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Ahead of the Human Rights Day on December 10, tribal rights organization, Indigenous Rights Advocacy Centre (IRAC) has demanded review of “all the cases” lodged against tribals and withdrawal of false/frivolous cases across the country.

IRAC suggested the constitution of a commission or committee headed by a retired Supreme Court or high court judge in every state for reviewing the cases against tribals and ensuring release of the tribal undertrials on the recommendation of the committee or commission in a time-bound manner.

In a press release, 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,” the IRAC said.

“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 Dilip Chakma, executive director, IRAC.

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, the statement added.

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, the press statement added.

“The lodging of false cases against poor tribals and/or their prolonged incarceration have upended their lives and those of their dependents. The family has to spend its entire resources (which is, in any case, very little) to fight the court cases, as litigation is quite expensive and cases drag on for years. On the other hand, if the breadwinner is jailed, the family is pushed into complete impoverishment as well as social indignity. Yet, there is no scheme to compensate the victims who have been framed in false cases and lose many years of their lives in jail before acquittal,” IRAC stated.

Therefore, IRAC has welcomed the recent direction passed by the Supreme Court seeking details of prisoners who are in jail despite granting of bails, after president Droupadi Murmu had raised the issue during the Constitution Day celebrations in New Delhi on November 26.

IRAC has called upon both the central government and the state governments to take proactive measures for 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.

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