On the occasion of the Human Rights Day (10 December 2022) tribal rights organization, Indigenous Rights Advocacy Centre (IRAC) has demanded a review of “all the cases” lodged against tribals and the withdrawal of false/frivolous cases across India. IRAC suggested the constitution of a commission/committee headed by a retired Supreme Court or High Court judge in every state for reviewing the cases against tribals and ensuring the release of the tribal undertrials on the recommendation of the committee/commission in a time-bound manner.
IRAC has stated that criminalization and lodging of false cases against poor tribals are real and too frequent in India. Hundreds of tribals are in jail simply because of their inability to access the justice system or are too poor to pay their bail amount.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), as on December 31, 2021, there were 4,27,165 undertrials in the country, out of which 66.37% belonged to the disadvantaged sections of society i.e. Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC) communities. 42,211 undertrials were STs (9.8%) and 90,037 were SCs (21.07%), which is disproportionate of their population which is 8.6% for STs and 16.6% for SCs (census 2011).
In the conflict-affected districts, the tribal villagers who lead impoverished lives have been sandwiched between the security forces/police and the Maoists. While the Maoists kill, kidnap and torture them, the police lodged false cases against them on mere suspicion of being Maoist cadres or supporters. Several Adivasis have been charged/arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA) and other laws.
IRAC has also published/released a Briefing paper titled “Criminalization and prosecution of tribals in false cases in India”, accessible at: https://irac.in/briefing-paper-criminalization-and-prosecution-of-tribals-in-false-cases-in-india/
“Despite having special constitutional and legal protection, many tribals have been victims of criminalization, violence and false prosecution which has destroyed their lives. They are criminalized for defending their collective rights to “jal, jameen, jungle” (water, land, and forest resources), and activists who have opposed land acquisition for industrial or mining projects without the consent of the local Gram Sabha have often faced state violence which is very unfortunate”, stated Mr Dilip Chakma, Executive Director, IRAC.
Apart from terror cases, a lot of tribals have been falsely implicated by the police in theft cases or other petty crimes. Similarly, innocent tribals have been falsely implicated in forest/wildlife-related offences, arrested and tortured. Recently, the Kerala police booked 13 forest officials for arresting a tribal youth, Sarun Saji (24) in a fabricated case of selling deer meat in Kerala in September 2022. In Karnataka, a tribal named Kariyappa alias Kariya (49) was allegedly tortured to death in October 2022 in the illegal custody of the forest officials after he was arrested for allegedly hunting and possessing deer meat.
IRAC has called upon both the Central Government and the state governments to take proactive measures for the eradication/prevention of criminalization, violence, and lodging of false/fabricated cases against innocent tribals and to conduct a proper review of “all the cases” filed against them by constituting commissions/committees headed by retired judges of the Supreme Court or High Courts, and release all those tribal prisoners in whose cases the committees have recommended withdrawal of cases against them.
Further, IRAC demanded that strict penal and disciplinary action should be taken against any public servant who is found to be involved directly or indirectly in the filing of fake cases and resorting to criminalization and violence against innocent people. IRAC has also demanded that the governments should come up with a suitable scheme for assistance to victims or their families in all cases where tribals have been acquitted by the courts, human rights commissions or any other justice forum.