Gotti Koyas Under Perilous Circumstances

Governments which have been using SC &ST Act as a political weapon, to destroy its enemies, are remaining spectators when their forest officers are indulging in attacks on Gotti Koyas. The fact finding committee of HRF has this to say.
  • As Forest Dept Forced Evictions Render Them Homeless

Srinivas N

Warangal: A fact-finding team from the Human Rights Forum brought to the light the desperate plight of Gotti Koyas who have been rendered homeless in their own forests in Jayasankar Bhupalapalli district in Telangana as a result of forcible evictions allegedly carried out by the staff of the Forest department.These Gotti Koyas are living precariously under the daily threat of eviction in a forest that historically, culturally belongs to them, the team observed.

The Human Rights Forum alleged that these adivasis are being subjected to immense indignity, violence and hardship. In a representation to the District Collector of Jayasankar Bhupalapalli district, after taking out a rally largely participated by the affected villagers, the forum demanded that this persistent harassment be stopped. The team visited the affected villages on Monday.

The adivasis are predominantly from Chhattisgarh while some are from within Telangana originally belonging to villages in border mandals such as Venkatapuram. They have crossed over to the forests of Bhupalapalli district over the years, cleared a bit of forest and have set up homes. The migration is principally in search of livelihood. Over the time, the government has issued them ration cards and many of them are even in possession of aadhaar cards. Some of their children attend local schools and are residents in hostels.

Being very hard working, these Gotti Koyas, are sought after as labour by local farmers. They are also employed from time to time by the forest department to work in nurseries and various plantations. Being insecure with no assured source of livelihood, they are often exploited by both the civil contractors as well as the forest department who have found in them a desperate and therefore a cheap source of labour, the HRF stated in its representation.

Devuni Gutta

Time and again, the settlements of these peaceful adivasis have been set on by personnel of the forest department. The representation reminded the Collector of an incident that happened on 21 April 2017 which involved an inhuman attack on Gotti Koya homestead at Devuni Gutta in Govindaraopet mandal, burning of huts, breaking the arm of one Madakam Madhu and even beating up of a woman Madakam Jyothi. All the adivasis there, including the young and old, are presently living out in the open in harsh mid-May weather and the occasional heavy rains that are a feature of this season. This is third such attack on their habitation and they are fearful of yet another bout of arson by the forest department if they put up their huts again, the HRF informed.

There are many such Gotti Koya habitations in the district that have been at the receiving end of atrocious illegalities by the forest department, the forum said. A Gotti Koya habitation in the Maddimadugu forests in Dudekulapalli forest range was also attacked by a large contingent of forest personnel on April 28 and with a tractor destroying 37 houses. This is the second time that the village has been attacked and all dwellings demolished, the HRF complained.

In both the villages, the HRF team was told that the forest department personnel had, over the years, made use of the labour of the adivasis in the nurseries but has either not paid them the wages agreed upon or else given them a pittance, that too after much pleading. When pressed by the adivasis for what is rightfully theirs, the response usually is “why should we pay you. You are illegals here.” The adivasis were even robbed of hens and cattle by the forest personnel.

Several weeks ago, forest department personnel descended on Koyyagudem, a hamlet of Machapur in Govindaraopet mandal and pulled down all 30 huts and even hit a woman Mutsaki Somidi (20) with a stick. Originally residents of Pamuluru in Venkatapuram mandal, these adivasis had come to the Machapur area and set up home a few years ago. About two months ago, forest department staff destroyed their huts, forced them into a vehicle, transported them across the Godavari River and left them at Wajedu. They even manhandled a boy who resisted getting into vehicle. The adivasis returned and set up home again at Koyyagudem only to have them destroyed all over again, the HRF stated.

The HRF felt that in the normal course, all these attacks by the forest department personnel should have occasioned criminal prosecution under the SC & ST (Prevention of Attacks) Act and other penal laws but no such thing has happened.

It is true that these Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS), as described by the human rights laws, clear some forest to sow paddy as their principal source of sustenance but that cannot be described by any stretch of the imagination as extensive deforestation, the report stated. The adivasi life is a minimalist one that is inextricably linked to the forest. Their right to the forest as spelt out in the Forest Rights Act ought to have been recognised and their right of access to forest cultivation and produce ensured. The representation signed by the HRF general secretary VS Krishna and Warangal district president B.Raju demanded that these IDPs be extricated from their perilous circumstance and ensured their security and fundamental human rights. Indeed, this must be the paramount concern, not harassment in the name of forest conservation, they felt.

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