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PUCL March, 2003

Statement against police firings on adivasis in Muthanga
(Wayanad district, Kerala)

Bangalore
7th March, 2003

We, the undersigned, express our outrage at the brutal police firing on the
19th of February on more than 1000 adivasis at Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary
in Wayanad district, Kerala. These adivasi men, women, and children had
gathered in a peaceful struggle to take possession of the land set aside for
them, but which had not been distributed for 17 months. Instead of honoring
the agreement it had signed on October 16, 2001 to give land to the landless
adivasis and rehabilitate them, the government of Kerala sent the police to
evict the adivasis camping in the sanctuary, burn their makeshift tents, and
open fire on the women, men and children.

While the government has announced that five adivasis were killed in the
firing, unconfirmed eyewitness accounts put the number of people killed at
20. The toll could be much higher since a large number of people have been
injured and have escaped into the deeper jungles, without food, medicines,
or help reaching them. The leaders, C.K. Janu and Geethanandan, of the
Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha (AGMS), the organization that is spearheading the
adivasi struggle, were about to surrender to the police when they were
brutally attacked by a local mob, and handed over to the police; it is
reported that they were tortured in police custody.

We are further outraged that the police have imposed a total clampdown in
the area and are preventing media and human rights groups from assessing the impact of the attack and the truth of the incidents. We also condemn the
brutal attack by the police on the press and media persons who were covering
the police action on the 19th of February.

We are convinced that the present violence could easily have been avoided
had the Kerala government implemented in letter and spirit the demands
agreed upon by the Chief Minister, AK Antony, on September 6, 2001. These
included among other demands, the restoration of full rights for the
collection of minor forest produce, reservation of 90% of the jobs in the
forest department for adivasis, and serious investigation into all cases
involving exploitation, murder and rape of adivasis.

In the wake of 32 starvation deaths among adivasis since July 2001 and
further, the failure of the government to carry out its promise to implement
land distribution in a timely manner, the Wayanad adivasis were forced to
resort to acts of civil disobedience.

While the State, in the name of 'development' and 'wildlife protection', has
displayed little compunction in evicting adivasis from their traditional
lands and enacting laws that have displaced and pauperized generations of
adivasis, its recourse to violent action to crush the adivasi movement in
Muthanga raises several doubts about its promises of rehabilitation and
justice to Kerala's adivasis, 90% of whom are landless.

We believe that if normalcy is to be restored, the state government without
further delay must implement the following:

  1. Compensate fully the families of adivasis killed and injured as a result
    of the police firing.
  2. Release unconditionally the hundreds of adivasis arrested during the
    police operation.
  3. Allow the press and civil society groups full entry into the area to meet
    the adivasis, and leaders, imprisoned and otherwise, of the movement, in
    order to assess the facts of the situation.
  4. Immediately begin the process of negotiating with the adivasis and of
    implementing the agreement arrived on September 6, 2001 between the adivasis and the Government of Kerala, in the presence of representatives of civil society groups.
  5. Order an immediate judicial enquiry into the Muthanga firing incident
    under a sitting High Court Judge.
  6. Order an immediate judicial enquiry into the reported custodial torture
    of the arrested leaders of the AGMS.
  7. Initiate all possible steps to immediately diffuse the tension and
    restore normalcy in the area.


Signed:

MR. L. C. JAIN
Ex-member, Planning Commission of India and former Indian Ambassador to
South Africa

PROF. RAVIVARMA KUMAR
Ex-Commissioner, Karnataka state Backward Classes Commission and senior
Advocate

PROF. BABU MATHEW
Centre for Child and the Law (CCL), National Law School of India University
(NLSIU), Bangalore

PROF. HASAN MANSOOR
President, People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) - Karnataka

PROF. SANJAY K. BISWAS
Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore

PROF. D. P. SEN GUPTA
Retd. Professor, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore

MR. C. BALAKRISHNAN
Convener, National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM) - Karnataka and
Trade Union Leader

PROF. G. K. GOVINDA RAO
Writer, Bangalore

MR. NATARAJ HULIYAR
Writer, Bangalore

MR. C. F. JOHN
Artist, Bangalore

PROF. GANGADHARA MURTHI
Social Activist, Gouribidanoor

SR. CELIA
Karnataka Domestic Workers Union, Bangalore

PROF. JEEVAN KUMAR
Bangalore University, Bangalore

MS. TANUSHREE GANGOPADHYAY
Journalist, Bangalore

MR. JOSEPH GEORGE
Journalist, Bangalore

MR. P. MENON
Journalist, Bangalore

MR. SUNIL KUMAR M.
Journalist, Bangalore

MS. C. G. MANJULA
Journalist, Bangalore

People's Democratic Forum (PDF), Bangalore

People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) - Mangalore Unit

Alternative Law Forum (ALF), Bangalore

MANASA, Bangalore

VIMOCHANA, Bangalore

Karnataka Vimochana Ranga (KVR)

Pedestrian Pictures, Bangalore

PREETHI MAHILODAYA, Bangalore

JATI VINASHA VEDIKE

MAHILA JAGRUTHI

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