04, Jun 2018 | Sushmita
The National Commission for Human Rights (NHRC) has ordered the District Magistrate (DM) of Sonbhadra to conduct a probe into the incident of police brutality in which several women, children and others were attacked on May 18. They were beaten up after they staked claim to forest land under Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006, Uttar Pradesh.
On May 30, 2018, Roma Malik, the General Secretary of All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP) and Susomma Manahand met Justice H.L. Dattu, the Chairperson of NHRC and handed over a letter highlighting the incidents of gross violence committed by the UP police along with Forest department officials. The appointment between NHRC and AIUFWP was made possible by CJP Secretary Teesta Setalvad’s intervention.
CJP has been closely following how Adivasi women of Sonbhadra, who are a part of a peaceful struggle for land rights, are being systematically bullied and harassed. Many of them face fake cases filed on false or trumped up charges. CJP stands with the AIUFWP in their demand for the immediate implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006. To show your support for these brave women, who are determined to get their rights despite belonging to oppressed, vulnerable and marginalised communities, please donate generously.
NHRC has now asked the DM to submit a report within three weeks. The NHRC Chairperson also assured Roma that a team from NHRC will be soon sent to the Sonbhadra area for an independent investigation. Now, Roma, along with other members of AIUFWP will campaign in Lucknow and meet the Chief Minister, the Forest Minister, the Forest Secretary, DGP and other officials.
A Brief Background of the Case
On May 18, the Muirpur police picked up around twelve villagers, ten of whom were women forest rights workers. It was alleged by the Station Officer (SO) PS Satyaprakash Singh that the people were involved in chopping trees that were a part of an afforestation project. When the CJP team enquired about the details of the project, the police failed to provide any details. CJP team consistently called various authorities and kept track of the developments. After a day long ordeal, and not before the Adivasis were intimidated significantly, they were finally let off at Dudhi, about 30 kilometers away from their village Lilasi and had to cover the distance back home, barefoot.
However, incidents took a more serious turn when Uttar Pradesh police entered the Lilasi village on May 23 and started forcefully entering the huts of Adivasis. Most women at this time were engaged in their household chores, some even feeding their new-born children. All this based on the false allegation that they had ‘cut trees and destroyed the forest’.
In the letter submitted, AIUFWP asked, “Does the police enjoy unbridled rights to infringe on the lives and privacy of forest dwellers, thus, beating up women relentlessly?” The letter by AIUFWP mentions that the police entered the village “without initiating any proper enquiry and attacked the Forest Rights Committee secretary Kismatiya Gond with a stick.”
“Kismatiya sustained injuries on her head. This beating was continued on young girls too with young children of the house also being beaten up,” said the letter. Similarly, another villager Sukhdev Gond was beaten up while he was fixing up the thatched roof of his house.
This entire operation took place without any woman constable or officer accompanying the team. The violence was allowed to continue for several hours. Despite the police violence, the letter said, it was the Adivasis who were booked! “Instead of protecting the rights of the Adivasis and forest dwellers as guaranteed under the special Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006, the police officials filed a false case on 24 people under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and –shockingly –even applied section 307 (attempt to murder) on them. This section was also applied to two senior activists of All India Union of Forest Working (AIUFWP), Roma and Ashok Choudhary who were not even present at the spot of the incident,” said the letter. AIUFWP alleges that the villagers were not even allowed to go and get medical examination done due to the conspiracy between public hospitals and police.
The letter by AIUFWP mentions that in place of an unbiased, independent probe, a one sided approach had been adopted in the matter and stringent sections of the law applied in yet another batch of false cases that have been filed on the people of Sonbhadra. It draws attention to the fact that the matters in the area exacerbated after the forest dwellers from the village filed the community resource rights claims on the land in the District Magistrate office at Roberstganj on March 23. It also said that there were clear reports that the influential people of the area had connived with the forest department officials and police to unleash violence on the tribal community of the village, “so that they don’t pursue their demand for their claims under this special [FRA] Act.”
The entire letter may be read here:
The AIUFWP has urged the NHRC to constitute a special team to inquire and investigate the matter. The other demand was to issue an immediate notice to the District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police for their inability to protect the rights and life of the tribals and forest dwelling community. It also demanded that an FIR must be filed on erring officials for unleashing violence and hampering the implementation of the FRA under section 3(i)(g) of the SC/ST Act.
The notice issued by NHRC on AIUFWP’s Complaint is a step forward in CJP’s Campaign to arrest atrocities against Adivasis and Forest Workers and ensure accountability from the police and administration.
Feature Image courtesy Reuters