The Adivasis fight back

Aakar Patel, Amnesty International India
15 June 2017 11:38 am

One of 88 Adivasis of Raigarh district on June 14th, 2017 at Raigarh SC/ST police station, writing a criminal complaint on the grounds of wrongful land dispossession.
One of 88 Adivasis of Raigarh district on June 14th, 2017 at Raigarh SC/ST police station, writing a criminal complaint on the grounds of wrongful land dispossession. Amnesty International India

For decades, the exploitation of the mineral rich lands of our Adivasis has happened without their meaningful consent and without adequate compensation and rehabilitation.

The forces that did the exploiting, whether the state itself through its corporations or private companies operating in the Adivasi areas, are powerful and have faced little resistance. The national media and the major political parties have looked away while the mass scale violations have happened systemically. In many ways the Goliath of the exploiters has overwhelmed the resistance of the Adivasis.

But in their fight for their rights, they have been using a new weapon. To know what it is, let’s look at the problem first:

The issue: illegal transactions

Last year, the Adivasis of the Scheduled Tribe community in Raigarh district, many of whom are not formally literate, informed Amnesty India that they were compelled to sell their lands—through threats, intimidation, coercion and misinformation, to agents acting on behalf of two private companies: Mahavir Energy Coal Beneficiation Limited (MECBL) and TRN Energy.

Some villagers alleged that they had not been paid the amount mentioned in the sale deeds, or have been paid only a fraction of it. While others said that their land had been sold at prices far below the market value. A few villagers also said that they were told that only part of their land would be sold and later found that all of their land had been registered as sold.

However, what stands out from these complaints is that most of this land has been bought in the name of Adivasis from other states or districts who are now untraceable. The Adivasis who sold their land have not met or seen these buyers, the entire process having been carried out by middlemen. Benami transactions of this kind seem to be the way in which companies to dispossess Adivasis of large tracts of their land. A total of 332 acres of Adivasi land purchased in five villages is under contention. Local activists say this practice is rampant in all parts of Chhattisgarh.

Some of the plots of land sold appear to currently be under the possession or use of TRN Energy and MECBL, which suggests that the land was purchased by buyers acting on behalf of the companies.

Pavitri Manjhi, the sarpanch of Benghari village, said, “When the villagers refused to sell their land, the mediators said that the state government had already given the village to TRN. And if they did not sell their land, the company would occupy it and dump iron, ash and coal over it, and villagers would get nothing.”

The Adivasis fight back

So what is the new weapon the Adivasis are using? Several of the residents in the villages have told Amnesty International India that they want to file complaints and FIRs using the provisions of the SC & ST (POA) Act against representatives, middlemen and concerned government officials who are allegedly involved in illegal land transactions and requested Amnesty India to organise a legal aid clinic where they get advice on filing their complaints.

Therefore, a legal aid clinic was organized on 9th and 10th of June, where lawyers provided information that Adivasis, can file a case under criminal provisions of Indian Penal Code and Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

Following the legal aid clinic, on June 14th, 88 Adivasi individuals from five villages in Raigarh district banded together at the district’s Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) Special Police station to submit criminal complaints against the two companies under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act (POA).

The Indian Government’s SC/ST POA criminalizes the displacement of Adivasis without their consent – this means that the Adivasis, if their allegations are proven, have a fighting chance against the accused giants!

We believe that constitutional provisions pertaining to Adivasi rights must be effectively applied, protection of their land rights and their right against discrimination.