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Who is responsible for Assam massacre? By Gladson Dungdung

Gladson Dungdung

In the Indian political map, clear boundaries have been drawn for the Adivasis, and when they cross those, their identity is suspected, questioned and changed immediately. One is stunned to know that as soon as they leave their territories, they are counted in the general category and their constitutional and legal rights are denied officially.  But at the same time, the same sets of rules are not applied to the people of the privileged sections of the India society. Of course, it keeps happening with the Adivasis precisely because the Indian state is utterly biased against them on the basis of their race. But still they have no choice to cross the political boundaries because their own land, territory and resources have been grabbed in the name of economic growth, development of the nation and for the greater common good unconstitutionally and illegally. Thus, some of them cross their political boundaries in search of better livelihood opportunities, but most of these are forced to do so. However, the end result is, they are being slaughtered, raped, tortured, imprisoned and discriminated against actors across the country.

Unfortunately, instead of resolving these problems, the Indian state seems to be more interested in deploying more troops in the Adivasis’ territory, imposing curfews, shooting them, running relief camps and of course, buying their dead bodies too. Besides, the state also blames the Adivasis for their miseries. In the recent Assam violence unleashed on 23rd December by the extremist outfit the ‘National Democratic Front of Bodoland’ (Songbijit), 81 people, mostly Adivasis, were brutally killed, half of them women and children. This includes the killing of 3 innocent people by our brave soldiers, using their mighty power of ‘shoot on sight order’ on villagers were protesting against the violence.  Besides, 15,000 people were made homeless and forced to live in the relief camps. Since then, the state called ‘India’ has been buying the dead bodies. 500,000 rupees has been paid for each dead body. Is this not shameful for the largest democracy on the Earth? How long will the state count the dead bodies and buy them?

Interestingly, whenever violence erupts in Assam, the Indian political class portrays it as the outcome of an ‘ethnic clash’. The state, whose prime responsibility is to uphold the constitution, which guarantees a dignified life to each and everyone in the country, either becomes merely a mute spectator or party to it. The questions to be raised is, why is the Indian state not able to resolve the ethnic clash in Assam? Is it merely an ethnic violence? Has the state not sponsored political violence in the name of the ethnicity?  Everyone knows that the prime cause of violence is ‘self determination in the territory’. The Bodo Tribes claim that they are the owners of the territory, so the other people should desert it. Infiltration, demographic change, loss of land, shrinking of livelihood opportunities and intensified competition for political power have intensified a deadly potency to the issue of who has a right to Assam. Thus, Adivasis are called outsiders by Bodos, and the state has never been serious about resolving the issue for fear of losing the political mandate. Consequently the violence continues.

Of course, it’s very difficult to understand the algebra of the ‘Tribes’ and ‘scheduled’ in India. For instance, the webpage of the ‘Ministry of Tribal Affairs’ states two very strange aspects regarding the identity of the ‘Scheduled Tribes’. On the one hand, it says that when a person migrates from one state to another, he can claim to belong to a Scheduled Tribe only in relation to the state to which he originally belonged and not in respect of the state to which he has migrated, and on the other hand, it also states that a person who is a member of a Scheduled Tribe would continue to be a member of that Scheduled Tribe, even after his or her marriage with a person who does not belong to a Scheduled Tribe. How can there be two different parameters for the same Adivasis? How can persons born as Adivasis fall into a different category just after crossing their state’s boundary, whereas marrying a non-Adivasi make no difference? Why do the upper caste people enjoy the same rights and privileges across the country but Adivasis don’t? Is this not a state-sponsored crime against them?

The state sponsored crime against the Adivasis of Assam[1] began in 1950, when they were denied the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST) in the Indian Constitution.[2]  However, the crime deepened in 1996 in the form of the ‘ethnic cleansing’, when 10,000 Adivasis were killed, thousands injured, and more than 200,000 were made homeless and compelled to live in relief camps for more than 15 years.[3]  Again, on 24 November, 2007, about 5000 Adivasi men, women and children were attacked in Beltola of Guwahati, while they attending a peaceful procession in demand of the Schedule Tribe status.[4]  They were attacked by the local people of Beltola, including shopkeepers. Consequently, 300 Adivasis were brutally wounded, hit by bamboos, iron rods and bricks. More than one person was killed, women were raped, and a teenage girl, Laxmi Oraon, was stripped, chased and kicked.[5] As usual, the ‘police either remained mute spectators or joined the crowd in brutality.[6]  Instead of protecting Adivasis, the government justified the brutalities and fixed blame for this incident on Adivasi organisations.

In 2010, the Assam Government forcefully evicted the Adivasis of Lungsung forest block located at Kokrajhar district of Assam, where they had settled down ‘much earlier than 1965.[7] The forest department claimed that they had ‘encroached’ this highly biodiverse forest, even though there was no forest as such anymore. Thus, the forest department launched an eviction move and deployed the forest protection force to evict these Adivasis. In this process, the forest protection force burnt down 67 villages, reducing them to ashes. Consequently, 7,013 Adivasis including 3,869 adults and 3,144 minors belonging to 1,267 families lost their homes. A 2 year-old boy, Mangal Hembrom, died after struggling between life and death for more than 2 months after being badly burnt during the eviction process. 40 people who were leading the protests against the eviction were arrested. Later on seven of these, who were students, were released, while the rest, comprising 33 men, were sent to Kokrajhar jail’[8]. After protest and legal intervention, these too were released.

Historically, Adivasis were brought to the state of Assam in three different circumstances. Firstly, Adivasis in general and Santals in particulars were brought to Assam for their resettlement after the Santal Revolt of 1855.[9]  They were settled down especially in western Assam, in the area that is now the north-west of Kokrajhar district. This settlement is recorded in the year 1881.[10]  Secondly, in 1880, as the tea industry grew very fast, a large number of tea garden were set up In Assam, wor which there was soon a scarcity of labourers. The planters appointed, agents and sent them to various places to recruit people for labour.[11] Thus, Adivasis were ‘coerced, kidnapped and incited to come to Assam, to live and work under appalling conditions.’[12]  Thirdly, large scale land alienation for ‘development projects’ also pushed Adivasis into Assam in search of a better livelihood, as there were many job opportunities in the tea gardens. This is how Adivasis settled down in the state of Assam. Over a period of time, they cleared trees and bushes, and made cultivable land by shedding their sweat and blood.

Obviously, these Adivasis enjoyed the ‘Scheduled Tribe (ST) status during British rule. However, after India’s independence, they were de-scheduled in 1947, and from the moment when the Indian Constitution was enacted in 1950, they were considered as outsiders, since the then Chief Minister of Assam, Gopinath Bordoloi, opposed scheduling the Adivasis of Assam.[13] Whereas the same ethnic groups enjoy the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST), with its rights and privileges, in their parental states, i.e. Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bengal and Orissa, they are denied this status in the state of Assam. The government merely recognizes them as either tea or ex-tea tribes. Consequently, the people of Assam treat them as sub-human, terming them derogatively as Coolie-Bengalis or labourers – a classic example of discrimination of Adivasis by state and society.

The Adivasis are discriminated against at every level, which is, of course, a crime.  For example, when the government evicted Adivasis in 1974, after strong people’s resistance, they promised to give them land entitlements.[14]  At that time, Samar Brahma was the forest minister, and as per his promise, he started the process of land allocation in a phased manner. However, he allocated the land to the Bodos and some other communities. With his expulsion, the whole process of land allocation also stopped, betraying his promise to the Adivasis.[15]  Similarly, according to the Forest Rights Act, 2006, Adivasis are entitled to claim their rights on the forest land which they possessed before 13th December, 2005. However, Adivasis in Assam are denied their rights under the FRA as well. In fact, the Adivasis who had been ‘living in Lungsung Forest areas much earlier than 1965’,[16]  were not given rights and entitlement on the forest lands which they had been cultivating for decades.

Indeed, the history of Assam suggests that the ‘state is itself a problem, not the solution.[17]  There are more than 70,00,000 Adivasis[18] residing in the state of Assam, who are still not recognized as ‘Scheduled Tribes’ merely due to the political fear of losing Bodo voters. The most stunning factor in this episode is the complete silence of the outspoken India Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. He has not yet opened his mouth on the Assam massacre, though the nation wants to know his reaction. On 25th December 2014, when the Adivasis of Assam were burying their dead bodies and crying for justice, he was busy in celebrating ‘good governance day’. Why is he silent? Is it only because the victims are marginalized people? Is it merely because most of the victims were Christians? How can the head of state be so narrow-minded, biased and selective? Or does he open his mouth only for the political gain?

The track record of Narendra Modi shows that after taking office as Prime Minister, he has spent most of his time either with the corporate sharks or wooing voters in political campaigns. It’s now the right time for him to show his courage through action aimed at protecting the rights of Adivasis, as he has been preaching other Adivasis territories. The ruling elites must understand that the violence in Assam is not just ethnic violence, but has become political ethnic violence, well-scripted and sponsored by the state. It is the need of the hour to uproot the main roots of violence, instead of using every incident to serve political interest. Since the ethnic problem of Assam is political, therefore the solution must be political. The billion dollar question is who will bell the cat?

Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist and writer from Jharkhand, India.

@Gladson Dungdung

Courtesy of countercurrents.org

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

 

[1] Dungdung, Gladson, 2013. Whose Country is it anyway? Kolkata: Adivaani.

[2] PAJHRA, HUL, PAD, DBSS and NBS, 2011. Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Assam Tribune, 1st December 2007. ‘Beltola Violence and its Political dimension.’ Guwahati.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice, 2011.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Chhetri, Harka Bahadur, 2005. Adivasis and the Culture of Assam. Kolkata: Anshah Publishing House, p 78

[10] Chhetri, Harka Bahadur, 2005.Ibid. p 48

[11] Gokhale, Nitin A. 1998. The Hot Brew: The Assam Tea Industry’s most turbulent decade. Guwahati: SP, p 6

[12] Ibid.

[13] Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice, 2011.

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid

[17] Tully, Mark, 2003. India in Slow Motion. New Delhi: Penguin Books, p xiv.

[18] Bahadur, 2005, Adivasis and the Culture of Assam, p 78

New Book – Ecology Economy by Felix Padel, Ajay Dandekar & Jeemol Unni

Ecology Economyecology economy

- Quest for a socially informed connection

By Felix Padel, Ajay Dandekar and Jeemol Unni

orientblackswan logo

 

 

 

 

About the book, courtesy of Orient Black Swan:

Ecology, Economy is an elaborate argument to establish society as central in policy-making for holistic development. The book presents cases of the adverse effects of resource utilisation—water, metals, power, land—on Adivasi communities in particular. It presents an overview of the paradoxes inherent in ‘development’ projects, emphasising the drastic drop in the standard of living of rural communities, and the immeasurable damage to India’s ecosystems and resource base.

The authors highlight the tussle between real growth and the rule of law, the informalisation of labour under a neoliberal economy, and current threats to ‘Adivasi Economics’—the little monetised systems based on a long-term symbiosis with the natural environment, based on taking from the ecosystem without intrinsically damaging it.

It asks: what is real development? How can we transform present developmental patterns to achieve a more truly sustainable path towards collective well-being? Is there any politically feasible path out of the multidimensional economic, environmental, social and climate change cataclysms facing us now in India and worldwide? Contrary to seeing dissent as ‘anti-development’, this book puts a face to the people on whom ‘development’ is imposed.

A product of the confluence of anthropology, policy analysis and rural economics, this volume also comes with an extensive Bibliography to lead researchers and every interested reader towards a rich body of work. It will be useful for students and scholars of sociology, economics, anthropology, ecology and environmental studies, development studies, political science, law and international affairs.

Adivasis Need Speedy and Impartial Justice – An Open Letter

May 6, 2013

To: The Government of India,

Members of the Judiciary and All Citizens,

One of the most disastrous consequences of the strife in the tribal areas of central India is that thousands of adivasi men and women remain imprisoned as under-trials, often many years after being arrested, accused of ‘Naxalite/ Maoist’ offences.

The facts speak for themselves.

In Chhattisgarh, over two thousand adivasis are currently in jail, charged with ‘Naxalite/Maoist’ offences. Many have been imprisoned for over two years without trial. In Jharkhand, an even larger number of adivasis, possibly in excess of five thousand, remain imprisoned as under-trials. The situation is similar in many other states of central and eastern India currently affected by armed conflict between the government and adivasi-linked militant movements, namely Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal. The adivasi undertrial population may run into thousands in each of the states. Assessing the true scale of the problem is inherently difficult, given that none of the police or jail administrations are making comprehensive figures public, even after RTI requests have been filed by concerned citizens. This opacity adds to the injustice.

In each of these states, the adivasi under-trials, and particularly those arrested under special security statutes, face grave common handicaps that obstruct their Constitutional right to a fair, speedy trial, to justice.

One, language barriers. The vast majority of adivasi under-trials speak only adivasi languages, such as Gondi and Halbi. However, few if any courts have official interpreters/translators. This leaves the adivasis unable to communicate directly with the Officers of the Court or otherwise effectively make their case.

Two, the failure, in case after case, for evidentiary material, such as captured arms or explosives, to be promptly submitted in court by the security forces when they first produce the detainees before the Magistrate, as the Magistrate can statutorily direct the security forces to do when they level such serious charges. In the absence of prima facie proof, the grave risk of injustice being done to innocent adivasis is self-evident.

Three, procedural barriers relating to ‘Naxalite/Maoist’ and other security offences. Being charged with such offences, the under-trials are not produced in the courts for lengthy periods. Owing to this, the trial does not proceed for years together.

Four, other procedural barriers. Since under-trials charged with’Naxalite/Maoist’ offences are only held in Central Jails, many of them of them are transferred to jails at a great distance from their homes and families. In Chhattisgarh, for instance, nearly one hundred adivasi under-trials from Bastar have been transferred to Durg or Raipur Central Jails, a distance of over 300 kilometers. The great distance, coupled with the poverty of most adivasis, means that families are unable to regularly visit them or provide them with vital emotional support.

Five, the lack of proper legal defence. Lawyers who visit ‘Naxal/Maoist’ under-trials in Chhattisgarh are photographed by the authorities and their information listed in a separate register, making lawyers reluctant to visit their clients. In any event, many of the adivasi under-trials are dependent on legal-aid lawyers who rarely go to meet the client or seek instructions regarding the case. Often lawyers are careless in their conduct of cases and are amenable to pressures from the police or prosecution.

In addition to the humanitarian imperative, the prolonged failure to provide speedy and impartial justice to these thousands of adivasi under-trials is damaging the prospects for peace in India’s heartland – by leading adivasis to feel that the Indian government does not treat them as full citizens and by intensifying their generalised sense of alienation. It is telling that in the widely publicised “Collector abduction” incidents of Chhattisgarh and Odisha, one of the major demands raised by the insurgents was speedy and fair trial for these thousands of jailed adivasis, accused of being Naxalites/Maoists. Yet, virtually none of the efforts belatedly agreed to by the state governments – such as the ‘High-powered Committee for review of the cases of Adivasi undertrials in Chhattisgarh’, set up in mid-2012 under the aegis of Nirmala Buch, the former top IAS officer – have come to fruition or been acted on to any degree by the concerned governments.

More than anything else, the failure to ensure justice for the adivasis is a grave blot on India’s human rights record. Not only are we as a nation committed to democracy and human rights, but our Constitution provides extensive safeguards and rights to the adivasis that are being violated by not ensuring fair and speedy trials for these thousands of adivasi under-trials.

On every count – whether humanitarian or strategic – it is imperative that this prolonged failure to assure our country’s adivasis of speedy, impartial justice be set right immediately.

Justice is in everyone’s interest.

Hence, we the undersigned, a large group of concerned Indians – including adivasi leaders, jurists and lawyers, and public intellectuals – urge the Union Government, the concerned State Governments, and the Supreme Court to undertake to appoint a special Commission of eminent jurists to oversee dedicated fast-track courts that hear these cases speedily and impartially.

Sincerely,

VR Krishna Iyer, Mahasweta Devi, Swami Agnivesh, Nandita Das, Nitin, Desai, GN Devy, Jean Dreze, Gladson Dungdung, Anand Grover, Ramachandra Guha, Girish Karnad, Manish Kunjam, Harsh Mander, Vinod Mehta, Arvind Netam, Rajinder Sachar, BD Sharma, Nandini Sundar, Father Stan Swamy, Tarun Tejpal, Mukti Prakash Tirkey.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

A Publishing House for Adivasi Literature

adivaaniWhy don’t we have an Adivasi voice?”, “Why don’t we have a ‘for and by’ Adivasi publishing house?”, “Where is the authentic Adivasi narrative?” These questions had haunted Ruby Hembrom when she enrolled for a publishing course in Kolkata last year. “While going through a list of publishers and authors, I could not find any Adivasi. While Adivasis have often been written about by others, they have very rarely been authors themselves,” says 35-year-old Hembrom, an Adivasi herself.

So, in July, 2012, after she completed her course, Hembrom, along with two friends — Joy Tudu, 36, an Adivasi social activist in Pakur, Jharkhand, and Luis A Gómes, 46, a Mexican publisher in Kolkata — established Adivaani, a trust that publishes books written by Adivasis. Hembrom looks after the editorial side, Tudu is in charge of marketing and Gómes handles the designing and printing.

Article & photograph courtesy of The Indian Express. Read the full article here

Whose Country is it Anyway? written by Gladson Dungdung is published by Adivaani. See a review of this book by Dr Felix Padel here

Jharkhand Human Rights Movement Condemns Police Atrocities on Rights Activists

JHRM
Jharkhand Human Rights Movement
C/o-Mr. Suleman Odeya, Near Don Bosci ITC Gate, Khorha Toli, Kokar,
Ranchi -834001. 0651-3242752 Email: jhrmindia@gmail.com

Press Release

Date: 26/07/2012

JHRM Condemns the police atrocities on Rights Activists

The Jharkhand Human Rights Movement (JHRM) an alliance partner of the Jharkhand Alliance of Democratic Movements (JADM) condemns the police atrocity on rights activists and protestors during the Jharkhand bandh (blockage) on 25 July, 2012. Needless to say that the Jharkhand Government has been acquiring 227 acre of fertile land of the Adivasis illegally and forcefully at Nagri village near Ranchi for the construction of IIM, IIIT and Law University. The villagers have been protesting against it since several months. They had sat in protest for 125 days, where 3 women died due to hit by the sun stroke but the government didn’t hear their plea. While they approached to the Supreme Court and the Jharkhand High Court, the Courts also denied hearing them. Finally, the villagers are in the street to save their lands. Several organizations and political parties are also supporting them.

On the eve of 25 July, 2012, several organizations had organized Masal Julus and informed the people about bandh. Accordingly, the Bandh started at 8 O’clock on July 25, the bandh supporters started their peaceful protest. They had also requested the police not to arrest them. When the people were protesting in Ranchi peacefully and requesting the people to support their bandh, the police started arresting them, beat them with lathis. The police also slapped, hit and kicked them.

Consequently, human rights activist Mr. Gladson Dungdung got severe injuries in his right leg, left leg and right ear-site. A student Mr.Pritam Tirkey also got severe injury in his right hand and General Secretary of Adivasi-Moolvasi Chatra Sangh Mr. Kamlesh Ram got severe injuries in several parts of his body. He was also beaten severely in the police station after his detention. The police also arrested more than 500 students, men and women who were taking in the peaceful bandh.

The JHRM demands for investigation and legal action against the police personals, who were involved in committing atrocities on the rights activists during the peaceful peace Jharkhand bandh.

With regards
Sunil Minj
Chairman
JHRM, Ranchi.

UPDATE 07/08/2012
Gladson Dungdung has been released on bail.

Is Judiciary Biased Against Adivasis? by Gladson Dungdung

Is Judiciary Biased Against Adivasis?

By Gladson Dungdung

Gladson Dungdung

JharkhandMirror.org

July 23, 2012

On 15 July, 2012, in the afternoon, the weather was cool, the sky was cloudy and it was drizzling. The hundreds of Adivasis of Nagri village entered into the central hall of the Birsa Agriculture University, Ranchi with the single point agenda to get back their agriculture lands, which has been captured by the State with the power of Gun. In fact the Birsa Agriculture University was also built on their land after snatching it from their ancestors. They have been resisting against the forceful and illegal land acquisition because the present government has been attempting to grab rest of their land in the name of growth and development. They are well aware that if they surrender their land in front of the Gun, they’ll become landless, homeless and helpless. Their survival, identity and existence will be  vanished. Therefore, they were there to attend a meeting called off by the “High Power Committee” constituted by the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Arjun Munda on the basis of an order of the Jharkhand High Court, which states that the Government should resolve the land row of Nagri within a week otherwise; the court will directly deal with the land owners.

Read the full article by clicking the link below:

Is Judiciary Biased Against Adivasis by Gladson Dungdung

Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist

Gloomy Thoughts on India Today By Antony Copley

Gloomy Thoughts on India Today by Antony Copley

These reflections are prompted by attending the Gandhi Foundation Award ceremony in the House of Lords of the Gandhi International Peace Award for 2011 to Binayak Sen and Bulu Iman and a seminar given by two very bright graduate students of the University of Kent on the writings and film making of Arundhati Roy. Biographical details on the two recipients can be seen in the Gandhi Foundation Peace Award article on this website and their two acceptance speeches will also be published shortly, so this is no attempt to summarise what they had to say. But it filled me with a real sense of gloom about where India today is heading.

It was very moving to find oneself in the same room as Binayak Sen. It was something of a miracle that he was present at all to receive his prize, only by being let out of prison on bail and having his passport returned at a very late stage. Binayak Sen is a doctor and specialist paediatrician and he began by telling us that surveys on malnutrition, based on body mass indices, show that India is in fact in the grip of famine. Sen’s struggle for civil rights is well known. He ended his talk by telling us the Indian government is currently drawing up legislation in which almost all forms of dissent will now be branded as sedition. Such was the charge brought against him for his own active engagement in the struggle for adivasi rights and one that led to a sentence of life imprisonment.

Bulu Iman delivered a searing indictment against the current economic development of India with its rampant capitalism riding rough shod over the economic and cultural life of the tribal population. He opened up an apocalyptic vision of India’s own economic self destruction. All this ties into the consequences of climate change. None has done more than Bulu Iman to memorialise the remarkable culture of the forest people. We were recently provided with a brilliant photographic record of this culture at an exhibition of photographs by Robert Wallis in the Brunei Gallery at SOAS, conveying a horrifying sense of the threat from the coal-mining and mining of other minerals to the very survival of this culture. Talking to Bulu Iman afterwards he left me with a disturbing sense that, in fact, the battle for survival has been lost. He sees the materials in his Sanskriti Museum, Hazaribagh as time capsules. How can any culture of this fragile kind survive the destruction of its village life, with huge roads ploughing through the forest destroying all in their way? At least a third of the tribal population in the forest areas of eastern and central India have already been dispossessed and driven into urban slums.

Felix Padel, historian of the tribal struggle and vital intermediary between The Gandhi Foundation and the two recipients, endorsed their findings. If anything, he sees the situation as even more dire.

No-one has more vividly described this human catastrophe overwhelming the forest population than Arundhati Roy. I learnt that her imagery always refers back to the holocaust of the partition. Initially, I could see how this imagery would work for the disaster that has struck Kashmir and the horrors of communal violence in Gujerat in 2003 but I was less certain of its relevance to the tribal tragedy. But then it was explained to me that their forced dispossession precisely echoes those images of long lines of migrants on the move during the massive migrations of the partition years.

Has the India of its founding fathers really come to this? Was there some fatal flaw in Nehru’s vision for change, a paternalist concern towards the vulnerable in Indian society that could turn dictatorial? Did that visionary sense of rapid development with its power stations and dams in fact presage the rampant capitalism on view today? It was Nehru himself who laid the foundation stone 5 April 1961 of the Sardar Sarovar, the scheme for some 3000 dams on the River Narmada. The forest people were drawn into a Nehruvian development project. Of course it is tempting to place the blame for the exploitation of the forests on the Raj and its Forest laws of 1878 and it is true that much of its timber was set aside for exploitation- think of the amount of wood needed fort the Indian railways. But the colonial regime did set aside protected areas and sought to shore up the way of life of the forest people. It is also worth recalling that originally these were plains people but driven into the forest by aggressive agrarian castes. But independence seemed to release even great depredation of the tribal economies. In the eight provinces of Bihar that were in 2000 to become the state of  Jharkand, far more mineral wealth was being extracted and exported than development aid was being invested. Did it only need Narisimha Rao’s Congress government’s liberalisation of state controls over the economy in 1993 to release globalisation in all its exploitative greed? For decades India was the world’s most exciting prospect of a developing economy and yet did we foresee Shining India as its outcome? Bulu Imam for one was sceptical if there be any life left in any earlier visionary outlook.

Of course it is distastefully possible to be dismissive of the chances for survival in today’s economic imperatives of such vulnerable communities as the forest peoples. If you adopt a historically determinist approach, then so called primitive or backward communities simply have to give way to `progress’. At best, you offer the communities some share in the profits of the mining revolution. It was argued in that seminar on Arundhati Roy that the newly enriched Indian middle class have no sense that the forest people are worth protecting-they simply stand in the way of the making of wealth. It helps to understand such indifference if we realise the staggering profits that will be made from the mining of minerals in the forests. Maybe the forest people are themselves –or so it is sometimes argued- morally obliged to accept that they have no option but to share this wealth.

But of course there are very strong counter arguments. In the tribal way of life we are given an example of a sustainable economy, one that respects nature, and is just the example of sustainability we need if we are to stave off the disastrous consequences of climate change. Bianca Jagger, inter alia Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador and Trustee of the Amazon Charitable Trust, in her intervention at the Award ceremony pleaded for new paradigm on development. There has to be a development plan that accommodates the needs of such vulnerable societies. Not everyone knows that Parliament now has an All Party Parliamentary Group for Tribal Peoples. The LibDem MP, Martin Forwood, its founder and Chairman, attended the ceremony. He reminded us of the threat from the Maoists. And clearly there are alternatives models for development than industrial capitalism. More radically, we need to abandon the concept of growth for one of sustainability.

So is there any prospect of checking this invasion of the tribal lands in its track? We have to live in hope. Ilina Sen agreed with me as we said farewell in the corridors of the House of Lords. Without hope we are lost. I do not myself give up hope that the progressive ideals incarnated in the Indian Constitution, the democratic political vision of Nehru, the role of a free press in independent India, have wholly disappeared. At least one Minister of Forests tried to rein in the corporation, Vedanta and delay the mining of bauxite in Chhattisgarh. If the political class are too hand in glove with the capitalists then we have to fall back on dissent from India’s intelligentsia. Aruna Roy, distinguished journalist of the Times of India, put faith in such dissent. Admittedly, if Binayak Sen’s fears over changing the laws on sedition are accurate, then there is a momentous struggle to be waged. Will university students, amongst others, stand up for Civil Rights?

Where does this leave the Gandhians? In an earlier struggle, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement), under the inspired leadership of Medha Petkar, a Gandhian movement went some way to check the flooding of the river by the dams and the destruction of its riverside tribal culture. And it may well be asked, why did this cultural vandalism not cause as much shock as that of the vandalism of the Babri Masjid mosque in 1992? In 1993 the World Bank withdrew funding, embarrassed by the wonderfully named Monsoon satyagrahas, with Gandhian activists ready to expose themselves to the rising waters, in the practice of jal samparan, sacrifice in water. The whole issue was referred to the Supreme Court. But it has to be acknowledged that in the end it came out on the side of the dam. In its judgement, `it became necessary to harvest the river for the larger good.’ There was to be rather more good fortune in a Gandhian protest against the Maheshwar Hydroelectric Scheme in Madya Pradesh, a protest linked to the NAPM, the National Advancement of People’s Movement, set up in 1996.Yet we were told at the award ceremony when the women of Tamil Nadu protested against a nuclear power station all 5000 were arrested. Has the iron entered the soul in current Indian policy making?

So can a Gandhian protest influence the outcome in the current struggle in eastern and central India? Few people are aware of the scale of the conflict today. Has the freedom of the press been stifled? Are people just indifferent? To deal with the conflict both the police and increasingly the Indian army are heavily engaged. Quite who carries out reprisals against the tribal villages is unclear to me though I was told in the seminar that Hindu communal nationalists are heavily involved. They hold the tribal peoples, who of course lie outside the caste system, in contempt. Many tribals have joined the Maoist led revolt, driven out of their villages, outraged at the violation of their women. But what do the Maoists,or Naxalites as they are alternatively known, want? Have they a vision which in the long run saves the economies of the forest peoples? It does not fit with Marxist notions of economic development. Admittedly Marx, at the end of his life, came to see in such simple communities the very ideal of the communist society he was envisioning. Might today’s Indian Maoists do the same? It seems far more probable that the Maoists see themselves as engaged in a power struggle with the Indian state and have but opportunistically seized on this social unrest. The majority of the forest people find themselves in the crossfire of a civil war between the Indian army and the Maoists. Is there scope for non-violent satyagraha? So Bhikhu Parekh argued for at the end of the Award ceremony. Arundhati Roy feels that up against the violence of the State there is little prospect for a Gandhian solution and wonders if there is a non-violent alternative to the violence of the Maoists. Bulu Iman, a committed Gandhian, is equally pessimistic. In his view a satyagraha can only impact if your opponent has a moral susceptibility to injustice and he feels that such receptivity, one that existed with the likes of a Christian Lord Irwin of the British Raj or a Smuts in South Africa, does not exist in to today’s India. It makes one fear that a committed Gandhian like Binayak Sen may yet be disappointed in his life’s struggle. But again, one must not give up hope.

Eastern and Central India is not the only locale for struggles by tribal people. It also rages in North East India, Kerala, and on every other continent. These are not saintly movements. Up against the threat from globalisation several have retreated into exclusivist and xenophobic autonomous movements .Their political future would be better served were they to seek out more pluralist solutions. Such tribal people are at risk world wide. In the Award ceremony much was made of the role of international capital, the City of London, host to most of the Corporations financing the mining of tribal areas, a particular villain. The threat to the forest economies is clearly a part of globalisation. The tribal people stand in its way. Their communitarian values and ideals of a sustainable economy may yet be the inspiration to save us all from the consequences of unchecked growth. Their struggle is one that concerns us all.

 Antony Copley
Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Kent and Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation

Books consulted, Alf Gunvald Nilsen Dispossession and Resistance in India : The river and the rage Routledge 2010, Ed Daniel J Rycoft and Sangeeta Dasgupta The Politics of Belonging in India: Becoming Adivasi Routledge 2011,Arundhati Roy Broken Republic Hamish Hamilton 2011

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