09, Jun 2018 | CJP Team
Sukalo Gond, the treasurer of AIUFWP, along with Kismatiya Gond and Sukhdev Gond were arrested in a clandestine manner from Chopan station, Sonbhadra, UP just as they were returning after a meeting with the state forest minister, Dara Singh Chauhan and Forest Secretary in Lucknow on June 6. Sukhdev Gond is resident of village Lilasi and was first beaten up by SO SP Singh Muirpur. Kismatiya Gond is the new secretary of Forest rights committee, she too was badly beaten up by police The police had entered homes and reportedly assaulted Adivasi women and children on May 19 when Sukalo was in Lucknow at a training workshop.
Roma, the General Secretary of AIUFWP informed CJP that after 12 pm yesterday, June 8 she lost touch with Sukalo, only to read this morning of her sudden and unwarranted arrest. Roma further conveyed the fact Sukalo’s family members were worried about her safety as she was not in touch with the family for the past few days.
CJP appeals to its members to call the DGP, Uttar Pradesh, Om Prakash Singh at 0522-2206104, SP, Sonbhadra at 9454400304, DM, Sonbhadra, Amit Kumar Singh at 9454417569, Forest Minister Dara Singh Chauhanat 09455073877 and demand that the Adivasi human rights defenders, Sukalo, Kisamatiya and Sukhdev are released. CJP has been closely following how Adivasi women of Sonbhadra are being systematically bullied and harassed. Many of them face fake cases filed on false or trumped up charges. We are fighting for the human rights defenders in court, and also intervening in everyday episodes of institutional violence in the area. Please donate generously to support these efforts.
Sukalo, a human rights defender and woman Adivasi leader has been at the helm of protests. Her profile may be read here.
Following this surreptitious crack down, it is also believed that more villagers are facing the threat of indiscriminate arrests. These actions are getting more frequent on villagers after the people from 16 Gram Sabhas filed community resource rights claim on March 23, 2018.
Sukalo and two others have allegedly been booked under Sections such as 147,148,149, 307, 343, 333, 504, 353, 332, 336, 427, 120b of IPC, Section 7 of Criminal Act,3/5 public property Act, 5/26 Indian Forest Act. Around 24 people have been named in which Ashok Choudhary and Roma are also named as accused. And around 35 people are unnamed in the criminal complaint.
The local media is reportedly giving a one sided version, not presenting the villagers’ version at all. Some local newspapers have gone to the extent of saying that Sukalo and others were underground, which is untrue since they had just returned after a meeting with the authorities in Lucknow.
CJP has a complete update of the meeting between the leadership of the AIUFWP and the Forest Minister and Secretary.
Meanwhile, in a significant breakthrough, the NHRC assured action against the incident of police brutality that took place in Lilasi village on AIUFWP and CJP’s intervention. Roma met chairperson, NHRC on May 30 in New Delhi after CJP facilitated the complaint and appointment.
Forest Minister assures Investigation in case of Police Brutality against Adivasis in Sonbhadra
On Wednesday, June 6, members of the Forest Rights Committee (FRC) established under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, Roma Malik, Sukalo Gond, Nandu Gond and FRC Secretary Kismatiya Gond met with the minister of the Uttar Pradesh government’s Forest Department, Dara Singh Chauhan and Secretary of the Forests and Wildlife Department of the state.
“The Forest Minister took the matter very seriously and heard the issues of the villagers with keen interest. He has assured a thorough investigation in the entire episode. He has also asked his Principal Secretary to look into the issue. He may make a visit to the area sometime in June” said Roma after the meeting. The team sent a letter to the Secretary of the government’s Social Welfare Department and now plan to send letter to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Following the meetings with high level functionaries, Roma informed CJP that they also submitted a copy of the community rights claim that was filed on March 23 at the local level to establish the motive behind the local administration’s animus and nexus with vested interests trying to prevent rightful claim over land. Further they also gave the medical report of Kismati’s injury; she was wounded after being attacked by police personnel on May 22. Meanwhile, the SDM also assured the Union leadership that he would look into the community land claims filed in the 16 Gram Sabhas by the villagers with the help of All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP).
Roma said the activists questioned why the claims they have filed have been met with episodes of reprisal violence when, in fact, claims should have been assessed dispassionately. The AIUFWP has alleged that their lands have been captured by upper caste people, and Roma said that the minister has summoned a list of these people allegedly blocking the legitimate claims of Adivasis so that the matter could be investigated.
A letter addressed to the Forest Minister, signed by Nandu Gond and Kismatiya Gond, detailed the events of Friday, May 18, and Tuesday, May 22, in which Adivasis were arrested and, days later, attacked by the police. The letter explained that on May 18, police accused ten Adivasi women of cutting trees, and noted that they were only released following the intervention of the CJP team who made calls to the administration and police. Thereafter, on May 22, in Lilasi village, police barged into the home of Forest Rights Committee Secretary Kismatiya Gond and attacked her; she sustained a wound to the head. They also assaulted several other village residents, and harassed two teenage girls. Threats from the police have rendered the Adivasis afraid to remain in their homes, and also unable to speak their truth, the letter stated.
The letter has recorded that there were multiple political reasons for these incidents, highlighting that on March 23, community forest resources claims were filed by the people of 16 villages. These claims were over approximately 250 acres of land under the FRA 2006. The letter alleged, “Fifteen years ago, the Forest Department dispossessed the Adivasis of the land that their ancestors had tilled and cultivated under Section 20 of the draconian Indian Forest Act, 1927.” Though the claims were filed by the Adivasis, demarcation of the land in question wasn’t done, nor were officers appointed as mandated by the FRA, 2006. In fact, the land from which the Adivasis were dispossessed was used to build houses by people belonging to dominant and upper castes. The land records were fudged with the complicity of the police. The Adivasis believe, as also indicated in the letter that their efforts towards fighting this usurpation of land, spurred the powerful among the upper castes to perceive a threat against their illegal land-grab and construction, prompting the false allegations of cutting trees against the Adivasi women.
It is these set of factors that have mired local Adivasis into a new set of fabricated cases.
In fact, in the latest round of such cases, involving the violence in Lilasi village, Roma and Ashok Choudhary, who were not even present at the time of incident, have been implicated with serious offences such as Section 307 of IPC, attempt to murder! CJP believes that this is a clearcut attempt to target an organization that has cemented the united struggle of the Adivasis of Sonbhadra.
Major demands of the Adivasi community:
- that a complete assessment of the forest land should be done for the village Lilasi and the information on illegal land capture should be made available.
- That there should be a high level inquiry of the assault on the Adivasi women in Lilasi.
- That the false FIRs on villagers should be quashed and the responsible Forest officers should be prosecuted for not following procedures under Section 7 of FRA and FIRs should be initiated on them under Section 3 (1)(G) of SC/ST PoA Act, 1989.
- That the villagers should be returned their lands as claimed by them through collective claims that they filed on March 23.