks. However, due to lack of response from the police despite directions, the commission then decided to issue conditional summons in the name of the SP, Uttar Pradesh.