08, Mar 2022 | CJP Team
In yet another development in the matter pertaining to the July 2020 attack on Tharu Adivasis in Uttar Pradesh, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) and our partner organisation All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP) have jointly filed a rejoinder to a report by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department in the case that is being examined closely by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
The report of the Secretary of Forest and Wild Life Department, Government of Uttar Pradesh dismissed all allegations against forest officials of assault and molestation of Tharu community members in Kajaria village. But CJP and AIUFWP have pointed out that there can be no justification for the violence and abuse, not only because it is inhumane, but also because the Forest Department had no authority to intrude over Revenue Land in the first place.
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
Tharus are an indigenous community or Adivasis residing in villages along the Indo-Nepal border. They have been struggling peacefully for community rights to the forest land and produce in that region ever since the Forest Rights Act (2006) granted forest dwelling communities such rights.
The Tharus of Kajaria village located in the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, Lakhimpur Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh, however, came under attack by Forest Department officials on July 1, 2020. The forest officials claimed that the villagers were tilling forest land, a claim that is rubbished by the villagers. Moreover, the officials did not follow set procedure and instead engaged in physical violence with the villagers; some women also alleged that they were molested and their clothes torn off.
This is not about one incident, but a series of such incidents, which began with forest authorities harassing the Tharu Adivasis by digging trenches of approximately six feet on the periphery of the village, in early June 2020, to prevent them from accessing the forests. This not only led to drying of trees but also stopped the drainage of rain water from the adjacent fields leading to water logging and destruction of their wheat crop!
When this was brought to the notice of the Deputy Collector by the villagers, the forest officials laid low for a few days. But then on July 1, 2020 the forest officials reached the field again, came to the village, allegedly fired shots in the air, and even allegedly molested women and beat up some youngsters!
One such young man, Suvendar Rana has recorded a video of himself retelling the horrific incident whereby forest officials including forest ranger Alok Sharma came to the village while the villagers were working on the field and started an unprovoked, violent assault. He recounted that they beat them up with lathis and hence they fled from there. He further said that the officials then started attacking and molesting his mother, even tore the clothes of many women working at the field, including those of his mother.
The villagers managed to get an FIR registered on charges of rape, criminal intimidation as well as penal sections of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, against the forest officials and one policeman who despite reaching the spot at the time of incident, did not protect the Tharu women from being molested but instead started hurling ethnic and casteist slurs at them! There is also a falsified FIR by one forest official stating that the women tore up their own clothes and threatened to file false charges of molestation on them!
On July 9, 2020, CJP and AIUFWP brought this matter to the attention of the NHRC. But despite repeated warnings, the forest department has been delaying the process. It took more than a year to respond to the complaint forwarded by NHRC. In fact, the Commission was compelled to issue conditional summons for personal appearance of the Secretary of the Forest Department. The response from the Forest Department only came after this warning by NHRC.
The Forest Department’s response
The Forest department in their response dated November 17, 2021 denied all the allegations and also turned around the situation blaming the innocent tribal people of Kajaria village.
They claimed that on July 01, 2020 at around 6:30 A.M, the Regional Forest officer (Bankati) got information that around 25-30 Kajaria villagers were tilling a piece of forest land using bullsin a purported bid to capture the land illegally. The officer then informed the Gauriphanta Police station about the situation, and with the help of other SSB forces went to the said locality
The forest department’s official response claims that they tried to reason with the villagers peacefully, making them understand that trespassing is a forest crime, but some villagers started provoking the people and pushed the females to the forefront and tried to stop the legal inquiry of the forest officials. They also claim that villagers verbally and physically abused the on-duty forest officials, even snatched away an officer’s state rifle!
Upon seeing more SSB forces and Police officers approaching the spot, some villagers allegedly fled to the nearby sugarcane fields and some ran to the village. The authorities found the rifle along with the magazine in the fields.
The FIR, about the incident, was reported in the Gauriphanta Police station as case no. 0009/2020 on July 01, 2020. However, the Forest Department, in its official response submitted before the NHRC, condescendingly claims, “The FIR filed by the villagers in Gauriphanta Police station as case no. 0010/2020 was about an imaginary incident that took place in their own minds.”
The incident was reported to Deputy Director, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve via a letter dated July 07, 2020 and also it was reported to Chief Conservator of Forest and Field Director, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, Lakhimpur- Kheri stating that the officers of Bankati are targeted under false allegations and the officers were booked under false charges in Gauriphanta Police Station as case no. 0010/2020 dated July 01, 2020.
The response also stated that the residents of Kajaria village involved in the above case had a record of committing crimes. Many cases are filed against them under Bankati range which are being heard in local courts.
The rejoinder gives a point-by-point response to the Forest Department’s reply. It states that the land that Forest Department and Police Officers were trying to prevent from getting encroached, is not even forest land, but designated Revenue Land. It is also registered under Kajaria village map as GAT no. 341. The residents of Kajaria village have been farming on the said land for ages!
The rejoinder also states that even if it is considered that the said land is forest land, as claimed by the Forest Department, the Department had not followed the procedures laid down under Schedule Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act), 2006. After the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, such land comes under the category where it has to get registered under revenue department and also register the names of any such community who is dependent on such a land and also those who are in occupancy of such a land before December 13, 2005. The action of the Police officers and the Forest Department is in violation of section 4(5) of Forest Rights Act, 2006 which states that:
“No member of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dweller shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete.”
The rejoinder filed by CJP states that the FIR filed against the people by the department is nothing but a common malpractice aimed at not only harassing and torturing the tribal community, but also to hide the alleged crimes of the forest officials against the tribal community.
The rejoinder further states that as the property belongs to Revenue Department, and that the forest officials have no right to intervene and stop the Tharu community of Kajaria village from farming there. It further pointed out how the Forest Department intentionally attacks the innocent people by calling the land as forest land in a bid to deprive the tribal people of the land, which has been handed to them by their forefathers.
The rejoinder also states that though the incident took place in the morning, the FIR was registered by the Police on the basis of a complaint by the Tharu women at 6:45 P.M, and that too only after they protested in front of the Gauriphanta Police station. This is yet another example of institutional violence!
The rejoinder also points out how the accused in the case is threatening and pressuring the victims to take back the case, and is also not letting the victims’ families to engage in any farming activity on the said land.
The rejoinder further mentions that the FIR registered by the Forest Department as well as the investigation report of District Magistrate do not mention the GAT no. of the land which makes their contention doubtful. However, the residents of the Kajaria village have the GAT no. and also the map of the Kajaria village.
It further states that there are a total of 46 villages in the Dudhwa locality, and almost more than 10,000 cases are registered against these tribal people by the Forest Department by misusing the provisions under Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and Indian Forest Act, 1927.
It also mentions that the case filed by residents of Kajaria village under Forest Rights Act is still pending before district level committee, and it is on the verge of getting recognition and hence the Forest Department has no rights to interrupt the claim process.
The rejoinder also highlights that on April 16, 2020, Union Home Ministry had issued an Order which said that communities residing in forest areas are allowed to gather and collect minor forest produce or wood cutting, collecting etc. It also gave approval to carry on their regular agricultural activities. At that period of time, the entire world was facing the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Central government had passed such an Order just to enable livelihood of the forest communities in such a situation. Yet, instead of helping the forest community to lead a peaceful life amidst such trying circumstances, the Forest Department was allegedly creating more obstacles for the Adivasis.
The rejoinder filed by jointly by CJP and AIUFWP may be read here: