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Betul tribals beat drums to wake up admin to their woes

Tribals beat drums outside Betul collector’s official residence. (HT photo)

It is literally sleepless nights for a district collector in central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, courtesy a unique protest by tribals.

Around 100 tribals (indigenous people) reach the official residence of Betul district collector Gyaneshwar B Patil every night with drums and sing traditional folk songs late in the night to protest against inaction of the district administration over their complaint against the forest department.

Tribals, mostly from traditionally hunting tribe called Korku and originally from tiger rich Satpura ranges, alleged that the forest department officials demolished their dwelling units and uprooted trees they had planted over the years.

“The forest officials also put some poisonous substance in the streamlet and a well we were using, because of which over 30 chicken and two goats have died till now. We can’t drink or use these water sources now,” Manu Dada, a local tribal leader from Chicholi block, over 75 kms from the district headquarters told Hindustan Times.

District forest officials, however, claimed that the tribals have encroached over 100 acres of the reserved dense forest in Chicholi block of the district for which a case had been lodged against them in 2011 under the Indian Forest Act 1927.

“Even after notices were served to them they didn’t reply. So finally we demolished their temporary dwelling units and removed the encroachment,” district forest officer (DFO) Betul Prashant Kumar Singh said, denying their claim about poisoning local water sources. “We have not destroyed any trees in the forest there.”

But, the tribals wanted the district collector to initiate action against the forest department officials and lodged a complaint with his office earlier this month.

When nothing happened they descended at the residence of district collector in their traditional attire carrying drums for their‘neend haram karyakram’.

The protest is primarily loud singing and dancing outside the collector’s house from 9 pm till 2 am. The tribals lit bonfire to fight chilly nights and also cook khichdi on the roadside.

These tribals have constituted four groups. Each group has been assigned work like collecting donation for food (khichdi), making arrangements for drinking water, cleaning the area where they agitating and meeting the officials respectively.

“We have been forced to take this step to awaken the collector to take against those responsible for our plight and compensate us for the losses incurred,” said another tribal Heera Lal.

“We had planted nearly 10,000 fruit bearing trees in the forest. We used to take care of them and help the forest become more dense. But authorities uprooted hundreds by using JCB machines. We want the administration to file an FIR against the officials responsible,” he alleged. They are not willing to relent saying that they will continue with their unique protest till authorities take action against those responsible for their plight.

“The night protests would continue till the authorities take action against the erring officials and give these tribals their forest land back,” Rajendra Gadwal, who is fighting for the cause of these tribals.

Some unique protests in MP over last few years

September 2012: Farmers and activists start ‘Jal satyagraha’ (they spend 17 days in waist-deep water of Narmada) in Khandwa district urging government to reduce water quantum in the Omkareshwar dam on the Narmada river as their villages were getting submerged by its waters.

Nov 2012: Some farmers in Katni district start ‘Chita Satyagraha’. They sit every day on unlit funeral pyres, with kerosene and match sticks near, to protest against acquisition of land by the authorities for a thermal power plant in the district.

July 2014: Congress MLAs come to state assembly in bullock carts on the budget day to protest against hike in petrol and diesel. But cops at the gate don’t permit their bullock carts inside assembly premises, citing security reasons.

Nov 2014: A tea seller climbs a mobile tower in Bhopal to protest the alleged harassment by officials of Bhopal Municipal Corporation, who he claimed had taken away his cart and were demanding bribe. Finally authorities brought a hydraulic lift and brought him down.

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