Calls on Government to Negotiate in Good Faith and On Basis of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006

The Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a federation of tribal and forest dwelling communities' organisations from eleven States, is deeply concerned at recent reports of escalating police violence and state repression in Sonebhadra, Uttar Pradesh. The Campaign condemns such actions and calls on the government of Uttar Pradesh to settle the issue through negotiations, founded on the principle of respecting the rights of forest communities to their lands and livelihoods.

For several years now Sonebhadra district has been the site of a struggle between the Forest Department and the Kaimoor Kshetra Mahila Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (a member of the National Forum for Forest Peoples and Forest Workers). The Samiti has been fighting for the return of land that the local community claims as their traditional gram samaj land, which has been illegally taken over by the Forest Department. Repeated protests and clashes have ensued, while the Forest Department has reportedly refused to negotiate the issue or recognise the rights of local communities.

Over the past two weeks these clashes have escalated with the arrest of four activists – Roma, Shanta, Lalita Devi and Shyamlal Paswan – and a police assault on the Dalit village of Chanduli this last Friday (August 10th), in which a reported 15 women were beaten up and a number of houses demolished (with threats of further demolition). Recent rumours in the local press point to the imminent application of the National Security Act against the arrested activists.

The use of police forces and draconian laws against activists and people's organisations is highly condemnable. It is the duty of the State government to respond to a democratic agitation in a democratic manner, not by resorting to brutal repression. Moreover, with the passage of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, it is now legally clear that the Forest Department can no longer simply evict people or deny their rights on the basis of executive fiat, especially given that the said legislation provides both for rights over land under current occupation and for rights in case of past illegal evictions and denial of access to community resources. The UP government must allow this Act to be implemented locally and the rights of local communities to be settled as per its provisions, instead of engaging in actions that would subvert the purpose of the legislation.

The Campaign therefore demands the following:

On behalf of the Convening Collective