The Baigas, an indigenous community spread across central India were, according to folklore, God’s chosen ones to carry forward the human race in India. The Baigas consider themselves to be servants of the earth and the king of the forests. The peace-loving tribe is known for its’ respect for nature, employing sustainable agricultural practices and for their knowledge of medicinal herbs. The Baiga tribe is also categorised under the Particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG). This classification was created by the Government of India with the purpose of enabling improvement in the conditions of certain communities with, particularly low development indices.
However, their peaceful existence of thousands of years is under threat by the growing land demands of the 21st century. The tribe has been regularly ousted from their forest homes in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand by forest officials under the pretext of conserving wildlife, while activists cry foul stating that these ousters are making ways for the corporates to take over the forest land.
The 70 families of the Baiga tribe residing in the village of Mahuamacha, in Lormi block of Chhattisgarh, had received their legal Land-related papers in December 2015. They received this land under the Forest Rights Act, 2005 (FRA). Under the FRA, a land rightfully belongs to forest-dwellers who have the complete right to hold and live in the forest lands that they use for habitation, self-cultivation and livelihood.
However, shortly after they received the papers, the Forest Officials took them under the pretext of returning them back soon. However, it has been over nine months since the tribe last saw their papers. “They said they will photocopy the certificates and return them to us soon. But now when we ask them to return, they ask for money and delay it under one pretext or the other,” says Birasiya Baigin, a resident of the village. The paper is the only proof that gives access to the Baigas for various government subsidies on fertilisers and seeds. Its absence means that they are denied access to all agriculture-related government scheme. More importantly, since they don’t have any legal proof that the forest land is rightly theirs, if they are evicted from their land, they will have no legal standing to fight against it.
Since 2000, at least 25 villages home to 726 Baiga families have been evicted from forest reserves and also in some cases, to make way for mining projects in Chhattisgarh. In February 2013 30 huts of a settlement in Bhoramdeo Reserve Forest in Kawardha district were levelled to the ground by officials who cited reasons of protecting the wildlife. No alternative settlement or relocation plans were made for the 60 families. 19 more villages are reportedly on the hit list. Some officials themselves admit that major highways running through such protected areas and mining projects in the vicinity cause more damage than a handful of Baigas living there. Many end up having to live as encroachers on the borders of such forest areas as they are given no land in return for the ones they have lost.
Deena has requested the Forest Officials of Lormi to return the Biagas’ legal papers. She needs your help to save Baigas land. Call the region’s Forest Ranger Lokmani Tripathi on +91-9575379038 and demand that he gives the Baigas’ papers back
Deena Ganveer, a Community Correspondent for Video Volunteers has spent the past decade amongst this community, to help them access their rights to the forest and to the facilities they need to survive. For the past five years, she has been documenting the struggles of those who live in Chhattisgarh’s Kawardha and Mungeli Districts. Many of the communities whose lives she documents have been resettled into newer villages. She has been working to implement the many government schemes for tribal development in these areas.
COMMUNITY CORRESPONDENT DEENA GANWER REPORTS FROM CHHATTISGARH FOR VIDEO VOLUNTEERS.
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