23, Oct 2020 | CJP Team
The firing by the Bihar police on peacefully protesting Adivasis in Adhaura Block, Kaimur District on September 11 led a four-member team from New Delhi to conduct a detailed fact-finding around the incident.
The findings of the detailed report, co-published by CJP, were released in an online press conference on Friday, October 23 by Ms Brinda Karat, Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M) and Vice President of Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch.
Seven activists were not just fired upon and injured in the firing and lathi-charged but were also picked up by the police on trumped up charges. On October 16, all seven were released on bail. Two days later, in response to the ‘boycott election call’ given by the Kaimur Mukti Morcha (KMM), an organisation formed in the 1990s to democratically struggle for the land rights of the people of Kaimur, political heavyweights including the central minister of state for home, Nityanand Rai, air dropped into the far reaches of Kaimur, pleading with the protesters to lift the boycott call.
The KMM’s demand to cancel all the decision to earmark the Kaimur Forest Wildlife Sanctuary and Tiger Reserve in the area is a long-standing demand. In the guise of the sanctuary and the reserve, the long overdue land rights of the Adivasis were being further endangered.
The four member Delhi-based fact-finding team consisted of Amir Sherwani Khan (All India Union of Forest Working People), Matadayal from (All India Union of Forest Working People), Raja Rabbi Hussain (Delhi Solidarity Group) and Aman Khan an advocate from the Supreme Court. They visited the Adhaura Block, Kaimur District of Bihar from September 23 to 27, 2020. CJP is a co-publisher of the report.
Among the major recommendations of the Fact-Finding team are demands for the quashing of the FIR filed against all activist accused under false and trumped up charges, the set up of a Judicial Commission of inquiry by the govt of Bihar to investigate the police firing and lathi charge incident on the peaceful Adivasi protestors in Adhaura block on September 11. Besides, the report has also recommended the prosecution of all police officials found guilty of the illegal and unwarranted police firing and lathi-charge, adequate compensation to the he persons who were charged on false cases and were injured by police firing and lathi-charge and the immediate and fair implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
Most significantly, the Team has demanded the scrapping of the 1927, colonial Indian Forest Right Act and the declaration of the Kaimur Region a Scheduled area under Panchayat (Extension Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996.
September 10-12, 2020
On September 10, 2020, thousands of Adivasis including women, men, youths and children from 108 villages of Adhaura Block mobilised themselves in front of the forest department office at Adhaura.
The dharna started peacefully at Birsa Munda Smarak Sthal. More than ten thousand pamphlets of this dharna were distributed since August 2020, and government and forest department officials were intimated about the sit-in protest dharna. Local journalists from newspapers spoke to the Factfinding Team and testified to the peaceful protests by Adivasis.
Demands of the Kaimur Mukti Morcha
- Implement Forest Rights Act 2006.
- Declare Kaimur as a Scheduled area as per the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 to be implemented effectively.
- The administrative reorganisation of Kaimur Valley.
- Scrap the 1927 colonial Indian Forest Act.
- Implement the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act.
- Abolish the proposed Kaimur Forest Wildlife Sanctuary and Tiger Reserve.
There was no response from the administration and no one came forward to dialogue with protesters. In the evening at around 6 pm, as there was no response from the authorities, the Adivasis, in fear of losing their ancestral land, forest and water, locked the gates of the forest department office. This constituted a symbolic gesture of their protest to make their voices of oppression heard.
On September 11, 2020, the sit-in dharna continued. The forest department officials came, broke the locks and entered the department building. Post noon, the Adivasi people decided that they would try to reach out to the forest department officials to initiate a dialogue. But when the delegated representatives went inside the forest department office, they were abused and man-handled by officials who were present. Later on, and quite suddenly, more police poured in, along with CRPF personnel, and unleased a brutal assault on the Adivasi demonstrators. The police opened fire and lathi-charged the protesters.
During this period, an Adivasi person Prabhu from Chaphana village was shot by a police bullet, the bullet went through his ear and took a chunk of his ear’s muscle tissue. Police lathi-charged Adivasi women, men, youths and children viciously and many were injured which went unreported. Police brutality continued in the aftermaths of this incident as well.
On September 12, Kaimur Mukti Morcha’s office in Adhaura was ransacked by police. Dozens of activists affiliated with Kaimur Mukti Morcha were arrested on false charges by the police. The arrested activists were first kept in police custody and later presented in front of the judicial magistrate of Kaimur district. All the activists namely; Seepahi Singh, age 65 years from Goiyan, Dharmender Singh, age 25 years from Bardihya, Pappu Paswan, age 23 years from Jharpa, Lallan Singh Kharwa, age 45 years from Baraap, Kailash Singh, age 62 from Bardiha, Ram Shakal Singh Kharwar, age 52 years from Goiyan and Haricharan Singh, age 65 from Sarainar.
All of them were arrested and were sent to judicial custody. All seven activists were charged under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections; 144/148/147/323/307/353/332/333/337/338/342 and 427. Charges on the Arms Act have also been filed. (Note: On October 16, 2020, all seven activists were granted bail.)
The government wants to sell our land to the big corporates but I shall inform the government that until my very death I will fight for my land, forest and water.” Ramraji Devi, (Adivasi Woman from Bardiha village)
This is a tribal dominated area. But the government has divided the entire area into eight blocks in two districts to ensure non-inclusion of the region in Schedule V. We demand an administrative reorganisation of the hills and creation of two blocks only for the tribal population so that our area can be included in Schedule V.” Raja Lal Singh Kharwar, Working Secretary, KMM.
- The president of the KMM, Balkeshwar Singh Kharwar, claimed that people in Guiya village in Adhaura block had already been forcibly displaced by the forest department and police during the lockdown. In Sarainar, he alleged, the forest department officials destroyed all 50 houses. “Government officials have been pressuring the villagers in Gulu by digging pits on their farm lands under the garb of carrying out afforestation,” he alleged.
- On September 24, the fact-finding team visited Biduri Village, Adhaura Panchyat, Adhaura Block, Kaimur District. The team met the family members of Subhash Singh Kharwar, one of the accused as per the (FIR No. 71/20). The team had a dialogue with his mother Ganga Jali Devi, age 59 years old younger sister Phulan Kumari, 17 years and younger brother, Vinay Singh 18 years. The family accuses police officials of misbehaving and barging into their house without any search warrant or any document.
- The team visited Bardiha village Adhaura Panchayat and met Hira Singh Kharwar father of Dharmendra Singh. Dharmendra Singh, 25-year-old Kharwar Adivasi youth who was booked under similar charges along with Subhash and his younger brother. One of the women Ramraji Kharwar, showed us the injuries she sustained during police lathicharge. She stated that the government, forest department and police officials were trying to terrorise the Adivasi people, so that they hand over their ancestorial land to the government. The women also shared how the forest is an integral part in the life of the people of the community, and their interdependence with the forest. She was very vocal and assertive about the claims for land and forest rights.
- Kavindra Singh a local journalist from Bardiha village. He was on his official duty to cover the two-day sit-in dharna for the local Hindi newspaper Dainik Jagran. He too highlighted that the two-day sit-in dharna for the local democratic exercise to peacefully demonstrate against oppressive anti-people laws. He equally stated that the activists of KMM took permission from the police department regarding the venue, maintenance of law and order during the two-day sit-in protest dharna.
- The team visited Gopiyan Village, Dumrawan panchayat where villagers belong to the Kharwar Adivasi tribe. In the detailed conversations, the villagers shared that approximately 100 people from Gopiyan were part of the protest. The team also met Phoolmatiya and Samudri, both who had faced police brutality. Phoolmatiya was injured on her chest. Sipahi (65-year-old) and Ramshakal Singh (65-year-old) were also arrested.
- The fact-finding team then met the working secretary of KMM, Rajalal Singh Kharwar. He spoke extensively of the efforts of the ruling party to persistently saffronise the history of Kaimur Adivasis in order to divide communities and jeopardize their collective agenda. He pointed to the struggles of Santhal tribes and the rich history of the 4 million-year-old Kaimur hills. According to his testimony, attempts to evict Adivasis from their ancestral land were caused by the earmarking of the Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary, about to be declared the Valmiki Tiger Reserve (VTR).
Despite spending most of the time in these dense forests every day for years, none of us have ever sighted or confronted a tiger here. The proposal to declare the sanctuary as a tiger reserve is nothing but an attempt to grab our land and evict us from here.” Raja Lal Singh Kharwar, Working Secretary, KMM.
Since March 2020, the forest department officials of Adhaura block, Bhabua subdivision, Kaimur District, Bihar have been employing means such as encroaching upon agricultural lands of the Adivasi people with the intention of evicting them from their villages. These villages include: Gulu, Goiya, Dighar, Bahabar, Pipra, Sodha, Bahera, Dumrava, Sarainar. In Sarainar, they allegedly destroyed 50 houses of the Agariya Adivasi villagers in a bid to evict them.
In village Gullu, the government officials including forest officials have been pressuring the villagers by digging pits on their cultivable lands under the grab of carrying out afforestation. It is under these circumstances that the Adivasis have mobilised themselves peacefully and protested. The protest was met with firing and lathi-charge.
The entire report may be read here: