Protests and Repression: Struggles Growing in the Forest Areas

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

The last few weeks have seen struggles over forest rights and forest control intensifying across the country. On the one hand there are larger and larger protests taking place, and on the other, the continued use of force by Central and State governments is combined with total silence and apathy on protecting people’s rights.

Campaign member organisations have planned a series of yatras and protests in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa in the coming weeks. The Jangal Jameen Jan Andolan has undertaken a yatra in Rajasthan, crossing Udaipur, Dungarpur, Banswada, Sirohi, Pali and Pratapgarh districts between December 20 and 28th. On December 29th demonstrations will be held in all block headquarters that have been covered. The demands are for respect and recognition of community forest rights, a halt to illegal rejections and modifications of titles and respect for people’s democratic resource rights over their lands, forests and minerals. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 people rallied and ten sat on hunger strike in Dahanu, Thane District, Maharashtra on December 7th and 8th against violations of people’s rights under the FRA; the hunger strike was called off after a written commitment from the SDO. A similar mass protest was held in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra on December 19th against the illegal imposition of conditions on titles for community forest rights. Yatras are also planned in western Maharashtra and Gujarat in January; on January 19th and January 26th mass demonstrations will be held in district headquarters in Chhattisgarh and Orissa respectively. These latter protests will also oppose the land acquisition bill and call for democratic control over resources.

Aside from these plans, other protests and mass struggles are underway. On December 15th, a “People’s Forest Rights Rally” was organised at Delhi by a coalition of organisations. In the POSCO area, more than 20 people were injured and one killed in an attack on December 14th by a contractor’s private goondas; unsurprisingly, on that day alone, the police were nowhere to be found. In Assam the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti is leading a mass struggle against the illegal and dangerous Lower Subansiri Dam project, in which huge numbers of people have joined; but on the night of December 25th the police arrested more than 200 people in a raid and are continuing their attacks. The KMSS has also been involved in struggles against the ongoing repression and violence around Kaziranga National Park, where forest guards regularly shoot those they accuse of being “poachers.” Brutality and violence continues to mark the situation in Chhattisgarh, where the extremely brutal torture of Soni Sori – and the indifferent response of even the Supreme Court to it – gives the lie to all the tales about respect for the “rule of law” and how it is being enforced by “security forces.” Chhattisgarh has also seen a string of recent illegal evictions from forest land. In north Bengal, an organised effort to take control of community forests is facing opposition and resistance from the Forest Department.

In addition, planning is underway for the declaration of new tiger reserves and relocation of people from them in violation of the law. Mass protests have begun in Kawal Sanctuary to resist the proposed illegal conversion of this sanctuary. In Tadoba Tiger Reserve, Sarang Dhabekar, a Steering Committee member of the National Forum of Forest Peoples and Forest Workers was arrested and slapped with false cases because he had been involved in resistance to illegal relocation efforts.

The Campaign condemns this ever-increasing repression and the brutal use of force against those who are fighting for justice. Once again, we see all talk of “rule of law” and “democracy” being brushed aside in the hideous loot of natural resources by the ruling class of this country.

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