An Amnesty International India field story from Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, by Manohar Chauhan*, on the occasion the World Indigenous People’s Day 2018, which fell on August 9:
I spent the last few weeks in the small district of Raigarh, Chattisgarh. Raigarh has historically been populated with various Adivasi communities as it comes under the fifth scheduled area.
The Adivasis of Raigarh spend their time in agricultural pursuits. Each household owns a small plot of ancestral land, and it is on this land that their livelihood and way of living is structured. But today, according to the residents of Raigarh, the lush greens of the district is being destroyed because of the pollution caused by neighbouring companies.
“The TRN Energy, a subsidiary of ACB India Power Limited has been involved in illegal purchase of tribal land. The industry is now violating laws and releasing black hazardous effluent in the private tribal land”, alleged Arunsingh Rathia, Budhwara Patel and Bindabai Patel from Bhengari village, Gharghorda, Raigarh.
They alleged that this black effluent is badly affecting the agricultural field, seeping into the water (pictured), which causes them to itch when they are in contact with the water as they work in the field.
The Fight Continues
My visit to Raigarh was part of an evaluation of our campaign work for standing up for indigenous rights in the district.
Last year, we at Amnesty International India witnessed first hand the coming together of 98 Adivasi individuals from 4 villages in Raigarh. They came together to fight for their lands which they claimed was wrongfully taken from them and went to the SC/ST Police station to register FIRs. They were empowered by the SC/ST Preventions of Atrocities Act, under which displacement without consent is a criminal offence.
I met with some of the Adivasi individuals in my visit, they say the police have declined to register the FIR. But they have not lost hope, they are still fighting to get their FIR registered by the police and get back their land the right way.
Pavitri Manjhi: A Pillar Of Hope
Central to the struggle for land is Sarpanch of Gram Panchayat Pavitri Manjhi of Bhenghari Village.
In 2012, Pavitri united the affected people against the TRN Company and organised a ‘dharna’ – a protest infront of the company gate. Last year, she mobilized the people for the mass filing and is continuing to inspire the communities despite the uphill battle she and the Adivasis of Raigarh face every day. She has done this, in the face of repeated threats for her brave actions.
In April, she was threatened in her home and and told to “withdraw all the cases filed against the company”. We at Amnesty International India issued an urgent action to the global network and our colleagues in Australia ran a petition in support.
When I met Pavitri, she was undeterred by the threats and continued to be a pillar of hope, she said to me “we need to be united and when we are only then can we be successful. Yes, we have faced injustice and we will fight for justice, but we will not fight our battle with an axe or weapon, we will fight with paper, and then only then, we win.”
It is the monsoon season now, Pavitri and her neighbours are tending to what remains of their disputed farmlands. They are determined not to leave those lands at any cost and continue their fight till the end. They have also brought this issue to the notice of NC/ST and waiting for justice.
The story of Pavitri and her people is not over yet, their story and their fight will continue to inspire not just us, but the world over.
*Business and human rights campaigner, Amnesty International India; inputs by Soumya Bhat, Amnesy’s Web & Social Media Editor.
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