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Tribal peoples are the best conservationists. Yet they are being illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands in the name of tiger 'conservation'. Photo: © Sandip Dey
Tribal peoples are the best conservationists. Yet they are being illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands in the name of tiger 'conservation'. Photo: © Sandip Dey
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India: tiger reserve tribes face illegal eviction

The Ecologist

14th October 2014

A tribal community within India's Similipal tiger reserve is facing eviction after forest department officials tricked and coerced villagers into signing a document in which they promised to leave. Complaints to the state's Human Rights Commission have been ignored.

Really, most people signed out of fear, but people have been threatened and harassed and they agreed to go to escape from this trauma. They don't know what life will be like there. They agreed to sign because they were frightened.

Tribespeople living inside a tiger reserve in India face imminent eviction from their ancestral land.

Three of an original six indigenous villages are holding on in the Similipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha state, following a round of evictions in December 2013 in which 32 families of the Khadia tribe were expelled to the Asan Kudar resettlement village outside the forest.

They have not been provided with sufficient land, animals or essential services. They had to live through the heat of April and the deluge of the monsoon under plastic sheets, and have received only a fraction of the Rs 10 lakh they were promised.

Sheltering under plastic shelters on a tiny patch of land, the Khadia tribe members are now entirely dependent on government handouts for their survival (see photo).

Now Kol and Munda tribe members in Jamunagarh village are in the firing line. They have told Survival International that they were "threatened" and "cheated" into signing an eviction document drawn up by India's forest department.

Telenga Hassa said: "We would rather die than leave the village. The forest department is pressurising us to go - they are giving a lot of threats to us, saying things like, 'If you try to stay we will lodge many police cases against you, we will say that you are Maoists and we'll arrest you.'"

"All of us have had the same threats. We are threatened, so please tell us, how can our rights be protected? How can we be safe from these false cases?"

Another added: "They threaten us to relocate or to face dire consequences."

Official promises betrayed

On 19th September 2014, Jamunagarh residents met with Odisha Forest Department officials. They were told that the meeting was to confirm their Community Forest Rights, which they had applied for under the Forest Rights Act 2006.

But after receiving documents confirming their rights they were asked to sign a further document that would grant them each five acres of cultivable land. But as they cannot read or write in Oriya, they did not know what the document contained.

One man told Survival: "Unknowingly I gave my signature, I didn't know what was in the paper, other people near me signed so I signed it too. I cannot read or write but can only sign my name."

Another said: "We signed the document with the belief that it's about the Palli Sabha (village meeting). Later we knew that it was the resolution in agreement for relocation."

Another witness explained: "Really, most people signed out of fear, but people have been threatened and harassed and they agreed to go to escape from this trauma. They don't know what life will be like there. They agreed to sign because they were frightened."

Only after signing the document were they told that the document committed them to leave their village - and that they would not even receive the five acres of land they had been promised, as there was no land available.

A Munda man told Survival: "We were cheated and are now very afraid of the consequences."

Tribal people face eviction across India

The evictions are planned in the name of tiger conservation - even though there is no evidence that the indigenous tribes harm the wildlife, and they desperately want to stay on their land.

A Munda elder from Jamunagarh has said: "We should be rehabilitated in the same village where we are now. We will protect the wildlife and get benefit of all government programs. We should stay there and protect - we promise.

"Don't displace us! Rehabilitate us in the same place we are now ... We have been there [to Asan Kudar]. Seeing their condition made my heart cry. Please don’t displace us. Please rehabilitate us in the same village where we are now."

According to Survival, "Tribal peoples are better at looking after their environments than anyone else." Also India's Forest Rights Act recognizes their right to live in and from the forests, and to manage and protect them.

But across India, tribal peoples are being illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands in the name of conservation, particularly for tiger reserves.

In addition to threats and harassment, they're promised land, housing and money as compensation, but often receive little or nothing. Without access to the forest's produce, and no adequate housing, they are forced to live in miserable conditions.

Survival's Director Stephen Corry said: "Many of the forests where tigers survive in India have been cared for by tribal people, who are better at looking after their environment than anyone else.

"But now the government is using threats and tricks to force the tribespeople out in the name of conservation, and leaving them in squalor.

"What's worse, the tribes' forests are opened up to thousands of tourists each year, and poaching and illegal logging are rampant. It's time the conservation industry spoke out against this injustice."

Official complaint ignored

In May 2014, Survival submitted a complaint to the Odisha Human Rights Commission. They did not respond, so Survival sent another urgent and updated complaint on 9th October.

In the document Survival argues: "The Families have not been advised of their legal rights to remain in the core of the STR if they wish to do so, or of the legal procedures which have to be followed before they can be moved, or of what will await them if and when they are moved.

"The Families cannot therefore have given their free, prior or informed consent to their relocation. As things stand, their removal from the core will constitute an illegal eviction.

"As members of Scheduled Tribes whose traditional land is central to their way of life, culture and identity, this will have a profound effect on the Families.

"It was in recognition of their unique attachment to the land that Parliament decided to protect them against relocation unless and until it can be shown both that this is genuinely necessary and that they have truly consented to be moved."

"The unlawful removal of the Families will infringe their rights to internal self-determination under Article 1(1) of the Civil and Political Rights Covenant; not to be deprived of their own means of subsistence under Article 1(2); not to be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with their homes under Article 17(1); to freedom of religion under Article 18(1); and to enjoy their own culture in community with other members of their group under Article 27."

 

 


 

 

Source: Survival International.

 

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