Watch: “We will not leave our village”, a song of tribal resistance against “the God of Development”
February 25, 2019
Nearly one million tribal people across 17 Indian states are currently facing the risk of eviction from various forest lands.
This came after the Supreme Court ordered for the eviction of the adivasis and other forest dwellers who have failed to prove their ownership as per the Forests Rights Act, 2006
On February 20, the Supreme court ruled in favour of a petition, filed by cohorts comprising of retired forest officers, which had challenged the constitutional validity of the Forest Rights Act and demanded that those whose claims over traditional forestlands are rejected under the new law be evicted. The three-judge bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee gave the states time till July 27, when the matter is set to be heard next. It also asked the other state governments who have not submitted their reports to do so. The numbers are likely to surge once the other states submit their data.
Citing conservation reasons, the petitioners seemed to have taken advantage of the loopholes in the constitutional framework to push back a hard-won battle. In India, forests are governed by two main laws, the Indian Forest Act, 1927and the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. While the former empowers the government to declare any area to be a reserved or protected forest, the latter allows any area to be constituted as a "protected area", namely a national park, wildlife sanctuary, or a community conservation area.
Under these laws, the rights of people living in or dependent upon the area declared as a protected area are to be "settled" by a "forest settlement officer." The officer-in-charge inquires into the claims of people to land, minor forest produce, etc., and, in case the claims are found to be valid, to allow them to continue or to extinguish them by paying compensation.
The Forests Rights Act, also known as the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers, or the Tribal Bill, had been passed in 2006 to address these issues of “historical injustice” committed against forest dwellers by the continuation of the imperial colonial laws. The new laws had granted rights to forest dwellers on matters of ownership of land, usage of forest produce, forest conversation and even relief and development in case of displacement.
It is well known that large areas of land inhabited by tribals over generations were without any documents. The recent Supreme Court order pushes the Adivasis back to the "legal twilight zone" and life of precarious existence which makes them susceptible to harassment, evictions, and extortion.
At such a time when uncertainty surrounds the tribals and other traditional forest dwellers, the song “Gaon Chhodab Nahin”, inspired by Bhagwan Maajhi, leader of the Adivasi struggle against the bauxite mining in Kashipur serves as a cry of resistance against the lofty ideals of “development”.
Gaon Chodab Nahin©koustav de.
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