Bindu Devi is from Barai District of Uttar Pradesh. She is a member of the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), a group that works for the rights of Adivasis over forest land. At a recently-concluded national conference, she spoke to Rinku Kumari about her demand for Van Grams or Forest Villages
Q: Tell us about you and your community?
A: My name is Bindu Devi, from district Barai. I am attending this conference with my brother. We are here to fight for our Van Grams; we are also here to know how we can fight in the future and to take some guidance from you all.
Q: We also talked to other Adivasi people, mostly male, and they shared how they have suffered as an Adivasi. Do you, as Adivasi women, have specific unique issues and experiences? Do you want to share them?
A: Yes, as an Adivasi woman, we have other issues as well. The kind of experience we have differs from the kind of experience Adivasi men face. My brother was in a continuous struggle for his rights as an Adivasi person; for the first time, I, as an Adivasi woman, am attending such a huge conference. For the first time, I am in this place to talk about my rights myself. I met other women activists from different parts of the country and am inspired by them. We all hope that we, as Adivasi women, will come together in solidarity so we can express, resist, and represent our issues and concerns. We cannot build our home due to objections from the forest department, we cannot educate our children, we also have a constant fear of forest animals that can harm our children, and we are also in continual fear of fake complaints and arrests.
Q: Have you ever experienced police atrocity, or atrocity led by the State?
A: I remember that one day when I was in the forest and collecting some wood, I was stopped by police officers. They asked me why are you doing this and who had given me this order. I resisted by saying that this is my forest; why do I need to ask for permission or order? I belong to this forest. It belongs to my sister and me. I don't need anybody's permission. They started abusing me. In response I also asked, does this forest belong to you? The police tried to take my bicycle. I told them that it is the only mode of transport for my children to go to school so they returned it.
Q: When women talk about their rights and agency, they are termed as inappropriate and not ideal women for society. Do you also face this issue?
A: Yes, definitely, they term me Badmash (mischief women) because of my activism. I tell such people that their perception is wrong and that I am only seeking my rights and claims.
Q: How did you start this struggle of forest rights?
A: Our brothers started this a long time ago. With time I also got involved. He encouraged us to support him for making this movement more substantial and more approachable to the government. I have been raising issues that affect women.
Q: What is the future of your movement?
A: We are planning to gather more people into a movement and also to make them aware of their rights and claims; building solidarity among people is very important. I am here for the first time, and I have learned about other Adivasi women who are facing similar problems of getting evicted from forests where they have been living for generations.
Q: Did you face any problems during Covid 19 Pandemic?
A: During Covid19 lockdown, educating our child was a very tough task. My husband lost his job and we were without an income. At the same time, we were under constant threat of getting evicted. Our fight is to restore our right over the forest so we can continue to build homes and live there.
Q: When we hear stories related to you and other women from the community, we find inspiration and hope that women can talk about themselves and raise their voice in demands of rights and claims. Do you want to say anything about people like us who find you inspirational?
A: I am illiterate so I think education is the most important thing. I want my children to get an education because through that only they can raise their voices. My daughter-in-law is 12th pass, and I'm hoping that she will continue her studies. I will always support her because that is going to change our situation one day.
About the Author: Rinku Kumari is a Dalit-Dusadh Feminist who is currently a student of Women's Studies at TISS, Mumbai. She is an artist of Godna Mithila Art and a Hindi poet. She has earlier published a research paper titled 'Untouched but Uncovered: Stories of Dalit women in Madhubani paintings during Covid 19'. This paper was part of Sponsored Studies Project 2020 Indian Association for Women's Studies (IAWS). She is currently working with Nazariya, a queer Feminist group.