In Dugli village in eastern Chhattisgarh's Dhamtari district, over 20 tribal houses were reportedly razed down by the local administration, their crops destroyed, food grains set on fire and children left to fend for themselves as their parents were thrashed in a bid to clear out the land.
The reported instance took place October 13, forcing the now homeless families to seek shelter in makeshift tents in Dhamtari. Residents have said that they were taken aback as panchayat members stormed the area, first asking the residents to clear out the land, then setting fire to their houses. Since then, the residents have announced an indefinite protest against the administration and state government in Dhamtari.
This latest incident is not the first one, with several such eviction drives being carried out across tribal belts and have significantly increased amid the pandemic and therefore, remaining unaccounted.
Speaking to NewsClick, Rakesh Parate, a resident of the village whose house was destroyed, said, “We are Dhoba Kachhar tribals, we have been living on this land for close to 27 years. Earlier too, the administration has tried to frame us in false cases and imprisoned us. In 2017, our houses were damaged and after continuous protests we were left alone to cultivate the land. Over 12 people were charged in false cases then, and now our houses have been razed to the ground.”
He added, “Even our crops have been destroyed. We are trying to build pressure on the administration and if we do not see any action, we will launch a fresh agitation. We are the poorest of the poor, we do not have anything but our roof and our crops.”
The tribal population of the region is dependent on paddy and lentil cultivation for sustaining themselves over the winter.
Several residents are unaware about the reasons why they are being forcefully evicted despite the stay order on tribal evictions from the Supreme Court.
Image Credit: Harish Kumar, Resident, Dugli.
Harish Kumar, another resident, said, “Since 1994, the Dhoba Kachhar population have been demanding land lease. Around 6-7 persons have also died demanding a lease from the administration. Due to the demand for the lease of this land, we have been imprisoned twice. We do not know why this is happening to us, there is no provision for eviction of occupiers anywhere in the Forest Rights Act and on this basis the Supreme Court has given a stay on its own decision. Therefore, the Panchayat and Forest Village Committee have no right to evict these tribals from their forest land.
Activists on the ground have alleged that the applications of tribals for their land claims and forest rights have been unlawfully rejected only for the eviction of the tribals.
Dugli has also assumed political significance over the years. In 1985, the village was visited by the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his family, who adopted the village. More recently, last year, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel also visited the area to unveil the statue of Rajiv Gandhi, promising the lease of forest land to all the tribals along with the announcement of development works worth Rs 150 crore.
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