UP cops "beat up, drag" tribal women for second time in a week for campaigning to reclaim their forest land

Tribal women of Lilasi Kala
By Our Representative
In a shocking incident, around 30 to 40 Uttar Pradesh's police officers on Tuesday reportedly barged into tribal women's homes in Lilasi Kala village of the Sonebhadra district, which has a population of 1,160, with sticks and a revolver gun, and assaulted them, did not even sparing children as young as 10-years old. One woman was hit on the head so aggressively that she started bleeding "profusely".
This incident, says a release by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), follows several police officers barging into the huts of 10-12 Adivasi women last weekend, dragging them to the Myorpur police station without arrest warrant. Says CJP, which is led by well-known human rights leader Teesta Setelvad, it's activists, backed by those from the All-India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), "some of the women at that time were cooking for their families, and some were even feeding their newborns."
Intervention by the two civil rights groups put pressure on the cops' action, and women were eventually released last Saturday only to be dropped 30 kilometers away from their homes, a distance they were forced to walk barefoot. Although their release was a small victory, on Tuesday they woke up to yet another attack by the local police.
Justifying the arrest, the police accused adivasi women of cutting down a Forest Department afforestation project, of which, says CJP, no record or public knowledge exists. "False cases have been slapped, with threats of even more dire criminal charges", says the CJP release, "made to quell the mobilization for acquiring the tribals’ land and dignity."
Teesta Setalvad
According to CJP, tribal women of Sonebhadra district have been fighting to reclaim their rights, first guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and then by the Forest Rights Act, 2006. Their battle for life and dignity pits them against the state's Forest Department and government-backed multinationals that are determined to snatch away their land and livelihoods.
The first attack on tribal women coincided with a workshop on Community Rights Governance & Forest Rights Act, 2006 organised by CJP’s and AIUFWP in Lucknow, UP capital, where human rights defender Sukalo was participating. Even as the workshop was on, she received a frantic call from the villagers of Lilasi Kala, which is in Dudhi tehsil, that 10-12 villagers, mostly women had been picked up from the village and taken to the  Myorpur police station.
Setalvad, who was taking the workshop, called up the Myorpur police station asking for confirmation of the detentions/arrests and sought reasons of the authorities for their actions. Says CJP, "SHO SP Singh confirmed that 12 villagers, ten of whom were women, were indeed arrested in connected with the “willful destruction” of a Forest Department “afforestation project”.
According to CJP, he added, “Nearly 40 women of the ‘Van Samiti’ (forest committee) cut down over 400 trees on May 14. When a forest guard tried to stop them they ran after him with axes.” CJP says, "This has been denied by tribal women who said that the assault was connected to their movement, launched since April 23 this year, to claim community and individual rights over land, rights granted under the Forest Rights Act."
Notably, days before the arrests by the police, the village head, who belongs to the ‘Baniya’ caste group, an economically powerful section, was found regularly visiting tribal huts, goading them to sign some papers, telling them, this was meant for the release of of their National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme wages, pending for the last two years. However, no wages were released, making illiterate villagers wondering whether they were meant for unreleased wages.
Asks Sukalo, “It is Adivasis who are actually protecting the trees, why are we then being hounded on false charges?” Explaining basic farming and plantation practices, she adds, "While looking after trees, often, unnecessary shrubs and undergrowth has to be weeded out, a practice most indigenous populations across the world are familiar with. Even on May 14, what the we were doing was just this: weeding out the wild grass and bushes."
“But we were were falsely accused of cutting trees,” says Sukalo, adding, “People are well aware that tribals worship trees. We not only plant trees, we take care of them like our family, like our children. They are a part of our daily life. How can we be accused of cutting trees?”

Comments

Ashok Chowdhury said…
No matter what the wretched colonial institutions like Forest Dept. and Police do ,under the influence of local landlords and mafias the forest communities ,lead by ever vigilant women would continue to struggle in reclaiming their lost physical and political space. Long live the women power ! Long live people's struggle!
AIUFPW
Roma said…
Good story A fact finding is needed in this case to expose the lies of the UP cops. It is Myorpur police station and not Nevarpur just a little correction.
Counterview said…
Thanks corrected...