29, Jun 2020 | Team CJP
CJP and the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP) have brought to the attention of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) a recent instance of blatant violation of legal as well as human rights of Van Gujjars of Dehradun at the hands of police and forest officials.
The complaint showcases how the officials not only physically assaulted members of the Van Gujjar community, but also destroyed their deras (shelters), and even tortured some of them in custody.
Brief background of the case
In the complaint, a detailed account of the incident has been given which states that on June 16 and June 17 some police and forest officials arrived at Van Gujjars shelter at Asharodi forest in the Ramgarh range of Rajaji National Park with the intention to destroy a shelter belonging to Noorjahan, daughter of Ghulam Mustafa aka Mustafa Chopra, (75), and started questioning why these shelters were built and started destroying them.
The incident of the first day was caught on camera by one of the children from the community which shows that the police officials assaulted the women of the tribe, while destroying their shelter and it can also be clearly seen how his family members were manhandled and attacked by police officials and forest officials when they objected to the destruction of their shelters. Mustafa has been fighting for the forest rights of his community in the courts as well as with the bureaucracy, for two decades.
CJP stands with millions of Indian Adivasis whose lives and livelihoods are constantly under threat, especially in wake of a shocking 2019 Supreme Court eviction order (that was later stayed). CJP has since then intervened in a Supreme Court case to defend the rights of adivasis, forest workers and tribal communities as per the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006. We will continue our quest for justice in the courts and beyond, including appealing to bodies like the NHRC and SHRCs to help protect and empower India’s indigenous people. Please support our efforts by donating here.
On June 16, around 4 P.M, about 6 forest officials came to the spot and tried to destroy the dera. On the following day, June 17 around 9.30 A.M, about 30 of them came destroying the dera and even, shockingly, assaulting the women with such brute force that they had to be taken to a hospital for treatment. Moreover, even a false complaint was lodged against Mustafa and his family members insinuating that they assaulted the police. Mustafa and his family members were taken into custody on June 18 and were also subjected to custodial violence whereby, as recounted by Noorjahan, she was assaulted in sensitive parts and yet was declared fit before the Magistrate.
Who are Van Gujjars
Van Gujjars are a transhumance tribe of pastoralists belonging to the Himalayas. Their livelihood and subsistence depend primarily on their cattle. Some members of this community have had shelters in Rajaji National Park since before independence and it was only after the Forest Rights Act 2006 was passed that their individual rights and community rights towards minor forest produce was identified, and the law allowed them to stake a bonafide claim to the same.
The complaint highlights how the police and forest officials defied even lockdown rules specifically laid down for the Van Gujjars which stated that Van Gujjars should be stopped from migrating and further asked forest officials to take a head count of Van Gujjars and ensure that they do not leave their shelters at any cost. Instead of following these rules, the forest officials defied the same and while it was their duty to ensure that Van Gujjars remain in their shelters, they went ahead and destroyed their shelter.
The complaint also points out how the officials violated provisions of Indian Forest (Uttaranchal Amendment) Act, 2001 which lays down the procedure of eviction whereby a written notice is to be issued to the occupant first. The complaint states, “No such notice was given to Noorjahan or her father Mustafa Chopra and in an unauthorised manner, the forest officials came and destroyed the shelters, assaulted the women and even registered false case against them, while they are the ones who got brutally injured in the assault and had to be rushed to the hospital; Noorjahan having even lost her consciousness.”
The complaint is also accompanied with a series of Uttarakhand High Court orders which have directed the state authorities to considers the claims and representations made by the Van Gujjar community members so that the same is resolved at the earliest and they can live peacefully in the forests which has been their home since even before India’s independence.
The complaint further states, “Refusal of forest authorities to recognize the rights of forest dwellers in complete disregard of not just the mandate of the law but also orders of the courts of law and invoking of false cases against these forest dwellers is a clear display of their contempt towards these tribes. The Van Gujjars are a vulnerable class of people sustaining themselves on simple activities such as cattle rearing and selling small scale dairy products and it is imperative that this Commission takes cognizance of such incidents of incidents against them so their oppression at the hands of forest officials can finally come to a halt.”
The complaint urges the Commission to take urgent action against police and forest personnel who have caused “such disservice and impinged upon not just the forest rights but the natural human rights of these forest dwellers” so that they can be “brought to justice and held liable for their actions”. The complaint pleads the NHRC to take cognizance of the matter, to hold 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. It also prays that an FIR be filed against erring officials for unleashing violence and hampering the implementation of the FRA and to initiate an independent inquiry in the matter.
The complaint may be read here:
The annexures to the complaint are as follows:
Annexure C (Video of the incident)