The Adivasis were staging a peaceful sit-in protest demanding rights over forest land and resources
In a rather outrageous incident of highhandedness of authorities over the vulnerable tribal communities, Bihar police fired at a democratically organised protest sit-in in Adhaura block of Kaimur District. Activists of Kaimur Mukti Morcha had staged a sit-in demonstration on September 10 and 11, 2020, to demand legal rights over water, forest and land. But the police administration and forest department did not listen to their demands and the activists locked the gates and forest department in a symbolic manner, to make their voices heard. But instead of engaging in a dialogue with the peaceful protestors, the police opened fire and lathi-charged the protesters!
Three people from Sarai Nar, Barkatta and Chafna were injured in the incident, while more than half a dozen people of Kaimur Mukti Morcha were arrested. The police also broke locks of Kaimur Mukti Morcha office and conducted raids there.
About the movement
This struggle has been going on for decades when the “Kaimur Mukti Morcha” (Translated as: “Kaimur Freedom Movement”) was launched with the help of Dr. Vinayan who was also the founder member of the All India Union of Forest Working People (formerly known as National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers).
The contribution of the movement has been praiseworthy, and has been acknowledged by the state government as well in the past. Though the Kaimur area was notorious for its Maoist presence in the past, it became free of Maoists after the organisation of Kaimur Mukti Morcha by Dr. Vinayan who advocated strictly democratic means such as peaceful dialogue.
On the day of the peaceful protest, the members of Kaimur Mukti Morcha were making the following demands:
– the administrative reorganisation of Kaimur Pahar
– declaring Kaimur as a Scheduled area as per the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution
– implementing the Chhota Nagpur Kashtkari Act
– abolishing the Kaimur Pahar Forest Wildlife Sanctuary and Tiger Reserve
– Forest Rights Act 2006, along with Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 to be implemented effectively.
Precursor to the incident
In July as well, Kaimur Mukti Morcha had gathered around the office of the Block Development Officer to get their demands heard. This gathering saw thousands of villagers from various villages in Adhaura block expressing their anguish over the persistent nuisance caused by forest officials obstructing their daily lives and means of livelihood making life difficult for them during the lockdown.
Forest department’s atrocities
The forest department officials, since March, have been allegedly employing means like encroaching upon agricultural lands of these Adivasis with the intention of evicting them from villages of Adhaura block such as Gullu, Guiya, Dighar, Bahabar, Pipra, Sainagar, Sodha, Bahera, Dumrava, Sarainar. In Sarainar they allegedly destroyed all 50 houses of the villagers in a bid to evict them. In Gullu, the government officials including forest officials have been allegedly pressuring the villagers by digging pits on their farm lands under the grab of carrying out afforestation.
They have been citing afforestation as a reason to displace these forest dwelling Adivasis from these lands for several months. Kaimur Mukti Morcha is fighting against these unwarranted acts of the public officials that make earning a livelihood a struggle for these Adivasis. The authorities have also allegedly threatened members of Kaimur Mukti Morcha such as the Secretary Raja Lal Kharwar and Rajinder Oraon and few others, by issuing notices to them that they would be arrested by the CRPF. Some CRPF personnel even landed at a village meeting in Bahida village to allegedly create an atmosphere of terror in the villagers’ minds.
Civil society reacts
National Deputy General Secretary of All India Forest People’s Workers’ Union Roma strongly condemned the firing and said, “For more than 6 months, tribal societies have been raising their forest rights demands, but no one is ready to listen.” She said that the Forest Rights Act, 2006 has been in existence for 14 years but in Bihar, but it has not been implemented on ground. “Instead of listening and solving the problems of the tribals, the police have responded with batons and firing. This shows its ruthless attitude towards the weaker sections,” said Roma.
The leading human rights organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has also condemned the incident of firing. CJP Secretary Teesta Setalvad, “Firing on Dalits and Adivasis who were demanding their rights is a cruel act and is a violation of the Constitution.” Others who raised their voice and condemned the incident include Bundelkhand Dalit Adivasi Adhikar Abhiyan; Sokalo Gond, President of Kaimur Mazdoor Kisan Mahila Sangarsh Samiti and Nivada Rana of Tharu Adivasi Mahila Kisan Mazdoor Manch.