The forest department in Burhanpur district of Madhya Pradesh started investigation on Friday night in the alleged assault of two adivasi activists in custody and suspended two guards following protests by tribals.
Since the detention of the two activists on August 29, tribals in the region had continuously protested to ensure that the forest department initiates an enquiry. Activists Kailash Jamre and Pyarsing Vaskale had alleged that they were brutally beaten up by around 20-25 forest department staff and officers, who took turns in thrashing them.
On August 29, two adivasis -- Jabarsing Keriya and Somla Chamarsingh -- were picked up while they were going back to their village after buying groceries. In order to get them released on bail, fellow activists Jamre and Vaskale from Rehmanpur village went to the Burhanpur district court. The duo was detained from the court premises and taken in custody by the forest department, which activists have called illegal. No information was provided to the rest of the villagers about the activists’ detention until late in the night.
On the basis of the investigation so far, the forest administration assured the protestors of taking action on the remaining guilty officers. The information was given publicly by the Additional Superintendent of Police.
Considering this to be the beginning of a punitive action against the guilty officers according to the legal process, the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS), to which the activists were affiliated, has decided to postpone a proposed ‘Jail Bharo’ movement by one week to give the department time to investigate.
The tribal farmers in the region are battling apathy of the forest department for a long time, claiming that a free hand is given to corporates to take away their lands and those who speak up are reprimanded.
‘Illegality’ of Forest Department
Tribal populations across India are currently battling the crisis of the dilution of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, as well as the controversial draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, which paves the way for smoother functioning of corporate interests on indigenous lands. Activists in the region say the Burhanpur incident has exposed the discrepancies in the existing mechanisms of the forest department.
JADS has alleged the arrest, detention and the physical torture of its activists were illegal and has intimated the same to the district administration, the police and the forest department over the past two weeks. The activists said that the forest department had no right to detain anyone. Forest offices are not authorised to custodial centres and thereby, the detention of any person amounts to illegal restraint and detention, the organisation said. The activists alleged that they were not given a medico-legal case (MLC) report after Jamre and Vaskale were assaulted.
While the adivasis and activists say that the basis of the arrests was absolutely illegal, the forest department maintains that they are empowered to arrest without warrant under certain sections. However, these same sections also state that they are to produce the accused before a magistrate or the officer-in-charge of the nearest police station.
The two activists were produced in court a day after their arrest. However, Jamre fainted due to the alleged brutalisation he had suffered. He was hospitalised for nearly a week, the activists said.
Further, the DK Basu Guidelines that were to be followed in case of a lawful arrest were also “ignored completely”, JADS said.
Also Read:Adivasi Activists Allege They Were Brutally Thrashed in Forest Department’s Custody in MP