New Delhi: Tribal farmers in Madhya Pradesh’s remote Burhanpur area have stepped up resistance against the forest department, spurred by a recent incident of a farmer being allegedly brutally thrashed by some officials.
Recently, the tribal villagers marched about 100 kilometers to give a final warning to forest range officers, and also surrounded the forest department office in the district, according to some local activists.
Gyarsilal Awaye, 45, a resident of Lingi, was returning home from the forest with fodder for cattle when his bullock cart was stopped, and he was forced into the forest department’s vehicle and taken away, alleged some villagers. They alleged he was taken to Dhulkot Range Office, where he was handcuffed and beaten up by a ranger, while another forest staffer, and a beat guard, sat on top of Gyarsi Lal to keep him in place. No information was given to his family as to why he was taken away.
Angered by the incident, adivasis surrounded the forest range and the nearby police check post. Under pressure, the police made sure that the forest department presented Gyarsi Lal in front of the magistrate at Burhanpur, as is required by the very law that the department claimed to be making an arrest under - the Indian Forest Act, 1927, said local activists.
According to activists Ratan Bhai and Shantabai, the forest department, in picking up Gyarsi Lal, violated Supreme Court’s DK Basu guidelines, as well as the Environment Ministry’s guidelines for State Forest Departments, both of which explicitly direct officials to ensure the accused and his family or a well-wisher receive detailed information of arrests, such as the Sections under which the arrest is being made.
Speaking with NewsClick, Madhuri Krishnaswamy of the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS), alleged: “Some corrupt and apathetic forest department personnel, having failed to protect the forest from the timber mafia and destructive industries now want to auction off 40% of our forests to corporate bidders. They are seizing every chance to brutalise adivasis. The recent atrocity against Gyarsi Lal Awaye of Lingi was mainly because the adivasis of this village, as elsewhere, have put a stop to the systematic extortion by forest officials and are claiming their legal rights. Foresters were speechless before the fury of adivasis, especially women, at the protest.”
Villagers claim that Awaye is falsely being accused of burning down trees. Adivasis across from the district gathered and brought bundles of fodder stalk, challenging forest officials to ‘charge’ them for cutting and burning of these trees.
This is not an isolated incident, as Burhanpur in the past few months has seen a spate of attacks on adivasis by the forest department. In August this year, two adivasi activists were allegedly thrashed by the department in their custody.
Local residents hold that the pattern of violence is linked to the active involvement of tribals in the protests against clearing up of forest land and felling of trees in the region.
The violence against the tribals comes at a time when the community is protesting the proposed move to privatise 40% of “degraded forest land” and hand it over to private firms. The government claims that this land is wasteland and is degraded for multiple reasons, and that private players will be brought in for a period of 30 years to “improve” the ecology of the state's forests.
Also Read: Adivasi Activists Allege They Were Brutally Thrashed in Forest Department’s Custody in MP