Macabre Dance of State Atrocities against Adivasis in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh

Bhopal, April 8th, 2001

On 7th of April, 2001 a team from the Jan Sangharsh Morcha visited the adivasi villages and met with the people in Udayanagar area of Bagli tehsil in Dewas district. This team met and talked to the women, men and children of Chainpura, Semli, Kanad, Jamasindh, Bisali, Mehndikheda, Katukiya, Shampura and other villages. From these discussions a nightmarish story of atrocities and barbarism has clearly emerged.

Jan Sangharsh Morcha will present a detailed report very soon. But certain serious facts are clear and it is essential the people of this area and the country are made aware of them.

1. The incident of firing on 2, April 2001 is not a sudden, isolated one. For many days prior to this, scores of forest officials, police and armed teams of the Special Armed Force (SAF) have been attacking the adivasi villages, demolishing the huts, looting and assaulting the people and misbehaving with women. The latest available information on the sequence of events is as follows:

Wednesday 28 March 2001 village Kadudiya
Thursday 29 March 2001 village Potla
Friday 30 March 2001 village Patpadi
Saturday 31 March 2001 village Jamasindh
Sunday 01 April 2001 village Katukiya
Monday 02 April 2001 village Mehendikheda
Tuesday 03 April 2001 village Jamasindi

Prior to this, atrocities were committed in village Katkut of the adjacent district of Khargone. About Rang Panchami (14 March) day, armed forces of the Forest Department arrived in Katkut and proceeded to demolish the huts, looted and scattered the foodgrains and also beat up the people. Mithubaba received head injuries and Guman and Naru sustained bullet wounds in their legs.

For quite some time now, the Forest Department and the district administration has been repressing and committing atrocities against adivasis of the area. One and a half years ago, on 23rd September 1999 forest officials fired bullets in village Kadudiya. Roopsingh Bhilala, an adivasi was killed in the firing. Consequently, on 29th May, 2000 the adivasis held a large, peaceful and disciplined demonstration at the district headquarters of Dewas. But the administration turned a blind eye towards this and the atrocities continued. Moreover many false cases have been registered against adivasis.

2. Prior to the current events, in the past two months the District Collector of Dewas, Shri Ashok Barnwal has on at least two occasions (in Pipri and Udainagar) publicly declared on a loudspeaker that he would crush the Sangathan of the adivasis within 6 months. On 5th March, at Udainagar he swore that he would wipe out the Sangathan without a trace within a month. It is obvious that the entire operation was conducted in a cold, calculated manner.

3. The entire operation of the raids since 28th March has been conducted under the personal direction and in the presence of the Collector of Dewas, Superintendent of Police and the DFO. With convoys numbering 25-35 vehicles and with 300-400 armed policemen, the villages have been surrounded at close proximity and bullets fired in the air. This scared the adivasis and compelled them to run off and hide in the forests. The empty houses would be looted and demolished and then the police feasted on the chicken of the village. The administration of Dewas district has taken to a dacoits style of terror, loot and pillage.

4. Considering this situation and the continual atrocities since 28th of March, the adivasi had possibly decide to gather and oppose further destruction. When the Govt. unit arrived on the 2nd of April at Mehndikheda, people started to gather at some distance from the village. The police tear-gassed them to which the people responded with stone-throwing. Then suddenly they were fired upon. Police fired blindly and targeted whoever they could see.

That Nemichand Jaiswal, a shopkeeper of village Bisali was killed shows that the police had fired indiscriminately. Balaram was shot in the neck and all those who were killed were shot dead at least a kilometer from the village. These facts indicate that the police had fired indiscriminately.

It is also clear that there was no warning whatsoever before the police started firing.
Deaths
i) Balaram s/o Shri Jherma, village Semli
ii) Bholu s/o Shri Idasingh, village Jamasindh (his body was taken away by the police)
iii) Pathaniya, village Kanad
iv) Nemichand Jaiswal, village Bisali

The complete information of the dead and injured is not available. The terrorised people in 16 villages have run away from their homes and are hiding in the forests. The information on the injured that we have been able to obtain is as follows :
Wounded
i) Ramesh, village Sabalgadh (gunshot)
ii) Bhimsingh, village Sitapuri
iii) Karan Singh, village Aakiya

5. It is an utter lie that the adivasis had fired and that they were heavily armed with weapons and ammunition. The district administration has not been able to provide any evidence on this claim. The whole story of landmines is also entirely bogus. Only near Jamasindh we observed that the road was dug up, possibly an attempt by villagers to stop the relentless attacks on them. This did not have an L-shape.

More than 50 huts have been destroyed in at least 5-6 villages. In Jamasindh. Mansingh Borla's house being constructed under the Indira Awas Yojana was completely destroyed. In Katukiya 22 houses were destroyed. All of these were old houses. The tiles of these houses have been totally shattered and the belongings in the houses have been looted.

6. The most inhuman and despicable act has been the poisoning of the foodgrains, aata (flour) and water of the villages (with gamaxene). Perhaps even under the British, the people of this country have not been treated with such hatred and contempt. In Jamasindh and Katukiya, the villagers themselves showed the team the poisoned foodgrains and water. The villagers have also told us that similar acts of poisoning have taken place in Semli and Sabalgadh.

7. In the past 12 days the district administration have converted the area into a terror-zone to break any resistance to these atrocities. Many activists have been arrested. In village Potla, 3 adivasi girls were picked up by the police on 29th March and they have not returned till date. Another adivasi woman from Katudiya is missing since 28th March.

8. This government which trumpets its commitment to Panchayati Raj and village governance has arrested many sarpanches without any cause. Prominent amongst them are :
Sarpanch of Gram Panchayat Udainagar, Shri Jamsingh Rawat
Sarpanch of Gram Panchayat Pandutalab, Shri Gajanan
Sarpanch of Gram Panchayat Bisali, Shri Bhim Singh
Sarpanch of Gram Panchayat Parpadi
Sarpanch of Gram Panchayat Agra

Many Sarpanches have been forced to go into hiding. Zilla Panchayat Member Shri Nandu Singh Rawat, a supporter of the Sangathan was also held in Dewas under threats and duress. Activist Rahul Banerjee who works with the adivasis of the area has been arrested in Indore on 3rd March and moves are being made to declare him a Naxalite. It must be recalled that a decade ago, while strongly criticising the oppression of the police and the administration in Alirajpur, the Supreme Court of India had commended this young engineering graduate from IIT-Kharagpur.

9. In this entire series of atrocities, the Van Suraksha Samities (Forest Protection Committees) have been utilised by the administration for looting and ransacking the villages. These samities would be brought in by trucks from villages like Puthar, Shrirampura, Magardeh, Dhoopghata, Lakshmipura, Pathanipala etc. which are villages far from the affected ones. Villagers told us that for some time now these samities and the forest administration have indulged in rampant tree-cutting and the villagers would be blamed for this. This sequence of events unravels the story of the Govt of Madhya Pradesh's Joint Forestry Management programme. In the name of Van Suraksha Samities, middlemen, goons and lumpen elements are being utilised to fell trees and for committing atrocities against adivasis. For example - 6-7 months ago, a tractor of the Ranger of Pipri carrying teak wood was intercepted by a Flying Squad itself. A year ago, head of the Golanpati Van Suraksha Samiti in Khargone District, Kalu was carrying wood on a tractor and was apprehended at a barrier on the Nachanbor Ghat. According to the villagers, the Van Samities were involved in a lot of illegal selling of wood planks. It seems, the work of the forest mafia of the area was being carried out by the Forest Department and the Van Suraksha Samiti.

10. It has been admitted by the administration that the adivasis cut trees for building their houses and not for selling them. But there's nothing new about this since for millenia adivasis have been using forest wood for house construction and other minor needs. This does not destroy the forests. Even the houses of the Deputy Chief Minister, Smt. Jamuna Devi and other adivasi ministers are made of wood.

The Adivasi Morcha Sangathan had for some time had taken measures against the destruction of the forests. Two months ago, the heads of the Van Suraksha Samities of Tatukhedi, Birjakhal and Patakhal were carrying wood on a tractor. They were stopped by the head of Bagli Krishi Upaj Mandi, Shri Isaram Mandloi who turned them over to the Udainagar Range Office. About 6-7 months ago, a Flying Squad was caught in Punjapura when it taking the wood it had seized in an attempt to sell it in Dewas ! This had 200 planks. Sangathan members had made phone calls and helped in intercepting them in Hatpipla.

The Sangathan had also opposed commercial felling. The Forest Department had coup cuttings in the forests between Jamasindh and Anandnagar and also between Devtaliya and Dadh. On 12th March 2001 a truck was stopped by Sangathan activists at Sabalgarh crossing. The District Forest Officer (Production) (DFO) of Dewas arrived and held discussions with the activists. The villagers questioned the official why they were not allowed to cut tress for building their houses while the Forest Department was cutting lots of trees . While he could not give an answer to this question, the DFO assured the villagers that he would discuss this with the Collector. After obtaining the signature of the DFO on a receipt for a memorandum the truck was allowed to proceed. However instead of answering questions raised in the letter, in a fortnight the administration started the atrocities against the villagers.

It is indeed amazing that a Forest Department worried about saving the forests of Dewas had not stopped coup cutting although the neighbouring districts of Khargone, Jhabua etc. had banned commercial felling. Thousands of trees have been cut and trucks have been loaded overnight. This team saw 4 fully loaded trucks on the night of 7th April. It is clear that the Adivasi Morcha Sangathan is not cutting the forests, rather its opposition to tree felling has become a matter of frustration for the administrative machinery.

11. Some other activities of the Adivasi Morcha Sangathan has earned it the ire of the administrative machinery. In 1998, it opposed illegal brewing of liquor in Pandutalab and had destroyed a still. This still belonged to Shri Shyam Gujar of Bagli, a Congress leader. It has also stopped many extortions of the Forest Department officials. For example,
- Rs 1000 per span for house construction
- Rs 10 per head of cattle for allowing grazing
- Rs 50 per truck of manure (There was a Public Interest Litigation in the Indore High Court on this issue).
There has also been a substantial opposition of the corruption of the local police, patwari etc. This caused the administrative machinery to oppose the Sangathan.

12. In this entire matter, the Collector of Dewas and Superintendent of Police have played the roles of dacoits and murderers. But the state administration is a bigger criminal. The Govt. of MP had itself issues orders in February to crush the Sangathan in Dewas district. The Chief Minister, Shri Digvijay Singh cannot now hide behind the figleaf that he had only ordered the seizure of wood from new houses. Samaj Pragati Sahyog, an NGO in Bagli had shown the Chief Minister video footage of old houses that were destroyed (the scene reminiscent of earthquake ravaged Kutch), looting and the poisoning of aata etc. on the evening of April 4th in Bhopal. The Deputy Chief Minister Jamuna Devi, Home Minister Shri Mahendra Boudh, Chief Secretary, Commissioner of Police, Chief Forest Conservator etc. were present. But till date (8th April) there has been no action against even a single official.

It is obvious that the district administration cannot carry out atrocities on such a large scale without a green signal from above. In the Multai incident 24 people were killed. The current incidents of firing is the next largest one in Madhya Pradesh. The Forest Department had fired ammunition on 8 occasions in the last 6 years. These incidents are as follows:

No. DistrictLocation of Firing Date
1 Shivpuri Village Hansli 03.02.95
2 Shahdol Jaitpur Area 25.05.96
3 Khandwa Village Mandva, Nepa Range 27.08.97
4 Hoshangabad Village Nandarwada 31.08.97
5 Khandwa Village Titagarh 27.02.99
6 Dewas Village Katukiya 23.02.99
7 Sihar Jeebhton Forest, Budhni Tehsil 27.08.00
8 Dewas Village Mehendikheda, Bagli Tehsil 02.04.01

13. It is clear that since the World Bank has started funding the Madhya Pradesh Forestry program in 1995, the floodgates of oppression of the forest-dwellers have been opened. The connection of these atrocities with the process of globalisation is also very clear. The advisasi of Kashipur in Orissa who were opposing an American aluminium company were fired upon on 16 December, 2000 in which 3 were killed and 56 injured. Adivasis in the area of the Koel-Karo dam in Jharkhand were fired upon in February 2001.

The Jan Sangharsh Morcha demands that:

  1. The Govt. of Madhya Pradesh accept moral responsibility for these atrocities and reexamine the entire structure of forest laws and the bureaucracy associated with it.
  2. The District Collector of Dewas, the Superintendent of Police and the District Forest Officer be arrested and tried under the provisions of the Atrocities Against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act and for murder and dacoity.
  3. The entire issue should be examined by an impartial judicial inquiry.
  4. The villages of the area be compensated for the losses and an atmosphere be created immediately whereby the terrorised people can return home.

Bhopal, Date: 8th April, 2001

Members of the investigative team:
1. Sunil, Kisan Adivasi Sangathan, Kesla and Samajvadi Jan Parishad
2. Vijay Panda and Gajanand, Adivasi Mukti Sangathan, Sendhwa
3. Shamim Meghani, Shramik Adivasi Sangathan, Betul and Harda
4. Jacob Nellithanam, Indore
5. Rajendra Bajode and Baba Mayaram, Jhuggi-Basti Manch, Indore
6. Vasant Shintre, Trade Union Council
7. Arun Chauhan, Kisan Sabha, Indore
8. Vineet Tiwari, Sandarbh Documentation Centre, Indore
9. Venu Govindu, Friends of River Narmada