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India: Thousands Court Arrest to Demand Democracy in the Forests

21 May 2011

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Forest Workers March to Delhi 20 May 2011
Photo by Mukul Dube
20 May 2011 Rally at Jantar Mantar
photo by Mukul Dube

From: Campaign for Survival and Dignity

20 May 2011

Thousands Court Arrest to Demand Democracy in the Forests

Call for End to Grabbing of Forests and Lands for Benefit of Government and Companies

Today, 3,000 adivasis and forest dwellers from across the country gathered at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, to protest against the blatant and criminal resource grab of the Central and State governments. Braving intense heat and traveling for days on end packed in trains, our people came to Delhi to condemn the blatant criminal looting of our resources by these governments. Joined by leaders of the the Gondwana Ganatantrak Party, the CPI, the CPI(M), the CPI(ML) Liberation as well as other organisations, the protesters rallied at Jantar Mantar till 3 pm and then marched towards Parliament, where they courted arrest and were detained by the police. Two delegations of the protesters then presented the demands to the President and to the Secretary of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.

Simultaneously, more than 3,000 people joined a protest called by the Campaign’s Odisha state federation in Bhubaneshwar, on the same issues, and presented a memorandum to the Governor.

The protesters had come to Delhi from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. They raised the fact that both the Central government and the State governments are brazenly violating the law and people’s rights in order to keep their control over forests and forest lands. The government’s entire agenda is dictated by the interests of capital - especially private industry - and the state machinery, particularly the Forest Department, and it will stoop to anything to grab more and more forests and lands for these interests. With every passing day, whether it is the POSCO project, so-called "afforestation" programs across forest areas or illegal eviction of forest dwellers in various States, the state machinery continues on its grossly illegal drive to seize control of our homelands.

CPI(M) Politburo member Com. Brinda Karat, CPI National Secretary Com. D. Raja, and Com. Girija Pathak of the central headquarters of the CPI(M-L) Liberation addressed the protesters and called for a joint struggle by the movements gathered today and all people’s forces to demand that the government respect justice and the rights of forest dwellers. Com. Brinda Karat declared that the government was putting the entire burden of implementation of the law on to the people while throwing the law to the winds in its own actions. Com. Raja said that the struggle for democracy in the forests is an integral part of the struggle for a true democracy in this country. Com. Girija Pathak condemned the government’s neoliberal approach and the manner in which it acts as a handmaiden to private capital even in violation of laws and people’s rights. Shri Hirasingh Markam, Shri Dhirendra Singh and other leaders of the Gondwana Ganatantrak Party, whose members joined the protest, also addressed the protesters and called for an intensified struggle for justice for adivasis.

For 150 years the forest dwellers of this country have fought for justice and for democracy in the forests. Today was one more moment in that fight. With every day our struggle grows stronger and wider. The state and the ruling class must realise that the days of loot, plunder and pillage are numbered. The people are rising, and however many lies they tell about "development" and "conservation", however many times they break their own laws, however many times they beat and kill us, the struggle for justice cannnot be crushed forever.

Demands of today’s protest:

1. The Forest Rights Act should be implemented in all forest areas, including protected areas, and the rights of all forest dwellers must be recognised. All Forest Department interference, illegal demands for unnecessary evidence, and illegal rejections should be halted.

2. All rejections and cases where people received less than the area claimed should be reviewed.

3. The gram sabha’s powers to manage, control and protect forests and other natural resources must be respected, and displacement should be halted.

4. PESA should be implemented and scheduling extended to all adivasi areas.

5. CFR rights should be recognised for all villages and habitat rights recognised for all PTGs.

6. Takeover of forest land for industries, plantations, so-called "critical tiger or wildlife habitats" and forced eviction of people must be stopped and those responsible for these acts should be prosecuted. The consent of the gram sabha for diversion and compliance with the law should be required in every case.

7. Joint Forest Management should be shut down. The money channeled to the Forest Department for JFM should be transferred to the Employment Guarantee Act and the rights and power of the community to manage forests should be recognised.

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

Contact: 9873657844, forestcampaign at