Two people were killed and about 20 injured this week during a brutal eviction from India’s notorious shoot-on sight Kaziranga National Park. The eviction of three villages, carried out in the name of conservation, involved 1000 security personnel, along with elephants and bulldozers to destroy hundreds of houses, a government-built school and a mosque.
Disturbing scenes of the evictions can be seen here.
The families being evicted were from a non-tribal Muslim community, which had been established at the edge of the National Park for decades. This area is due to be added as an extension to the park. The Guwahati High Court ordered the eviction, in October 2015, citing the needs of wildlife and stating: "There should be no human habitation.”
No compensation had been given before the eviction, nor were the families provided with any alternative shelter. The state government has promised to provide compensation within 40 days, but many are skeptical that this will ever materialize. They question why it’s being offered after the eviction rather than before.
Rafiq Ali, a community leader in Banderdubi village said: “We have been residing in this area for decades, and all of a sudden the government told us to vacate… The security forces fired at us.”
Tribal peoples in the area face arrest and beatings, torture and even death. A number of indigenous and tribal villages have also been given eviction orders by the same court. More than 600 tribal families in these villages fear that such brutal methods will also be used against them. No date has yet been set for these evictions, but a local contact told Survival: “Everyone is very frightened.”
Many of the people living in these villages have already been evicted from the park before, some multiple times as the park boundaries have expanded. Once again they find their home has been declared part of a protected area and told they have no choice but to leave. This violates Indian and international law, which clearly state that tribal peoples can only be relocated from their land with their free and informed consent.
The big conservation organizations are guilty of supporting this. They never speak out against evictions. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) even offers commercial tours of the park.
One of the villages facing eviction is home to Akash Orang, a seven-year old boy who was shot in the legs by a forest guard in July. He remains in a serious condition in hospital despite forest department assurances that they would take care of his treatment.
Survival International is campaigning against forced evictions from tiger reserves across India and against the militarization of conservation, including the shoot on sight policy in operation in Kaziranga. Tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world. They should be at the forefront of the environmental movement, helping to protect against poaching. Instead they are being evicted and excluded, which is destroying lives and harming conservation.