On 28 February 2015, Arun Jaitley, India’s Union Finance Minister, presented the first full budget of Modi’s new NDA Government. Yet there is nothing new to cheer for in it, as far as the country’s 104 million Adivasis (Scheduled Tribes – STs) are concerned. The Government has not announced any new programme, scheme or legislation for the Adivasis in the budget. Instead, budgetary allocation for STs’ welfare and development was reduced from Rs.26,715 crore (267.15 million rupees) during 2014-15 down to Rs.19,980 crore (199.8 million rupees). Yet the Finance Minister claimed that his ‘Government being sensitive to the needs of the poor, under-privileged and the disadvantaged’!1 This reduction is blamed on ‘serious constraints’,2 with no mention of what these might be. Business as usual: this all comes under the Government’s ‘Tribal Sub-Plan’ (TSP).
A letter from Gladson Dungdung, Convenor of Adivasi Campaign for Human Rights
On behalf of the “Adivasi Campaign for Human Rights”, I have the pleasure to share its first brief report, “Adivasi Campaign demands rejection of the Land Acquisition Ordinance, 2014″ which is available to view at:
The ‘Adivasi Campaign for Human Rights’ (Adivasi Campaign) has been recently established to lead the national campaign of the Adivasis/Indigenous Peoples of India, majority of whom, are notified as Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution of India.
In public domain in India, Adivasis/Indigenous Peoples are largely perceived either as victims or beneficiaries, but they are seldom considered as decision makers by government, non-governmental organizations, donors, international organisations etc. There is a serious lack of representation/participation of the Adivasis/indigenous peoples in the discussion, debate, policy formation, law making, budgeting, etc relating to them.
Therefore, it was decided to establish the ‘Adivasi Campaign for Human Rights’ with the aim to seek and ensure representation/participation of the Adivasis/Indigenous Peoples, among others, in discussion, debate, policy formation, law making and implementation of programmes relating to Adivasis/Indigenous Peoples by NGOs, donors, governments, UN bodies, etc.
The Adivasi Campaign is committed to promote, protect and ensure the rights of the Adivasis /Indigenous Peoples guaranteed under the Constitution of India and United Nations human rights instruments including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Convenor, Adivasi Campaign for Human Rights
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 began in 1950, when they were denied the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST) in the Indian Constitution. 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. 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. 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. As usual, the ‘police either remained mute spectators or joined the crowd in brutality. 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. 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’. 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. 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. 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. Thus, Adivasis were ‘coerced, kidnapped and incited to come to Assam, to live and work under appalling conditions.’ 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. 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. 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. 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’, 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. There are more than 70,00,000 Adivasis 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.
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.
 Dungdung, Gladson, 2013. Whose Country is it anyway? Kolkata: Adivaani.
 PAJHRA, HUL, PAD, DBSS and NBS, 2011. Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice.
 The Assam Tribune, 1st December 2007. ‘Beltola Violence and its Political dimension.’ Guwahati.
 Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice, 2011.
 Chhetri, Harka Bahadur, 2005. Adivasis and the Culture of Assam. Kolkata: Anshah Publishing House, p 78
 Chhetri, Harka Bahadur, 2005.Ibid. p 48
 Gokhale, Nitin A. 1998. The Hot Brew: The Assam Tea Industry’s most turbulent decade. Guwahati: SP, p 6
 Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice, 2011.
 Tully, Mark, 2003. India in Slow Motion. New Delhi: Penguin Books, p xiv.
 Bahadur, 2005, Adivasis and the Culture of Assam, p 78
– Quest for a socially informed connection
By Felix Padel, Ajay Dandekar and Jeemol Unni
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.
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.
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.
Why 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
Review by Felix Padel
This collection of activist essays is out just when it is needed most: a book touching on every aspect of the Adivasi situation by an Adivasi activist prepared to take on the big questions and the key perpetrators of violence, from the big companies staging takeovers, headed by Tata, to the police increasingly serving these companies rather than India’s citizens, and the politicians facilitating the takeovers.
The book’s starting point is a recent Supreme Court Judgement that validates Adivasis’ identity as India’s original inhabitants. Significantly, this case involved an Adivasi woman stripped naked and shoved around a village in Maharashtra. Another piece focuses on the plight of Anna, a domestic servant, whose unheard plea for justice is symptomatic of mass exploitation and oppression of Adivasi women in domestic service. As for exposure to rape – what about rapists in uniform? Hasn’t rape been used against tribal people as a weapon of subjugation for decades? When tribal women are gang-raped by police or army personnel, are perpetrators ever punished? “Are these women too?” is one of the book’s strongest essays, covering the sexual abuse in a school in Chhattisgarh and other episodes that bring national shame.
The first essay starts at the beginning with the inspiring, yet harrowing story of the first Adivasi to oppose East India Company invasions, in 1779, with the words “Earth is our Mother”. Baba Tilika Manjhi paid for opposing the British with a gruesome death, giving the lie to the mastermind of this Paharia campaign, Augustus Cleveland, whose memorial in Bhagalpore claimed that he brought this tribal people under British rule “without terrors of authority”!
The book’s documentation of the many forms of violence and prejudice ranged against Adivasis fills a vital gap in literature. The detail is often sickening and will make any sane person extremely angry. It is shown how Adivasis are being displaced by dams, by industrial/mining projects, by continuing tricks of non-Adivasis, and – perhaps most outrageously of all – by the new University for the Study and Research of Law at Nagri. As Dungdung points out, the head of this university is also Jharkhand’s Chief Justice. If this isn’t a blatant conflict of interest, what is? This university’s takeover of land lays down a pattern of trampling on the Law that does not bode well for its future!
The book documents the situation in other states besides Jharkhand, such as Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Assam, where the Forest Department’s use of Boro tribal people to evict Adivasis from their forest land shows a typical colonial technique of turning one tribe against another. As the author asks, if Rahul Gandhi says he is Adivasis’sipahi in Delhi, he needs to speak up a lot louder and more often on Adivasi issues!
Dungdung rightly points out that in many ways Nehru is the ‘Architect of Adivasis’ misery’, through his ideology of dams as ‘temples of modern India’. The experience of tens of thousands of Adivasis whose lives have been ruined by dams forms a blatant contradiction to Nehru’s stated principle that tribal people should always be allowed to develop according to their own genius. However well-meaning Nehru was in his words, his violent actions towards tribal communities at certain times have yet to be recognised: apart from the horror of his big dams, he also sent in the troops against tribal communities in Telengana in 1948, destroying the achievements of 3,000 villages who had effected a democratic redistribution of land, and similarly in Nagaland and Manipur during the 1950s, where troops used extreme levels of violence to force submission. In each case, ‘security forces’ established a level of habitual violence, including use of ‘rape as a weapon of war’, for which thousands of perpetrators went unpunished. Operation Greenhunt is just the latest manifestation of the recurring patterns of state violence that these two operations initiated. Offering just military action and ‘development’ to counteract today’s Maoist insurgency is no solution at all ‘precisely because the injustice, discrimination and denial are the foundation of the violence’.
Gladson Dungdung records the starvation levels of hunger still faced by large numbers of Adivasis. As Binayak Sen has pointed out using medical and nutrition statistics, over 50% of Adivasis and Dalits are presently living under famine conditions of malnourishment. This being so, how can India’s rulers claim they have brought ‘development’ at all to these sections of society? To be real, development needs to be under local democratic control, not dictated by corporations and opaque government hierarchies.
As the two most discriminated-against groups in India, Dalits and Adivasis share many experiences. Yet the difference between the two groups is also important to be aware of: Dalits were more or less enslaved by mainstream society, while Adivasis maintained a high level of independence up to British times. As such, they developed their own diverse cultures and languages to a high level. Adivasi cultures are still too often perceived through stereotypes as ‘primitive’ and ‘backward’, when the reality is that they are extremely civilised and highly developed in areas of life where mainstream society is weak or degenerate. Centuries of development is often destroyed when Adivasi communities are thrown off their land by projects usurping the name ‘development’.
Adivasi society needs to be recognised for its formidable achievements, including an economic system that is based on and in accordance with the principles of ecology, and therefore sustainable in the true sense and the long term. Cultural Genocide is the term for what Adivasis are facing now all over India, and this book is a landmark in spelling out the injustice. By bringing out the truth, and documenting the situation from an authentic Adivasi perspective, it gives hope for a turning of the tide that will counteract the genocidal invasions and takeovers of Adivasi land.
Dr Felix Padel is an anthropologist who has lived in India for 30 years. His latest book ‘Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel’ by Felix Padel and Samarendra Das is published by Orient Black Swan. ISBN: 9788125038672Disclaimer: 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.