The encounter killing of 20 woodcutters, mostly Tamils, in Seshachalam forest, near Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh yesterday morning, has now snowballed into a major political controversy. As expected the Human Rights Commission has jumped in, issuing notices to the AP government on this issue. The socialists, political activists and the self proclaimed protectors of the Tamil race have accused the AP govt and the authorities for killing ‘INNOCENT’ tamil coolies.
The criticism from multiple quarters and the Tamil Nadu Government’s fresh demands are trying to justify the greed of these smugglers. While I don’t believe that the smugglers attacked the police, as claimed by the AP police, and the story put together by the Andhra police is shoddy at best, and with growing evidence that this is fake encounter, there should be through enquiry and all the guilty party should be brought to justice. The Tamil diaspora around the world should not get carried away by these so called human rights activists and socialists. It is time we looked at the bigger picture and stopped defending criminals, just because they are Tamils. If we want justice, then we need to fight against those who organized the encounter without compromising on laws against smuggling and deforestation.
The History of Cutting and Smuggling of Indian Redwood Trees:
The Indian Redwood Trees are an important cog of South Indian Forests. All the parts of this tree have very powerful medicinal properties, recent studies prove that it can cure ulcers, manage leucoderma, skin diseases, malaria, diarrhea, and several other diseases. Due to its color and texture, it is also ideally suited for carving idols. Due to the huge requirement and limited availability, the cost of this tree is very high.
Around 30 years back, Javvadhu hills was home to several large groves of sandalwood trees. The forest tribes were lured in to smuggling using alcohol and money, and these people cut down all the sandalwood trees from Javvadhu hills and smuggled it. Literally there are no more sandalwood trees in the entire hills today. Now the wood traders moved on to redwood tree which has huge demand. Over the past 10 years, almost all of the redwood trees in Tamil Nadu were cut down and smuggled, today only some forests in Andhra Pradesh and Maharastra has well grown Indian Redwood trees.
Now the traders’ target is the forests near Tirupati, they needed woodcutters who are also experienced in smuggling. Who better than the ones who already destroyed a complete forest? They hired these people from Javvadhu hills.
After spending the huge amount of money earned out of smuggling sandalwood, these tribal people found this as a great opportunity to make some handsome money. These people were offered around Rs.6000 to 8000 per day per person for cutting down trees, in addition they were offered alcohol, mutton and OTHER supplies (even top managers in MNCs don’t get such privileges). With high tech automated electric saws, huge number trees were downed and transported illegally. Several small forests were destroyed completely in Andhra Pradesh.
Despite several attempts by Central forest department and Andhra police, the smuggling continued. It is only then, AP govt passed stricter laws, and strengthened the force with more patrol men. Last year when a forest department officer raided a forest, where over 300 woodcutters were smuggling the trees (majority of them were Tamil woodcutters), the so called INNOCENT woodcutters captured the officer, tied him up in a tree and beat him to death. Not one human right activist raised his voice for the officer. This incident forced the AP government to pass laws against people venturing in to the forest. The patrol men were given orders to shoot people breaking this law, they were also given advanced machine guns. The AP government did not stop with that, they recruited NGOs to spread the message about the new laws and the need to protect the forests.
These NGOs visited several parts of Tamil Nadu where woodcutters were hired to smuggle. They visited Javvadhu hills and created awareness, by issuing pamplets, door to door canvassing and conducting stage dramas. All these coolies and their families clearly knew the risks involved in smuggling. Even the TN government helped the AP government by giving information about mass transport of these coolies from Javvadhu hills to Tirupati in private buses. AP police stopped those buses and sent them back to TN.
Despite all these efforts, these ‘INNOCENT’ coolies cut down the trees and were shot, and most of the 20 men killed were from Javvadhu hills. These people went there after knowing fully well about the risks associates, they even charged an extremely high rate for their work, because of those risks. In my opinion they and their greed don’t deserve any sympathy.
Its Time For Politics:
With the fall of Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka and lack of any major issues in Tamil nadu; the Tamil activists, Socialists and Human Rights people have hit a jackpot. This encounter will be a great fodder for these people over the next 5 months.
The socialists will claim that these people are just victims of the greed of the high and mighty, and they should not to be blamed. Politicians will blame it on the AP goverment. The Tamil Nadu government will announce a compensation of 5 lakhs to 10 lakhs for the families of these smugglers. The human rights activists will glorify the victims and will try to punish the forest officers, clearly forgetting the lives sacrificed by the officers to protect the forests. Some fringe Tamil group might even build statues for these smugglers for political gains, just like they glorified the sandalwood smuggler Veerappan.
In all these commotion the real issue of our forests being destroyed will be forgotten. Think about the future generations, which will curse us for destroying all the forests due to greed and indifference.
[box type=”info” align=”” class=”” width=””]”It was strangely like war. They attacked the forest as if it were an enemy to be pushed back from the beachheads, driven into the hills, broken into patches, and wiped out. Many operators thought they were not only making lumber but liberating the land from the trees…”[/box]
Note: Thanks to SKP Karuna for most information used in this article.