Bengaluru: The Karnataka government has drawn flak after a group of tribal women carried out a nude protest against a move to evict them from the foothills of the Western Ghats in Kodagu district.
The “Bettale Seve” (nude protest) occurred after the state government did not react to other protests by 577 tribal families who have been in shock when they heard the news that they would be evicted as the land they inhabited was a reserve forest, making it illegal for them to build houses and settle there.
Following the nude protest, the government has held a series of meetings with the tribals over the last four days and promised to relocate them.
However, the tribals have expressed reservation about relocating and have demanded that they be allowed to stay.
The protests have drawn support from various organizations. Sirimane Nagaraj from Janapara Horata Samiti said, “The land that the tribals occupy cannot be of forest area as there are coffee estates and cement roads. How can there be such infrastructure in a forest area?”
The 577 adivasi families are reluctant to relocate as they fear becoming slaves to coffee plantation owners if they are separated from the community. Observers say that the reluctance comes from the prior experience as they have been ill treated over the decades.
A source on condition of anonymity said, “Just 40 years ago, these adivasis were sold as slaves in Kodagu to plantation owners. It seemed like we were living in USA during the slavery era.”
The government is of the opinion that the tribals should not be allowed to stay there any further.
Kodagu district in charge minister M R Seetharam said, “There were only 199 families before, now all of a sudden there are 577. I have asked the officials to register anyone with valid documents.
We cannot allow them to stay there as the Supreme Court regulations do not allow anyone to stay in forest land.
We have shortlisted places for them to relocate, these places won’t be far away from where they are right now. I have told them they need to accept one of the land options. In the next 3 months the whole process will be finished.”
Kannada Actor Chetan Kumar along with few tribal members met Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on Tuesday requesting him to act on the demands of the adivasis immediately. Responding to this, Siddaramaiah assured them that the process will be expedited and asked the social welfare minister to visit the conflict site on 24 December.