On the morning of July 10, a series of violent and illegal events unfolded in the Adivasis of Jamniya village in Madhya Pradesh by the state forest officials.
State forest officials demolished the houses of around 40 Adivasis families in the middle of a deadly pandemic to evict them from that place. Jamniya is in Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh, which is the home district of Vijay Shah, the Forest Minister of the state.
The forest officials reached the area with over 400 people including forest department officials, policemen, and hundreds of outsiders from nearby villages with 6 JCBs and 10-15 tractors, and proceeded to bulldoze the houses in the area, the locals say. They further added that the officials did not send them any prior notice or made even an announcement that their houses will be demolished.
The officials not only illegally destroyed the houses of the Adivasi families rendering them homeless but went on to destroy their means of livelihood by running JCBs all over the agricultural farms and spraying chemicals on the crops.
After demolishing the houses and destroying the crops of the Adivasi families, the forest officials employed hundreds of outsiders from nearby villagers to rob the families of their belongings.
Everything that the families had including edibles, daily use items, beddings, and livestock including goats and hens were looted by the outsiders in broad daylight while the forest officials remained silent bystanders.
‘In the name of government procedure and legal eviction, it is actually organised dacoity and hooliganism,’ Madhuri, an activist with Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS), a Tribal rights collective told Gauri Lankesh News.
Many Adivasi women said that the foodgrains kept in their houses were destroyed and their cash savings were forcefully stolen by the outsiders leaving them vulnerable in case of any health emergency.
The Adivasi families have since then been living in the open field without any state relief. Their problems, in the absence of livelihood and shelter, will be further exacerbated with the onset of the monsoon.
For Adivasis, the atrocities of the British Raj continues
The Forests Right Act, 2006 under its section 4 (5) mentions that ‘No member of a forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete’. Since the Adivasi families in the area have made land-related claims at the Vanmitra portal and no judgment has been passed in the favour of any parties, the eviction drive stands illegal.
‘The FRA was passed to end the historic injustice under the British but these kinds of repeated incidents show that for Adivasis, the atrocities of the Raj continue. In fact, under independent India, the atrocities are worse than they were during the (British) Raj,’ Madhuri further added.
Other than that, the proceedings were also illegal under MP High Court orders dated 23/04/2021 and 15/06/2021 which prohibit government departments from evicting baby individuals or communities, keeping in mind the pandemic.
Violence, illegal detention, made to sign on blank papers
Some of the Adivasis tried to talk to the forest officials about the proceedings to request some time so as to pack their belongings. However, they were beaten up and forcefully picked up by the forest officials and taken away. The detainees included Ramlal Bodu, Mahesh Nandram, and Sekriya Harsing from the affected community who were taken illegally to the office building of Forest Development Corporation. They were also coerced under custody into signing the spot panchanama as well as the arrest panchanama.
‘The forest officials abused the villagers and threatened me saying that ‘we will abduct your wives and sisters today” Bodu mentioned in his police complaint.
When Nitin Varghese, Ramesh Jadhav, and Amarsingh Rajan, all activists of Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS) complained about it to the forest official who was at the spot, they were beaten up and their phones were snatched by the forest officers.
The activists were taken to the same office building where all the six detainees were kept illegally in custody by the state forest officials for almost 12 hours. In the entire duration, the hands of the three Adivasis were kept tied.
All the six detained people were made to sign on blank papers and on the 41A CrPc notice, but the detainees complain that they did not receive the copies of the notice.
‘When they were making us sign blank papers, we inquired about the charges against us to which they said that they will put whatever charges their senior officers ask them to,’ Nitin Varghese, an activist with JADS and one of the detained people told Gauri Lankesh News. ‘The seizure panchanama did not mention our phones which the officials had snatched away while we were being taken into illegal custody and later on the officials said that they did not have our phones,’ he further added.
Update at 1 am: After powerful dharna at @KhandwaSp office by around #300adivasis, half of them women, all abducted persons including 8 adivasis & Nitin who were in illegal custody of Forest Dept since morning have been released. The Forest Dept must still be held accountable. pic.twitter.com/oZpsObcFZe
— Meera Sanghamitra (@meeracomposes) July 10, 2021
Meanwhile, no information about the whereabouts of the detained people was given to the locals. Later, on the night of July 10 around 300 people from Adivasi communities, half of which were women gathered in front of the office of the Superintendent of police in Khandwa.
The gathered crowd was staging a protest against the detention of 8 Adivasis and a social activist with Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS). Later, around 1 am, the detainees were released by the forest officials. Even though the officials said that the people were released on ‘bail’, they did not provide them with information regarding the charges against them.
Five days have passed since the affected community members and the three activists were held hostage but no legal action has been talked against the state forest officials for their unlawful actions and no compensation has yet been provided for the losses of the 40 Adivasi families.
Complaints against forest officials and demands for compensation
A complaint regarding the issue was been filed in the police station by Ramlal Bodu on July 11, 2021. The copies of the complaints were submitted to SP, Collector as well as the Tribal Minister, Forest Minister, and Chief Minister’s office in Madhya Pradesh on July 12. JADS has said that if the demands made by the Adivasi families are not fulfilled, they are will begin a mass movement around it.
The affected community along with JADS has demanded that legal action under SC/ST Atrocities Act and relevant IPC sections must be taken against Charan Singh, a forest officer, and other officials of the Khandwa unit of the forest department responsible for the series of illegal events.
They have also demanded that the documents that detainees were made to sign under custody must be revoked and the mobile phones of the activists held by the officials must be returned.
Along with that, the outsiders who were employed by the state officials for looting the belongings of the Adivasi families must be charged for dacoity and under SC/ST Atrocities Act.
Furthermore, they have demanded that the state officials must immediately provide the Adivasi families with ration and foodgrains and compensation for their other losses.