//Unrest looms over Katarniaghat forests

Unrest looms over Katarniaghat forests

Kamal Khan, NDTV.COM

Saturday, June 17, 2006 (Bahraich):

The scent of revolution is strong in the Katarniaghat reserve forests on the border with Nepal.

For the inhabitants of the region, who were rehabilitated by the British around 150 years back, the forests are their life source.

But ever since the government declared Katarniaghat a reserve forest, the villagers are being treated as encroachers in what was till now their home.

"We want the freedom and rights and support that the government extends to any other village. We are after all humans and demand our basic human rights," said Harbhajan Singh, Protester.

Voice of dissent

But with each passing day, more houses are beginning to hoist the red flag of sedition as the villagers are bent on revolution. One such person is Qamaruddin, a settler who repairs radio sets in the village.

"India won its freedom long back, but we are still living like slaves. We want freedom from such a life of slavery," he said.

And the unrest continues to grow. A few days ago, a young man from the village was shot dead by forest rangers while collecting firewood.

Angry villagers clashed with forest officials, burning down their office. And now, the threat of being forcibly evicted has become more real.

"We can't sleep peacefully at night any longer, in the fear that the morning will bring our world crumbling down around us, and the government will throw us out of our homes," said Habibur Rahman, Villager.

The Katarniaghat Reserve Forest officials feel the villagers are being incited.

"These villagers are being told to revolt, and agitate for their rights. They're being told that if they do so, the government will let them stay on this land," said Ramesh Pandey, DFO, Katarniaghat Reserve Forest.

But the fact still remains that 150 years were not long enough for the villagers to call the Katarniaghat land their own.