Madhya Pradesh forest officials used pellet guns against Adivasi farmers who were resisting an eviction drive in Siwal village in Burhanpur district on July 9. Four Adivasi men were injured, and one had to be taken to a hospital in Indore, said an activist working with the community.
Three forest officials were also injured in the incident, said the police, alleging that villagers had pelted stones at them.
The violence was sparked by an eviction drive by the forest department, which activists called illegal. On February 13, the Supreme Court had ordered the eviction of more than 10 lakh forest-dwelling families whose claims over traditional forestlands under the Forest Rights Act had been rejected. The Centre filed an affidavit, expressing doubts over whether state governments had followed due process while passing rejection orders. The Supreme Court stayed its order on February 28.
On May 1, the Madhya Pradesh government began re-examining the cases of several Adivasis whose land claims had been rejected, and notified all district collectors not to carry out any evictions till those cases had been examined again.
Despite that, on Tuesday morning, around 50 forest department officials and police arrived in Siwal village in Nepanagar block with excavators and began razing local farms.
“The forest officials were trying to run JCBs [excavators] over farms in which villagers had just sown seeds,” said Madhuri K, an activist with the Jagrut Adivasi Dalit Sangathan, an organisation that works with marginalised groups in Madhya Pradesh. “When the villagers protested and shouted, the officials fired charra,” she said. Charra is a type of local pellet gun.
Of the four people who suffered pellet injuries in the attack, a farmer named Gokharsingh Badole had pellets embedded in his neck and chest, along with injuries to his abdomen. “He was taken to Burhanpur hospital by the administration only at around midnight, when doctors reportedly said they could not remove the pellet in the neck,” said Madhuri. Badole was then transferred to MY Hospital in Indore, where he is still recuperating.
The other three Adivasis sustained pellet injuries in their legs, arms and chest.
According to a junior police official at Nepanagar police station, the villagers attacked first. “Around 150 Adivasis from the village started protesting and pelting stones at the forest officials,” said the police officer, who did not wish to be named. “To bring the situation under control, the forest officials began firing in the air, and in the process some Adivasis got injured.”
The Nepanagar Police has registered two First Information Reports in the case. In the first FIR, three unidentified forest officials have been booked under Sections 336 and 337 of the Indian Penal Code, for rash and negligent actions that cause hurt and endanger human life.
In the second FIR, 150 unidentified Adivasi villagers have been charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code dealing with unlawful assembly, rioting and obstruction of public servants.
According to Madhuri K, the Adivasi farmers in Siwal tried to file an FIR against forest officials soon after the incident, but an FIR was filed only on Tuesday night. She claimed that villagers had provided names of specific forest officials allegedly responsible for the pellet attack, but their names have not been mentioned in the FIR.