‘We keep on reminding and explaining the clauses under Forest Rights Act to the Forest officers but it appears as if the State government is deliberately undertaking illegal actions and is keen on evicting us,’ said Antaram Awasiya, an activist of Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS) and a member of an Adivasi community in Madhya Pradesh’s Khandwa district.
He was addressing a Press Conference along with other Adivasi activists of Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan: Ratan Alawe, Antaram Awasiya, Asha Bai Solanki as well as activists, Madhuri Krishnaswami and Nitin Varghese (JADS), Teesta Setalvad of Citizens for Justice & Peace (CJP), and others who support them in their organised struggle for their rights.
The Press Conference was jointly organised by Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sanghatan (JADS), Citizens for Justice & Peace (CJP), and the All India Union of Forest Working Peoples (AIUFWP).
The Adivasi communities who have been living in villages in Khandwa district of MP for generations have been under attack by the state Forest Department officials who regularly engage in illegal evictions and custodial violence against the Adivasis.
The activists speaking at the press conference discussed one such latest incident that occurred on July 10 where the forest officials along with police forces and hundreds of men gathered from nearby villages demolished the houses of 40 families in Jamniya village.
Along with that, the belongings of the families were stolen by the outsiders, and Adivasis who were vocal against the illegal activities were beaten up and kept under illegal custody for hours by the first department.
Antaram Awasiya said that for the Adivasi villagers in the state, brutality by forest officials has become an everyday affair. The forest department works in collusion with the police department. Adivasi locals are falsely detained by the forest officials and when they complain about the illegal activities they are threatened or booked by the police dept of charges under non-bailable offenses.
The locals are humiliated by the police officials at the police station. The police personnel at the station ask them to write their own complaints and taunt them saying ‘Why don’t you send your children to school?’. ‘But how will we send our children to school if on an everyday basis the state officials demolish our homes?’, Asha Bai, an activist of JADS asked.
‘The attack on the Adivasi families was pre-planned because we have received reports that the forest department had been preparing local men from nearby villages for the illegal action on July 10,’ Ratan Alawe, another JADS activist said.
More than fifteen days have passed since then during which over 3,000 Adivasis protested against the authorities and demanded compensation but to no avail. The BJP ruled state government has not responded to any of the letters sent by the locals or JADS.
‘The state forest department acts like goons MP. They abduct and harass Adivasis who are vocal and legally aware. Even the findings of the Grievance Redressal Authority of Jamniya suggested that DFP should be tried legally for its actions,’ Madhuri, an activist of JADS explained.
In the absence of any relief from the state government, the families are now surviving on the 60 quintal ration that the locals along with JADS activists were able to collect from surrounding villages which are themselves struggling from poverty and state action.
‘We will carry forward the movement by the Adivasi communities in MP at a national level,’ Roma Malik an activist with AIUFWP said. Condemning the series on brutality by the forest officials, Malik said that ‘we don’t want a government or a department that uses colonial laws to oppress the Adivasis.’
JADS through the press conference has appealed to the Indian masses to extend their solidarity to the struggle of the Adivasi communities all across MP to attain their constitutional rights.
The original story may be read here.