AIKMS, Land Struggles

Tribals’ Struggle in Chettupalli Village (Telengana) in Defence of Their Land

Exposing that its electoral promises were totally hollow, the KCR led TRS Govt of Telengana has launched an all out offensive against land being cultivated by adivasis and non tribal poor. The KCR Govt. came to power in June 2014 and 30 months have passed since then. In the election manifesto, KCR promised that the TRS would give 3 acres of land to each adivasi and dalit family by purchasing land. Not even one cent of land has been given to adivasis and distribution of land to Dalit families is farcical. On the other hand the Govt. is evicting the Adivasis and poor non tribals from land they have been cultivating for years together, some for close to four decades. This is when they are entitled to pattas for the land under the Forest rights Act 2006. They are doing this also on land for which the tribals have already been issued patta certificates earlier. This offensive was started last year itself in the name of Harithaharam (Green Belt) and crops over thousands of acres were damaged in the adivasi areas. This year, from February itself, eviction was begun well in advance of the sowing season by digging trenches in the cultivated land using JCBs. Forest officers performing this task are accompanied by strong police force who are under direction of the state Govt. to evict the cultivators.

In Kothagudem District, this digging of trenches with JCBs to render land uncultivable has begun in Illendu, Tekulaplli, Gundala, Allapalli and Bayaram Mandals. It is accompanied by high pitched Govt. propaganda that the Tribals and other poor are cultivating the land illegally. Along with it is attacking them physically, damaging them economically and freely foisting false cases against the protesting people. Where Tribals are not organized it is able to attack more freely. In these areas there is presence of the revolutionary movement and here the people are coming forward to defend their land. Here the Govt. is trying to drive a wedge between Tribals and non tribals, locals and outsiders and instigating the people against each other.

Resistance of the People of Chettupalli

In this background, on 27th March at noon forest officials along with police and two JCBs came to Regulagudem, a hamlet of Chettupalli Village panchayat and started digging trenches, trying to occupy 500 acres of land. About 50 people gathered, mostly women, and appealed to them not to dig trenches and tried to stop the digging. Foul and filthy language was used against the women and the people were threatened but the people did not scatter and rather continued to question the officials. As the people were in smaller number and the officials and police were in large numbers so the people were not able to stop the team or resist adequately. Keeping this experience in mind over 500 people were mobilized from surrounding nearby villages and prepared for resistance. On 28th March, forest officers and police returned to Regulagudem and Chettupalli. They brought two JCBs with them. Seeing the JCBs the people gathered and stopped the JCBs, questioning the Forest officials and the police on why they were being forcibly evicted from their only source of livelihood. The memories of the incidents last year when Forest officials had damaged standing crops by running tractors over them, made the people even more apprehensive. When the police did not withdraw, the anger of the people burst forth. Even as the JCBs were entering the land, in the melee one JCB and three motorcycles of the forest officials were damaged, with police claiming they were set on fire by the villagers.  The TRS Govt. is entirely responsible for this clash, as the people have been pushed to the edge by the repeated attacks by the Forest officials on their lands which they have been cultivating for years and which is the only source of their livelihood.

Using this incident as a pretext and seizing the opportunity, Forest officials called up police from three police stations and raided the hamlet and Chettupalli village. They bet up and injured 15 women and 20 men, ironically booked the tribal people under the Forest Rights Act and took away 4 tractors and 15 motorcycles belonging to the families there. They also foisted another false case on 104 people. Now they are daily threatening the people with arrests, calling on them to surrender and threatening to confiscate their belongings, terrorizing them in various ways to break their resistance to surrendering their land.

Police has gone to town propagating cooked up stories, insisting that armed squads of CPI(ML)-New Democracy were responsible, though the incident took place in the middle of the afternoon i.e. in broad daylight and hundreds of people participated directly and angrily. Police and forest officers are also hard at work trying to divide the people by asserting that they had only gone to secure the land occupied by non tribals- that too not from the poor but from those who have occupied hundreds of acres of forest land. This false propaganda is with the sole intention of carrying on their drive to dispossess the tribals and non tribal poor in these areas of land they have been cultivating for years. Last year acres of crops were damaged just before harvesting began; this year, survey of Illendu area has been completed in 5 mandals and the process of eviction by digging trenches with JCBs had already commenced. This is what resulted in an angry fight back by the people who had no other option to save the source of their livelihood other than defending their land. The struggle of the people of Chettupalli is part of this fightback.

It is clear that the Govt. of Telengana will try to occupy podu lands in other districts also and the task of defending the land will be faced by other districts also. Meanwhile state level teams of AIKMS and POW leaders have visited the Chettupalli villages and given confidence to the people in the face of the police crackdown against them. It is clear that the people in other areas will also need to organize and resist the eviction teams en masse, while continually propaganda needs to be carried out exposing the heinous designs of the state Govt. against the tribal and poor people.

The Party should lead the people to form Protection Committees of Podu lands in different local areas, step up a campaign to dispel disinformation against the tribals being spread by the State Govt through newspapers and above all prepare the tribals and non tribal poor for actively resisting en masse the attempts to evict them from their sources of livelihood. On the one hand the Telengana Govt. has handed over seven forest mandals for drowning by the waters of the Polavaram Dam to AP Govt. after registering only a token protest and thus betraying the Movement for Telengana state. This will destroy pristine forests and displace thousands of tribals robbing them of their traditional habitat. On the other hand the Telengana Govt. is going all out to deprive the tribals – the keepers of the Forests- of their traditional habitats and their lands in the name of, strangely, ’saving forests’. It is uncontested throughout India that tribals thus displaced in the name of both ‘development’ and ‘protection of forests’ over decades end up as cheap labour in the cities and tribal culture and way of life is totally deprived. Thus, along with preparing the tribals and poor for direct, concerted, firm resistance against attempts at dispossession, the democratic movement must be mobilized against the anti people anti tribal measures of the Telengana Govt.