The Karnataka Government’s insensitivity to the plight of tribals has been glaring, more because it involves major violation of their Human Rights
India’s forest conservation model has its antecedents in the Western model of game reserves used for hunting and recreation. The tribal communities, who lived in harmony with nature within the forest ranges for centuries, were gradually relocated outside the forest ranges for the sake of conservation of forests, post-Independence. While this process has been beneficial to few communities, it has been a nightmare for many others. One such example where the basic rights of the tribes were trampled was with the Jenu Kuruba tribes of Kodagu in Karnataka.
The Jenu Kurubas of Kodagu are adept at harvesting honey and making bamboo products. Though relocation is aimed at giving them access to regular farming and better education for tribal children, it surely detaches them from their traditional vocation and means of livelihood. As a part of the relocation effort and benefits promised under the Forest Rights Act, the Karnataka government had promised land for a house outside the reserve forest post their relocation. However, despite repeated requests, no land or other benefits were given to them by the government.
In June last year, few Jenu Kurubas protested against the apathy of the Karnataka government in allotting them land for houses and made a representation to the local forest officer requesting that they be allowed to erect makeshift sheds using plastic sheets, thatch and sticks in the Diddalli forests. The Forest Department paid no heed but when an attempt was made by the tribal people to erect sheds in the Diddalli reserve forest, they were evicted forcibly in April 2016. However, with no other place to go, many more Jenu Kuruba families setup modest huts within the Diddalli forest area. By September 2016, almost 577 such tribal families had set up their temporary huts.
Without providing a lasting solution to their problem, the forest and district administrations attempted to evict the families by force. Unarmed tribals were showered with lathis and herded away by force. While they suffered such atrocities, the administration filed criminal cases against the tribals.
Sensing an opportunity, several rabid Marxist leaders and NGOs attempted to hijack the struggle of the tribals. Timely intervention of the local BJP MP and MLA diffused the
situation with a temporary truce being worked out between the Jenu Kurubas and the forest department. Vacant land adjacent to the forests was provided for the tribal families to set up their huts.
While the Jenu Kurubas are still in search of a permanent solution to their woes, they question the attitude of the state government which doesn’t bother to evict rich planters who have encroached hundreds of acres of forests. Successive governments have failed to address the issues involving the tribal population of the district, who belong to Jenu Kuruba, Betta Kuruba, Yerava and Soliga tribes. Such general apathy of the government towards our tribal communities and unnecessary police actions act as fertile grounds for recruitment for the Naxals by twisting the agenda as they have done elsewhere.
Decent dwelling, access to potable water and livelihood are basic human rights granted to every citizen by the constitution. It is the responsibility of the state governments to facilitate proper rehabilitation of our tribal communities and ensure proper sustenance of tribal families and individuals.