Struggle Of Caurem Village In Goa And State Repression
By Vasudha Sawaiker
30 March, 2016
Ravindra Velip and other villagers were arrested on the 22nd March, 2016 for protesting against illegal mining operations at the tribal village of Cavrem in South Goa. The Villagers were protesting against the illegal transportation of ore from TC Nos 6/61, 59/51 and 12/53 in Village Panchayat Caurem-Pirla, which was destroying all evidence of illegal ore extraction before inventory is carried out by the Government, or independent agencies.
On 23rd March, while in Judicial Custody, Ravindra Velip was attacked by at least 4 persons, blindfolded and gagged, and beaten up and kicked mercilessly. He was lifted and thrown down from a height, resulting in multiple fractures to his forearm causing agonizing pain in his neck and the rest of his body. The perpetrator of the attack are still at large and till date no action has been taken against the officials of Sada Sub Jail. An administrative panel created by the Jail Authorities has suggested that the assault never took place inside the Sada- Sub Jail. It is in this light that it is important to know who is Ravindra Velip and why he was assaulted while in Judicial Custody.
Ravindra and I first met in November 2015 as we had both applied for the Small Research Grant Project insituted by Goa University and Centre for Studies of Developing Societies, New Delhi. It was a coincidence that both of us had chosen the same area of interest namely Community Forests Rights of Tribal Communities in Goa. His project was titled " Return to the Forests: A Report on Forest Rights of Caurem Village." Both of us were awarded the small grant and over the last five months, Ravindra has become a friend and a mentor on the subject of dispossession and displacement of tribal communities in Goa.
Conversations with Ravindra were mostly about strategising better implementation of rights of tribal communities in Goa. His openess to help, dedication to team building, zeal for knowledge and committment to issues left me in no doubt of his abilities of becoming an important stakeholder in Goa’s Civil Society. We would question the current discourse on modernity and development as we both believed that it was undemocratic, exploitative, non-participatory and anti- environment.
Four years back, however, Ravindra was just another person trying to make ends meet by working in Mumbai hoping for a better "settled" life. Ravindra had gone to Mumbai after completing his Diploma in Mechanical Engineering but something made him realise the emptiness of the city life and he decided to come back to his land to work with his people.
After returning to Goa, Ravindra had consistently exposed the illegalities of mining lease holders in Caurem. He had stood for Panchayat level elections and was working as a Panch of the Caurem Village. It was due to efforts of his group that the authorities located lakhs of tonnes of iron ore illegally extracted and hidden in artificial mountains under layers of mud, after the closure of mining was announced by the State Government. He has been promoting and espousing the idea of village cooperatives being used exclusively for some of the activities relating to mining, from excavation to transport. This would directly benefit majority of the villagers who till now continue to suffer from the ill effects of mining activity.
At the time of the agitation, Ravindra was also documenting the process by which Caurem Villagers claimed thier community forests rights. His group had worked towards activating the Forests Rights Committee and with the help of village elders and the use of GPS, the villagers had mapped the ancient village boundaries and filed for community forest rights. He was inspired by Madhav Gadgil's book, "Let Our Rightful Forests Flourish". Caurem happens to be the only village which has claimed rights over minor forests produce in the whole of Goa. Ravindra is well read on the dispossession and displacement of tribals from their resources and their appropriation by non-adivasis and the State. He had attended National Level Conferences in New-Delhi to update his knowledge.
Ravindra and his group of youth are an inspiration for youth in surrounding villages. Their Youth Group The Mallikarjun Art and Cultural Sports Club(MACS CLUB) of Caurem has a website http://caurem.weebly.com/ which has all the resources relating to Community Forests Rights, Mining and Cultural Practices of Tribals. He is a tactful community organiser and after having filed for community rights for his own village he had started helping neighbouring villages in filing for the same. In our last meeting as researchers, Ravindra was extremely happy that a group of farmers co-operative had donated a projector. He would make presentations to villagers on different issues relating tribal rights and mining in his village and neighbouring villages. Ravindra is a young, knowledgeable and nurtures true love for his community's way of life, his land and forests.
The attack on Ravindra Velip while in Judicial Custody speaks of the manner in which the Mining Lobby and State Nexus work to suppress youth leaders who do not toe their line. This is not the first time that such an attack has been made on a youth in Caurem. In May 2011, Nilesh Gaonkar, another anti-mining activist from Caurem was attacked with an iron rod while on his way to work. In October 2013, the National Human Rights Commission directed the Goa government to pay monetary relief of Rs. 5000/- each to 737 villagers for police brutalities on protesting tribal villagers.
The Chief Minister of Goa and the internal inquiry of the Jail Authorities has alluded that the attack did not take place inside the Sada Sub-Jail. Such allegations by the State have to be condemned. This was a pre-planned attack to finish Ravindra and create a sense of terror in the minds of the protesting tribal villagers. Similar to the ones that have been premeditated and pre-planned on the UTAA agitators that lead to the murder of Mangesh Gaonkar and Dilip Velip. A judicial inquiry and suspension of officials of Sada Jail are a necessity for an impartial probe. It is time for civil society organisations working on any issue to come together and condemn the attack on Ravindra Velip. It is time be against anti-tribal, anti- environment and anti-people forces in Goa and stand with the struggle of Caurem Villagers.
Vasudha Sawaiker is a social worker and a lawyer based in Goa.