The men had gone to meet the CM at a tribal products promotion event ‘Gathika’.

Tribals seeking audience with Kerala CM allegedly stripped in public by policePhoto : Reporter TV
news Tribe Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - 15:45

A group of tribals who sought an audience with Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Wednesday to hand over a written petition seeking redress of land issues faced by them were  reportedly blocked and harassed by the police in Palakkad.

The tribals alleged that the police stripped them in public and detained them for hours on false charges of supposed relations with Maoists.

The men had gone to meet the CM at a tribal products promotion event ‘Gathika’ to seek title deeds under the Forest Rights Act to the 14.67 acres of land at Kadappara in Palakkad, where 22 tribal families had settled down since the beginning of the year.

“For many years, 22 families comprising 75 members lived on a 40-cent rock-filled land. Farming was hence not an option then. We also struggled to bury or cremate our dead. That was when we moved to this 14-acre land,” recalls Ratheesh Olakkara -a resident of the Kadappara tribal colony in Palakkad and leader of the agitation- while speaking to The News Minute.

Owing to their persistence to lay claim to the said land, within a year, the Palakkad district collector had ordered for equal distribution of the land among the agitating families. But the state Revenue and Forest departments posed further legal hurdles in the matter.

“The government had completed all procedures to hand over the documents to us. But now, the Forest department says we are ineligible to lay claim to the land. We hence decided to meet the CM, as advised by our Scheduled Tribe (ST) officer,” says Ratheesh.

According to him, on reaching the venue, the police however took four of them to the station, and kept them in the lock-up, without offering them any reason for the same.

“They stripped us in public. We may be tribals, but we do possess a sense of dignity. When our very old Mooppan (tribal chief) came to the station to enquire, he too was detained for around four hours,” recounts Ratheesh.

The tribal protestors have been living in temporary sheds on the occupied land since 15 January, 2016.

The police however refutes the allegations of  stripping the protestors in public. "We had got an intelligence report that Porattom (a Maoist support group) members would wave black flags at the CM. So we were vigilant. These people who were kept under detention had earlier held a protest in front of the village office. So we just questioned them. They had a few notices of Kadappara land agitation with them,  but no written petitions of any sort. We did body-search them, but did not strip them fully for that," insists Vadekkencherry Sub Inspector Vipin K.

Meanwhile, AK Balan -state Minister for Welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes- told TNM that the government would ensure that no tribals are harassed. "The group was under detention, as police harboured some doubts. They were not harassed. We will not allow that. If the police harass Dalits. the government will take strong action," he reiterated.