Thousands of tribals walked down the streets of the capital today, under the banners of Joint Adivasi Youth Forum and Indian Adivasi Forum, demanding that the Supreme Court withdraw the order on the Forest Rights Act that will lead to eviction of 2.26 lakh tribal families from their homes.
The order was passed by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justices Navin Sinha, Arun Mishra, and Indira Banerjee on February 13. The order, which was made public on February 20, directed the state governments to ensure eviction of around 20 lakh people from forest areas spread across 17 states, latest by July 27.
In an effort to control the damage done by the order, the Union government filed a plea before the apex court to modify it, following which the Supreme Court put a stay on the order, permitting states to temporarily withhold the eviction of the tribal families. The next hearing is set for July 10.
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The tribals, however, are not happy with the stay order. They are demanding a complete withdrawal of the February 13 order. Talking to NewsClick, Dr. Praful Vasava, a tribal rights activist from Gujarat, said, “The stay order is only a ploy to appease the tribals before the elections. Before the next hearing, a new government would have been formed, and they will yet again try to exploit the oppressed class.”
Ranjit Khadvad Adivasi, who came to the rally from Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, told NewsClick, “The politicians only talk about the dalits, Muslims, and adivasis before the elections. And when they come into power, they attack us again. The water, land and the forests are ours, they do not belong to the capitalists.”
Dr. Heera Meena, said, “The government is not attacking only the tribals who are part of the rural populace. The urban tribal population has also become a victim of their attacks. By implementing the 13-point roster system, they are attacking the tribals who have managed to get access to education after long drawn struggles.”
She told NewsClick that her life is one of the biggest examples of this. “In 2010, I started working as an ad-hoc teacher in Delhi University’s Aditi Mahavidyalaya, through ST reservation. I worked there for five years, till 2015. After the 13-point roster system was implemented, my seat was turned to a general seat. The government oppresses the tribal population, irrespective of where they live,” said Dr. Meena.
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The tribals at the rally all had heart wrenching testimonies of their struggles. Roop Singh Bahelia, who came from Rudrapur, Uttarakhand, told NewsClick, “We were almost 35 families living in the area for more than three decades. We had permanent homes. Poorer people also had settled around the area, in slums. We have all the documents, proof of residence, identity cards, everything. But the government evicted us from our homes. They broke down our homes, even as we begged them to stop doing it. The destroyed our lives.”
He went on to add, “One of my cows was killed by the JCB. The other one got injured, and I am still spending so much money on her treatment. We were betrayed by the government, and no one is ready to listen to us. The District Magistrate says that we do not live there. This is why I have come to the rally today. I am carrying my residential proof, identity card, electricity bill, everything. The government cannot throw us out of our homes like this.”
The Adivasi Bachao Sansad March started at around 11 in the morning on Saturday, March 2, from Mandi House, Delhi. People from tribal communities all over the country marched together. They were joined by the All India Students’ Association (AISA) and Delhi University Teachers’ Association, who marched in solidarity.
“The government is trying to evict the adivasis, but they cannot do it. All of us are standing together against it. We are marching against the Modi government. This order is for the benefit of the capitalists. Some NGOs filed a petition because they were provoked by Adani, Ambani, Tata, and now we have to bear the result. We cannot let this happen,” said Dr. Vasava.