Facts have come to light suggesting that there have been 57 cases of extra-judicial killings in the Kaziranga National Park (KNP), Assam, over the last three years, as against 106 over the since 1996. The recent deaths include 27 in 2014, 23 in 2015 and 7 in 2016. Ironically, not a single forest staffer has been killed in “encounters” since 1985.
Bringing this to light, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), the apex body of a large number of mass organisations across India, has alleged that these facts raise “some crucial questions about the official claims that all the killings are of poachers in cross-fire.”
Pointing that the killings are being carried out in what is being termed as ‘good faith’, citing Section 197 of CrPC, NAPM adds, this is the direct result of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which is applicable in the North-Eastern states, allowing “blanket immunity” to “shield for fake encounters, rapes and torture” of scheduled tribes and other forest dwellers of Kaziranga.
NAPM’s strong reaction comes amidst a sharp upturn in the struggle against the allegedly repressive attitude of the forest department of Assam and “silence” of the Government of India in the garb of conservation.
Activists like Pranab Doley, Soneswer Narah and others of the Jeepal Krishak Shramik Sangha Akhil Gogoi, associated with the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and face “continuous threats, trumped-up charges, hand-cuffing and arrests”, because they have been highlighting the “immunity” of the forest department in dealing with the local people.
Funeral procession following September 2016 firing
In an effort to “ensure” that such repressive tactics do not get prominence across the world, NAPM says, recently the government banned the BBC documentary ‘Killing for Conservation’, “which exposes the shoot-at-sight policy of KNP and the grim situation of the locals being threatened, harassed, tortured and even killed by the forest department, using the conservation shield.”
The documentary is said to have portray the serious issues faced by communities living at the periphery of KNP by the forest department, pointing to the government’s immunity in its “repression” on the KNP’s forest dwellers.
Wondering whether what is happening in KNP – or elsewhere in Niyamgiri, Narmada and Nilgiris – is forced ‘development’ on the tribal people, NAPM says, “We are compelled to ask the Governments of Assam and India, if what the state is doing at KNP is indeed ‘conservation’ or ‘militarization’.”
Seeking “radical overhaul of the conservation policy and practice of the state, which disregards centuries old-indigenous culture, life and livelihoods”, NAPM, in its statement signed by a large number of top activists says, there is a need for “inclusive and participatory socio-economic development of the locals of Kaziranga in order to protect KNP.”
Those who have signed the statement include Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), Prafulla Samantara of the Lok Shakti Abhiyan, and Binayak Sen and Kavita Srivastava of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.
Says NAPM, “The unjust firing of two persons and repression on many others by the state police last September, when the people were opposing the eviction drive in the KNP’s expanded buffer zone, even as demanding rehabilitation as per the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, since the residents were living there since 4-5 decades, is still fresh in people’s memory.”