It was a strange contradiction on April 21, experienced by the residents of Devunigutta tribal hamlet which housed 35 families, in the Govindraopet mandal of Jayashankar Bhupalpally district.
The adults of the hamlet went out for work, some of them reportedly in the Forest Department’s nurseries.
“While returning, our community elder was abducted along with four others by the Forest Department personnel for whom we worked. Later, a group of 30 to 40 foresters swooped down on the village, thrashed us and burnt our huts, clothes, and currency,” related Sode Mangaiah, an Aadivasi youth who arrived in the city to share his story, at the CPI(M) office on Monday. Madakam Jyothi, a young mother from the hamlet, diffidently added that the foresters stole all the domestic fowl and nine goats, besides killing a cow. Two more cows went missing.
“They beat even women, smashed our vessels, and didn’t even spare milk stored for children. We don’t have any container even to fetch water now,” she said.
Devunigutta is one among the 53 hamlets in the district inhabited by the Gotti Koya community which migrated from the neighbouring Chhattisgarh State in waves, partly to escape the conflict between State and Maoists and partly to find newer livelihoods.
Living inside the forest for the last 17 years, they cultivated 7.5 acres of land, where they grew food grains, CPI(M) district secretary Krishna Reddy informed.
“They also go to nearby villages of Pasara and Govindraopet as agricultural labourers. During the past four months, the village has been attacked by the Forest Department 11 times. After the recent attack, many of the tribals ran into forest and their whereabouts are not known,” Mr. Reddy said.
As per the latest reports, about six forest personnel returned to the hamlet on Monday and thrashed 13-year-old daughter of the elder.
Divisional Forest Officer T. Ravi Kiran, however, refuted the allegations while supporting the eviction.
“They have been felling very large trees for cultivation, which is not good for forest. We, along with the District Collector, visited the hamlet and tried to convince them to shift to an alternative location outside the forest. But they lack gratitude and are hell bent on having this land for cultivation,” he complained, besides claiming that the hamlet is only about two to four years old. However, the tribals were apparently given ration cards and Aadhaar cards seven years ago.
When contacted, District Collector A. Murali supported the DFO and said the Adivasis found it hard to trust the offer to move out as they would lose their land-based livelihood. “I promised them tiles for new houses and job cards under MNREGA. But they refused to give up the land, which is not theirs,” Mr. Murali says. Efforts are on to persuade them to move out, he says.
CPI(M) State secretary Tammineni Veerabhadram condemned the attacks and demanded filing of cases against the officials under SC/ST (POA) Act, besides compensation and double bedroom houses at the same location.