Statement by Organisations:
In Support of the August 15th Protest for Forest Rights
14 August 2005
Ms. Sonia Gandhi
United Progressive Alliance
Sub:- Call for immediate recognition of forest rights for forest dwelling communities; support for mass protests on August 15th, 2005
As organizations committed to social justice and human dignity, we are writing to you to express our full support and solidarity with the protests planned for August 15th, 2005, by tribals and forest dwelling communities across India. These communities are among the poorest and most marginalized sectors of Indian society. They face discrimination, starvation, bondage and violence as daily realities. Fifty years after Independence, their social condition has barely improved.
A large part of this terrible marginalisation is due to the fact that these communities have been systematically deprived of their sources of livelihood and survival. In the name first of "timber management" and then in the name of "conservation", the forest authorities have, for more than a century, expropriated the forests and community resources that belonged to these communities. The lands that they cultivated and depended on for survival were arbitrarily declared reserved forests; the minor forest produce that formed an integral part of their livelihoods and culture were transformed into state property; and their traditional uses of forest areas for land or grazing were declared illegal and criminal by the state.
Since 2002 alone, more than one lakh people have been driven from their homes in the name of clearing "encroachments". Entire villages have been burned, elephants used to clear crops and raze houses, and protesters beaten, jailed, tortured and shot dead. The UPA government came to power promising to end this eviction drive. But it has not ended, and the government continues to delay any measure to recognize rights or halt evictions. This is despite the fact that not only the ruling alliance, but also the left parties and the opposition, have all been calling for such steps.
We understand that 1,25,000 people are expected to protest on August 15th to demand recognition of forest rights. We support these protests and call upon the government to heed their just and legitimate demands. The ongoing delay and stalling in this issue is a betrayal of democracy and an insult to those who have paid such a heavy price for India’s colonial system of forest administration. We can no longer afford to play with the lives and livelihoods of our fellow citizens.
Convenor Lok Raj Sangathan