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BJP-led Central Government Maintains Silence as Tribals Protest Across India

Sagarika Kissu |
According to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs data, until November 2018, the total number of rejected claimants amount to 18.29 lakh tribal and forest-dwelling families, who face the possibility of eviction following the Supreme Court verdict on FRA.

Image Courtesy: Indian Express

Following the Supreme Court’s order to evict over 10 lakh tribal and forest-dwelling households from forest land across 17 states in the country, India has been witnessing a series of protests from tribals. The SC order had further stated that claimants whose rejection has “attained finality” should be evicted before the next hearing on July 27, 2019.

If one goes by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs data, until November 2018, the total number of rejected claimants amount to 18.29 lakh tribal and forest-dwelling families. The decision has created panic among the people whose rights are protected under Forest Rights Act 2006.

The BJP-led central government’s failure to defend the rights of forest dwellers has led to the uprooting of more than a million people from their traditional areas of inhabitation. Calling it an “imperious” order, tribal communities have gathered in different states to reject the apex court’s decision that would lead to “mass-scale evictions” of forest-dwelling households.

Also Read: Modi Govt’s Lawyers Didn’t Defend Forest Rights Act in Supreme Court

Today, thousands of tribals gathered to participate in the “Hazaribagh-Ranchi Jungle Jameen Adhikar Padyatra (Hazaribagh Ranchi Forest Land Rights March)” at Ranchi, Jharkhand. Speaking to NewsClick, Mahua Manjhi, President of Mahila Morcha, the women’s wing of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, said, “We are holding the central government responsible for not defending the case of forest dwellers. The Supreme Court order came because the centre kept their silence over the issue. We are urging the central government to file a review petition to save the tribals from eviction. See, the name Jharkhand itself consists of the word Jhar which means jungle. There are millions of forest dwellers residing here.”

In Rajasthan, the tribal groups have rejected the SC order and have termed it as “provocative.” As per a report in The Times of India, “Rajasthan has close to 37,000 such families who claim ancestral rights were rejected under the FRA. These include 16,000 families in Banswara alone, who are now facing the danger of eviction.”

In the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa, which is home to more than 8,000 of the Dongria Kondh people, a vulnerable tribal group who fought against the state-government mining project, are shook by the SC decision. Lingaraj Azad, convenor of Niyamgiri Samiti, an outfit fighting for the tribal rights told The Times of India, “If the order is implemented, hundreds of tribals living in the forest lands for generations will have to vacate their native places... We intend to start an agitation to press for our rights.”

Also Read: Supreme Court Deals a Body Blow to Adivasi, Forest Dwellers’ Rights

A collective massive agitation by different adivasi groups will be launched on March 2, to highlight the plights of the forest dwellers. Speaking with NewsClick, Abhay Xaxa, Convenor of the National Campaign for Adivasi, said, “The Supreme Court decision is a draconian order and the centre should be held responsible for being indifferent to the plight of tribals. In the last three hearings in the Supreme Court, no lawyer from the BJP-led central government was there to represent the case. Now, they want to evict over 20 lakh tribals in 4 months. Can you believe that? We are going to launch a massive agitation on March 2 and 8. All the tribals and forest rights groups working in India are coordinating and it is going to be a huge agitation.”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Forum (HRF) has outrightly rejected the Supreme Court order by calling it “atrocious.” In its press release, HRF wrote, “We are shocked at the manner in which the apex court has approached a historic and landmark legislation in such a cavalier and unjust manner. The FRA was enacted in 2006 to remedy historic injustice to adivasis, who were treated both during colonial and post-independence times as encroachers on their own land.”

The press release also accused the central government of remaining silent. “On its part, the Central government has done virtually nothing to defend the law and is squarely party to this disgraceful wrongdoing. Government lawyers were not even present in court on February 13 when the order was passed and according to the reports, there was no senior law officer from the government in court over three important hearings during last year!”

Oxfam India has also held the central government responsible for the eviction. “The apathy shown by the Centre and state governments in defending the rights of millions of adivasi and forest dwellers put the lives and livelihood of around 20 lakh families at stake,” Oxfam stated in a press release.

Meanwhile, Congress President Rahul Gandhi has asked Congress CMs to file a review petition against tribal eviction.

Amid these criticisms, the silence of the Modi government presents a stark contrast to the anger of forest dwellers who are, once again, fighting for their rights.

Read More: Dire Need of a Legal Definition of Forest in India

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