Aarey Forest has been in the news this year for all the wrong reasons and the same is the case now for the implementation of NRC and CAA bills. Earlier, the Maharashtra Government’s plan to make the Metro carshed over there led to a lot of protests by tree and environment lovers. The trees were eventually cut through deceit much to the heartbreaks of many in Mumbai and all over India.
While we are concerned about the trees, what a lot of city-dwellers are unaware of is that a large community of tribal population is also a part of the Aarey forest. The fact that we all spoke about the trees of the forest and not about the humans staying there since ages is alarming.
Considering how the tribal people of the Aarey forest are neglected, things are expected to get murkier for them if the NRC and CAA is implemented since having proper documents is out of question for tribals not only in Mumbai but also in other parts of India.
Tribal activist Prakash Bhoir spoke about the ordeal of the tribals at the chat session ‘Mumbai Rises To Save Democracy’ in the wake of the current widespread protests against the implementation of the controversial NRC and CAA bills on Friday 21 December.
Bhoir pointed out how they had never been outside the jungle before but now we are forced to because of the ‘development’. “If the birds and animals like leopard are also forced to go out of the jungle, who are we then?” he asked.
The protests ensured that Aarey made headlines but not much for its inhabitants. “Because of the protests Aarey came into the limelight for its jungle and its animals, including leopard. [But] this is where we have been staying too. There are 27 adivasi padas who have been staying in Aarey since long. In the whole of Mumbai there are 222 adivasi padas,” he added.
Bhoir added how the change that took place in their lives ever since the jungles gave away to commercial ventures. “We used to live happily among the lakes and wells. We didn’t feel the need to get anything from outside. But these padas were affected and became less in number after Aarey Colony, Filmcity, SRPF (State Reserve Police Force), veterinary college and other things came up and now there is Metro carshed too,” he said.
He added that in all this, the actual residents of the forest are becoming homeless, indicating that it makes all the more impossible for them to show any documents for the purposes of NRC.
Bhoir shared the horrific night when trees were forcefully cut in Aarey in October. He said that they were about to have dinner when they heard noises. “The trees were getting cut and we could hear the sounds. There were barricades. When we confronted the police, they told us none of the trees are getting cut, although we could hear noises of the machines and trees falling,” he said.
He also recalled how they have been offered accommodation in the past by the authorities with the pretext of keeping them safe and away from wild animals. “We said we don’t have any such complaints against them [animals] and neither have they against us. They are our neighbours. Don’t mislead us. They are saying we are poor and living in problems but we are definitely not. We are happy staying with them. We don’t fear them. We fear you,” he said.
Stressing the need to protest, Bhoir signed off saying, “I feel only those who are alive can protest. We don’t have hopes from those who are dead. They won’t feel anything. A lot of dead people are seen around. I feel they should shake themselves up to check in case they might be alive.”