Displaced In Naxal-state Violence, Bastar Adivasis Demand Rehabilitation

Hundreds of displaced tribals of Chhattisgarh staged a protest at Jantar Mantar on Wednesday, demanding rehabilitation under Forest Rights Act.

Raju Kawasi with other adivasis in Delhi.

For the last three days, 29-year-old Raju Kawasi, one of the displaced tribals in Chhattisgarh, had been staying in Delhi at Swami Haider Dass Ashram. A hope brought him to Delhi along with hundreds of Adivasis, who are living in various settlements in the forests of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, and Maharashtra. 

An organisation, New Peace Process, working to ensure a negotiated resolution to the Maoist insurgency brought them to Delhi in order to secure some attention from the Union government. They also staged a protest at Jantar Mantar on Wednesday. 

Several thousands of people were displaced during the conflict between Naxalites and Salwa Judum (Gondi term, meaning “peace March”) between 2005 and 2007. A state-sponsored vigilante movement in Chhattisgarh, Salwa Judum was declared unconstitutional by Supreme Court in 2011. 

Tribal rights activist Shubhranshu Choudhary said, “We surveyed 262 settlements of four districts of Andhra Pradesh and found around 6,721 displaced families. But there are families living in Maharashtra and Odisha too. There are around 55,000 people who have been displaced.” The displacement took place in the southern Chhattisgarh districts of Bastar, Dantewada, Bijapur and Sukma. 

Visuals from the protest. Credit I Diptendu Roy

“These tribals are stuck in the fight between the state government and Naxalites. They were neither part of Salwa Judum, nor the Naxal movement,” said Diptendu Roy, who is documenting the lives of displaced tribals. 

“Naxalites would kill suspected government informers and while the government would vandalise shops and houses of suspected Naxals,” Roy added.  

“We are living in the forests of Telangana, and doing farming. We are faced with a lot of problems there,” said Kawasi.  

The displaced Adivasis are not recognised as Scheduled Tribes in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. “It’s because their tribe's name is registered as Gutta Koya instead of Gutti Koya,” said Choudhary. 

It has denied these Adivasis various job opportunities in the government sector. “We tried approaching the government but nothing happened,” he added. 

“There are over 3,000 graduates among us, but nobody is able to get a job under the reserved category,” Kawasi added. “Government should give us the ST certificate so that we can avail reservation. I am a graduate, but I am doing farming.” 

Mandavi Hiresh, another displaced Adivasi, said that he was “denied admission in school” because the principal wanted “his parents to surrender to the police”. “I told them, they are not Naxals, but he wouldn’t agree. So, I left school,” he said.  

These Adivasis told Outlook that their struggle continues over a decade after Salwa Judum. 

“They are internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and also entitled to rehabilitation under Forests Right Act,” added Roy. Section 3 (1) (m) of the Act says, “Right to in situ rehabilitation including alternative land in cases where the Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers have been illegally evicted or displaced from forest land of any description without receiving their legal entitlement to rehabilitation before the 13th day of December 2005.” 

Hiresh said, “Many of us have landed in Chhattisgarh, and at least one family member from each family is living there, risking their lives. We want the government to understand our situation.” 

The Adivasi delegation wanted to meet Union Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda. Owing to a busy schedule, Munda asked the delegation to meet Minister of State for Tribal Affairs, Renuka Singh, and discuss their grievances with her.

Earlier, they had also met Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, who promised them land near camps of paramilitary forces, to which various tribals showed concern. Kawasi said, “There is a risk of lives near camps.” Talking about it, Choudhary called it a “good sign”, but also added, “the Centre should start a discussion with states for wider rehabilitation plans.”