Updated August 07, 2019 | 11:28 IST | Roma Malik
“Jan de denge
lekin zamin nahi denge”
“ Jan de denge lekin zamin nahi denge” this echo from Adivasis in Sonbhadra has been rightly proven by the martyr who died on 17th July 2019 after the upper caste lobby open fired on innocent tribal in Village Umbha, Ghorawal Block,who were fighting for their ancestral land since Independence. The entire Kaimur region as popularly known comprises of three districts of UP Chandauli, Mirzapur along with Sonbhadra in UP and two districts Kaimur in Bihar, Gadwa in Jharkhand is the intense battlefield against the eminent domain since independence where the adivasi and other forest people are in direct conflict with the vested interests, feudal landlords, companies and State.
The Sonbhadra massacre of Gond tribes by the upper caste section is a shocking incident and one can say that it is the rise of another Ranvir Sena of Bihar. Such kind of casteist militant outfits gets powerful only when they get political patronage. The formation of the new castiest, feudal, communal and corporate driven government that captured the power in center is the breeding ground for these militant outfits.
The combination worked very well in State of UP and in Center, as in the regime of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) the adivasi, dalit and minority section have been completely thrown out of the system that empowered the hindutva forces to commit any crime against them. Ten members of the adivasi Gond were killed and many left injured after the upper caste land mafia opened fired at them on 17th July over 650 bigha of land that belonged to adivasi and has been illegally transferred to one society and a former bureaucrat Prabhat Mishra.
The part of the land around 160 bigha land was again sold to Village Pradhan Yoga Dutt who committed this crime with his muscle power. This is not an isolated incident, the land grab is the continuous common phenomena in this area. It is the tribal, dalits and the landless who are fighting against such unjust policies that became more intense after Independence. It is important to understand the background that why such incidents are happening.
I have been working in Sonbhadra for last two decades. My work started here by studying the country’s most disputed forest and land issue. I never realized that this study will make me go deeper in becoming the forest and land rights activist. We choose eight villages from eight block of Sonbhadra. All the villages had very serious land disputes. It was 1999. Village Baiswar of Ghorawal block found how the adivasi land, some 700 acres granted to kol adivasi were cancelled over night for compensatory afforestation project for Hindalco company.
Actually 700 acres of rich forestland was granted to Hindalco Industries to set up Alumunium plant in Renukut as far as 150 km from village Baiswar. This land was to be compensated for forestry and land of kol tribes was snatched. The situation was no different in other seven villages that were studied there was a serious land dispute with uppercase feudal forces in Village Kanach, Chopan block, Village Basauli in Robertganj Block and also in other blocks.
Sonbhadra is the country’s most disputed land area just like Kashmir. The entire Kaimur plateau is very rich in Forest, minerals and fossil fuels. The British had a very late arrival in this area unlike other areas. Discovering its abundance beauty and vast rich mineral resources the exploitation of these resources started.
Oneimportant point here to be mentioned is that during independence the forests and the forest land acquired from the princely estates and land Lords did not vest with the Forest people especially adivasi and other communities living there. It was illegally transferred to a colonial Forest Department (FD) based on the gazette notification. This all happened on the Eve of Independence when the new independent India had to be free of land lordism, a class created by British to loot the land of our country.
The land lordism was more strengthened by vesting public lands with FD, railways and other departments in the name of national development in our Country.
On the other hand the Land Reform measures and laws that were enacted in the revenue areas were also not implemented properly and had lot of elephant holes, land to the landless became a distant dream. It was after independence that most of the acquired forestland was transferred to FD.
In whole of the Country around 23% of land I.e 73 million hectare of land was transferred by 70’s. Most of it i.e 14% does not have forest. So after the independence FD became the biggest land lord of our country against the spirit of our Constitution that directed States to enact laws to abolish land lordism.
No land reform measures were carried out in forest areas and the colonial Act of 1927 Indian Forest Act (IFA 1927) ruled the forest area. It took away all the democratic and Constitutional rights of the forest people. “ The forest people became “Gulam” after independence and saw real ray of independence after the enactment of Forest Rights Act (FRA) in 2006” ( Munnilal, Forest Village Pradhan from Haripur Taungiya, Haridwar)
The jungles and forest the home land of adivasi of Sonbhadra Kaimur area (this district was carved out of Mirzapur in 1989) was also the victim of these disastrous policies. There was no cadastral survey done before and after independence. Village after village forest and gram sabha land were illegally encroached by FD. Secondly the Zamindari Abolition Act of 1950 came to force in this area only in 1968. In these 18 years the vast tract of pastures, Commons, gram sabha land were appropriated by the feudal landlords, upper caste, dominant sections.
The land was also appropriated in names of dogs, cat and animals. In this process around 533 villages where forest and land of lakhs of adivasi became disputed, their houses, agricultural land were converted into reserve forest u/s 20 of the IFA 1927. According to their own working plan around 8 lakh hectare land has been transferred to FD. No effort was done to bring these areas under scheduled area and neither the 16 tribe of this area was granted ST status. Rather who ever came in this area from outside got and grabbed land in sonbhadra, but adivasi and other forest dweller kept on getting marginalized. Even Raja of Vijaygarh fort was compensated for 90 crore in 2007 for vesting Zamindari forest and land with the State.
With the dream of building new India, big Public Sector Units were established in this far flung forested area that were seen as temples of India by the Nehru Government. Vast tract of forest land were granted to National Thermal Power Plant, National Coal Limited and other allied companies. The irony is that these public sector units also encroached vast tracts of forest land and then sold to the private players in Shaktinagar, Beejpur and Obra.
In the name of national development mega Rihand dam was constructed between 60-70’s displacing 141 villages in UP and MP. The fertile agriculture land, forest were submerged without any compensation granted to the families. The scale of displacement was so large that there was no trace of 50 thousand people, there is no record of missing people. The displaced families took shelter in the upper hilly tracts forest around the dam. There are many villages in Singrauli area who were displaced three to four times for various industrial projects such as coal mining, railway expansion, power projects etc. Later FD claimed those land where adivasi were occupying to uproot them.
Massive scale mining started in this area. Sand, dolomite, silica, coal mining is the major one. Aisa’s Largest cement factory was set up in Dalla, Churk and Chunar. After liquidation this company has been sold to Jaypee Industry Pvt. Ltd. around 2008. Birla company established largest Aluminium plant “Hindalco” in Renukut. Six mega power plants were erected in Shakti nagar and Beejpur. Sonbhadra is known as the “energy capital of India”. But 70% of the villages still loom in darkness. Apart from this various small industries came in along with the big ones.
All of them are involved in looting and grabbing the public land, forest and adivasi land. There are documents with us that proves how Birla Hindalco company were given the prime forest land that was “sold” to them on a notary by the than Governor. Whereas forest land cannot be sold at all it is a national heritage.
In garb of 700 acres of land bought by this company thousand hectares were grabbed illegally disposing many tribal people. Similarly in Dalla the cement factory took away forest land for mining. More than 10 thousand hectares of forest land was appropriated in connivance with the revenue officials and land was illegally transferred to the company. The ex Chief Conservator of Forest Mr. A . K Jain has taken this matter to Supreme Court but instead of getting justice he was killed in road accident in Agra last year. One can name anyone and find that any society, NGO, company, feudal grabbed land in this area. The famous Van Vasi Sewa Ashram too posses around 400 acres of prime forest land in Govindpur, Dudhi. The Robertsganj, Nagwa, Ghorawal, Chopan block are the areas where the feudal and upper caste rule. All police stations are under their control even now.
Due to such serious dispute the unrest in jungle area started growing that did drew the attention of various goverment which is worth mentioning here. In 1972 the than Bahuguna Govt. set up a high level committee “ Mangal Dev Visharad Committee” to study the land distribution and situation of landless in UP, the report states highest revenue, forest land disputes in Sonbhadra.
After the Forest Conservation Act came into being in 1980, the land conflict widened further in Mirzapur and Sonbhadra. Kaimur Survey settlement Agency was formed to study the land disputes after Ban Vasi Sewa Ashram moved Supreme Court in 1982 to save it’s own acquired land from getting declared as reserved forest u/s 20 of Indian Forest Act 1927. This survey agency brought plethora of problems with it and in fact it further created more disputes and more land were illegally transferred to outsiders. Before the Agency could start it’s operation another high level committee headed by the than Chairman Revenue Board UP, Maheshwar Prasad was formed to study the land disputes and suggested measures to rectify the issue.
The forest land disputes of Sonbhadra in a very critical state also find its mention in 29th report of SCST Commission Govt. Of India in 1989 headed by Dr. BD Sharma. The period of 90’s saw the growth of left extrimist activities and armed conflict in Chandauli, Mirzapur and Sonbhadra.
It was in March 2001, massacre like Umbha took place in village Bhawanipur (with in 30km of Umbha) where 13 tribal were killed branding them as naxals. One of them was 14year old Kallu studying in 8th standard.
Present Home Minister Mr. Rajnath Singh was the CM at that time who had made the open statement ” If they kill two of ours we should kill four of their”. It was very clear that the target was adivasi.
From 2001 to 2004 numbers of fake encounter took place in this entire region. Author has done a detailed study and research on this. Even POTA was implicated on 42 tribal people in 2001. Many of them were bonded labourer of a feudal Raj narain Giri of Village Kanach Block Chopan. POTA was lifted by BSP Govt when it came in power in 2002 after the persistent effort of our organization “ National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers” by organizing a public hearing especially on killing of Adivasi in Robertsganj, Sonbhadra in 2001.
It was only after the successive government like BSP and SP that massacre and fake encounter came to halt. Finally in 2006 the “Forest Rights Act” brought some relief to adivasi and forest people and in 2009 the implementation of the Act could take place in BSP rule. However the biggest impediment in blocking the implementation of the Act was the feudal, capitalist forces, FD, police and the dominant section and absence of political will of the Center and State government.
The matter of the fact is that in such a conflict area adivasi are not giving up their land, they are fighting as in the case of Umbha village. This massacre will have a very long repercussion for the ruling government who is trying to push the communities towards left extremism and hence trying to crush the democratic space. But as an activist working in this area since last two decades on reclaiming the land of adivasi and dalits, one can forsee that there will be more vibrant struggle against this land grab.
The struggle to save the land, jungle and environment in this region are fought in democratic forms and more democratic struggles will increase in coming days. The forest land reclamation movement could only survive in such critical area by building up a mass people’s organization linking with national level organization such as All India Union of Forest Working People.
It is not that brutal attack was not carried out against the organized people. Author and around 10 thousand members of union have been booked in hundreds of false cases under various draconian laws. The more atrocities began after FRA came into being, author and many women tribal activists was jailed twice, once in 2007, working for implementation of FRA and second in 2015 against illegal land acquisition for construction of Kanhar dam. Last year in 2018, organization leading activist Sokalo Gond, Kismati Gond, Sukhdev Gond were falsely arrested after filing community rights claim. They were detained for five months.
It was only through the people’s organization that the members got protection and they have fought consistently for the last two decades to get their lands back. The women led movement has reclaimed more than 20 thousand acre of land in this region who are collectively cultivating the land and planting forest. The lands have been claimed under Community Resource Rights under FRA also on 23rd March 2018.
The present ruling government is trying to dilute the FRA through bringing various amendments in old IFA 1927 and on the other hand Supreme Court order 13th Feb 2019 of evicting millions of forest people from their land has brought national and international protest against this government.
It is certainly not easy enough to silence these voices, at the ground the fight will be more intense between adivasi, dalits, landless and the corporates. A national level platform of more than 150 organization “ Bhumi Adhikar Andolan” has emerged to resist this brutal attack on the forest people, peasants and farmers. A nation wide call was given against this attack on 22nd July’19, protest happened in all over country for withdrawal of eviction order of SC. In the coming Parliament session in November a mass rally to Parliament will be organized to counter this anti people policies.
“ Zalim ko jo naa roke woh shamil hai zulm mein….
Qatil ko jo naa toke woh qatl ke saath hai…..”