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Dudhwa National Park and the fight for forest rights, UP, India


Dudhwa National Park is a protected area situated in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The area is mostly inhabited by the Tharu indigenous community and it has been a territory of struggle since the ’70s. Of the 46 Tharu villages in the area, 44 were relocated under the revenue status [1], and they were later converted into revenue villages in 1986. 

Two of these villages, Surma and Golbhoji, resisted the eviction drive and they kept fighting for their traditional rights since then. A court case against the relocation was fought by the two communities since 1980, but lost the 23-year-long legal battle in 2003. However, the people, with no other option, launched a non-violent struggle. The women took the lead and formed the Tharu Adivasi Mahila Mazdoor Kisan Manch to lead the agitation [2]. 

The threat of eviction became stronger and the tribals became victims of continued harassment; both women and men got beaten up and many criminalized under false wildlife crimes. This continued until 2007 when the Forest Rights Act got implemented and the relocation was put on hold. The ‘Union’ (as it is called) has been strongly supported by the All India Union of Forest  Working People (AIUFWP), especially by Roma Malik, the general secretary, who has played an important role in the women mobilization [3].  In 2008, Surma was recognised as a revenue village. Thanks to the enduring struggle, the two villages of Surma and Golbhoji have received their individual rights which were recognized in May 2011, and about 700 acres of land distributed to the local people and recognized under FRA. 

However this did not put an end to the struggle as the violation perpetrated against the community by the forest guards continues. The women are generally criminalized, as they mostly go into the forest to collect firewood and their products. For example in 2012, Nivadha, a woman leader, was beaten up with a baton by forest guards while she was in the forest collecting firewood with another group of women [3,9]. This happened because the women are strongly resisting the restrictions imposed by the forest officials and asserting their right to the forest resources. The women's resistance is so strong that the forest officials have armed other Adivasi women under Prantiya Rakshak Dal, a body under youth development minister, to counter Adivasi and forest dwellers who are asserting FRA [3].As reported by Down to Earth, Anita, a woman community leader, said: “Earlier, we used to be scared to enter the forest and collect forest produce. We were often harassed. But ever since we became aware of our rights, several families go to the forests together and take our bullock-carts along.” [8]. 

In 2013 the Tharu community filed for the recognition of community forest resource rights, however after the file of the claims went missing from the administration, the Tharu filed again the claim in 2016. In July 2019 the claims were rejected, declaring the Tharu living in the park as ‘encroachers’. The rejection was highly contested by the communities, and over 300 Tharus jointly submitted a written complaint to the Sub Divisional magistrate (SDM’s) office in Lakhimpur, Uttar Pradesh. Rajnish Gambhir from AIUFWP states “As the Supreme Court is still hearing the appeals of the tribals and forest dwellers, Tharu tribals are facing harassment and threat of not being able to access their own resources. The struggle of the Tharu tribals is a prime examples of the grave neglect of the forest department which is pushing the claims of the tribals towards the path of rejection.”[5,7]

Amid the protests, the villagers have had to pay the bigger costs. There have been several cases which have been registered against the Tharu tribals. In April 2016, 75-year-old Bhanduram of Jayanagar village was arrested allegedly on false charges. He has now been released on bail [6].

According to a report, also the Dalit people living in this area are often victims of harassment; such is the case of a Dalit group who have been tortured by the forest officials that have been inserted gasoline in their anus just for fun [4]. Harassment, criminalization and abuse of power are very common in this area at the border of Nepal and India. However, people continue to struggle and assert their forest rights.

Recent attacks against the Tharu villagers happened under the Covid19 pandemic in June 2020, when the forest officials entered the forest area and harassed the women while collecting minor forest products. A CJP (Citizen for Justice and Peace) video reports that the pandemic has been used as an excuse to threaten the villagers and to prevent them from entering into the forest [9,8]. It was later reported that women filed a First Information Report [FIR] against forest officials who violently assaulted them and their families. The alleged assault came after days of tension between the officials and the residents of Kajaria village. Moreover, the deep trenches built up to prevent villagers accessing the forest have resulted not only in killing trees, but also stopped drainage of rainwater from adjacent fields, destroying crops of wheat [10]. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Dudhwa National Park and the fight for forest rights, UP, India
State or province:Uttar Pradesh
Location of conflict:Lakhimpur Kheri
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Establishment of reserves/national parks
Specific commodities:Land
Biological resources
Tourism services
Fruits and Vegetables

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Dudhwa Tiger Reserve is a protected area in Uttar Pradesh that stretches mainly across the Lakhimpur Kheri and Bahraich districts and comprises the Dudhwa National Park, Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary and Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary. It covers an area of 2201.77 sq km. with a critical tiger habitat of 1093.79 sq. km which includes three large forest fragments amidst the matrix dominated by agriculture. It shares the north-eastern boundary with Nepal, which is defined to a large extent by the Mohana River. The area is a vast alluvial floodplain traversed by numerous rivers and streams flowing in a south-easterly direction. It ranges in altitude from 110 to 185 m (361 to 607 ft).

The State Government declared its intent to create a National Park by notification in the official gazette in October 1975. The Kishanpur Sanctuary straddles Gola Tehsil of Lakhimpur district and the Powayan Tehsil of Shahjahanpur district. It was established on 1.1.1973 in continuation of orders issued vide G.O.U.P. notification no. 111/14-3-31/1972 dated 7.10.1972. The Katerniaghat WLS is located in the Nanpara Tehsil of district Bahraich. The entire area, totalling 40009.35 ha, declared a Sanctuary upon Govt. of UP notification no. 388/14-3-32/1976 dated May 31, 1976. The Sanctuary, together with the adjoining 15002.75 ha. of Reserve Forests, which serve as a buffer, constitutes one ecological and administrative unit.

The park was declared a Tiger Reserve in 1987, adding the Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary. An 'inviolate are' of 1093.79 sq km was declared on 9 June, 2010 adding the Katarniaghat Wildlife sanctuary.

It is reported [4] that Forest officials find the Forest Rights Act an affront to their supremacy. "The slightest act of assertion by forest dwellers are dealt with intimidation and torture. All vested interests are aligned against the Scheduled Tribes, Dalits and lower caste Muslims who constitute a majority of traditional dwellers. Those who try to question are often illegally taken into custody, and in some cases subjected to extreme forms of torture."

Project area: 220,177
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:3000 families
Start of the conflict:01/01/1977
Relevant government actors:Uttar Pradesh Forest Department
National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP)
Centre for Justice and Peace (CJP)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Social movements
Trade unions
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Tharu indigenous community. Dalit population. Women organization.
Forms of mobilization:Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Refusal of compensation


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The Tharu people have struggled for a long time. The two villages which refused compensation for relocation has got their forest rights recognized. However, they are not able to assert their rights because of the opposition and violence from the Forest Department.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, 2006

Wildlife Protection Act, 2006 Amendment

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Jai Sen, 2017. Movements of Movements 1. Pg. 274

[2] The Times of India. Freedom after a century of struggle. Author: Ashish Tripathi. May 14, 2011.

[4] Will injecting petrol into anus of Dalits help save Royal Bengal tigers? in Narada News. Author: Nideesh J Villat. June 28, 2016.

The Hindu. Villages in tiger habitat to be shifted. Author: Atiq Khan. March 09., 2008.

[3] After getting Sarkari Mohar I am not afraid of Khaki anymore: Nivadha. Author: Nideesh J Villat. in Narada News. July 7, 2016.

[1] Protected Areas Updates, April 2011, No 90, pg. 22

The Times of India. 2012. UP government announces sops for Tharu Tribals. Author: Ashish Tripathi. June 21, 2012.

[5] News Click "Tharu Tribals Continue Their Struggle for Land Claims in UP". Author: Sumedha Pal. Oct. 11, 2011

[7] News Click. 'Forest Department Pushing Tribal Land Claims Towards Rejection in UP'. Author: Sumedha Pal. Sept. 17, 2019

[8] Down to Earth. 'How COVID-19 made forest rights battle tougher for Tharu women'. Author: Aditi Pinto. June 15, 2020,majority%20lived%20off%20the%20forest

[10] Sabrang. 'Assault on Tharu women prompts FIR but forest officials flex muscles in UP'. July 4, 2020.

[6] News Click ‘Forest Department Pushing Tribal Land Claims Towards Rejection in UP’. The rejection of community resource claims has triggered anxieties among the Tharu tribals in Uttar Pradesh’s Surma village. 17 Sept. 2019, Author: Sumedha Pal.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[5] I am not afraid of Khaki anymore.

[9] Dudhwa National Park: Adivasi women's fight for their land
‘Forest Department Pushing Tribal Land Claims Towards Rejection in UP’

Other comments:We are thankful for the information shared by Roma Malik and Rajnish Gambhir from All Indian Union of Forest Working People, and from the Tharu Adivasi Mahila Majdor Kisan Manch, special thanks to Nivada Rana.

Meta information

Contributor:Eleonora Fanari. ICTA, UAB. [email protected]
Last update24/05/2019



Tharu women struggle

Meeting of Tharu women to assert their rights under Forest Rights Act, Lakhimpur Kheri, November 2016.

Leader Nivadha at FRA meeting.

Nivadha is addressing the women at a meeting on the implementation of the Forest Rights Act in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh. November 2016.

Dudhwa women assauled

Dudhwa women assaulted on June 2020 by the Forest Department. Credit: photo shared by Rajnish Gambhir