New Delhi: As the electoral race for Bihar Assembly polls intensifies, 108 tribal villages of the Kaimur plateau are set to boycott voting as a mark of their anger against the crackdown on tribals ever since the beginning of the lockdown in March this year.
After bearing the brunt of “consistent evictions, bulldozing of crops and abuse of power by forest officials”, tribals from over 100 villages have been leading protests in the Adhaura block of the district, after which police officials allegedly carried out a “brutal crackdown on the tribals, implicating over 25 people in false cases, firing bullets on them and leaving as many as seven people gravely injured,” according to a report by a fact-finding team.
The four-member Delhi-based fact-finding team, which consisted of Amir Sherwani Khan (All India Union of Forest Working People), Matadayal (All India Union of Forest Working People), Raja Rabbi Hussain (Delhi Solidarity Group) and Aman Khan, an advocate from the Supreme Court, visited the Adhaura Block, Kaimur District of Bihar from September 23 to 27, 2020. The findings of the detailed report were released in an online press conference by Brinda Karat, polit bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and vice president of Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch.
As per the report, on September 10, 2020, thousands of adivasis, including women, men, youths and children from 108 villages of Adhaura Block mobilised themselves in front of the forest department office at Adhaura. The dharna started peacefully at Birsa Munda Smarak Sthal. More than 10,000 pamphlets of this dharna were distributed since August 2020, and government and forest department officials were intimated about the sit-in protest dharna.
The fact-finding report said despite this, police officials “unleashed a crackdown,’ in which seven activists were not just fired upon and lathi-charged but were also picked up by the police on trumped up charges. On October 16, all seven were released on bail.
The report alleged that Prabhu, an adivasi from Chaphana village, was killed by a police bullet that went through his ear. The police also lathi-charged adivasi women, men, youths and children, injuring several people, which went unreported, the report alleged, adding that “police brutality” continued in the aftermath of this incident as well.
Releasing the report, Karat said: “The government is waging an undeclared war on the constitutional rights of the tribals. Bihar is the worst performing state when it comes to according to tribals their rights.Out of the 8,000 land claims filed by tribals, only 121 were approved by the state administration and the state has the no claims approved under the community forest rights, trampling the rights of the tribal population.”
On September 12, Kaimur Mukti Morcha’s office in Adhaura was ransacked by police, the report said, alleging that dozens of activists affiliated with the Morcha were arrested on false charges by the police. The arrested activists were first kept in police custody and later presented in front of the judicial magistrate of Kaimur district.
Based on local accounts, Matadayal from the fact-finding team said: “The forest department created an atmosphere of terror in the villages. We are demanding that those who initiated violent action and crackdown on the adivasis need to be criminally and legally handled. We are being charged with one crime after another for merely raising our voices, we want criminal action to be taken against these officers under the SC/ST Atrocities Act.”
Speaking at the launch of the report, Roma Malik of the All India Union of Forest Working People, said: “The indigenous population is consistently bearing the brunt of the government’s apathy and the prevalent caste discrimination, their lands are being forcibly taken, crops destroyed and further, when people from across 108 villages gathered to protest their voices were repressed ruthlessly.” She added, “All that the tribals wanted to do was to negotiate with the department, instead the tribals have been framed under various Acts in the criminal code including the arms act wherein the tribals were completely unarmed..”
The Morcha has demanded that the government declare Kaimur as a Scheduled area as per the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution and any activity to create a tiger reserve in the region must be done only after consent by the gram sabhas and approval of the tribal population.
Full report can be accessed here.