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Tribal farmer "attacked" in South Gujarat following protest against cops, forest officials on afforestation spree

By Our Representative
Even as the arrest of Jayram Gamit, a tribal farmer leader from South Gujarat, under certain controversial provisions of the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities (PASA) Act, remains a major cause of concern for human rights activist, reports from the region suggest fresh incidence of violence following an alleged effort by the forest department officials to forcibly carry out tree plantation activity on the land allocated to a tribal farmer under the Forest Rights Act. A tribal farmer activist was badly beaten up and taken to a big local hospital for treatment.
The incidence, said president of the Adivasi Kisam Sangharsh Morcha (AKSM) Romel Sutariya, took place because local people resisted forest department and police officials entering a plot of land, Survey No 164, falling under Ambala village in Chhotaudepur district. “The pretext was to carry out afforestation on a piece of land which a tribal farmer has been using for agricultural purpose”, the AKSM said.
According to AKSM, following this, “women of the villages, accompanied by one of our workers, Shankar Rathwa, approached the senior forest officials to stop the activity.” When they were still talking, “a police sub-inspector of the Rangpur Police Station intervened and beat up Rathwa with wooden sticks”, the AKSM said.
The AKSM further said, “Rathwa was so badly beaten up that the emergency health van, 108, had to be called in, and he had to be shifted to the Chhotaudepur town’s civil hospital for treatment. We have already complained about this to the superintendent of police (SP) of Chhotaudepur, director-general of police (DGP), Gujarat, and demanded the suspension of the police sub-inspector.”
Following the incident, several women adivasi activists were detained by the police, said AKSM. "They were going to the district collector's office to represent their case when this happened. Instead of allowing them to meet the district collector, the women were detained. No reason was given. It is difficult to say as to they were how many women..."
Suggesting that this is not an isolated incident, senior Ahmedabad-based Jan Sangharsh Morcha activist Jignesh Mevani, who has been closely working with AKSM, said, “We are compiling such cases in order to highlight how such violent incidents have more common across the tribal belt. Protests are not allowed, people are being arrested without citing any reason, and there is no rule of law.”
A fast growing organization representing tribal farmers of South Gujarat, the AKSM acquired limelight following the Gujarat government decision to bar it from holding a rally in Chhotaudepur on February 2. The order barring the rally said the entire Chhotaudepur district imposed curfew on the entire Chhotaudepur district till February 14 because of “suspected terrorist activities”.
As part of “precautionary” step, the state government arrested one of AKSM’s senior leaders, Jayram Gamit, under PASA, taking him to Rajkot, about 400 km away. A person arrested under PASA has to obligatorily remain in jail for nearly three months till a High Court appointed committee reviews PASA cases. The Gujarat High Court in 2011 had said that PASA was being indiscriminately misused to arrest persons in order to settle scores.

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