Rewa tribals suffer high handedness
Thousands of tribals in Madhya Pradesh's Rewa district are on the run after they were allegedly attacked by the local administration and upper caste landlords. On April 19, 2007, tribals in Ghateha village, bordering Uttar Pradesh, were evicted from the over 400-hectare (ha) forestland by a large contingent of police and forest department personnel.
According to the tribals, members of upper caste communities were also involved in the attack. Human rights groups say that several of the tribals were injured when the evictors fired at people and dozens, including children, went missing after the police swooped down on over 1,500 landless families.While the district administration maintains it was removing encroachers, Birsa Munda Bhu Adhikar Manch (bmbam), a group among the tribal settlers, the National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers (nffpfw) and other independent observers question the locus standi of the forest department in carrying out the eviction. They claim that the tribals have rights over the forestland.
The forest department says the tribals encroached into the land on March 15, 2007. But the tribals counter this. "We have been living in Ghateha since 2003. Our stay is legal according to the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006,' says Dadulal Advasi, a tribal leader. "Since we settled here, the upper caste people kept demolishing our dwellings and threatening us,' he adds. Survivors of the attack narrate tales of atrocity (see box: Testimonies). "The police cleaned this place up,' a shepherd says. "They put the bodies into trucks. I heard that they dumped them in the Yamuna river near Shankargadh (in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh),' he says. "After the attack, the police and the Thakur-Bamans (upper caste landlords) robbed the place,' says Mathura Namit, a villager. "They fired charras (12 bore gun pellets) at the people,' he said.
The forest sub-divisional officer (sdo) for Ghateha, Manager Singh, denies that the police fired at the tribals. He says the administration had served a notice, under section 80a of the Indian Forest Act of 1927, to the villagers. The notice was