|“We do not know laws. We are not educated, but we have lived near this jungle and in this village for years,” says Chandrabhushan Mahato who was arrested by forest rangers for collecting firewood.
In Dumri village of West Champaran, Bihar, most of the residents belong to the Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes. As per circular released by Ministery of Tribal Affairs, “Forest Rights Act, (FRA) 2006 has been enacted to recognise and vest the forest rights and occupation of forest land in forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers, who have been residing in such forests for generations, but whose rights could not be recorded.”
This means that these people have all rights to collect firewood from the forest. But the forest officials have been harassing them by falsely arresting them. They have also demanded money from these poor people in return for their freedom. Due to fear, the villagers are being forced to give them money by taking loans from others. One hundred and sixty-two villages near a forest in West Champaran are facing threats of being put behind bars for exercising their rights.
Community Correspondent Tanju Devi whose family collects firewood from the forest is afraid that one day her family members might also fall prey to this corruption and hence calls for strict actions to be taken against the guilty forest rangers.
The marginalised and tribal people in rural India, women in particular, are largely unaware of their rights and entitlements under various state and national schemes. The primary reasons for this are the lack of education, awareness of schemes and guidance to help them claim their rights. Under such circumstances, the knowledgeable...