The Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat on Friday presented a fact-finding report on the firing on the Kaimur Adivasis of Bihar, and demanded the prosecution of officials and dropping of false cases filed against the Adivasis.
A press release by three non-governmental organisations alleged that the police fired on peacefully protesting Adivasis in Adhaura Block of Kaimur district of Bihar on September 11, injuring seven of them. The police also arrested those who were wounded, it added.
The press release said that the Adivasis of Kaimur were protesting against the decision to earmark the Kaimur Forest Wildlife Sanctuary and Tiger Reserve, which they felt would endanger their land rights. The injured protestors were released on bail on October 16. Two days later, in response to a boycott call given by the Kaimur Mukti Morcha, Union minister Nityanand Rai airdropped into the area, pleading with the protestors to lift the boycott.
The press release said that a fact-finding team comprising Amir Sherwani Khan of the All India Union of Forest Working People, Matadayal from the All India Union of Forest Working People, Raja Rabbi Hussain from the Delhi Solidarity Group and Aman Khan, an advocate from the Supreme Court, visited the Adhaura Block from September 23 to 27.
“Among the major recommendations of the Fact-Finding team are demands for the quashing of the FIR filed against all activist accused under false and trumped up charges, the set up of a Judicial Commission of inquiry by the government of Bihar to investigate the police firing and lathi charge incident on the peaceful Adivasi protestors in Adhaura block on September 11.”
It also demanded that the police officials guilty of the firing and baton charge be punished.
The fact-finding team asked that those injured in the firing and baton charge be compensated, and that the 1927 colonial Indian Forest Right Act be scrapped. It also asked for the declaration of the Kaimur region as a scheduled area under the Panchayat (Extension Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996.
The team also collected testimonies from some protestors. “The government wants to sell our land to the big corporates but I shall inform the government that until my very death I will fight for my land, forest and water,” said Ramraji Devi, an Adivasi woman from Bardiha village.
‘People already forcibly displaced’
Kaimur Mukti Morcha President Balkeshwar Singh Kharwar alleged that people in Guiya village in Adhaura Block had already been forcibly displaced by the police and the forest department during the coronavirus-induced lockdown. “Government officials have been pressuring the villagers in Gulu by digging pits on their farm lands under the garb of carrying out afforestation,” he alleged. Kharwar also alleged that in Sarainar, government officials destroyed all 50 houses belonging to the villagers.
A family from Biduri village in Adhaura Block told the fact-finding team that the police misbehaved with them and entered their house without a search warrant. In Bardiha village, one of the women protestors showed the team the injuries she sustained during police baton-charging. The woman alleged that the government, forest department and police officials were trying to terrorise the Adivasi people, so that they handed over their ancestral land to the government.
Kavindra Singh, a local journalist from Bardiha village, confirmed that the protest from September 10 to September 12 had been peaceful and had been carried out with the permission of the authorities. In Gopalan village, the fact-finding team met two women who had faced police brutality. Phoolmatiya had been wounded on her chest, while two 65-year-old men, Sipahi and Ramshakal Singh, had been arrested.
The press release said that the team then met the working secretary of the Kaimur Mukti Morcha, Rajalal Singh Kharwar. “He spoke extensively of the efforts of the ruling party to persistently saffronise the history of Kaimur Adivasis in order to divide communities and jeopardize their collective agenda,” the press release said. “Despite spending most of the time in these dense forests every day for years, none of us have ever sighted or confronted a tiger here,” Kharwar said. “The proposal to declare the sanctuary as a tiger reserve is nothing but an attempt to grab our land and evict us from here.”
The press release alleged that since March this year, forest department officials have been employing methods such as encroaching upon the agricultural land of the Adivasis in order to evict them. The affected villages are Gulu, Goiya, Dighar, Bahabar, Pipra, Sodha, Bahera, Dumrava and Sarainar, it said. The fact-finding report in the matter was released at 3 pm on Friday.
NGOs wrote to NHRC in September demanding action
The Citizens for Justice and Peace, and the All India Union of Forest Working People – two of the NGOs that issued the press release – had written to the National Human Rights Commission on September 30 about the firing incident. They urged the NHRC to take suo motu cognisance of the incident under the Protection of Human Rights Act and constitute a special team to investigate the matter.
They also demanded that an immediate notice be issued to the district magistrate and superintendent of police of Kaimur district for their inability to protect the rights and abilities of forest-dwelling communities and Adivasis. The organisations asked that a first information report be filed against the officials responsible for the baton-charge and firing.