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Madhya Pradesh Adivasi activist asked to leave district: Govt move ahead of elections?

By Our Representative 

The Burhanpur district administration, Madhya Pradesh, has handed over externment notice Antram Awase, a 32-year-old Adivasi activist, who has been on the forefront of the campaign for implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) as well as the movement against mass illegal forest felling in Burhanpur. Earlier in April, he was arrested in an allegedly false case.
Reporting on this, the civil rights group Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS), to which Antram belongs, said, ever since April a wave of repression began with the arrest of many activists, demolition of people's homes, and notice of externment to others from the district. Yet, Antaram and the Sangathan continued their movement unfazed.
"Now, the MP Government is attempting to extern Antram on false, baseless charges. We believe that the government may carry out more attacks against forest rights claimants and the Sangathan ahead of elections in November-December", JADS underlined.
The family of Antram, 32, has been cultivating in the forest of Dhababwadi (Siwal) village of Burhanpur district since before 1980. Like other Adivasi families in Dhababawadi, his family has also faced terrible violence, torture and repression for decades now, noted JADS.
When Antaram was in 5th std, the forest department destroyed farms being cultivated by Adivasis of his village, their cattle were looted by the forest department and landed farmers together and their locality was burnt to the ground, JADS recalled.
After his home was burnt down, Antram was forced to leave his studies, started working to support his family. However, the thirst for education remained -- through self-study, he appeared for 10th class examination from an open school.
But despite taking the examination, he was marked absent in one paper and did not pass. He was not able to correct this mistake or study any further. Meanwhile, the Adivasi families of his village continued trying to cultivate their land despite facing the "violence and oppression" of the forest department. Even after passage of the FRA these families continue to be called "encroachers" in their own fields, said JADS.
When the Sangathan began its work in Burhanpur in 2018, Antram joined it and quickly became active in the campaign to implement FRA in letter and spirit. Through Antaram and his sathis, a strong movement against the atrocities and oppression of the Forest Department that had been continuing unchallenged and unabated for generations took shape, stated JADS.
In 2019, in yet another attempt to "illegally evict" Adivasis from their lands, the forest department fired upon protesting Adivasis who were asserting the legal safeguards under the FRA, injuring 4 Adivasis. A massive jail-bharo Andolan led by the Sangathan forced the Madhya Pradesh government to take partial action against the DFO and other forest personnel. Since then, the forest department has been holding its grudge against activists like Antram and the Sangathan, claimed JADS.
"Over the past 5 years, violence, oppression and corruption of the forest department have been curbed to a great extent in the district thanks to the relentless work by Antaram and his sathis. The organization publicly challenged and protested against the government's blatant complicity in illegal deforestation of roughly 15,000 acres", said JADS.
"This agitated not only the forest department, but also the Madhya Pradesh government and district administration, and resulted in a series of attacks on the organization. Antram, Dilip Sisodia and Nitin were arrested in fabricated cases, Madhuri Ben was externed from the district, many other activists were implicated in old cases and the Superintendent of Police started publishing many absurd, fabricated and baseless allegations in the newspapers to defame and discredit the organization in his defense", it added.
"Now, just before the assembly elections, Antaram is being threatened with externment from Burhanpur district. This is a possible precursor to more violence, evictions, and repression against forest rights claimants and the Sangathan, once the elections are done in December", asserted JADS.

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