They have been on a satyagraha since October 2012

Forty-one Baiga Adivasi families in Mandla’s Mathna village, 30 km from the Kanha Tiger Reserve, have been on a “Patta Satyagraha” since October 2012. The satyagraha for the land deeds of what they consider hereditary lands began after the Forest Department along with Dhoba Gond adivasis — considered a ruling clan — allegedly destroyed the crops of the Baigas within the Madka panchayat.

Dhruv Deo Parihar of the Adivasi Ekta Manch (AEM), which has backed the agitation, said despite the Gram Sabha recognising their community claims under the Forest Rights Act, the Baigas and one Yadav family (under the non-traditional forest dweller category) have not got pattas for their land.

“We have cultivated this land for generations and the forest department is trying to take it away claiming to protect wildlife. In May, they kept six of our men in jail for three months saying we are naxalites. There are no animals here, and we will give up our lives but won’t give up our land,” he told The Hindu over phone.

‘Bewar’ cultivation

Baigas, a tribal group, do not plough the earth. They consider earth their mother, and believe ploughing would cause injuries to her. They practise a form of shifting cultivation called ‘Bewar,’ in which they simply sprinkle traditional grains on fertile soil, allowing some for birds and animals. The remaining takes root. The land under dispute is roughly 125 acres.

“I have visited the spot along with all officers, including those from the forest department,” Mandla Collector Lokesh Jatav told The Hindu. “The Baigas have been given community rights and cultivation is in progress. We are willing to address claims from any person who has not yet got the rights.”

Most of the protesters are women. Sangeeta of the AEM said the forest department continued to harass them by blocking access to the land, in collusion with local toughs. “They have granted community claims instead of individual claims over homesteads. This land is still unrecognised and the forest guards want us to leave,” she said.

Every evening, the protesters sit on the spot of the 2012 violence and perform traditional nature worship. So far, no major political party in the area has come out in their support. Through social activists, they have even written to the Prime Minister and the Governor. Their chieftain Karelal Baiga has submitted a representation to Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan in Bhopal.


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