Burhanpur, March 2023: Two Adivasi Activists from Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS) claim that they were threatened with arrest during police questioning following the arrest of 35 Adivasi people after a run-in with the Forest Department in Madhya Pradesh’s Burhanpur region. The two have been called for questioning today.
The region has seen a history of violence against Adivasi communities by the Forest Department. The Forest Department routinely attempts to illegally evict the Adivasis of Pachayat Baldi from their land by employing violence and intimidation tactics such as illegal detention, physical assault, and money extortion. This is a violation of section 4 (5) of the Forest Rights Act, which states that forest dwelling person from a Scheduled Tribe or other traditional communities should not evicted or removed from the forest land they occupy until the recognition and verification procedure is complete.
In a statement released by JADS, they detail the timeline as follows: JADS activists received a call from the locals of Baldi Panchayat on 2 Feb 2023 informing them about the illegal arrest of four people – two men and two women. They were picked up from their homes and taken to an unknown location with no information given to their families. JADS activists immediately contacted the DFO and District Collector, Burhanpur, asking them to intervene in the matter and ensure that due process of law was followed. In search of those picked up, other villagers went to the Range Office in Burhanpur and heard screams and other sounds of torture from the office building. There was an alleged clash between villagers and the forest staff after this. Following this incident, around 20 men and 15 women were arrested by the police while they were on their way back to their village.
The next day, Antaram Awase, a young Advisadi activist, and Nitin, a graduate from TISS, went to meet the DFO, SP and District Collector, to find out what had happened. Instead, they found themselves implicated in the conflict for merely speaking to the arrested villagers on the phone. The two were in fact not in Burhanpur at the time. They have called the two for questioning on 9th March.
Antaram and Nitin have been working with JADS for over 5 years and are at the forefront of the campaign to spread awareness about legal Forest Rights. JADS, currently active with tribals across 4 districts in MP – Barwani, Khargone, Khandwa and Burhanpur – is a community led organisation and plays an important role in highlighting illegal fellings of trees on Adivasi land and underhanded attempts to suppress their forest rights. The attempt to implicate the two JADS activists can only be read as an attempt to suppress this campaign.