Cops hound Adivasi woman for going to court

Deccan Chronicle
16th Nov. 2000

Hyderabad, Nov. 15: Three months ago, Tellam Krishnaveni, a Koya woman from Darbhagudem in Jeelugumili Mandal in West Godavari District, came to Hyderabad knocking at the doors of justice. Four years of unceasing struggle to retrieve the hereditary lands of her fore-fathers from plains settlers had brought her to the High Court.

All she asked for was access to the revenue records of her village - the government records that indicate whose land is being cultivated by whom and why, whether lands have been transferred and how, etc. On August 23, 2000, Justice B Sudershan Reddy granted her access to the records, and directed the District Collector and her subordinate officials to supply her the documents within two weeks.

All Krishnaveni has received is the xerox unauthenticated scribbled undecipherable notes of a village patwari. District Collector, Poonam Malakondiah has refused to give any interview to any Adivasi representative. So much for Naidu's tele-governance.

Meanwhile, Krishnaveni is on the run from village to village - evading the police dragnet. The police have filed seven cases against her - including a murder case where alongwith 20 other Koya women and 530 men, all except one, Koyas, she is charged with murdering a landlord far away from her village. In fact, three of the seven cases are filed from distant villages, the usual police ploy being to file a complaint against a few accused and a few hundred "others". All inconvenient people like Krishnaveni can conveniently come under this comfortable category of "others."

On October 2, Krishnaveni's home was raided by a platoon of 200 policemen led by the DSP himself. They smashed her TV set, poured kerosene into the rice and sugar rations, burnt the family's clothes, tore up the schoolbooks of her children and her DWCRA records (Krishnaveni is the leader of the local DWCRA group), asking for the "munda" who had the guts to approach higher authorities. No one else's house was touched.

What has this petite 35-year-old woman done to have had her photographs blown up and pasted up at all the police stations and in town centres? No Phoolan Devi, she is happily married with two school-going children. As a rare Koya woman having studied up to the 5th standard, she was selected as DWCRA group leader in 1994.

Since then there has been no looking back for her. When the Adivasi unrest over the occupation of their lands by plain settler-landlords picked up momentum in 1995-96, her village Darbhagudem with 3,358.49 acre of land under non-tribal occupation was one of the first to engage with the issue.

Over the past 4 years, despite favourable court orders, only 130 acre has been distributed to the Adivasis. (The total land in West Godavari under non-tribal occupation alone has been estimated by the State government to be 33, 194 acre.

All these lands needed to be surveyed and the rights re-conferred on the Adivasis; as in the case of all movements of the marginalized, the constitutional action towards redressal of their wrongs does not move apace. Police action however is swift and vindictive.

Police platoons guard the landlord-settlers (at State expense); they stand guard at ploughing and harvest time. More significantly, the police recently posted have been "blooded" in encounters in the Telangana Naxalite areas. Anjaneya Swamy, Sub-Inspector of Buttaigudem, for instance, openly boasts of having killed many Naxalites at his earlier posting.

Krishnaveni has angered the powerful settlers and their police-revenue nexus with her open advocacy of Adivasi rights. As a member of the official District level Committee for Land Transfer Regulations, she was to have been the token woman.

When her husband Yerriah was beaten up at the police station by the DSP Shyam Prasad of the Special Task Force, police were particularly enraged that he could not "control his wife."

That this lady had to approach the High Court for obtaining the land details of her village speaks volumes of State government's apathy.

What is far worse is that even this order has not been obeyed, her only recourse now is to approach the High Court for contempt.

Krishnaveni is yet full of hope. "The courts have ruled in our favour. The law is on our side. Our names are in the records. We have the courage to fight to the end. We will definitely and certainly win."

Such an expression of hope from the representative of a people who have been sidelined by all State institutions despite a plethora of protective legislations, by all political parties, and by virtually all civil society organisations, is significant.

And what is she apprehensive about? "My husband is getting increasingly agitated with the trouble. He no longer wants me to move around as a leader."

The tragedy is that West Godavari is an area which has not seen much violence. The movement is, by and large, peaceful and constitutional. IAS officials have recognised the urgency of settling the demands of the adivasis.

As far back as in 1997, the then Chief Justice P S Misra, noted, "the administration is not finding it easy to meet the challenging situation in the area and unless what is in existence presently between the tribals and non-tribals in the area is tackled with care and perceived as a socio-economic problem, there is a risk of collapse of the adminstrative machinery in the area.."

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