People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 33

August 13, 2006



80,000 Tribals Demonstrate For Forest Rights Bill


Kumar Shiralkar


BRAVING heavy rains and defying police prohibitory orders, thousands of adivasis and toiling people recently held a militant demonstration before the government offices on July 18, demanding the passage of the Scheduled Tribe (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill 2005 in the coming parliamentary session without any delay. The slogans raised by the enthusiastic tribals exhibited their awareness regarding the amendments in the proposed bill, which are going to make a long-term effect on their life and livelihood. 


After the call given by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), its Maharashtra state committee decided to conduct a campaign in tribal dominated areas to propagate widely the importance of the changes made in the bill and the amendments to the proposed bill accepted by the parliamentary select committee. Immediately after this decision, district and local level Party units charted out their own plans to reach to the tribal masses living even in remote interior areas, and launched their campaign through hamlet and village level meetings. 3000 booklets and 25000 handbills were distributed. In some places, jathas were taken out. The persistent campaign based on the tribal people’s urge to have permanent rights to cultivate the forestland plots and undisturbed peaceful habitat enrolled the tribals in large numbers in these July 18 demonstrations. 


It should be noted that immediately after the terror provoking series of blasts in local trains in Mumbai, the home ministry of Maharashtra had imposed strict prohibitory orders everywhere in the state. The police officers did not allow any mass protests or demonstrations at many places. Even our activists at some places agreed to the requests of the police officers not to mobilise the masses in large numbers. But in tribal areas the tribals were so firm that, walking through the non-negotiable hilly footpaths while it poured from the sky continuously, they gathered at tehsil offices. More than 80,000 people came forth to vent out their vehement reaction to the historical injustice meted out to them since the British colonial period. The large number of women in these demonstrations manifested the ground reality of miseries and sufferings they had to face and also the enhanced consciousness among them. Morchas on government offices were led and memorandums pin-pointing the demand to pass the bill urgently were handed over to the concerned officers to forward to the prime minister of India.


Numerous public meetings were conducted before the fiery demonstrations. The speakers from various hamlets and villages expressed their anger against the injustice and atrocities perpetrated by the forest department, making the tribals vulnerable in their own land and habitat. They reiterated that they are not only the citizens of modern India but they are the original owners and caretakers of this land, forest and our country as a whole. They reminded proudly that tribal youths like Birsa Munda and Tantya Bhil were among those who fought against the erstwhile British colonial power and against the feudal dikkusâ and paved the way for independence. They uttered that they are residing in forests and managing the recycling of natural resources for thousands of years, maintaining the vital balance between man and nature. They blamed the vast scale destruction and deterioration of the forest to the colonial, capitalist and imperialist interests before and even after independence. They pointed out that the so-called economic reforms are creating tremendous difficulties for their lives. As a result of acute scarcity of natural resources, environmental hazards, continuous unemployment and the collapse of the PDS, the tribals have to migrate every year and are regularly thrown in the abysmal labyrinth of debt trap and bondage.


The local adivasi youths and women delivered their staunch confidence not to surrender an inch of land and habitat if the UPA government fails to enact the bill under the pressure of the so-called (anti-tribal anti-people elite) environmentalists and the vested interests of the multinationals and forest mafias in collusion with the biggest landlord of the country --- the forest department. Speaker after speaker condemned the detrimental policies of the central and state governments promoting imperialist globalisation and privatisation that liberally hand over large tracts of forest to the capitalist corporations and deprive the tribal families of their livelihood needs mainly depending on agricultural land and minor forest produce. They insisted that the central government should immediately move the bill in parliament in this very monsoon session. They also congratulated the parliamentary select committee for accepting and recommending the basic, scientific, humane amendments suggested by All India Agricultural Workers Union, All India Kisan Sabha and other pro-people pro-tribal organisations. 


The response of the tribal masses to the demonstrations and the discontent the activists and leaders expressed in their speeches has to be seen in the background of the long-drawn struggle of the tribal people and other poor people for getting pattas of the forest land as a fundamental right to livelihood which has been denied to them repeatedly by the central and state governments. The tribals possessing the forest plots have no other means to survive. They eke out their livelihood from the meagre produce they get by cultivating their rain fed forest plots. They use these forest plots for their bonafied need to feed them and their families. 


The state government of Maharashtra enacted two acts in 1978 and 1979 to allot pattas of these lands to the tribals. But the callous lack of pro-tribal sensuousness and utter neglect in the bureaucratic circles did not implement the provisions of these acts. The draconian Forest Conservation Act of 1980 thereafter halted all the lingering process of allocating pattas till 2002. On October 10, 2002, consequent to a satyagraha staged by one and a half lakh tribal and non-tribal landless and land-poor people all over the state demanding distribution of land and pattas, the state government came out with a resolution instructing in detail the time bound process of allocation of pattas to the tribal families even if the latter do not have any written proof. 


Yet, even though the state government appointed the Devdhar committee and the Bagul committee to investigate the proper implementation of this GR, it has been in vain. All this experience had disappointed the tribals in Maharashtra. It was only because of the persistent militant struggles led by the Red Flag organisations that they could defeat the recurring attacks of the forest and SRP gangs. Now all their hopes rest on the CPI(M) and the Left who support the UPA government from ouside, that they would pressurise it to implement the pro-people policies including the proposed ST Bill 2005, with all the amendments suggested by the parliamentary select committee. 


It was with this new hope and enthusiasm and with confidence in the Left that the tribal and poor masses, cutting across the various political parties (even youths inclined wrongly toward the saffron brigades), participated in the demonstrations on July 18.


Maharashtra Kisan Sabha and Maharashtra Agricultural Workers Union also took initiative in launching this demonstration, while the CITU, Janvadi Mahila Sanghatana, SFI and DYFI. units also supported and helped for the success of the campaign. The major mass mobilisation was in Thane, Nashik, Nandurbar, Jalgaon, Amravati, Gondia, Yavatmal, Nanded and Ahamadnagar districts though non-tribal working masses staged dharnas in solidarity in other districts also.