Forest rights movement bothers Naxals

Gadchiroli Maoists train guns on pioneers of village self-rule,see conspiracy against tribals

Written by Vivek Deshpande | Nagpur | Published:August 9, 2012 3:50 am

A movement promoting self-rule in villages and community rights to forests has come under attack from Naxals in the region where it was pioneered.

Maoists in Gadchiroli have hit out strongly at leaders who have been using the “Gandhian” ideal of non-violence in spearheading the community forest rights (CFR) movement in tribal areas. They have charged Mohan Hirabai Hiralal,who pioneered the model in Mendha-Lekha village,with “waylaying the tribals from the path of conflict”.

CFR has been provided by the Forest Rights Act and Mendha-Lekha was the first village in the country to secure it after a long struggle. It paved the way for thousands of villages in the country to get community rights over their traditional nistar (utility) forests.

“Hiralal is a follower of Vinoba Bhave,who had sought land from the rich. He is trying to cover up the violence by capitalists against the poor by professing non-violence,” says a press note released by the CPI(Maoist)’s Gadchiroli divisional committee.

Naxals have termed the movement a conspiracy to deprive tribals of their rights to the entire jal,jungle,zamin (water,forest,land). “All this is going on to rob the tribals of their jal,jungle and zamin. Instead of giving the tribals all of it entirely,they are trying to fool them by giving only the minor forest produce,” the Maoists have said.

Naxals have reportedly warned Devaji Tofa,Mendha-Lekha’s community leader,not to advocate the idea of CFR to other villages. Tofa refuses to speak on such reports.

Naxals have criticised Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh,who had called upon Mendha-Lekha to shut their door on Naxals during his last visit. “Ramesh actually wants to rid Gadchiroli of tribals. All forest laws must be scrapped,” the note says,naming some major companies as “conveners” and several leaders as “directors of the violence against tribals.”

Hiralal said,“It has been proved worldwide that violence of all kinds leads to concentration of power in a few hands. And we don’t think only Naxals are involved in violence. Structural violence is embedded even in government systems. Our fight is not against either the government or Naxals,but is for securing the rights of the people. That’s why our slogan is mawa nate mate sarkar (we,the government in our village),not mawa sarkar (our government). Gram Sabha is to the village what Lok Sabha is to the country and Vidhan Sabha to the state.”

Hiralal,62,who has renounced his family surname Tandon to include his mother’s name,has been associated with the Mendha-Lekha village for nearly 25 years. While parcipating in a movement against “destructive” development in the 1980s,he saw the potential of Gandhi’s and Vinoba’s ideals in community living in Mendha-Lekha.

“I wanted to see if the idea of people’s power and community rule was practical or utopian. So I started interacting with Mendha’s community,” he said. “My wife Savita and I undertook study of 22 villages in Gadchiroli. We lived in Mendha for about two years,learnt about the community’s way of life,language and culture. We found that it indeed was a village of Gandhi-Vinoba’s ideals.”

Besides self-rule,Mendha-Lekha’s model includes conservation and documentation of the bio-diversity of its nistar forest,and a successful fight leading to the declaration of bamboo as a minor forest produce and thus turning it into village property.

Thousands of villages have followed the model since,with over 600 in Gadchiroli alone getting CFR. In a recent presentation before a meeting of senior ministers,politicians and officials in Mumbai,Deputy Inspector General of Police (Gadchiroli range) Ravindra Kadam called for fast implementation of CFR provisions across the district.

Hiralal,however,prefers not to call Menda-Lekha a model. “There is no model-replication idea here,” he says.

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