Gutti Koya tribe, stigmatised and persecuted post the FRO’s murder

Using the murder as a pretext the Bendalapadu gram panchayat passes resolution demanding the tribals be sent back to ‘home State’ of Chhattisgarh

Updated - November 27, 2022 07:58 am IST

Published - November 26, 2022 08:54 pm IST - HYDERABAD

Gutti Koyas at Medipalli village in Enkur mandal of khammam district. File

Gutti Koyas at Medipalli village in Enkur mandal of khammam district. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Gutti Koya tribe may have become the target of increased persecution post the murder of Forest Range Officer (FRO) Ch.Srinivas Rao, if the latest resolution by the Bendalapadu village panchayat in Chandrugonda mandal of Bhadradri Kothagudem district is any proof.

The resolution, approved and stamped with the panchayat seal, unanimously condemns the murder of the FRO, and decides to excommunicate the Gutti Koya tribe of the Errabodu hamlet, where the murder happened, from the panchayat.

The panchayat went further and resolved that the members of the tribe should be sent back to their “home State” Chhattisgarh.

“All the Gutti Koyas living in Errabodu are addicted to ganja and liquor, and tote around fatal weaponry. They are losing discretion and committing murders. They are a threat to the lives of the people of Bendalapadu, who are forced to live in constant fear,” reads the resolution.

While there had been several instances of forest officials being attacked by villagers when they tried to retrieve the encroached lands, never before had any community been stigmatised in the name of violence.

“In fact, it is shocking for me to hear about the incident. Despite settling here more than a decade ago, they always remained reticent as a tribe, to such an extent that they would flee into forests whenever they were approached by officials. It is a fact that they cleared a large extent of forests overnight for cultivation, but violence by them has never been heard of,” says Santhosh Esram, a social worker who has been running a school for the Gutti Koya children in Mulugu district.

Gutti Koya tribals started crossing over from Chhattisgarh around 2005, faced with persecution by Salwa Judum, a State-sponsored militia, and also by the Maoist groups both of which had been engaged in a pitched battle back then. According to the versions of forest officials, they cleared several fragments of forest lands for the purpose of ‘podu’ or shifting cultivation, where they initially carried dryland agriculture, and of late shifted to paddy and cash crops.

“In the initial days, the community was recognised as Scheduled Tribe by the State administration, and the members were given ST certificates. For the past three to four years, they are being refused the certificates, which kept them outside the targeted schemes for STs. Though several of them have Aadhaar cards and even voter id cards issued by Telangana government, they are still treated as outsiders,” says a researcher, opting to remain anonymous.

Far from threatening anybody, the Gutti Koya tribals are exploited by the native villagers in the name of land titles and borewells, as they lack State protection. Besides, vexed with the encroachments, Forest field staff aggravate the situation by campaigning among the local villagers that the tribe would deprive them of opportunities, he says.

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