Two adivasi activists have accused dozens of forest department officials of beating them up while in custody in Madhya Pradesh’s Burhanpur region, which has a history of violence against Barela and Bhilala adivasis.
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 adivasi activists Kailash Jamre and Pyarsing Vaskale from Rehmanpur village went to the Burhanpur district court. The duo was illegally detained from the court premises and taken in custody by the forest department.
No information was provided to the rest of the villagers about the activists’ detention until late in the night on August 29. The two activists, who have been vocal against large-scale clearing up of forests in the Ghagarla region, were locked up at the range office in Khaknar.
Jamre and Vaskale have alleged that they were brutally beaten up by around 20-25 staff and officers, who took turns in thrashing them.
According to Jamre, two or three people would “hold their limbs while the others beat them with batons.” He said that most of the officials were drunk, and kept abusing them for “talking too much about the law and being the leaders of the sangathan.”
The complainants alleged that the police have refused to file a complaint and instead threatened them with arrest. The forest department has neither offered any evidence nor presented a charge-sheet on the crimes committed by the two. However, their bail application was rejected.
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 six days and is still not able to properly walk.
Both Jamre and Vaskale are active in opposing illegal clearing of forest, which they say is taking place with the active connivance of forest officials. They, along with other adivasis of Rehmanpur village, are also claimants of forest rights under the Forest Right Act, 2006.
In this same district, the forest department had last year illegally destroyed the fields of adivasi claimants and injured five adivasis in pellet gun firing in Siwal village. The Forest Rights Act (FRA) prohibits eviction of claimants when the process of settlement of rights is ongoing.
‘Forest Department Violating Laws’
The adivasis in the area have led a long struggle against the forest department staff who have been demanding money from the tribals for sowing and harvesting along with threatening them with slapping cases on false charges.
For the past two years, Jamre and Vaskale have been generating awareness about Forest Rights and other legal rights and entitlements of adivasis under the ambit of the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS).
Speaking to NewsClick, Madhuri Krishnaswamy of the JADS said, “We have met with the collector. However, they are still thinking of the complaint and have not processed it. We want the officers of the forest department to be booked under the charges of kidnapping, illegal confinement, assault and atrocities. There has been a large scale felling of the trees wherein the forest department has been working in connivance with the state to both divert attention from the issues and repress adivasi voices.”
The forest department does not have the right to hold any “accused”or to detain any individual except under sections governing serious crimes that are not applicable here. Custodial interrogation is allowed only after specific permission of the court, which was not taken. Interrogation at night is disallowed while physical violence is clearly and blatantly illegal. Even in cases of arrests, a relative or well wisher of the arrestee has to be officially informed, and not only was this not done, but the village community says they were deliberately given false information.
In this process, the Burhanpur forest division appears to be in complete violation of the law and the procedures for arrest as laid out by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau in case of serious wildlife crimes and those of the Supreme Court on the arrest of an accused. The forest officials appear to have violated the adivasis’ fundamental right to life and liberty through alleged acts of kidnapping and assault, which are not only illegal but also atrocities under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. No action has been taken against the erring officials till now.
JADS has demanded withdrawal of all “false and unsubstantiated” cases against legal claimants of land under the FRA. “The attempt to terrorise and intimidate adivasis by the forest department must be immediately stopped,” it said. In addition to this, the organization has demanded the statements of Jabarsingh Keria and Sumla Chamarsingh on the manner of their arrest to be admitted and officials responsible for the “illegal" arrest of the two should be punished.
The organisation is slated to begin protests in the politically important region if action is not taken in these cases. The issue could assume significance with the approaching by-election in Madhya Pradesh.
* This is a developing story.