TELANGANA: Adivasis Fight for Protection of Right to Podu Cultivation

M Venugopala Rao

THOUSANDS of Adivasis took out a rally in Kothagudem town of Bhadradri Kothagudem district on June 23 and laid siege to the collectorate office, demanding land pattas for podu cultivation. Raising Red flags, they marched from the agricultural market yard to the collectorate, demanding pattas of the land they have been cultivating, an end to the repression by forest department officials and sanctioning of double-bedroom houses to all the eligible poor people. Defying police, the Adivasis marched ahead with determination to protect their rights on land for podu cultivation.

Addressing a public meeting, CPI(M) MP from Tripura Jitendra Choudhury accused the BJP government at the Centre and the TRS and TDP governments in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh respectively of hatching a conspiracy to deprive the tribals of the right to podu (slash-and-burn) cultivation and chase them away from forest lands. He made it clear that podu cultivation on forest lands was the birthright of the Adivasis. Having come to power promising to give pattas to tribals, the TRS and TDP governments have been trying to chase the tribals away from the forests by conducting raids and attacks on them. The KCR government in Telangana has been letting loose a reign of repression on tribals, affecting their right to podu cultivation, he said and termed such actions of repression and attacks as unconstitutional and violation of the Forest Rights Act of 2006. After bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, the percentage of tribal population in Telangana increased to 10 per cent. But the TRS government implemented only seven per cent reservation, instead of 10 per cent, for tribals in the state. Demanding the government give pattas to all podu cultivators under the Forest Rights Act, he warned that the dishonesty of the KCR government would be exposed in Parliament.

The Modi government at the Centre has been following policies of appeasing corporate houses and giving lakhs of acres of land to them, on the one hand, and indulging in acts of communal polarisation on the other, he said. There is nothing for the BJP government to celebrate in its three-year rule, with its record of depriving the farmers of their rights and resorting to repression and police firing on farmers fighting for their rights. He said the national conference of the Adivasi Raashtriya Manch held in Visakhapatnam resolved to conduct struggles against the attacks on the tribal population.

CPI(M) Telangana state secretary Tammineni Veerabhadram said the TRS government had not fulfilled its promise of giving three acres of land to each dalit and tribal family in the state. Pointing out that Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao had no proper understanding of the Forest Rights Act, he said his government had no authority to dispossess the tribal and Adivasi population of podu lands they have been cultivating for nearly 50 years and deprive them of their livelihood. Veerabhadram warned that defeat of the KCR government would be certain, if it continued to act against the interests of the tribal people. He reminded that the CPI(M) had the record of distributing thousands of acres of land in Kothagudem.

CPI(M) MLA Sunnam Rajayya demanded the government stop attacks on the tribal people by police and forest department officials, and warned that the people would be prepared to resist such attacks with bows and arrows. The tribal people won’t give up an inch of their land and are prepared to either possess land or go to jail. The issue of protection of the rights of the tribal population for podu cultivation would be taken up in the legislative assembly, he said.

A state-level convention on these demands was organised at the Sundarayya Vignana Kendram in Hyderabad on June 24. To carry on the fight on the issue of protecting rights of the tribal people on podu land, state-level and district-level committees with leaders of the Left parties, different mass organisations of tribals, farmers and agricultural workers were formed. In the convention, the tribal victims of the raids and attacks by the police and administrative machinery explained their grievances and difficulties they have been facing as a result of the same. Leaders of CPI, CPI(ML) New Democracy, MCPI(U), SUCI (C), CPI-ML and RSP also addressed the convention. They criticised the government for foisting false cases on the tribal people, even women and the elderly. They warned that such acts of repression would not be tolerated and gave a call for united struggles for protecting the rights of the tribal population. 

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