Letter: From All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP)

Illegal arrest of tribal women and activist

June 14, 2018

Shri Surajit Dey,
Hon’ble Registrar,
National Human Rights Commission, 
 Manav Adhikar Bhawan Block-C, GPO Complex, INA, New Delhi, Delhi 110023

Subject: Urgent Action Required: NHRC Visit and Investigation into illegal arrest of tribal women and activist in connection to violence unleashed by police and Forest Department in  Village Lilasi, District Sonbhadra UP.

Respected Sir,
In the letter dated 30th May 2018 we had written to the Hon’ble Chairperson, Justice HL Dattu and even met him,  regarding the unleashed violence against women Adivasis and forest workers in the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, in Sonbhadra forest, even as they were exercising their rights as guaranteed under the Indian Constitution (Special Schedules) and further enforced by the Forest Rights Act of 2006. 

This letter had been written first by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) our partner organisation seeking an appointment and apprising the Commission of the facts on the ground; through its Secretary, Teesta Setalvad and thereafter by us. Ms Setalvad is also Vice Predient of the AIUFWP.

We are grateful that a notice has been issued to DM and SP Sonbhadra in this matter the Case No.: 13436/24/69/2018

However, the atrocities against the tribal women continue, demanding urgent action by the Commission, especially a field visit. The matter relates to Aduvasi women claiming their rights under the Forest Rights Act of 2006 and reprisal by vested interests. 

In a fresh incident, a key activist of the Union, a woman human rights defender, Sokalo Gond, Secretary of Forest Rights Committee Kismati Gond Village Lilasi and Sukhdev Gond r/0 of village Lilasi, Tehsil Dudhi, District Sonbhara were illegally arrested rather kidnapped by police under various sections of the IPC and Indian Forest Act while they were returning from Lucknow after lodging a complaint against the police and Forest Department (FD) regarding the atrocities committed on May 18 and 19 before the Forest Minister Mr. Dara Singh Chauhan and Principal Forest Sect Mr. Sanjay Singh. It was while they were returning afer addressing their grievances by the Tribeni Express on June 8, to their respective villages that the Police stopped them at the Chopan Railway station in Sonbhadra and arrested them. They were not allowed to talk to their family members and neither to their lawyers. The family members understandably panicked and for 24hrs their where abouts were not known. It was only after the Union President and Ex Women Commission President Arunanchal Pradesh Ms. Jarjum Ete and Vice President Teesta Setalvad called upon the DM and SP repeatedly to inquire out the whereabouts of the three tribal women and men that they were told that they have been sent to jail. There was no news in the major local news paper also, the family members and the organization could locate details. By then news had also been posted on a e-news portal Sonbhadra live. From this e portal it was revealed to us that they have been booked under various serious provisions of IPC and other Acts – the sections are 147,148,149,307.343,333,504,353,332,336,427,120b,7 criminal Act,3/5 public property Act, 5/26 Indian Forest Act. This is completely false charges filed on tribal. 

We are approaching you Sir, as a follow up with our meeting with the Chairperson and in connection with concerted efforts by the local police and administration to terrorise the local Adivasi community who are merely asserting their rights. Sir a Team Visit by the NHRC to the area would be invaluable in reaffirming the faith of the local population in the rule of law.

Urgent Action Needed: This arrest have been in connection with the incident of violence unleashed by Uttar Pradesh Police and Forest Department in Village Lilasi, Block Muirpur, P.S Muirpur, District Sonbhadar, UP on May 21, 2018, many tribal (Adivasi) women were badly injured. The police barged into the houses of tribal people on the morning of May 21, supposedly acting on false allegations that they had ‘cut trees and destroyed the forest’. 

Sokalo Gond arrested woman activist is from Village Majholi that is around 30km away from Village Lilasi and was not present in the place of the incident. Her arrest and filing cases on her is completely illegal and against the DK Basu guidelines. Besides, according to the information gathered by her husband when he visited her in jail, she is not even named in the FIR yet arrested!
Kismati Gond has been badly injured on her head by the police, she was neither allowed to go for medical checkup and neither police allowed to get her medical report made. She somehow got the medical report of injury on herself but till date the FIR against the perpetrators have not been lodged. 

It is very difficult for the poor tribal women forest dwellers to get out of prison with such serious charges where they are completely innocent. The administration and police is acting hand in glove with each other so that the tribal women are terrorized for give up fighting for their forest and land rights. 

Need for Independent Probe: There has been no probe by the District Magistrate in this matter. It appears instead that a rather a one sided approach is adopted in this incident of violence and stringent sections of the law applied in yet another batch of false cases that have been filed on poor forest people. 

The Forest Rights Act, 2006 is applicable in the forest region of the entire country. Despite the Act being in force for the last 11 years, individual and community claims of the tribal and other forest dwellers are not yet being recognized. This has given a handle to a powerful nexus between the local, mafia, police and Forest department that have, for centuries been the source of exploitation of forest dwellers. This state of affairs has allowed a “historical injustice” to be perpetuated, despite the laudable and emancipatory objectives behind the Law (Forest Rights Act,2006) which is stated in the preamble as needed “to  saying mitigate the ‘historical injustice’ on the forest people.”

The present conflict in the village is also related to the conflict over forest land where money lords and land lords --influential people of the village -- have occupied the forest land -- and are opposing, through force, the implementation of the Act. 
The matter has been exacerbated after the tribals and forest dwellers from the village filed community resource rights claims on the land in the District Magistrate office at Robertsganj, Sonbhadra on March 23 2018. We have clear reports through our members that influential people of the village have connived with Forest Department and police to unleash violence on the tribal community of the village so that they do not pursue their demand for their claims under this special Act.

Sir, the mandate of the National Human Rights Commission is to intervene not only where there are complaints of police brutality and misuse of state power but where the emancipatory and fundamental rights of the most marginalised sections of the Indian people are under threat. Nationally India, under the Schedules of the Constitution, thereafter concretely ratified under the Forest Rights Act of 2006 has recognised the rights of Adivasis and forest dwellers, denied and snatched away since the onset of colonial rule. Internationally, the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples over their lands are not just recognised but the subject matter of special treaties.

We urge, Sir therefore that the NHRC constitutes a special team to inquire and investigate the incident. Sir, only a properly conducted site visit where the NHRC records the independent statements of Adivasis and forest dwellers –apart from the versions put out by the police is the need of the hour. To further this demand of an inquiry/investigation into in to this incident of illegal arrest of Sokalo Gond, Kismati Gond and Sukhdev Gond.  we urge that a notice to be served to DM and SP of the District for their inability (or refusal/reluctance) to protect the rights and life of the tribals and forest dwelling community. In fact the matter on investigation requires that an FIR be filed on erring officials for unleashing violence and hampering the implementation of the FRA u/s 3(i)(g) of the SC/ST Act.

Yours Sincerely,
Thanking You,

Roma Malik
Secretary, AIUFWP

Teesta Setalvad 
Vice President, AIUWFP 
Secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace

Jun 14, 2018