Archive for the ‘Eviction’ Category

FACTS FINDING REPORT ON RAJNIKHAL EVICTION IN DHOLAI AREA OF CACHAR DISTRICT

June 28, 2019

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The temporary tin-shade where the affected families presently staying.(image captured by Neharul Ahmed Mazumder)

This is a report based on a fact-finding visit to Rajhnikhal village where 80 famalies are left shelterless due to sudden and  inhuman  eviction by the Forest Department conducted by BHRPC team consisting of Mrs. Swapna Bhattacharjee, Mr. Nirmal Kumar Das, Mr. Dipankar Chanda, Mr. Neharul Ahmed Mazumder, Mr. Rofie  Ahmed and Miss. Taniya Sultana Laskar.

It was just after the Eid-ul-fitoor was celebrated in the  valley a shocking video of an eviction drive carried out in a Rajnikhal village under Dholai Constituency of Cachar District went viral in the social media. The local news papers also published stories on that during the following days. After coming across the news news BHRPC formed a facts finding team and visited Rajnikhal on 18/06/19 afternoon.

THE INCIDENT

Rajnikhal village is located in an interior area, almost 35 kilometers away along the NH 54 (old) NH no. 306 (new)  from Silchar Town under Narshingpur Block of Dholai Constituency in Cachar District. According to the District Census Handbook published by the Directorate of Census Operation, Assam, the Permanent Location Code Number of Rajnikhal village is  299636 in the Census of 2011.  The same census also informs that the said Rajhnikhal village has a population of 412 person containing in 83 households. According to that same survey it has 0 forest areas and 3.4 uncultivated land. All the inhabitants of that village belong to Muslim community and from Other Backward Class. They basically live upon the agriculture and related sources like fishing, farming, poultry and animal husbandry. But the villagers got a notice on 21/05/2019 to leave the village within 7 days issued by the Local Forest In-charge, Hawaitang range or steps will be taken against them. Seeing the notice there was a big hue and cry in the village. The inhabitants of the village like Lekoi Mia, Ynus Ali, etc started running pillar to post with the request to suspend the notice. They met every political representative of the area to save the roof above the heads of their children but no results.

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The house of Mr. Anam Uddin(41years) and Mrs. Saleha Begum(35years) seen in the picture with their 10 years old son Faruk Hussain . (Image captured by Neharul Ahmed Mazumder.)

On 06/06/ 2019 around 250 people from the forest department came armored with 11 elephants and almost 500  para-military force and forcibly demolished their houses including the village masque and school, perished their crops and vegetable gardens, cut almost all the fruit trees including thousands of battle nuts trees which resulted in almost full abrogation of their source of income. The demolition process started from 9 am and the forces left the village at around 3 p.m at the afternoon.  They left penniless and now leaving under a tinshade a little away from the village with their family including infants and children. One person namely Jitendra Koiri allowed them to stay temporarily in his piece of land. In this rainy season these people are in a really helpless and vulnerable situation.

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 Behind is the house constructed under Indira Awas Yojuna owned by late Mazammil Ali. Front house is a kachha house owned by Mr. Ala Uddin .His mother Razibun Nessa(62years) and his son Solman Uddin can be seen in the photo captured by Neharul Ahmed Mazumder.

Our team found that almost all the houses of the village were demolished including 11  Indira Awas and PM awas houses. “We are paying the Gaon Panchayet taxes regularly. We didn’t have to obtain any kind of NOC from the Forest to obtain the indira awas houses or any other government aid. Then, why this sudden eviction” asked Yunus Ali with tears in his eyes. Four pakka well which were constructed under the MNREGA scheme were also demolished that day. The Shongjogi Sikhsa Kendra established in the village by the government was also demolished which is in violation of the right to education of the children belonging to the village.  We have interviewed 9 pregnant women in the village who are exposed to serious health risk due to the eviction. In this crucial stage of their life they are leaving without a roof upon their head and eating kichdri  once in a day. The names of those women are:-

  • Najma Begum, W/o- Rashid Ahmed.
  • Sahanara Begum, W/o- Yasin Ali.
  • Abjana Begum, W/o- Ramij Uddin.
  • Rumi Begum W/o- Najrul Hussain.
  • Reksona Begum,W/o- Misba Uddin.
  • Anjona Begum, W/o- Ali Hussain Laskar.
  • Mumina Begum, W/o- Nur Uddin,
  • Afsana Begum,W/o- Gias Uddin.
  • Rustana Begum, W/o- Ajmal Uddin.

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An image of the preparation of meal for that day captured by Taniya Sultana Laskar.

There are almost 150 children who stopped going to the school since their school is demolished and now occupied by some of the sheterless families. The families also lost major portion of their source of income and now in risk of disease caused by starvation and malnutrition. There are 7 children including one especially able child namely Salman Ahmed S/o- Sultan Ahmed who have some chronic diseases like Astama, and who are exposed to a bigger health risk. The women in general are in risk of sanitation and menstruation related disease.

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Hafiza Begum is a 3 year old girl suffering from severe asthma sleeping in a floor prepared with bamboo.  

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A pillar bearing  signboard of a MNREGA work done in the village (image captured by Neharul Ahmed Mazumder)

FINDINGS:-

From the above findings, it is clear that:-

  1. The demolition was prima facie illegal as no adequate notice had been provided.The villagers alleged that the village is not at all a forest village or situated in forest land.  
  2. Undue excessive force was deployed to carry out the demolitions.
  3. The forced eviction which has rendered thousands homeless constitutes violation of the Supreme Court judgments which uphold that the right to shelter as a constituent of the fundamental right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the constitution.
  4. The demolition has affected access to education of the children in the village and constitutes gross violation of fundamental right to education of the children.

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A girl namely Rushnu Begum affected with some unknown diseases. 

(Image captured by Taniya Sultana Laskar)

RECOMMENDATIONS:-

  1. An inquiry procedure should be drawn against forest personnel who used undue force against the residents and suppressed their rightful expressions of dissent.
  2. The Forest Department should compensate the people for the economic losses incurred by them due to this illegal demolition of their property and reinstate them as soon as possible.
  3.  The authorities should carry out a survey of the residents in the village along with the participation of people and draw a plan for rehabilitating and housing.
  4.  Sincere attempts need to be made to reconcile the right to shelter of the people with environmental concerns.
  5. A minimum needs scheme should be prepared and allotment of land should be done for all landless people of the country.

 

Assam: Another arbitrary eviction drive in Kaziranga National Park renders hundreds of people homeless

February 13, 2018

Pranab Doley of Jeepal Krisak Sramik Sangha put out an urgent appeal on Assam government’s latest round of arbitrary eviction drive on 12 Feburay on his facebook page. According to him, this is just another brutal eviction that follows the game of dispossession that rules the state of Assam. This time the people living in the 6th addition of Kaziranga National Park, Assam were evicted.

According to the appeal, on 12 February 2018 since 9:30 am in the morning hours there has been an indiscriminate demolition of khutis (bamboo huts of cattle herders) in the disputed territories of the 6th addition to Kaziranga. The villagers have recorded cases of harassment and torture of children and elderly persons alike who have been in their khutis to attend to their cattle.

Photo courtesy Pranab Doley

Photo courtesy Pranab Doley

New Bitmap Image

Photo courtesy Pranab Doley

Eviction of about 70 khutis has taken place today in the area of Kathanibari, Kumurakati (stretch of 8/9 km) extending up to Sila-mari. This whole space is dominantly used by the Muslim cattle herders to graze their livestock.

According to the information from the locals, the Forest Minister of Assam, Pramila Rani Brahma, visited the area just after the poaching of a Rhino was declared, and she arbitrarily decided to evict the area urgently, without taking into consideration rights of the people. Till now a number of more than 65 khutis have already been demolished with bulldozers; even now while writing, men, women and children are being brutally harassed by the forest department of Kaziranga National Park, accompanied by the police and paramilitary personnel, leaving people in a state of fear and panic. There are in total a number of more than 70 khutis which are being planned to be cleaned up.

A forest range officer declared with pride that the place is not under eviction but “ejection”, which signifies the continuity of evictions on the same people as the herders have nowhere else to go with their livestock but to rear them in the same place by repeatedly facing evictions. He also expressly mentioned that there is no clear demarcation of the borders of the 6th addition, and cleaned up actions take place from time to time without any eviction notice; the same place has been already ‘cleaned up’ twice in 2017. All this without taking into consideration the rights of people who have multiple time submitted petitions and claims demanding their grazing rights be recognized.

The area under eviction has been traditionally used by farmers and cattle grazers’ families since 1940/50s, they had access to much interiors of Kaziranga National Park as portrayed in the grazing permissions by the government. Since 1985, an area of 37,6000 hectares has been contested and notified in 1999 under 6th addition of Kaziranga National Park, as part of the buffer zone. This area which has been a contested territory since then, includes the north bank of Brahmaputra river, and the sand bars (chapori), a mobile land which get continuously reshaped by the endless movement of the river.

Taking the excuse of Rhino poaching, a high militarization and coercive policy use in Kaziranga National Park continues to be exercised against the poor farmers whose life depends on natural resources. The Kaziranga administration started its project of extension on revenue land, which has never been under forest department and for which taxes continue to be paid by the forest dwellers to the revenue department.

Now the question is of continuous violation of the fundamental rights of the people living in this area. The 6th addition has been notified without being settled in accordance with the due process of law. It has not taken into consideration the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 and the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 as amended in 2006. Thus the area has been encroached by the Kaziranga National Park forcefully evicting the traditional dwellers from their sources of livelihood. No notification and no consultation has taken place in violation of the sec. 4(2) of FRA and sec. 38(V) of WLPA, under which the rights of traditional forest dwellers have to be settled. This also goes against the concept of buffer areas, under which the 6th addition falls, which is supposed to promote co-existence.

Pranab Doley and  Someswar Narah of Jeepal Krisak Sramik Sangha and Ananta Hazarika of Krishak Mahasabha issued an appeal to the authorities urging them to immediately stop violations of the rights of the people, and to respond to the appeal of the people to recognize their customary grazing rights under the existing law. They stated that this was required to stop the endless conflict which continues to create poverty and insecurity amidst the most vulnerable communities of India.

For further details Mr Pranab Doley of Jeepal Krisak Sramik Sangha may be contacted at pranabdoley08@gmail.com

Assam: After violence, anxieties of land and identity are still haunting the people

October 18, 2012

The Times of India

Harsh Mander

Although Assam has disappeared from the front pages of national newspapers, large populations still live in makeshift, underserved camps, racked by memory, fear and uncertainty, with little prospect of an early return to their homelands. Legitimate anxieties of land and identity have acquired an urgent grammar of violence and hate, and irreconcilable divisions have grown further between estranged communities.

Photo: thenational.ae

Photo: thenational.ae

During my journey to relief camps in Dhubri, Chirang and Kokrajhar, housed in the classrooms and courtyards of schools, I found that government had ensured basic food rations and primary healthcare services. For the rest, people mainly had to fend for themselves. There was no bedding, no mosquito nets, toilets were scant and choked, and there was little water for drinking and bathing. People who had fled their burning villages or rampaging mobs had few clothes or utensils. Children were the worst hit. There were no child care services, or temporary schooling. Everywhere i found a longing to return home.

The stories we heard in both Bodo and Bengali Muslim camps were disturbingly similar, of neighbours turning into murderous mobs, of torched and ransacked homes, of looted livestock, and of fearful flight. Many escaped only in fear, even though their settlements were not attacked, and in these villages, men return to guard their homes and fields, leaving the women and children in camps.

There are legitimate anxieties and grievances on both sides of the dispute. Udoyon Misra writes eloquently of the ‘ever so heavy’ burdens of history of indigenous Assamese peoples like the Bodos, of ‘land, immigration, demographic change and identity’. He describes massive land alienation of the Bodo plains tribal people who were shifting cultivators with few land records, by industrious and aggressive Bengali Muslim immigrant cultivators.

Successive governments in both the state and the Centre have failed to effectively seal borders, and to identify and repatriate illegal immigrants. The Bodos worry also about being culturally swamped in their traditional homelands, not just by Bengali Muslims but also other communities such as the caste Hindu Assamese, Koch-rajbanshis, Santhals and Bengali Hindus.

Photo: samaylive.com

Photo: samaylive.com

The Bodo accord of 1993, which belatedly gave administrative autonomy to the Bodo people in their traditional homelands in which they already were reduced to a minority, unfortunately also created an incentive for driving out people of other communities and ethnicities. The first attacks by armed Bodo militants on Bengali Muslims occurred in 1993 itself, and these have recurred sporadically against also Santhal adivasis, who are descendants of tea garden workers who migrated centuries back. Clashes occurred in 1994, 1996, 1998 and 1999. Around one and a half lakh people displaced by these clashes – both Bengali Muslim and Santhal – continue to live in camps up to the present day, an entire generation of forgotten internal refugees with no home. The government took no decisive steps to help these refugees return to their homelands.

This remains a festering wound on the psyche of the Bengali Muslim, as also the fact that not a single person has been persecuted for the gruesome slaughter mounted in Nellie in 1983. They complain that all Bengali Muslims are tainted as Bangladeshi illegal immigrants, whereas demographers confirm that only a small fraction of the immigrants are actually illegal settlers who slipped into the state after the agreed cut-off date of 1973. Many have learnt Assamese, and wish to be accepted as legitimate Assamese citizens.

This already fraught environment, of legitimate competing anxieties and grievances of diverse communities, has deteriorated sharply because of the implicit legitimisation of violence as a means to resolve these competing claims. People sympathetic to the concern of Bodos and other indigenous tribal communities suggest that the violence to which they have resorted in recent decades is unfortunate but understandable. This is rendered more dangerous because of the easy availability of sophisticated arms among the surrendered Bodo militants, who were never effectively disarmed.

On the other hand, apologists for the Bengali Muslim violence justify it as being ‘only retaliatory’. This is slippery ethical territory, because the same argument was used to justify the post-Godhra massacre, as well as the slaughter of Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. There is disturbing evidence of growing radicalisation of a small section of the Assamese Bengali Muslim, of a kind which was remarkably absent among the victims of the Gujarat violence. The latter have remained unshakably committed to the democratic, legal and non-violent resolution of their grievances, despite the brutal slaughter and systematic subversion of justice and reconciliation by the leadership thereafter.

BTAD Assam (Courtesy IDSA)

BTAD Assam (Courtesy IDSA)

There are wide demands today that only those Bengali Muslims in relief camps should be allowed to return home who can first prove their legal status. The acceptance of this demand would further incentivise the mass violence which resulted in their displacement in the first place. There isno doubt that the rights of indigenous communities to their land, forests and culture need to be defended, and illegal immigration effectively blocked.

But there should be no compromise, even by implication, with violence as a means to achieve these demands. People in both new and old camps must first be res-tored to their homelands unconditionally, and assisted in rebuilding their houses and livelihoods. Only then should a just and caring state intervene to ensure that the legitimate concerns of both indigenous people and settlers are met, by processes which are lawful, humane and non-violent.

The writer is a social activist.


First published in the Times of India and is available herehttp://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Violence-in-Assam-has-subsided-but-anxieties-of-land-and-identity-are-still-haunting-the-people/articleshow/16855324.cms

Assam: Heal thy injuries in/ of Bodoland

August 10, 2012

Dr. Prasenjit Biswas*

In the fragmented imagination of a homeland in ethnic territories of Assam, comparatively later migrants are perceived and portrayed as a demographic threat. The issue is whether a majoritarian ethnic ownership over land and territory need to portray the presence of migrants as necessarily illegal. The issue keeps the ethnic pots boiling much after there is a cut-off criterion is drawn out in Assam Accord, 1985 as well as in the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) Accord, 2003. Both these accords emphasized on the protection and preservation of Assam’s indigenous communities against any endangerment; demographic, loss of land to ‘outsiders’ and ‘foreigners’ and above all, assured political power to the governing elites of the indigenous communities. Such Statist concession made middle class Assamese and Bodo Indigenous nationalism aim at a greater share over power and resources by way of protective discrimination and by going to the extent of denial of legitimate package of rights of others. Such significant others include immediate neighbours: Santhals and Minority Bengali Muslims both clubbed as illegitimate migrants in indigenous land, who have to face a continuous othering in the domains of politics, culture and even in employment.

Photo: samaylive.com

Photo: samaylive.com

The logic advanced for the illegitimacy of immigrants’ rights extends from their being latecomers to attribution of conscious demographic invasion by them to a paradoxical exclusivist claim over certain powers and resources with its corresponding denial to any claims-making by the ethnically different and the immigrants only produce irreconcilable fragmentation. Right now three out of four Bodoland Territorial Areas Districts and its adjoining minority dominated Dhubri district are in a state of bloodletting, communal killings and massive displacement of population. Vulnerable segments of both the Bodo and the Bengali Muslim communities are physically and emotionally brutalized, many are internally displaced and many see no hope of ending ethnic hatred and competitive barbs of aggression and victimization. Apparently conflicting members of both the sides are now caught on the point of no return and as long as they cannot return to their homes, the fear of the other could be given a xenophobic hall-of-mirror effect. The fear that indigenous Bodos are outnumbered and endangered cannot be pathologized without keeping the vulnerable indigenous masses in camps. Similarly, for keeping the Bengali Muslims in a pathological state, recurrent incidents of violence would completely demoralize and uproot them from whatever little legitimacy they enjoyed in the shared lived space with Bodos.

Magnification of such fear among the displaced by demonizing them as untrusworthy and treacherous will create a further divisive and communally charged politics and culture of survivorship. Drawing a thick line between survivors of Bodoland clashes with ineffective political and economic rights is an extra-Constitutional means , which is supposed to serve unrestrained group rights. Such a feeling is expressed by some Bodo leaders when they say those who live in Bodoland must accept the leadership of the Bodos, an exercise of dominant identity-based leadership. Indeed such a leadership has been accepted by all the non-Bodos with some amount of reservation. The bone of contention between the Bodo leadership and the Bengali Muslim leadership in presenting the number of camp dwellers assumed a shrill denial of the proportion of displacement by calling it an attempt to rehabilitate those who are not genuine victims from Bodoland area.

If victims lose genuine-ity just because they are displaced and are living in camps in adjoining places such as Dhubri, Bilasipara or Bongaigaon, isn’t the ethnic hatred marring the way of restoration of justice, honour and peace for the victims? Denial of the rights of the internally displaced Bengali Muslim populace in terms of the right to return by targeting them by selective armed violence is totally unacceptable by any human rights standards. The core value of shared citizenship, then, stands completely negated.

Photo: Thehindu.com

Photo: Thehindu.com

Some amount of counter-violence from the victims in such a troubled situation can fuel greater violence and displacement. Indeed varying degrees of such counter-violence, starting from mob killing of four gun wielding Bodo attackers to burning down of Bodo homes in areas dominated by Muslim Bengalis certainly alienated a large scetion of Bodos from Bengali Muslims. Further, such counter-violence created a great opportunity for ex-militants to wield their might, whom the government so far could not tackle with its local police and central paramilitary forces. Such targeted unrestrained attacks on Muslim Bengalis have gone much beyond retribution and retaliation now. Holding on illegal deposit of arms to target victims is another trait of ethnic supremacy apart from legitimate hold over power and resources. BTAD conflict shows the uncanny power of holding small arms and their use in securing advantage in an unequal hit back campaign against the immigrants.

Obviously winners take it all. If land is major concern then occupying land vacated by Muslim villagers and the use of arms in displacing them reveal high profile pecuniary interest of land grab. While one is concerned about saving the tribal land and probably would like to see full land rights under Sixth Schedule be restituted to Bodos, can one agree with the perverse and diabolic designs of land grab by displacing a victim of violence under the pretext of securing land rights for the indigenous? One of the Assam legislative assembly members alleged that demolition work is going on in those plots where burnt down houses of immigrants stand. Are we going to see high-rises in those waving paddy fields, which ironically this year would only reap the harvest of ethnic clashes and no rice of togetherness for Bodos and immigrants.

When does affirmation of group rights under protective discrimination become a license to deny neighbour’s basic human rights, especially in creating adverse conditions of loss of dignity and infliction of humiliation? Group rights based on territoriality, descent and origin cannot form a basis of denial of citizenship rights of the riot displaced vulnerable population of a certain ethnic and religious origin, just because they are not us.

Photo: thenational.ae

Photo: thenational.ae

From the point of view of the displaced victim, the Other is the aggressor and if the victim could be dubbed as an encroacher, it makes them soft targets without any claim to justice and rights even when their rights are flagrantly violated. Those who uphold rights of indigenous groups cannot be disrespectful of the right to life and dignity of even the non-citizen. The question of greater privilege enjoyed by immigrants does not arise as such a situation is completely counter-intuitive with some exception of some prosperous individuals from non-indigenous social groups. Although none of the displaced victims from both Bodo indigenous and immigrant community dare to think of any comparative post-riot advantage to follow from such differential treatment, yet the misconception of a forced eviction of the immigrant is growing in the name of ensuring land rights to Bodos.

By adopting a language-game of difference and othering in the discourse of indigenous rights, greater the offensive against the Other, the greater is the use of mendacity: as if one is experimenting with the possibility of greater victimization going beyond camps, deportation and other non-humanitarian and yet legal means- as if a ranging lawlessness is instituted within the apparatus of the law, as if violence is the law. In such a situation justice for the violated is never an issue, the only issue is Lebensraum for an ethnic homeland. More seriously, is the political and cultural imagination of a separate Bodoland fitting into the notion of a unified Assam? Or Assam’s unequal, asymmetric and uneven ethnic plurality needs to reduce itself to enclaves of ghettoized homogeneity, xenophobia and sameness of identity? Can’t the identity be plural and deterritorialized and can’t it accept an outside political and cultural space that is different from itself? There could be two specific reasons for not accepting such a doctrinaire pluralism: one that the majority, if there is any, is yet not ready to accept that there are others and two, Others are unacceptable because they would demand their legitimate share from what one thinks as one’s sole privilege. Such is the blind, almost bordering on hatred campaign against those who have been there for three generations in today’s Bodo areas. When the constitutional means are available to ensure protective discrimination in terms of full political power with the Bodo community, where is the fear?

Photo courtesy: Jagaran.com

Photo courtesy: Jagaran.com

So, Indian Muslims are termed as Bangladeshis with a motive to undermine them. Let a single person killed be proven as a Bangladeshi. Non-Indigenous people in Bodoland are not Bangladeshis, as they have not migrated there after constitution of BTAD. The BTAD was constituted and Bodo leadership accepted the presence of this segment of people and they got also elected by their votes in assembly and parliament. One can understand the apparent rage that was generated after killing of four Bodo ex-cadres of the Bodo Liberation Tigers, erstwhile Bodo armed outfit. Isn’t it possible to understand each other’s agony and pain without taking resort to hatred and violence?

What could be achievements of killing innocent victims? Can we break away from a process of ethnic co-existence and reciprocity just because there are few cases of violence? Can we sacrifice the sense of belonging together? Drawing a line between genuine Indian citizens and illegal immigrants became a provocation to such breakdown of ethnic relations. It is the job of the State, to uphold the rule of law and prevent any attempt to assume due process of law in one’s hand. Quite like the Gujarat riots of 2002, the state machinery is still not able to intervene effectively in terms of restoring confidence in the displaced people. The irresponsible and mindless acts of violence against defenceless indigenous and migrants propelled by violence-countre-violence vicious cycle can only turn Bodoland into a disturbed area and there’s no gainsaying that human security will be its worst fall out.

* The writer is Director, Research, Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), Silchar, Assam.

Constructive engagement elusive at India’s Second UPR at the UN

May 31, 2012

India dodged recommendation for repeal of AFSPA

New Delhi, May 29, 2012 – India’s human rights record was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) under the mechanism of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 24 May 2012 in Geneva. The review was marked by a general lack of acceptance of human rights challenges in the country and a mere reiteration of domestic laws, policies and Constitutional provisions by the Government of India (GoI). Regrettably, the answers of the government did not address critical issues related to gaps in implementation of laws and enjoyment of rights, with India’s Attorney General (who led the government delegation) stating in his opening address that, “India has the ability to self-correct”. According to Miloon Kothari, Convenor of the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR): “By employing a defensive and largely selfrighteous position at the HRC, GoI has, at least in its initial response at the HRC, once again lost the opportunity to constructively engage with the UN human rights system and in accepting the enormous human rights challenges it is faced with.”

Of the eighty countries which participated in India’s UPR – a peer-review process of the human rights record of all UN member states – many reiterated the recommendations made during India’s first UPR in 2008 to ratify the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention against Enforced Disappearances (CED). GoI accepted both recommendations four years ago but they have remained unfulfilled. On the question of torture, GoI referred to the Prevention of Torture Bill (PTB), which is pending before Parliament, without commenting on the non-compliance of the PTB with CAT’s definition of torture. WGHR regrets that GoI left many questions unanswered, including desisting from commenting on the ratification of CED.

WGHR is also disturbed thatIndiadodged the recommendations for repeal and review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) by referring to the Supreme Court’s upholding of its constitutionality and by citing Army’s human rights cell as a redressal mechanism. Ms. Vrinda Grover, human rights lawyer and member of WGHR, expressed serious concerns at GoI’s misleading response to the HRC, which camouflaged the systematic impunity enjoyed by armed forces for human rights abuse in the Northeast of the country and Kashmir: “The refusal and reluctance of GoI to squarely address the issue of impunity under AFSPA, in spite of numerous recommendations by international bodies, government appointed committees and UN Special Rapporteurs is unacceptable in a country that proclaims to be the largest democracy in the world.”

Strong recommendations were made toIndiaon the need to impose a de jure moratorium on the death penalty. The government’s response, that simply cited its de facto policy of awarding death penalty in the ‘rarest of rare cases’, is also deeply unsatisfactory in light of statistics that show an increase in the number of death sentences awarded by the courts.

There were recurring concerns by many states on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion and belief, anti-conversion laws and targeting of religious minorities. Surprisingly, while GoI has initiated a Communal Violence Bill to address the issue of violence against religious minorities, it expressed uncertainty before the HRC for the need for such a law. The Indian government’s insistence at the international level that existing laws and judicial decisions are sufficient to deal with egregious violations such as torture and attacks on religious minorities is very disappointing, when new laws on these issues are being debated at the national level.

On the multiple recommendations it received on the need to ratify the Optional Protocol (complaint mechanism) to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), India once again stated that its domestic legal remedies were adequate to address gender-based discrimination. Many states also recommended withdrawal of GoI’s reservation to Article 16 of CEDAW – which guarantees non-discrimination in all matters relating to marriage and family life – and emphasized the need to enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. WGHR deeply regrets the fact that GoI did not engage substantially with recommendations made on issues relating to women, including maternal mortality, prenatal sex selection, infanticide, sexual and gender-based violence, political participation of women, sexual harassment at the workplace, early/child marriage, harmful traditional practices, honour crimes, and trafficking.

Sadly, GoI failed to use the UPR as an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to bridge the gap between the law and the grim statistics on various forms of gender-based violence. Its tendency to rely upon domestic law repeatedly to explain the multiple challenges to the attainment of gender equality is disquieting, especially when access to justice remains a barrier for many, and several domestic laws are inconsistent with the universal standards on sex equality.

WGHR, however, welcomes GoI’s positive shift on the issue of homosexuality, which was raised by many countries. The government affirmed its support of the High Court of Delhi judgment decriminalizing homosexuality and stated that it would take a sensitive view of the matter that has been appealed in the Supreme Court.

The human rights of children received significant attention at the HRC. States repeatedly raised issues related to child mortality, child labour, child sexual abuse and trafficking. Many governments stressed the need for a reduction of the excessively high rates of maternal and child mortality and urged the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals in that regard. It was also recommended thatIndiaratify the Third Optional Protocol (establishing a communications procedure) to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A notable number of states also reiterated the need to ban all forms of child labour. The GoI stated that it was “fully conscious of issues pertaining to child labour” but that there was “no magic wand to address it”. This stand is oblivious to the fact that the legal scenario in the country has changed as being at school and not at work is now a fundamental right for all children from 6 to 14 backed by a powerful Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. The logical corollary of this change is for GoI to revisit its stand and amend the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.

Given the scale of poverty and large-scale denial of socio-economic rights in India, the insufficient attention given to economic, social and cultural rights at the UPR – with the exception of health and education – was disturbing. WGHR hopes, however, that references by member states to the need for more attention to housing for low-income groups and reduction of slums; more focus on poverty alleviation; removal of rural and urban inequities; and improvement of access to water and sanitation, will be turned into recommendations by the HRC before the adoption of the outcome document on Wednesday 30 May, 2012

On the critical issue of the right to adequate and nutritious food, it is disturbing that GoI has dismissed the need to universalise the Public Distribution System, which operates on the basis of an unrealistic poverty line and excludes genuinely poor rural households due to targeting errors, corruption, inefficiency and discrimination in distribution. GoI has also failed to respond to concerns about the rights of peasants and farmers, the issue of unprecedented numbers of farmers’ suicides and the endemic malnourishment that still persists in the country, as recently acknowledged by the Prime Minister himself.

Overall, WGHR regrets that GoI desisted from responding to most of the substantial comments, questions and recommendations by states. According to Miloon Kothari: “It remains to be seen whether GoI will take a constructive view and accept the many recommendations it will receive from the Human Rights Council on 30 May and engage in a genuine dialogue, including cooperation, with the UN between the second and third UPR. The opportunity also still exists, prior to the final adoption ofIndia’s report in September 2012, for GoI to begin a process of serious consultations with civil society and independent actors – including human rights institutions – at home. It is only when such steps, consistent with a democratic mode of governance, are taken that the UN will be convinced that GoI is serious about fostering an atmosphere that will contribute to an improvement in the adverse human rights situation on the ground.” 

For more information, contact:

 Miloon Kothari, Convenor, Working Group on Human Rights inIndiaand the UN (WGHR) phone (Geneva): +41 792020679; email: miloon.kothari@gmail.com

 Vrinda Grover, Lawyer – phone: +91 9810806181; email: vrindagrover@gmail.com

 Madhu Mehra, Director, Partners for Law in Development (PLD) phone: +91 9810737686; email: programmes@pldindia.org

[The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN – a national coalition of fourteen human rights organizations and independent experts – works towards the realisation of all civil, cultural, economic, political and social human rights in India, and towards holding the Indian government accountable to its national and international human rights obligations. For information on WGHR, please visit: http://www.wghr.org]

See the original statement here.

The Assam government’s eviction drive in Karimganj violates human rights

April 5, 2012

Press statement                                                                                                                                                                                       

For Immediate release

The Assam government’s eviction drive in Karimganj violates human rights: BHRPC

The government ofAssamhas sent a 160 member-strong task force of forest officers to forcibly evict both the ‘encroachers’ and ‘other traditional forest dwellers’ living in the reserve forests of Karimganj district. A huge police force from both the state police and the central reserve police force (CRPF) have been placed at their disposal. The BHRPC is deeply concerned about the danger of forcible eviction of an estimated 300 families of forest dwellers living in Patharia reserve forest for generations.

In the course of a fact-finding study conducted by the BHRPC in Patharia reserve forest that has approximately 7647.300 hectares of land it was revealed that some businessmen grabbed lands measuring approximately 130 hectares (330 acres) falling in and around Patharia reserve forest for rubber cultivation allegedly in connivance with the local politician Minister of state for co-operative and border areas development Mr Siddeque Ahmed. The lands provided the residents of Satkoragul, Mokkergul and Bhitorgul villages in Nilambazar with the only means of livelihoods and dwelling places. As the rubber planters grabbed their lands the villagers lost their livelihoods and now living half-starved for months. Although the Minister later denied his involved he maintained that the lands belonged to the land and revenue department and the department has leased the land to a non-government organization called Asalkandi Grameen Bikash Kendra, while the forest department claimed that the lands belong to it. The villagers claim that although the largest part of their land falls in the reserve forest, one part is farag (Zamindari) land and another small part is government khas (unalotted) land.

After the villagers staged several protest demonstrations and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) registered a case (NHRC Case No. 99/3/10/2012) in the matter on a complaint filed by the BHRPC and the matter was brought to the notice of other authorities including the Prime Minister, the government of Assam made some moves, most of which are in not in right intent and directions. Two deputy rangers, one assistant ranger and one beat officer in the forest department were suspended for dereliction in duties. On the other hand, two officials of the revenue department posted at the Nilambazar circle office were also suspended for fabricating false lease documents showing forest land as land under the revenue department as found by an inquiry conducted by Karimganj sub-divisional magistrate N Shanti Singh. Despite a writ petition is pending before the Gauhati High Court in the matter of claim of the forest department that farag title has no validity and the entire plot of land is forest land, the government has started forcible eviction even from these disputed parts of land. The task force has been deployed apparently to recapture the forest land from rubber planters as well as other ‘encroachers’. The operation has been going on since 3 April in Dohalia reserve forest and at any moment they can use force against the inhabitants of Patharia.

When contacted by the BHRPC (on 4 April) the conservator of forest, southern range, Mr. Abdus Shahid Laskar has confirmed that the government does not recognize the forest rights of the traditional and other traditional forest dwellers under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. He warned that the land-grabbers and the forest dwellers would be dealt with similarly. By launching a misinterpretation of law he categorically asserted that anything that has happened after declaring the area as reserve forest in 1920 has no validity implying that any human settlement made after that year can not be considered under the Forest Rights Act in flagrant contradiction to the express provisions of clause (o) of section 2 of Act that defines “other traditional forest dweller” as any member or community who has for at least three generations prior to the 13th day of December, 2005 primarily resided in and who depend on the forest or forests land for bona fide livelihood needs. He also falsely claimed that there was a public hearing held by the British colonialists in 1920s and they did not find any human habitation within the area. Nonetheless, the dwellers claim that they have been living there for generations spanning more than 75 years.

Moreover, the forcible eviction involves violations of a host of fundamental rights guaranteed under the constitution ofIndiaas well as basic human rights enshrined in the international human rights instruments such as right to life with dignity, right to livelihood, right to adequate housing, right to freedom of residence etc. Especially for people who settled in reserve forests and eke out a livelihood in connection with their habitat and environment by cultivation or other professional activities are now facing a grave threat to their livelihood, as their access to their forest habitat will predictably be denied to them, in case of the effectuation of the eviction drive.

The BHRPC thinks there are strong reasons to suspect the bona fide of this drive of forced eviction since there are many a cases when forest land has been reclaimed from forest dwellers only to be utilized in the interest of a class of rich businessmen, local mafia and other vested interests. Needless to say, such a powerful lobby of interests is also acting behind this move by the forest department to evict and reclaim the forest land so that they can take over slowly the land recovered. There is no guarantee that the land that is reclaimed by way of eviction today will remain as forest land tomorrow, once there are no forest dwellers. Such a land could be easily utilized by vested interests for their own purposes even while keeping the land under the ownership of the forest department. Reserve forest without dwellers in every part ofAssamis getting denuded in the absence of any accountability of the concerned government and its agencies. Two categories of land could be identified in cases of reclamation: land with unspoilt forest and land with denuded forest. Patahria forest, being of the first category constitutes an easy allurement for vested interests to work through abuse of legal power of forest department and police to deny rights of settlers as per Forest Rights Act. The disused rights of forest settlers of Patahria wields this cruel promise of reclamation, a programme that only marks use of brute force against helpless victim-residents in Pataharia forest.

The BHRPC has filed a supplementary submission at the NHRC in the case that was registered in this regard urging the commission to pass an interim recommendation calling upon the authorities to halt the eviction drive immediately and stop the destruction of vegetables and other crops grown by the villagers; to take urgent actions to restore immediately possession of the land to the villagers and reiterated its earlier demands that the villagers should be provided with adequate monetary compensation for loss of property and mental agony caused by destruction of forest and vegetables and corps grown by them, dispossession of land and threat of imminent danger to life and limb; the victims and witnesses should be provided with adequate security; a prompt, fair and objective inquiry should be conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation particularly into the alleged crimes and involvement of the minister therein; the rights of the other traditional forest dwellers under the FRA, 2006 of the villagers who have been living there for generations should be recognized; the khas lands that are possessed by the villagers uninterruptedly for generations and who are otherwise landless should be settled in their names as per government policy; and all other actions and measures necessary to ensure full enjoyment of the rights to life with dignity under adequate standard of living by the villagers should also be taken.

For more information please contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

wali.laskar@gmail.com

+91 9401942234

5 April 2012

 Guwahati

This statement was also forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission and can be accessed at their website at http://www.humanrights.asia/news/forwarded-news/AHRC-FST-023-2012

NHRC takes up Assam land-grabbing and destruction of forest case

March 30, 2012

Press statement

For Immediate release

30 March 2012

Silchar

NHRC takes up Assam land-grabbing and destruction of forest case

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) took up the case of land-grabbing, diversion of forest land in Patharia reserve forest pushing around 300 families of forest dwellers into the condition of starvation and homeless. The human rights watchdog of the nation registered case in the matter as case number 99/3/10/2012 on a complaint filed by the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) after it conducted a fact-finding study of the situation. Along with the NHRC the BHRPC also wrote other authorities including the prime minister,Assamchief minister, union forest and environment minister and others.

The (BHRPC) informed the authorities that around 300 families of traditional forest dwellers in and around Patharia forest reserve in Karimganj district of Assam have forcibly been deprived of their sources of livelihood and now living under severe threat of imminent eviction from their dwelling houses by some businessmen allegedly in connivance with the local politician and minister of state for co-operation and border areas development in the government of Assam Mr Siddeque Ahmed. The accused persons grabbed the land measuring approximately 130 hectares (330 acres) reportedly for rubber plantation in a Pecharpar, Satkorgul, Mokkergul, Bhitorgul and other villages where the families of the forest dwellers have been living for generations depending on the forest produces for livelihood. The forest dwellers were asked to leave the areas soon and threatened with murders, rape and jail.

The BHRPC found that it was prima facie a case of diversion of forest land for non-forest commercial purpose of rubber plantation as well as a case of criminal trespass and taking illegal possession of land held by both the department of environment and forest in Patharia reserve forest and the villagers of Pecharpar under titles of farag and uninterrupted possession for generations that are good against the whole world violating the community rights of protection of environment and ecological balance and individual right to lead a life with dignity. The Silchar-based rights group contended that the activities are in flagrant violations of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 as interpreted and applied by the Supreme Court of India in orders passed from time to time in T N Godavarman Thirumuilpad Vs Union of India and Others (WP (C) No 202 of 1995). The BHRPC further contended that the people who have been living in and holding the forest land for generations are “other traditional forest dwellers” within the meaning of clause (o) of section 2 of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (known as Forest Rights Act– FRA) and they are entitled to all the rights enumerated in sub-section (1) of section 3 of the FRA including the right to hold and live in the forest land under the individual or common occupation for habitation or for self-cultivation for livelihood. It is also alleged that the criminal activities against the villagers with the alleged support of the minister constitute violations of fundamental rights guaranteed in Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the constitution ofIndia and human rights enshrined in many international human rights instrument to whichIndia is a state party.

The BHRPC demanded the authorities to stop immediately felling of trees and destruction of vegetables and other crops grown by the villagers; to take urgent actions to restore immediately possession of the land to the villagers; to provide the villagers with adequate monetary compensation for loss of property and mental agony caused by destruction of forest and vegetables and corps grown by them, dispossession of land and threat of imminent danger to life and limb; to provide adequate security to the victims and witnesses; to conduct promptly a fair and objective inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation particularly into the alleged crimes and involvement of the minister therein; to recognize immediately the rights of the traditional forest dwellers under the FRA, 2006 of the villagers who have been living there for generations; to settle the khas land that are possessed by the villagers uninterruptedly for generations and who are otherwise landless in their names as per government policy; and to take all other actions and measures necessary to ensure full enjoyment of the rights to life with dignity under adequate standard of living by the villagers.

For more information please contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

wali.laskar@gmail.com

+91 9401942234