India: Tribal villagers displaced by fire set by Forest Department

Forest Department Burns Tribal Village to Ashes

Oct 12, 2012 by VideoVolunteers

On the morning of 15th June 2012, without any prior notice, the Forest Department broke into the houses of 18 tribal families. They used force to drive the families out before setting their homes on fire. When the men, women and children of the community tried protesting and pleading with the officials, they were threatened with consequences. In the end there wan’t much they could do. They ran with their lives and behind them, their homes and belongings — ration cards, school books, clothes, rations – were being reduced to ash.

The people of the Kiri Kasai Dorho tribal village in District Sundargarh, Odisha had been living in the region for over four generations. They used to live up the hill slope before but were forced to move downhill because years and years of the state’s promises of electricity, health centers and schools never materialized. They couldn’t move too far away because they rely on the forests for their livelihood.

This grievous violation would pass as yet another unheard atrocity committed by the state against the tribals. But IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent Amita Rahil Tuti, a tribal and an activist, came over from the neighboring state of Jharkhand to document the violation and the anguished voices of the people.

In 2006, the Indian government passed the long due Forest Rights Act after much deliberation, as a measure to recognize and protect the life, livelihood, rights and identity of one of the most marginalized and remote communities in the country, the forest dwelling tribals. Amita calls the Act a ‘paper tiger’.

“It has been six years since the Act was passed,” she says. “The officials and the government seem to be ignorant about it. Or they don’t mind showing a complete disregard to the constitution. The displacement of the adivasi population continues to happen at an alarming rate while the authorities have washed their hand off any accountability.”

“Adivasi communities, some who have been living off the land for over four to five generations, are not recognized as villages. Development never comes towards us. We have to cross the jungles and walk many kilometers towards it. We have no schools, no electricity. If you visit the settlements you would think that even time has given up.”

“The community of Kiri Kasai Dorho demands their right to live on the land on which their forefather had built his house. They want the land to be legally registered in their name. They want action and compensation from the government for the Forest Department’s heinous act.”

“The community has already lost all it ever had. Now they have nothing to hold on to and save themselves from exile and oblivion but their resolve and belief in their struggle for recognition and rights.”

Call To Action: Amita asks you to call the Sundergarh District Officer Roopa Roshan Sahu on 06622272225 and demand

1) That the incident be investigated and strict disciplinary action be taken against the Ranger Tejraj Naik who threatened and bullied the community in Kiri Kasai Dorho village.

2) That compensation be given to the villagers who lost their homes and belonging in the fire started by the Forest Department.

3) That the land rights of the community be legally recognized.

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