Still under fire

Will the CBI report oppose tribals in the Muthunga case?

Published: Tuesday 31 August 2004

an imminent report by the Central Bureau of Investigation (cbi) might compound the woes of Kerala's tribals who suffered police firing from close range in their struggle for forestland. The agency is about to give a clean chit to the police operation to drive the tribals away from the Muthunga Wildlife Sanctuary last February, the local media claimed. The tribals had occupied the forest to insist on adherence to a 2001 pact with the government that promised them land. A policeman and a tribal were killed in the incident.

While the report will be filed in the High court only by the end of August 2004, the tribals already apprehend its contents. "We had asked for the cbi enquiry. But the way in which it was conducted does not give us hope. It was just an attempt to protect the police and forest officers," alleges C K Janu, leader of the Adivasa Gothra Maha Sabha (agms), which spearheaded the tribal land rights movement in Kerala. The cbi has not confirmed the report's leakage.

"The cbi attacked our people during the enquiry to frighten them," Shriram adds. He claims that four tribals, Radhakrishnan, Venugopal, Babu and Mani, were taken to a forest bungalow in Begur, Tirenelli, six months ago and beaten severely by cbi functionaries. The tribals also say the police had tortured many of them after the firing incident.

Meanwhile, K J Joseph, the then director general of police, believes the report would vindicate the police stand. "The police action was warranted as it did not remain a law and order problem but had turned into a hostage crisis with a forest official and a police official in their custody."

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