At 77, the most experienced and active Congress politician in the State has rediscovered her protest prowess. Her words in the Assembly may not be quite to the point or forceful, but Jamuna Devi is leading the Congress from the front against the Shivraj Singh Government within and without the House. She spoke at length on tribal issues with Rakesh Dixit.
Who do you think is the biggest enemy of the tribals?
The forest department.
The IFS and IAS officers. They don’t want the disputes between revenue and forest villages resolved. They allow petty officials down the line to exploit tribals.
If tribals are suffering miseries, their dwellings being demolished, their scope for livelihood being diminished and they are being forced to migrate, it is all because of the corrupt officials.
What makes you to feel that?
I have been watching this since 1952 when I first became an MLA. On one pretext or the others, tribals have been dispossessed of their land whether it is in the name of dams or setting up industry or encroachment on forestland. Of late, tribals are being denied of their natural right to pick fuel woods and minor forest produce because they happened to live in the vicinity of sanctuaries. From time immemorial tribals have coexisted with wildlife.
Now they are being asked to go away because the Forest department sees them as danger to wild animals. This is preposterous. Tribals are the real saviour of the flora and fauna from ancient times. Now they are being asked to move away in the name of protecting the very things they know how best to protect..
What will this lead to ?
A big explosion. After all, how long will tribals wait? If tribals are heeding to Naxalites and taking up arms, Forest department is to blame for this all.
Aren’t politicians to blame more?
Yes. Tribal leaders have been suppressed in every party including the Congress. Those who did rise the political ladder forgot their roots and commitment to the community’s interests once they attained certain position.
Has reservation benefited tribals ?
Not much really. Some illiterate tribals got elected to assembly and Lok Sabha due to reservation but they were manipulated by smart politicians in their parties.
You hold an important position. Your party is ruling at the Centre. Why can’t you get decisions in favour of tribals implemented? What is happening to Tribals Rights Bill and the promise to legitimise tribals’ encroachments in forestland?
You must be aware how I have been writing to the State Government and Centre on the issues. I don’t want to comment on UPA but I feel a lack of sense of urgency in the Congress on tribals rights. This is unfortunate.