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Fisherfolk, tribals come together, rally in protest, siege Midnapore office for hours

By Pradip Chatterjee*
On December 27, 2018 in a first ever joint movement Dakshinbanga Matsyajibi Forum (DMF) and Adibasi Bikash Parishad (ABP) along with, many other organisations of the tribal people came together and staged a massive protest rally in Midnapore town in West Bengal against the government's insensitivity and bureaucratic inaction regarding their long-standing demands. For hours the district magistrate’s (DM's) office was under siege with about 8,000 fishing community and tribal people blocking its entrance.
In West Midnapore, as in many other areas, the fishers and fish farmers either belong to tribal communities or live and work together. Thus common cause builds up among them to move for both fishing communities' and tribal people's rights and entitlements.
The Judge Court ground of Medinipur Town was overflown with thousands of people hailing from places like Narayangar, Keshiary, Kharagpur, Pingla, Sabang, Debra, Medinipur, Keshpur, Daspur, Chandrakona.
The rally was led by Tarak Bag, District President, Adibasi Bikash Parishad; Kartik Banda, State President, Kol Ho Haram Sanagam Society; Biren Tubid, Secretary,  Kol Ho Bhasha O Sahitya Parishad; Lakhsman Raut, Adibasi Baiga Samaj Unnayan Samity; Bablu Nayak, Lodha Unnayan Samity; Mangal Murmu, Santhal All India Adivasi Socio-Educational and Cultural Association (ASECA); Sabitri Singh, Bhumij Kalyan Samity; Champa Singh, Adibasi Bikash Mancha; Jharna Acharyya, Convener, DMF Women's Cell; and Debasis Shyamal, Vice-president DMF.
The rally demanded immediate issuance of Government Identity Cards to the fishers and Government Tribal Community Certificates to the tribal people, the fishing communities' inalienable right over water and the tribal communities inalienable right over tribal land, immediate stoppage of pollution and encroachment on water bodies like rivers and wetlands as well as removal of all encroachments including upcoming industries like sponge iron factories and mines on tribal peoples' land. Demands were raised to recognise tribal 'Ho' language and include the same in the eighth schedule.
The fishing communities further demanded replenishment of fish stock in rivers and wetlands by adding fish fingerlings, fishers' credit card for fisher people, soft loan, cold box, bicycles, for fishing communities including fish vendors. They also demanded immediate renovation and modernisation of fish markets.
The tribal people raised demands for enhancement of scope of tribal languages in education, free hostel facilities for students, housing for all under NGNB (Own Home - Own Land) scheme, inclusion of all tribal artists in Lok Prasar Scheme. Implementation of Forest Dwellers Rights Act was stressed again and again.
Additional District Magistrate (ADM) of West Midnapore received the deputation and the memorandum of demands. The administration was visibly rattled by the massive deputation. They promised to arrange for the Identity Cards for the fishing communities and the Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste Certificates without further delay. They also assured to recommend eighth schedule inclusion for 'Ho' language. Implementation of the Forest Dwellers Rights Act was also assured.
The administration promised to expedite the process of providing houses to the tribal and fisher people. Encroachments on tribal lands were assured to be seriously dealt with and reports were sought from concerned Block Development Officers (BDOs) and Sub-Divisional Officers (SDOs) in the matter.
Immediate steps were to be taken to promote Santhali education facilities and hostel facilities for tribal students. Government in the fisheries department would take special care to replenish fish stock in the water bodies and give fishing rights to the local and indigenous fisher people.
The people agitating outside the DM's office listened to the report of the Deputation Team. A decision was taken to review the deputation and keep close watch on the post deputation performance of the administration in keeping their promises. They lifted the siege with the warning that unless the demands are met and assurances fulfilled they will not only return in larger numbers, but also will confront the administration in every village and block of the district.
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*Convener, National Platform for Small Scale Fish Workers (Inland), a participating organization

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