Searching for Justice and Peace in Eastern Central India – by Felix Padel

© copyright, Robert Wallis 2010

People outside India as well as inside it are becoming aware that there are thousands of local movements of people trying to save their land from being invaded and taken over by big corporations, and the contractors, subcontractors, NGOs, media firms, biofuel and seed companies, banks, hedge fund/private equity fund investors and others who serve and finance the mining companies. Living in India, Anthony Sampson’s title comes to mind from his Anatomy of Britain series: Who runs this place? The Governments or the Companies and Banks?

Village people (tribals and non-tribals alike) are trying not just to hold onto their land and homes, communities and age-old systems of cultivation, but also, as part of the same thing, to prevent ecocide: the long-term destruction of every aspect of the land and environment where they have lived for centuries (http://www.thisisecocide.com/hotspots/). If they accept displacement, even World Bank statistics show that displaced villagers’ standard of living drops drastically (in India, and as a worldwide pattern), and that they hardly ever regain their standard of living, let alone improve it (which by the Bank’s own standards, is meant to be a key requirement of any project). These movements are aimed at saving the people and their environment – “for what future will our grandchildren have if our mountains and streams are destroyed?” This is the land of their ancestors over thousands of years.

It is also the heartland of tigers, leopards, bears and elephants – the whole cast of Kipling’s Jungle Book. But the hunting mafia has taken a massive toll on all the cast, and these animals survive as best as they can, as far as they can get from Man. Even wildlife sanctuaries cause conflict, displacing yet more tribal villages from their forest. Tribal people and their forest are one: damage that bond and the culture and environment are slowly but surely killed, together: cultural genocide and ecocide.

British geologists in the 1900s named the base rock of south Orissa’s bauxite-capped mountains ‘Khondalite’, after “those fine Hill men the Khonds”. These mountains are classed as one of the world’s best deposits for making aluminium – prime strategic metal for the arms industry (‘Mining as a Fuel for War‘ at War Resisters International.

Preventing a whole series of mining projects are the movements. The war against the Maoists, ‘Operation Green Hunt’, acts as a filter that often draws attention and support away from these movements, as the situation escalates towards a classic resource war.

2,270 years ago, the “first recorded event of Indian history” was Ashoka’s massive attack on the Kalinga people in Orissa. By his own admission – was he really repentant, or was he just doing his own PR for history ? – he killed 100,000, and enslaved 150,000, while many more died of disease and hunger. The Kalinga did not have kings and they put up a terrible fight to try and keep their freedom. Ashoka’s two inscriptions in Orissa threaten the ‘forest tribes’: the Kalinga who could retreat to the mountains and forests to preserve their independence as best they could, and have lived there till today. The Konds’ name for themselves is Kuwinga, and there is no doubt they are essentially the same people. So the ongoing takeover of tribal land now conjures a structural memory of Ashoka’s terrible violence.

The PR now is gross. ‘Kalinganagar’ is the name of the steel complex with a dozen new plants in various stages of planning and operation, that has already displaced thousands of Adivasis of the Ho and Munda tribes (whose heartland is in Jharkhand), just beside the Sukinda chromite mines in Jajpur district of Orissa, characterised as “one of the ten most polluted places in the world” (by the Blacksmith Institute, USA).

Kalinganagar is where Adivasis who refuse to shift to make way for a huge new Tata steel plant have got together as the People’s Platform Against Displacement. They were fired on and 14 killed on 2nd January 2006, when police and contractors tried to start construction of the plant. Last November, Orissa’s Chief Minister conveyed his public thanks to the steel companies for constructing a new hi-tech Kalinganagar police station (making clear a collusion that was already clear, though rarely spelt out).

Police with goondas started an attack on the 20 or so protesting villages on 30th March, breaking houses, stealing possessions, wounding many with a new type of rubber bullet, and taking over people’s land and villages in the guise of building a big road across the area. The People’s Platform Against Displacement has made it clear throughout that they are not Maoists, and have kept their movement non-violent (e.g. http://orissamatters.com/2010/04/11/foul-play-exposed/) The events unfolding now in Kalinganagar and the lack of cover in the media is a national disgrace and a severe blot on Tata’s name.

Who made proper mention at the Copenhagen summit on Climate Change about Orissa’s 40 new steel plants and the carbon emissions from making 60 million tonnes of steel per year – Orissa’s stated target ? Or are these essential for ‘India’s development’? How can it be ‘development’ to destroy ecosystems and communities of people whose lives are based on long-term sustainability – who have sustained in the face of assaults from Ashoka to the EIC to now, and who are fighting these projects with everything they gave?

Knowing one’s Indian history, what we witness is a return of the East Indian Company. It took power here on the east side of India in Bengal and Madras in the 18th century, taking over Orissa from 1803 onwards. And the subsidiary company it formed was called the Government of India, based around collecting tribute, and implementing the laws being made to facilitate this all over the country. The senior administrator of a District in India is still called the Collector or District Magistrate.

Analysing the causes of the current conflict, and the reasons why many tribal people join the Maoists, the following are some of the main ones:

1. The system of endemic exploitation of tribal people, coupled with ingrained disrespect for tribal culture.

2. The escalating dispossession of tribal people from their land and resources – by numerous industrial projects but also by the war itself. No one disputes the figures of 644 tribal villages burnt by Salwa Judum and an estimated 200,000 tribal refugees from these burnt villages.

3. The atrocities perpetrated on tribal villages by the Salwa Judum (a tribal militia created by a section of the government) and security forces, and the impossibility of getting justice through the courts. The case of Sodhi (she was one of a dozen villagers lined up and shot by the police – she survived, but as witness to the case at India’s Supreme Court, has been kept under ‘police protection’) and the villagers killed at Gompad has highlighted this impossibility of bringing security men responsible for atrocities to account, and the appeal of Maoists arises directly out of this impunity to prosecution. Numerous human rights reports and courageous journalism have highlighted a definite pattern of attacks on tribal villages, in which most of the village flees, and the women, old and young who don’t get away are raped, killed, tortured or taken away. The best aspect of Arundhati Roy’s recent article Walking with the Comrades is that she brings out the voices of young Maoist women and men. These voices need to be heard. All of them witnessed close friends and family raped and killed, and were motivated to join the Maoists by these atrocities. Having suffered such loss and witnessed such horror, if there is no chance of bringing the perpetrators to account, and the Maoists are there, offering comradeship and guns – who wouldn’t go with them?

4. However, the Maoist ideology and leadership believes in war, exactly as many do in the mainstream and military. War has an attraction, and we all need to fight internal as well as external battles to resist this attraction. What is happening is a polarisation into two sides who both believe in war, leaving no space for neutrality, truth and peace. The recent attack is a deliberate escalation of war. We should not blame the individual Maoist fighters, any more than the individual CRPF men: both are pawns in a game where leaders actually believe in sacrificing people’s lives, on a huge scale. Mao himself was one of the worst tyrants: during his rise to power as well as his ‘great leap forward’ (upping steel production, causing a massive famine) and cultural revolution, he was responsible for millions of deaths of innocent people and even loyal party supporters. He was a superb propagandist though, and in that, very similar to mining companies’ PR machine, turning truth on its head. The ideology he created promotes war, and promotes an escalation of war. We must not let this happen. Maoist attacks instigate huge-scale counterinsurgency attacks on villages. This pattern must stop.

5. In other words, the attack on tribal communities as a strategy to wipe out Maoists is paradoxically a principal cause of the growing strength of the Maoists. This mirrors the worldwide ‘war on terror’ (in Afghanistan, Iraq etc), where everyone can see that attacks on ‘terrorists’– and the ‘collateral damage’ on countless civilians whose outrage has no outlet through judicial process – have increased the number of ‘terrorists’ exponentially. In Dantewara, the systematic attacks on tribal villages are a campaign of terror. In other words, the primary perpetrators of terror are the security forces rather than the Maoists. In the recent attack, the Central Reserve Police Force people killed are human beings too and their death is very sad. Police in the area live in fear of attack. The difference is – armed policemen have signed up for a job that involves high risk of killing or being killed. Tribal villagers have signed up for no such thing. Current news portrays this Maoist attack as an outrage, and the CRPF armed policemen killed by the Maoists as ‘martyrs’. What of the countless villagers who have been killed and terrorised by the CRPF and other ‘security forces’? The tribal villagers living in the eye of the conflict are essentially innocent. If they often support the Maoists, they do so because they experience an invasion and atrocities in which they lose their land, food, families, culture – everything. We get to hear of only a tiny percentage of the atrocities committed by security forces in villages, while every killing by Maoists gets high publicity. (See some excellent examples of such journalism published in the New Indian Express, at http//:moonchasing.files.wordpress.com – e.g. ‘Operation Tribal Hunt?’ 11 November 2009)

Arundhati Roy’s writings have come under fierce criticism, but she is not uncritical of the Maoists. While contrasting democratic features about how Maoists operate in terms of people’s councils and meetings where anyone can and does speak, she also comments that the present phase may well be a honeymoon period in which Maoists are wooing the people, and history shows this honeymoon doesn’t last. The voices of tribal Maoists and accounts of atrocities need to be heard a lot more widely if a Sri Lanka situation of all-out war and genocide is to be avoided, and Roy’s article has done an excellent job of bringing them out.

If there is a genuine move for peace, one essential step will be repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) – this has often been called for, especially from the Northeast and Kashmir. This has become essential for the war in Dantewara. If it can be seen that security personnel who commit atrocities are punished this will automatically take wind out of the Maoist sails.

Human rights work is a prerequisite for peace. Tribal culture places a high value on Justice and Truth. Some kind of Truth and Reconciliation process will have to take place if the escalation towards war is to be halted. Responsibility lies on both sides. Where it does not lie is with the tribal communities, and when they know they can get Justice, Peace will prevail.

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 has just been published by Orient Black Swan. ISBN: 9788125038672

Living Economy, Living Democracy – by Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva

This lecture was delivered in by Dr. Vandana Shiva in London in November 2007 under the auspices of Jeevika Trust, The Gandhi Foundation’s sister organisation.

“The word jeevika is derived from the word “life” or “life source”. So much in the name of globalization is happening which is not just indifferent to those life processes, but against them.

The large scale takeover of rural land for building construction – supermarkets, hotels and parking lots – is taking away land from farmers. In the corridor from Delhi to Agra there are five new hyper-cities being built. The livestock on that land is the basis of the livelihood of the people. We are building a movement against this process which we are calling the “Corporate Land Grab”. The colonial 1894 Land Act is now being used by the free market, forcing peasants to sell their land. American money, currently so insecure, is looking for security in that peasant land.

India’s stock market index just hit 20,000, and market value is shooting up. But that wealth is being created fictitiously. The women making bamboo mats will never defend that kind of economics in their nation. I started out defending forests in Chipko, and I was struck by the injustice of basket weavers having to pay more for their bamboo than the paper companies. Globalization does not work for everyone.

India is seeing the increased polarization of wealth. The jeevika of rural communities is under threat because the source of their livelihood is ecological wealth. Ultimately humans can only work with what nature has given them – work is a partnership between humans and nature. The issues of poverty and ecology were always the same for me – rebuilding nature means rebuilding people – and if we want sustainability then the resources of the Earth have to stay in the hands of the people.

When I started my work twenty years ago saving seeds it was to defend the livelihoods of the farmers. If the number of seeds drop then there is less biodiversity. Humanity has depended on 8,500 crops to make a living throughout history – producing food, furniture and energy has taken hundreds and hundreds of crops. Today we base our consumption on about eight crops. Monoculture is increasing and the monopoly over that monoculture is increasing.

The word for seed is bija and it has the same root as jeevika – the seed is where life resides; it’s the source of all life. In the hands of companies the seed is a source of death. Because the companies make the seed so it cannot renew, it is reduced to a commodity that the farmers are forced to buy every year.

Nature has given us diversity. After the cyclone of 1998, I gathered the salt resistant rice seeds with the farmers in the area. After the tsunami [in 2004], the scientists said that agriculture in the area would have to be put on hold for five years because too much salt had been washed into the soil, but because we’d saved salt-resistant seed, farmers were able to go on growing crops straight away. That diversity would not be available if seeds were not in the hands of the community – we cannot have seeds in the hands of monopolies.

In 1929 Gandhi wrote an economic constitution. It said that poverty in the world was the result of people being denied access to the resources they needed to work. Natural resources should be available to everyone – the wood, the fish, the bamboo – they belong to us all. This access debate is at the heart of globalization: who controls the resources of the planet?

Navdanya was created in reaction to GATT, which aimed to put a handful of companies in control of the world’s resources. Now companies are getting into energy through biofuels, leaving the goats nothing to graze on – the crops they use for biofuels are just oil berries. We have no deficit of oil-bearing trees but if every one was devoted to producing energy it would not be enough to sustain the fossil fuel economy. This economy is built on the false assumption that we can defeat nature. Food prices have already doubled this year and they are going up further as more land is devoted to producing biofuels. Instead of the land making livelihoods it is now going to run cars.

In Orissa, the steel industry is popping up like pock-marks on the landscape. Do we need that steel? No villager there has a single steel rod in their hut. Steel is being exported – 100% of the material is for export. Why? Because cost-cutting is the logic of globalization. India’s 9% growth rate is hiding destruction. Water from dams is going to steel plants rather than irrigation. Raw material and pollution intensive production is moving to the land which provides livelihoods to the poor – corporations are outsourcing pollution. People talk about the outsourcing of software but the real story is the outsourcing of pollution.

A head of state turns up after talking to five businessmen, he signs a bit of paper and the land is taken away from the people without consultation. The corridor from Delhi to Mumbai is being sold to Japan. There are 1.2 billion people in India – there is no extra land there – but everyone wants to descend there. There is a strong campaign against this corridor, the people and the farmers have protested against it. Our civil disobedience campaign meant that privatization was reversed.

We are defending the flood plains on the river of Delhi. The real estate people just sit there with a map, “Oh yes, there’s a green belt – let’s build there”. The building industry does not understand the flood plain or its role in storing ground water and we will be there to stop its physical construction. Three years ago we had the Bombay floods and the area was too built-up to soak up the water – the result was disastrous.

We need to start distinguishing between those economies that bring life and those that bring death. We’ve got suicidal economies – 200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide after the WTO and World Bank’s policies. Why suicide? Corporate seeds aren’t about increasing productivity they are about increasing debt. I call it “Corporate Feudalism” – the corporations are joining with feudal structures we thought we’d left behind after Independence. I’ve sat in front of 2,500 widows in the Punjab, the wives of farmers who have committed suicide. These farmers consume pesticide in the field – “pesticide” ironically translates as “medicine” in our language. The land in that area has turned into a suicide belt. This is the same land where Gandhi started the cotton movement, where he spun for freedom.

We need to give the land back to the farmers so they’ll never have to leave. We need to get them a just price – at present the market price of cotton is one-third the price of production. Our farmers are paying with their lives and the farmers in the UK are facing similar problems.

We can’t deal with climate change without farmers. In any crisis, uniformity is the worst way to respond – diversity is resilience. Secondly, disruption leaves people vulnerable – and they need food to be available during those times. Third, organic farming helps to mitigate against climate change. 200% more carbon is stored in soils that are farmed organically. Yet nobody is talking about how climate change can be solved by organic soils. The floods in Bangladesh saw 2,500 people lose their lives to climate change. Ecological multiples are insurance. In no sustainable economy does everyone do the same thing.

The ecological economy is an economy of renewal where you have six foot of bamboo growing in a few months, or a new goat in seven months. But we’re creating scarcity in an abundant world. Poverty is a human creation – nature doesn’t create scarcity – human systems do. But two processes are making humans more equal: climate change and running out of oil.

But this time brings opportunities as well as challenges. Human beings have never yet been forced to redefine our role as a species on this planet. We have been living off thousands of years of reserves, but now we are running out. Now we are going to have to give back to the Earth. The big shift Gandhi made was to explain that having a lighter footprint on the planet was not to be more primitive, but to be more sophisticated as a species.”

Dr Vandana Shiva is  Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology & Ecology and Founder of Navdanya Trust

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