Adilabad: The more things change, the more they stay the same. 40 long years have passed since the infamous Indervelli police firing took place but a solution to the land problem of tribals continues to remain elusive.

This year too, a small group of tribals will reach the martyrs memorial column in Indervelli Mandal headquarter to pay homage to those who died in the four-decade-old incident. The Adivasis will once again voice their demands, one of the important of those being the one related with rights to cultivate on forest lands.

It was on April 20, 1981, that police had opened fire on a gathering of aboriginal people on the outskirts of Indervelli Mandal headquarter in Adilabad district leaving 13 of them dead. Independent investigations had put the death toll in the incident at 60.

The Gonds had gathered on that hot afternoon to attend a meeting, the call for which was given by the Girijana Rythu Coolie Sangham (GRCS), a front organisation of the Communist Party of India (ML) People's War (PW). One of the main demands of the tribals was restoration of the lands from which they were dispossessed and protection from exploitation by money lenders.

"The firing incident had jolted the conscience of the nation," recalled Godam Ganesh, a Raj Gond Adivasi who is president of the Adilabad district unit of the Adivasi Hakkula Porata Samithi, better known as Tudum Debba, an organisation of aboriginal tribals. (The organisation had been formed in 1996 and since then it has been in the forefront of various struggles being waged by the ethnic tribes in these parts).

Tudum Debba Adilabad district president Godam Ganesh (blue shirt) demanding rights for Adivasis to cultivate forest lands

"No government is protecting our constitutional rights. The regulations related with land transfer or the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) are not being implemented in the Fifth Schedule areas," Mr. Ganesh complained as he threw light on the conditions of the aboriginal people in the light of the huge lapse of time since the Indervelli incident.

An assessment of the efforts made by governments to address the land issue of tribals shows that as many as 37,181 farmers were given individual rights over 1,35,111 acres in former undivided Adilabad district under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA), 2006. However, a huge lot of 29,177 applicants for rights under the Act involving an extent of 88,478 acres had their claims rejected without even showing the cause for doing so.

"We were even cheated by government functionaries who surveyed the lands back in 2008. The people whose claims were rejected are still making rounds of the offices," the tribal leaders pointed out.

So far as the condition of left-wing extremism which had espoused the cause of the tribals, it can be said that it is standing on trecherous grounds, a state in wihich found itself since mid 2000. The Communist Party of India (Maoist), then known as CPI (ML) People's War, had launched a struggle on behalf of the tribals but having lost ground subsequently failed in bringing about the needed change in the administration for improving the lot of the poor tribals.

In fact, a renewed effort last year by the Maoists to regain a foothold in the tribal areas of Telangana met with no success. It lost two of its newly recruits in an encounter with police near Kagaznagar.

As usual, the police has maintained a strict vigil in the area which covers a vast radius around the martyrs memorial column. "We are using drones for surveillance in addition to deploying area domination parties and restricting the number of people who want to pay homage," revealed Utnoor DSP N. Uday Reddy of the bandobast plan which includes the precautions in view of the fast deteriorating COVID-19 situation.

S. Harpal Singh

S. Harpal Singh has been working as a reporter for 32 years in Telangana, the last 20 working in Adilabad district. He has been covering tribal and environmental issues. After a 16 year stint at The Hindu, he retired as Senior Assistant Editor, in June 2020.

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