Days after the Telangana Forest Department attempted to raze the houses of Adivasi farmers at a tribal village in Mancherial district in connection with a dispute over the ownership of forest lands, a group of advocates from the Telangana Adivasi Advocates Association (TAAA) lodged complaints with national constitutional bodies, seeking action against forest and police officials for the "brutal harassment" of tribal people.
Bringing the matter to the attention of the National Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and the National Commission for Women, the Adivasi lawyers said that the farmers had been constantly harassed by the Forest Department for five years.
Earlier last week in Koyapochagudem, a village in Dandepally mandal along the stretches of the Kawal Tiger Reserve (KTR), personnel from the Forest Department attempted to raze the huts erected by farmers on the disputed forest land, alleging that they were destroying the forest land.
The day, however, soon became witness to acts of staunch resistance by the Adivasi people, with some videos from the site showing women retaliating with chilly powder and sticks, while one person doused himself with petrol and threatened to set himself ablaze.
In retaliation, the police and forest officials arrested several Adivasi farmers, including women. Visuals also show officials dragging the women through the road even as their clothes fall apart. The village neighbourhood, which was seemingly cordoned off, saw high tension as many forest and police authorities were also injured.
Adivasi Women Allege Police Brutality
The women who were arrested from the neighbourhood later alleged that they were abused at the Forest Department offices in which they were lodged, before being sent on remand.
Accordingly, the complaint filed by the Adivasi advocates to the national constitutional bodies states that the Forest Department officials had brutally attacked innocent Adivasi women and other farmers at the Koyapochagudem tribal village, with the support of Mancherial district police forces.
The complaint also points out that the Adivasi farmers' requests to spare their houses were not heeded, despite their claims for land rights being pending under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, before the department concerned.
The complaint also alleges that the Forest Department officials used abusive and vulgar language while attacking the farmers, with the support of police forces.
"Several Adivasi women farmers were injured physically and mentally. Earlier too, in this same Mancherial district, forest officials filed false cases against more than 25 Adivasi women farmers and sent them to the Adilabad district prison, along with their children aged below seven. Such incidents are going on in the fifth scheduled areas (erstwhile districts of Adilabad, Khammam, and Warangal) of the Telangana state," the complaint says.
The advocates also urged the national bodies to visit the Adivasi village and the areas that are witnessing the conflict between Adivasi people and Forest Department officials. Further, while demanding a high-level inquiry into the incident, the association also states that leaving the issue aside will turn into "a law order issue in the future."
Police Deny Allegations of Razing Legal Land
Meanwhile, the Forest Department claimed that its officials were acting within the ambit of the law and that they had not touched any of the lands that were genuinely under the possession of Adivasi people from much earlier.
The department also alleged that encroachment of the forest land was prevalent in the area since November last year, despite the counselling provided by revenue, forest, and police officers to local Adivasi farmers.
The officials said they were left with no option but to book them under the law in order to prevent further encroachment of the land. They also flayed certain associations and political parties for allegedly trying to garner mileage by instigating the local people.
(Published in arrangement with The News Minute.)