/ MADHYA PRADESH
by Lambai and Mehtab Singh
It’s a story of empty promises, corruption and police brutality. It took place in Ghoda village in Madhya Pradesh, where some Bhilala and Bhil Tribals are living. Like most Tribals, they live from farming and the land that nourishes them is in their possession for generations. But as their families increased, they needed more land for farming and grazing their cattle. So, they slowly started using the forest land, nearby Ghoda, which was not being used at that time. About 20 tribal people together occupied 120 bighas (a bigha is less than an acre) of forest land.
The Forest Department disapproved of that development. Just at the time, when the Tribals started sowing jawar, soya bean and sesame, it sent Choku Bhai, the leader of the Patel community to Ghoda. Along with others of his community, he moved into the fields of the tribals and destroyed all their crops. The Tribals tried to save as much of their crops as possible, but they were thoroughly outnumbered and brutally beaten by the intruders.
The Police seemed to cooperate with Choku Bhai and the Forest Department and arrested 4 people who defended their crops. For eight days they were held in Badwani jail. To be released, they had to pay 30 thousand rupees to the range officer. The Tribals in return, made a case against those who had beaten them and destroyed their crops. Only 4 people were charged. That case is continuing. The Forest land was again occupied by the Tribals after that incident, but they could not farm on the land for almost a year.
At an Ekta Parishad Conference in 2008, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan promised that everything taken away from the tribals, including their dignity and respect would be restored (Saman and Samman Ki Wapsi). But to the disappointment of the people of Ghoda the forest officers came again to their land and took away their farming tools, after the empty promises of the Chief Minister. Nothing was returned by the government.
Ekta Parishad has filed 20 claims. But no progress has been made. The tribals continue to occupy the land and farm it. They say that they have struggled so far and will continue until they get their right to their land.