The Forest Department tore down the homes of the poor but spared those of high castes, forcing those displaced to live in the forest for months. Several have died as a result of the hardships. An NGO pleads with national and international authorities so that the law protects the properties of tribal people.
Sonbhadra (AsiaNews) – The Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) has made an urgent plea to India’s highest authorities and to international humanitarian organisations to "support children who face starvation, death, torture and forced displacement as internally displaced persons".
The pro-Dalit Varanasi-based NGO denounced police torture and the demolition of scores of homes in the Sonbhadra district (Uttar Pradesh) inhabited by Dalits and Muslims.
This is the result of State authorities claiming ownership of tribal lands. In Dakhin Tola, a village in the Churk Bazar area, the homes of tribal people were demolished a few months ago; those of high caste people were spared.
In the first incident (September 2017), the Forest Department displaced 50 families who had been living and farming local land (account number 00387). In the second case (August 2018), the Forest Department and the Provincial Armed Constabulary demolished the homes of 35 Dalit families.
“Some 350 people are involved,” PCVHR executive director Lenin Raghuvanshi told AsiaNews. “This is a clear case of social and religious discrimination. Furthermore, the law was violated."
Under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (2006 Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, tribal groups recognised in the Constitution have the right to occupy and harvest forest land. They have the right to forest produce within or without village boundaries and to other resource, but they must also protect biodiversity and preserve forest resources.
Despite legal protection, State authorities have tried to get people to sign away land to have access to its resources. When they cannot reach agreements with tribal groups, the easiest option is to simply seize the land and tear down residents’ homes.
Those displaced in Uttar Pradesh have camped out in the forest near the village, exposed to the weather and forest animals. This has led to the death of the weakest, including four children.
Activists complain that the authorities moved in “without any prior notice or information [and] started to demolish the houses. When the local people protested then they were beaten by the police in an inhuman way and charged with the case.”
When “many other people [who] belong to upper caste occupied the land near to this settlement” and “opened their shop, [. . .] they were not removed”.
Ultimately, for the NGO, the human rights of these domestic refugees have been violated, especially those of children whose fate is particularly tragic.
"They are marginalised” without access “to education”, forced “to walk long distances to work” and “some four kilometres to get water.”