Adivasis under Kaimur Mukti Morcha protesting-Image for Representation Purpose

Famous for its vast forest cover and mineral rich hills, Kaimur lies at the tri-junction of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Part of the Kaimur plateau and surrounded by the Bhagelkhand Mountains and Chotanagpur Plateau, this westernmost district of Bihar has a population of around 1.6 million who are placed under 11 community development blocks. Of these, the block Adhoura, which has 51%of its population belonging to Scheduled Tribes, has been a hotbed of Adivasi struggles since the last two to three decades, thanks to the Bihar and national governments lackadaisical development plans and encroachment of indigenous lands. Home to different communities like Kharwar, Gond, Urav, Karoba etc. the region also houses Bihar’s largest wildlife sanctuary- the Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary.

Till the early 90s, the tribals who are mostly forest dwellers and peasants seldom faced restrictions in carrying out their livelihood activities within the forests. However, with the declaration of the Kaimur plateau as wildlife sanctuary in 1996, the forest department started restricting entry of these dwellers to certain points, as well as from collecting forest produce like mahua, tendu leaves, piyar and other materials. Their struggle was also compounded with the declaration of the region as falling under the ‘Red Corridor,’ where the presence of Maoists was cited as yet another reason for aggrandizing the state’s role. However, with the intervention of people’s movement like the Kaimur Mukti Morcha, the Bihar government in 2010 declared the region to be Maoist free.

In 2018, trouble started brewing in the region again, especially across Adhoura and nearby blocks with the proposal to establish a tiger reserve within the existing wildlife sanctuary. The proposal was initiated by the then DFO who is said to have spotted the pug marks of the wild cats and the carcass of prey. The government also says that, the reserve is inevitable with the only other tiger reserve in the state- the Valmiki tiger reserve- already hitting the saturation point. However, the villagers of Adoura and nearby blocks are vehemently opposing this proposal, as they believe it will lead to the displacement of more than 50,000 of tribal inhabitants. It is to be noted here that, even though the region has large swath under forest cover and a sizeable scheduled tribe population, the succeeding governments have neither passed Forest Rights Act 2006, nor covered it under the Panchayat Extension for Scheduled Areas (PESA).

With the onset of the covid pandemic, the inhabitants of Kaimur- which is one of most backward regions in terms of development- are battling the worst days of their life. Already crippled by the absence of basic health facilities- the nearby hospital is about 30 kms far-, limited transportation and communication facilities, the villagers in Adhoura and nearby blocks are struggling to meet the ends. The restrictions imposed by the forest department add to their agony. Unfortunately with utter disregard to basic human rights or the law of the land, the same department in July 2020 has started forceful evictions of the villagers from their homes. As per reports, the forest officials were carrying out the eviction drive in villages of Adhaora block such as Gullu, Guiya, Dighar, Bahabar, Pipra, Sainagar, Sodha, Bahera, Dumrava, Sarainar. In Sarainar they went and destroyed all 50 houses of the villagers in a bid to evict them. In Gullu, the government officials including forest officials have been pressurizing the villagers in a bid to displace them and have been digging pits on their farm lands under the grab of carrying out afforestation, thus building pressure from both ends.

Following this, people from 108 villages started to organize protests, and this has culminated in a violent encounter with the forest and police department in September 2020, which in actual the villagers claim as a brutal state assault against a peaceful protest. According to a fact finding mission by the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), the Adivasis organized themselves under the Kaimur Mukti Morcha (KMM) were marching and assembling in thousands at the Birsa Mundak Smarak Sthal in Adhaura block with the following demands:

  • Implement the Forest Rights Act 2006.
  • Declare Kaimur as a Scheduled area as per the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.
  • Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 to be implemented effectively.
  • The administrative reorganization of Kaimur Valley.
  • Scrap the 1927 colonial Indian Forest Act.
  • Implement the Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act.
  • Abolish the proposed Kaimur Forest Wildlife Sanctuary and Tiger Reserve.

Despite the officials being pre-intimated by KMM, the police acted highhandedly resulting in firing and lathi charge, without listening to the demands of the people. This is in stark violation to the Supreme Court order of 2019 (Wildlife First & ors vs. Union of India (WP(C) no. 109 of 2008; order of February 28, 2019) which grants stay on any interference on lands of the forest dwellers and put a stay on all evictions. AIUFWP and NGOs like Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) have condemned the incident by calling it as the violation of Article 21 of the Indian constitution. It has also led to these villagers boycotting the Bihar elections of November 2020.

Now, four months into this untoward incident, the administration is still standing firm on its decision to establish the tiger reserve. In fact, the government is building more CRPF camps in the region under the garb of Maoist violence. Such moves-any sane person knowing such state tactics-are nothing but methods to crackdown the opposition. To counter this, the only way forward for the Adivasis is to Educate, Agitate and Organize – as Dr Ambedkar has said. According to the villagers, though this will lead to the state calling them Naxalites again, what respite is one left with when one’s birth right of Jal, Jangal and Zameen (water, forest and land) is snatched away forever?

Lekshmi Sujatha is an independent writer


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