01, Oct 2020 | CJP Team
In a shocking display of impunity and abuse of power, the Bihar Police fired at and wrongfully arrested Adivasi activists of Kaimur Mukti Morcha on September 11, 2020 during a sit-in demonstration demanding land, forest and water in Kaimur. Now, CJP and the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP) have brought to the attention of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) this instance of blatant violation of legal as well as human rights of Adivasis and forest dwelling communities of Kaimur at the hands of the Bihar Police.
The complaint showcases how the Bihar Police fired at and lathi charged the Adivasis, injuring three people and arresting more than half a dozen activists of the Kaimur Mukti Morcha, and conducting raids in their office.
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
In the complaint, a detailed account of the incident has been given which states that on September 10 and 11, 2020, the aggrieved Adivasi communities staged a sit-down protest in Adhaura Block of Kaimur District, Bihar to demand legal rights over water, forest and land. They were forced to take this step because, ever since the imposition of the Lockdown in March 2020, the Forest officials have been allegedly encroaching upon their lands with an intention to evict them under the garb of afforestation schemes.
The petition sent by CJP and AIUFWP states that “Forest department officials have, since March 2020, when the lockdown was in force, been allegedly employing means like encroaching upon agricultural lands of these Adivasis with the intention of evicting them from villages of Adhaura block such as Gullu, Guiya, Dighar, Bahabar, Pipra, Sainagar, Sodha, Bahera, Dumrava, Sarainar. In Sarainar they reportedly destroyed all 50 houses of the villagers in a bid to evict them. In Gullu, the government officials including forest officials have been allegedly pressuring the villagers by digging pits on their farm lands under the grab of carrying out afforestation.”
Deeply anguished by this persistent harassment and nuisance, the Kaimur Mukti Morcha also tried to demand answers from the Block Development Officer in July, 2020 to put an end to their misery at the hands of the forest officials obstructing their daily lives and infringing their means of livelihood. But their demands were neither heard nor met and this led them to protest in the month of September, 2020.
What does Kaimur Mukti Morcha do?
This struggle has been going on for decades when the “Kaimur Mukti Morcha” (Translated as: “Kaimur Freedom Movement”) was launched with the help of Dr. Vinayan who was also the founder member of the All India Union of Forest Working People (formerly known as National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers).
CJP, working closely with the AIUFWP appreciates, as has the state government in the past, the contribution of this movement which has been praiseworthy and responsible for eliminating Maoist presence in the district. Before this, the Kaimur area was notorious for its Maoist presence in the past, it became free of Maoists after the organisation of Kaimur Mukti Morcha by Dr. Vinayan who advocated strictly democratic means such as peaceful dialogue.
The complaint highlights the callousness of the Bihar Police in their role of causing obstruction to a democratically organised protest by the Kaimur Mukti Morcha in Kaimur, Bihar. The petition sent by CJP and AIUFWP states, “These were peaceful, democratic protests, protected by the Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The Right to Protest is embodied under Article 19(1)(a) that guarantees the freedom of speech and expression; Article 19(1)(b) assures citizens the right to assemble peaceably and without arms. Apart from Schedules V, VI and XI that statutorily mandates the protection of areas where Scheduled Tribes live from intrusion by authorities, the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and Rules thereunder include the right of land to forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers, for the purpose of filing petitions, making claims etc, to organise public hearings in the local bazar.”
The complaint also highlights that despite a February 2019 order pronounced by the Apex Court of India, that stayed the eviction of lakhs of forest dwellers, forced evictions were being carried out by the Forest Officials standing in absolute contempt of the Supreme Court. The complaint states that “In an order issued in February 2019, the Apex Court had specifically issued directions to the Chief Secretaries of various States to ensure that in all cases where land ownership claims have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act 2006, eviction is to be carried out. However, following protests across the country and a legal battle, the court had extended its stay on the eviction of lakhs of people from the scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers on February 28, 2019 in Wildlife First v Union of India I.A. No. 35782/2019. The court issued directions to the States to submit whether due process had been followed in rejecting such claims.”
The complaint informs NHRC that “A letter dated September 13, 2020 was also addressed to Shri Manoj Jha, member of Rajya Sabha in India Parliament in relation to the firing at Adivasis at the protest in Kaimur, Bihar on September 11, 2020 by AIUFWP. The letter mentions the aforementioned incidents and also that activists of Kaimur Mukti Morcha had circulated ten thousand pamphlets informing the villagers, Gram Sabha, Police and Forest Department about the protests of September 10 and 11, 2020 one month prior to fight for their rights. Another letter dated September 15, 2020 was addressed to the Director General of Police, Patna Bihar in relation to the firing at Kaimur Activists and forest dwellers by the AIUFWP on the same issues. Both letters attached the copy of the pamphlet that was circulated to inform people about the protests. The Pamphlets call for unity against the fight for their rights to water, forest and land.”
The complaint points out that “The Forest Rights Act recognises community forest rights as well as individual forest rights and allows forest dwellers to file claims to their forest rights under section 6 (1) of the Act. “Section 3 (1) (a) of the Act recognizes the right to hold and live in the forest under the individual or common occupation for habitation or for self-cultivation for livelihood by a member or members of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers.”
The petition sent by CJP and AIUFWP accompanies that “These unwarranted acts of forceful evictions of such vulnerable sections of society are condemnable and also amount to infringement of the basic fundamental right of right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Despite legal provisions and court decisions being in favour of the Adivasis or forest dwellers, public officials have been defying them and are acting in complete disregard of even humanitarian concerns when the country is reeling under the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The complaint urges the Commission to take urgent action against police and forest personnel who have unleashed unimaginable trauma on the vulnerable Adivasi communities of Kaimur, Bihar. The Complaint urges the NHRC to “constitute a special team to inquire and investigate the matter.” The complaint pleads the NHRC to “take suo moto cognizance of the matter, to hold the District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police liable and ask them to show cause for their inability to protect the rights and life of the tribals and forest dwelling community.”
The complaint may be read here: