Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Two Centuries of Land Alienation and Resistance by Tribals in Telangana. BY JAVED IQBAL

In the newly-carved Jayashankar Bhupalpally district of Telangana, the forest department burnt down the seven-year-old village of Devanigutta that was settled by Muria or Gotti Koya adivasis who had migrated from the war-affected Sukma district of Chhattisgarh. This was the same week that the Sukma encounter, in which 25 CRPF men were killed, made national news and led to more clarion calls for stepping up the counter-insurgency.
The scale of destruction is devastating, there isn't a single house standing in Devanigutta village. Credit: Javed Iqbal
The scale of destruction is devastating, there isn’t a single house standing 
in Devanigutta village. Credit: Javed Iqbal
On April 21, the forest department and the police entered the village, beat families, burnt all their possessions, broke their mango and mahua trees, burnt their bicycles and phones, beat their cattle, stole their goats, flattened their homes and told the villagers to leave the protected forest. This was one of just many incidents this scorching summer witnessed in the forests of un-divided Warangal.
In Maha Mathuram mandal, 37 houses were broken down in the Dudekullapalli forest, preceded a few weeks earlier by an incident in Koyagudem in Govindraopet mandal, where adivasis were picked up, forcefully taken across the Godavari in police vehicles and dumped at Vajedu in Khammam district. They returned to Koyagudem only to have their houses destroyed again.

In a strange twist of fate, while countless youth from Warangal left their homes and families in the 1980s to eventually become the leadership of the People’s War Group – who are now fighting, killing and dying in the forests of Bastar – the adivasis of Bastar have started to migrate in large numbers to the forests of Warangal. This is not a new phenomenon. As Nandini Sundar points out, the borders between Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have cut across traditional adivasi territories, and migration for land and marriage is not uncommon. During the peak of the Salwa Judum, however, from 2005-08, many people fled to Khammam and Warangal, to avoid being put into Judum camps. They were commonly referred to as internally displaced persons or IDPs. Even now, when conditions worsen in Bastar, villagers flee to Telangana. 

But there are also those who come predominantly for the land and labour. Madkam Hunga was the first villager who identified the forest of Devanigutta and its small rivulet. He travelled for years looking for a home, trekking from village to village. When the collector, A. Murali, told them to leave the forest – even suggesting an alternative site, along with an offer of building materials – he replied, “You can cut my head, you can kill me, but I won’t go.” Hunga hails from Dudiras village in Dantewada district, and had attempted to settle in the Devanigutta forest earlier but was evicted and imprisoned.. read more (and see photos):

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