Killings and Fake Encounters by Assam Forest Department in Laokhowa Wildlife Sanctuary


  • June 25, 2024
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The deaths of Jaliluddin and Sameeruddin underscore the issue of fake encounters orchestrated by the forest department across protected areas in India. Such actions not only violate human rights but also undermine trust in conservation efforts, perpetuating a cycle of fear and resistance among local communities. 

 

Public Statement on Killings and Fake Encounters by Assam Forest Department in Laokhowa Wildlife Sanctuary

 

By Community Network Against Protected Areas (CNAPA)

Date: June 25, 2024

 

We, the Community Network Against Protected Areas (CNAPA), strongly condemn and resist the recent atrocity, where two youths lost their lives to firing by armed forest guards inside Laokhowa Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam. As per ground reports, Jaliluddin and Sameeruddin of Dhingbari Chapari village of Nagaon District, along with a few other villagers, went to Rowmari Beel wetland to catch fish as part of their traditional livelihood. During the wee hours of 22nd June, while all of them were approaching the embankment area of the lake, armed forest guards opened fire on them from all sides without any warning. While others ran away from the spot to save their lives, Jaliluddin and Sameeruddin sustained several bullet wounds and were bleeding heavily. Several hours after the incident, both the victims were taken to Nagaon Civil Hospital by the forest department, where they were declared brought-dead.

  

This incident is a stark reminder of the systemic violence and human rights abuses unleashed against forest-dependent communities across India under the pretext of “conservation.” The killings in Laokhowa reflect a pattern of continuous harassment and forced displacements endured by forest communities nationwide. These communities, including those in Dhingbari Chapari village, have historically coexisted with wildlife, relying on the forest for their livelihoods and cultural practices. However, they are increasingly criminalized and displaced in the name of conservation, disrupting their lives and eroding their rights. The incident at Laokhowa is not an isolated one. It reflects a broader trend of atrocities and harassment faced by forest-dependent communities across Assam. These communities, who have lived in and sustainably managed forest areas for generations, are being harassed and forcefully evicted in the name of conservation. The recent eviction drive in Laokhowa, which cleared 1,282 hectares of land, has resulted in the loss of homes and livelihoods for many local residents. Whereas as of February 24, 2020, in a review meeting chaired by the Secretary of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the Assam government did not provide essential data on the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006 implementation. This included metrics such as the number of claims reviewed, pending claims, claims recognized, and rejected claims with finality. The meeting aimed to assess state progress in compliance with Supreme Court directives from February 28, 2019, which halted evictions pending review of rejected FRA claims. The Assam government has cited illogical reasons, such as involvement in the NRC exercise and law and order issues, to obscure the dysfunctional state of its administrative system responsible for implementing the FRA. This clearly indicates the Assam government’s discriminatory and apathetic stance regarding the rights of indigenous and other forest-dwelling communities.

 

Residents of Dhingbari Chapari village, like many others, engage in traditional activities such as fishing for sustenance. Such livelihood practices are now unfairly labeled as “poaching,” subjecting community members to violence and legal jeopardy. The implementation of conservation policies has exacerbated economic hardships and widened socio-economic disparities among these marginalized populations.

 

The deaths of Jaliluddin and Sameeruddin underscore the issue of fake encounters orchestrated by the forest department across protected areas in India. Such actions not only violate human rights but also undermine trust in conservation efforts, perpetuating a cycle of fear and resistance among local communities. In recent years, following the notorious militarized conservation model of the Assam government, state governments of Odisha, Karnataka and Maharashtra have aggressively amended the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, to provide legal “license” to forest staff for doing cold-blooded killings and fake encounters of forest-dwelling and forest-dependent communities, particularly in protected areas. Such aggressive conservation tactics to militarize protected areas are brazenly tyrannical and violative of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities living in and around forests.

Ex-CM of Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal, distributing advanced weapons to forest personnel

Forest-dependent communities are unjustly branded as encroachers and poachers, disregarding and denying their very existence in history and their bio-cultural lifeways around forests. These narratives fuel violence and legal persecution, pushing these communities further into poverty and deprivation. The CNAPA firmly opposes the criminalization of these communities and calls for their rights to be respected and upheld under national and international law.

 

We demand:

  • Independent and impartial investigation into the killings of Jaliluddin and Sameeruddin. Those responsible for these killings must be held accountable, and justice be served for the affected families at the earliest.

 

  • The National Human Rights Commission to take suo moto cognizance of the killings and issue orders to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) & Chief Wildlife Warden to immediately disarm all forest staff employed in Laokhowa Wildlife Sanctuary.

 

  • Immediate judicial review of Assam government’s arbitrary legal impunity provision for the forest staff to use firearms.  

 

  • A commission be set up under the supervision of a senior judge of Gauhati High Court to review the multi-dimensional impact of militarization of protected areas on the lives and livelihoods of the affected indigenous peoples and local communities.

 

  • Immediate proper implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006 in all forest areas of Assam, including protected areas, to address the historical injustices and end the cycles of violence and atrocities against indigenous and other forest dwelling communities. 

 

CNAPA also urges governments, civil society, and media to engage in meaningful dialogue with affected communities, respecting their agency and rights to use, manage and conserve forests and biodiversity. Only through equitable and inclusive approaches can true conservation be achieved, benefiting both biodiversity and human well-being.

 

In Solidarity from Assam, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Telangana. 

 

Signed by: Pranab Doley, JK Thimma, JA Shivu, Leeladhar, Beni, Telenga, Selvaraj, Rajan, Amir, Pradyumna, Sharanya.  

 

About CNAPA: The Community Network Against Protected Areas (CNAPA) is a growing coalition of indigenous peoples and forest-dwelling communities, grassroots organizations, activists and academics from across India. Established to resist and debunk the idea of protected areas, CNAPA advocates for justice, rights, and dignity of communities within and around protected areas. Our network strives to dismantle the colonial-capitalist-casteist conservation model that is inherent to protected areas and to ensure that forests, peoples and animals continue to live as equals. connectcnapa@yahoo.com

 

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