For the last 13 years, 120 families of the Iruliga community, wrwho lived in the forests of Ramanagara, have been waiting for the government to give them land, but in vain. Angered by the perpetual neglect on behalf of the government, these families have begun an indefinite protest in Ramanagara, inside the forest and say they will stop only when they receive land documents.
The Iruligas are Adivasis, who lived in the Bantanala Forest area in Karnatakaâ€™s Ramanagara district, were primarily hunter-gatherers, who lived in caves inside the forest and earned their livelihood by harvesting honey and selling medicinal herbs. A few were priests and others were hunters who would hunt rats and snakes. The Iruligas just like lakhs of Adivasis in the country, were forced to move out of the forest in 1980 after the Forest Conservation Act came into being.
According to Krishnamurthy, a member of the Iruliga Sangha, which is spearheading the current protest, the Adivasis in the area have been demanding for the revenue documents granting them rights to the forest land since the Forest Rights Act 2006 came into existence.
â€śWe have been asking the government to give us the papers that prove that we are the land owners. Currently, 120 families are living in Budugayyana Doddi, located in the periphery of the forests. We work as agricultural labourers and even the land where we have our sheds belongs to the Forest Department. We are just asking for what was promised to us,â€ť Krishnamurthy says.
The members of the community began their fresh protests on December 19 and say that they will continue to do so until the Ramanagara District Forest Rights Committee gives them the necessary documents.
According to Mahadevappa (59), a resident of Budugayyana Doddi and a protester, his ancestors were residing in what is the forest and the area is now known as Vadekunchanahalli and Anchenahalli.
â€śThese were the areas we lived in. When my father was thrown out of the village, in 1980, we were living in the farms of other people that we worked on. In 1983, PGR Sindhia, who was with the Janata Party, was the MLA and he instructed the Forest Department to let us stay in the periphery of the forest. He also named the area after a leader from our community â€“ Budugayya. Thatâ€™s why the name Budugayyana Doddi,â€ť Mahadevappa says.
However, Mahadevappa says that the members of his community were extremely hopeful that they would finally be given access to the forest land after the Forest Rights Act 2006 came into force. â€śWe clearly been cheated by the government. Once or twice in a year, they tell us that the land reclamation papers will be given in a month or two. That never comes true,â€ť he says.
The 2006 Act has given executive and judicial power to Grama Sabhas in recognising the rights of the Adivasis. There are sabhas (committees) in the ward level that is the primary tier to recognise and recommend the rights of tribal hamlets. Then there are Sub-Divisional Level Committees (SDLC), followed by District-Level Committees (DLCs).
On Friday, the Assistant Commissioner of Ramanagara district, Drakshayani, Forest Range Officer Rajkumar and District Social Welfare Officer Srinivas visited Budugayyana Doddi and requested the protesters to quit the agitation by promising to grant the necessary documents. However, the protesters refused.
Mahadevappa says that on July 22, 2017, the members of the Iruliga community had launched an indefinite strike. After 14 days of protests, the district administration had finally identified land to be allotted for the community members and had also marked the GPS coordinates.
â€śThey pretended to conduct a survey. We were hoping to get the land and it has been two years. We are still staying in the same sheds,â€ť he says.
According to officials in the Ramanagara district administration, although the GPS coordinates were mapped, the actual survey maps were not drawn up due to which the District Forests Rights Committee has not given the nod to allotting the land to the Iruligas.
â€śThen there was the Supreme Court verdict in February this year which denied land to several members of the Adivasi communities. We are under a fix too. We have promised to draw up the survey maps and speed up the process,â€ť the official said.
However, the members of the Iruliga community say that they do not trust the district administration and will continue to protest until the documents are handed over. â€śWe trusted them for 13 years and nothing happened. Let them give us our land and we will stop,â€ť Krishnamurthy said.