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Print edition : May 06, 2022 T+T-

An Adivasi march seeking rehabilitation, in Delhi on April 6.


Mandvi Girish, treasurer of Valasa Adivasilu Samakhya (VAS), Kartam Kossa, chief of VAS, and the activist Yogendra Yadav at a press conference on the need for rehabilitation of displaced tribal people, in Delhi on April 6.

A section of the tribal people who were forced to migrate out of their home State of Chhattisgarh face the prospect of another displacement with Telangana going ahead with a plantation plan in forest areas where they had settled.

The ghost of Salwa Judum continues to haunt the Adivasis of Chhattisgarh. The state-sponsored militia that had run amok in the southern districts of the State from 2004 was finally reined in after the Supreme Court banned it in 2011, but not before it had ruined many Adivasi lives. Torn between the Maoists on the one hand and the state on the other, the Adivasis were forced to make a cruel choice between the two sides. There was no middle ground for them. Several Adivasi communities at the time tried to escape the violence that engulfed entire villages by fleeing to neighbouring States of Maharashtra, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and what was then Andhra Pradesh. The exact number of the villagers who were forced to migrate are not known. But a rough estimate by civil society organisations suggests that the total number of people displaced from Dantewada, Bijapur, Sukma and Bastar, nearly two decades ago was 55,000, from 642 villages. This includes those uprooted from their villages and settled in roadside camps by the Salwa Judum and those who fled to nearby States.

While a proper survey or enumeration of the total number of displaced people remains an urgent need of the hour, a peculiar problem has arisen for those who settled on forest land along the banks of the Godavari in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The areas where they settled include Bhupalapalli, Manchirial, Adilabad, Mahabubabad, Khammam and Bhadradri-Kothagudem in Telangana. Some estimates suggest that people from 262 settlements were settled in four districts of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana comprising 6,721 families. When the groups had first migrated, there were stray incidents of Forest Department officials and the police torching homes, beating the men, and tying the women to trees in a bid to evict them. Some of them practise “podu” or slash-and-burn cultivation while others try to sell forest products. But owing to lack of marketing skills, they are barely able to subsist. But over the past many years, they have largely managed to carve out a life and livelihood for themselves in the area. That is, until the Chief Minister of Telangana, K. Chandrashekhar Rao, announced a plantation programme known as Haritha Haram. In the past three months, almost the entire land on which the displaced Adivasis of Chhattisgarh had settled was snatched back by the State authorities, displacing them all over again.

This is in contravention of a 2018 High Court order that said that the Adivasis should be protected until a long-term solution was found for them. While hearing writ petitions on the matter, a Bench of the Chief Justice of the Hyderabad High Court, Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan, and Justice S.V. Bhatt restrained officials from destroying the huts and other dwelling units as well as other structures of the Adivasis. At the same time, they restrained the Adivasis from expanding their area of cultivation resulting in further deforestation. The Telangana State Legal Services Authority was directed to undertake an in-depth study of the relevant laws and available schemes for tribal people, migrants and migrant labourers that could benefit the inhabitants of the area in terms of health, education and poverty alleviation.

Need for identification documents

On April 6, a group of 100 Adivasis travelled to Delhi to voice their grief and catch the government’s eye. Since it is an inter-State issue, they believe that the Central government can take steps to rehabilitate them. Kartam Kossa, a member of the delegation and chief of the Valasa Adivasilu Samakhya (VAS), an association fordisplaced tribal people, said that apart from addressing the urgent issue of the Forest Department bulldozing their huts and asking them to vacate the land, they would like the Central government to focus on identification documents, which the local authorities are refusing to give them. They are members of the Gottha Koya tribe with shared cultural traits with the Gutthi Koya tribe of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Yet they are being refused the Scheduled Tribe status because of a difference in the name. It is now 17-18 years since they made Andhra Pradesh and Telangana their home, and they have managed to secure all other identification documents such as Adhaar, but they are being denied S.T. status. This makes it difficult for their children to secure admission in schools or to avail themselves of reservation in jobs. Mandvi Girish, another member of the delegation and treasurer of VAS, said that they would attempt to meet the Home Minister and ask for his intervention in the matter. But the delegation was unable to do so .

‘Bastar Files’

Addressing a press conference on the matter, the activist-politician Yogendra Yadav said that there was no dispute about the fact that the Adivasis had to flee the violence between naxal and government forces, but the problem could not be solved until there was a political will to solve it. “Displacement in India is a pre-Independence fact but of late there is sympathy towards it, which is good. Perhaps if we termed the issue Bastar Files (ala Kashmir Files ), the Adivasis may find more sympathisers. But if we have to talk about displacement, we should talk about all displacements within the country. There is no dispute that these are citizens of the country and not people from outside. One can argue for and against people from Bangladesh, but there is no argument here. The country should accept that they are our citizens who were forced to flee and it is the government’s responsibility to rehabilitate them. Four or five State governments are involved. The Central government has also been directly responsible for what happened in Bastar. So, they should begin by acknowledging the fact that this happened and start from there.”

Shubhranshu Chaudhary, convenor of the New Peace Process in Chhattisgarh, had led a delegation of over 100 Adivasis to meet Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel earlier in April. Baghel gave the group a patient hearing and promised to help those who want to return with resettlements plans around security camps. He suggested the setting up of new villages around the camps where they would be secure from the naxal forces. But rehabilitation of the villagers back in their villages or around security camps is a tricky issue. It is common knowledge that due to the security forces’ excesses for many years, the villagers fear them as much as they fear the naxals and this assurance does not ring true for those who have been witness to or at the receiving end of the security forces’ violence in the past. Besides, many of the Adivasis are reluctant to go back to their villages, fearing retribution from the naxals, if they are still there. There is a palpable fear of the years spent in the cross hairs of the naxal-state violence in the minds of the Adivasis and unless they are sufficiently reassured, some of them might choose to stay on in the places where they have migrated to.

Two key demands

According to Shubhranshu Chaudhary, Adivasis havetwo key demands at the moment. First, they want the Central government to provide cash compensation and devise a rehabilitation plan similar to the one created for the Bru tribal people of Mizoram who fled ethnic violence in 1995. From 2010, the government made several attempts to resettle the Brus in Mizoram and in 2020 an agreement of Bru settlement in Tripura was signed by Tripura, Mizoram, the Central government and the Bru organisations. Secondly, the government needs to take recourse to existing laws to address the problem of the displaced Adivasis. Clause 3(1)(m) of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, confers the right to in-situ rehabilitation including alternative land in cases where the Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers have been illegally evicted or displaced from forest land of any description without being given legal entitlement to rehabilitation prior to December 13, 2005. When the Adivasis met Bhupesh Baghel, they filed 1086 forms and handed them to him, seeking in-situ rehabilitation under the FRA, said Shubhranshu Chaudhary. He added that 152 families had expressed an interest in taking up the Chief Minister’s offer of returning to Chhattisgarh.

Some Adivasis want to stay on in Aandhra Pradesh and Telangana while others want to return to Chhattisgarh. An enumeration of who wants what should be done and a rehabilitation plan needs devised accordingly, he added.

Need for national policy

Professor Nandini Sundar, who filed the petition in the Supreme Court that finally led to the ban on Salwa Judum, said that there was a need for the formulation of a national policy for Internally Displaced Persons. For all the injustices that took place on Adivasis in Bastar since 2004, piecemeal settlements would not do but a comprehensive peace settlement is required, she said. “Since 2002, there has been a demand for a national-level policy on internally displaced persons regardless of their religion, ethnicity, tribe, caste, and so on. Scheduled Tribe is a special responsibility of the state. The Lambadas who migrated from other States were given S.T. status in Andhra Pradesh and elangana, so why not the Koyas of Chhattisgarh? Surveys should be done to provide compensation to all those who suffered in the Salwa Judum violence. In Tadmetla, where 76 people died, in Timapur and Morpalli villages which were burnt, in Sarkeguda [where some residents were killed in an “encounter” in 2012], and in Edesmeta, where the CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] found security forces guilty in the violence in which some village residents were killed in 2013, nobody has got any compensation. A comprehensive peace settlement needs to be done for all the violence and injustices faced by the people.”

Shubhranshu Chaudhary said that if something was not done to address their issues, Adivasis would end up as slum dwellers in the cities of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in the future. Kartam Kossa, however, said it was not possible for the Adivasis to live in cities. “We want to stay in the jungle. In the cities how will we keep cattle or find the wood to build our homes? In the jungle we know how to treat the illnesses that we get by sourcing jadibooti [medicinal herbs] from various plants and trees. How will we even treat ourselves in the city?”

The government, meanwhile, has been sending out mixed signals. It has been reliably learnt that while the Union Minister for Tribal Affairs Arjun Munda was initially in favour of rehabilitating the Adivasis through Central intervention and aid, he has since changed his mind. The government is unwilling to take the responsibility to rehabilitate the Adivasis since they were not displaced by any development work undertaken by the government. But the government cannot wash its hands of the problem entirely and needs to address it.

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