Tag Archives: Jharkhand

Antiquarian Remains of Jharkhand by Bulu Imam

Antiquarian Remains of Jharkhand


The new book Antiquarian Remains of Jharkhand by the 2011 Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award recipient Bulu Imam, is the result of thirty years investigative work. It describes the archaeological heritage, Mesolithic rock art, village rural painting tradition and culture. It is hoped that this comprehensive volume will go a long way in highlighting Jharkhand’s extraordinary ethnographic, archaeological, cultural, artistic and environmental heritage and the urgent need for it’s preservation and protection.

Dr.Syed Ahmed, Governor of Jharkhand in the presence of a select gathering in the Darbar Hall of the Raj Bhawan in Ranchi on 12th Nov.2014.

Dr.Syed Ahmed, Governor of Jharkhand (centre left) with Bulu Iman (centre right) and other guests in the Darbar Hall of the Raj Bhawan in Ranchi on 12th Nov.2014.

To read more about the book and it’s author click here

Read more about Bulu Imam’s work and the tribal art of Jharkhand:



Sept.2014, pp.xvi+552
Halftone Illus. 182 Size 17cmx24 cm
Bibliography Index
ISBN 978-81-7305-529 Rs.1950/-

If you would like to order it please contact,
Mr.Vikas Arya
Aryan Books International, New Delhi
Website: www.aryanbooks.co.in
Tel: 0091-11-23287589 / 23255799


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.


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

Obituary – Jason Imam 1975 – 2013

It is with great regret that we have heard the sad news that Jason Imam, son of Bulu Imam, the Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award winner 2011, has passed away. He was an exceptional person and an exceptional artist and he will be very sadly missed.

Jason with a piece of his art in his mud house

Jason with a piece of his art in his mud house

The art which Jason specialized in was the art of sgraffito cutting through layers of light and dark mud to create images in the same way ancient Greek pottery (i.e. Balck on Red/ Red on Black) used to be made before firing. This is an ancient form of house decoration by the tribals in the forest villages of central India, peculiar to the Jharkhand region where Jason lived. It is used to decorate the rooms of houses where marriages take place with black and white forms, and from which it derives its name ‘Khovar’ which means ‘Marriage room’ (Kho=cave, and Var= Bridegroom). A similar form of art called Sohrai is practiced during the harvest festival and painted with earth colours. In Jason’s art varied earth colours are used in the traditional black and white comb-cutting. This art is connected with the pre-historic Meso-chalcolithic rockart of the region. This entire area of North Jharkhand has been very badly threatened by opencast coal mining in the North Karanpura valley of the Damodar river, displacing hundreds of tribal villages. Since 1993 a campaign through the art spearheaded by the Tribal Women Artists Cooperative under the aegis of INTACH has been holding exhibitions around the world to highlight the violation of human rights and destruction of the environment and also to draw toattention to the plight of rockart and cultural heritage in the region. Over fifty exhibitions have been held in important art venues around the world. With the assistance of INTACH one of the rockart sites named Isco in the valley has received consideration recently by UNESCO as a potential world heritage site, and a dozen other sites have been taken note of by ICOMOS, Paris, as threatened world heritage site. Jason’s art has helped in highlighting the art, and brought a new dimension to the tribal paintings in the contemporary scene. Much was expected of his work which has been widely exhibited in Australia, Europe, Canada and North America, India and the UK. He worked extensively on wood and metal also, and spent a month at the Australian Museum in Sydney where his work was widely appreciated.

Peacock, the symbol of India by Jason Imam ©

Peacock, the symbol of India by Jason Imam ©

In 2003 he built a mud house by himself with the help of the tribal women artists and designed and decorated it in a unique manner and lived in it until his untimely death recently on 11th February, 2013. This house has long been the attention of architects of sustainable architecture and had been visited by teams from IIT Roorkee BIT Mesra, and NIFT Mumbai. It is a unique expression of the traditional village house and western lifestyle. It is completely built in mud and some of the furniture is in earth work. The decorations in the house are extremely eclectic and expressions of his personality. He had guided several eminent art researchers and film-makers in the field. He had been long associated with artists and curators, and the late Keekoo Gandhi and Manjit Bawa, and Rajeev Sethi were admirers of his work. He maintained a close association with the villages and the artists and when he was very ill visited many of them at risk to his own health which we now understand were journeys of farewell. His love for dogs and children was legendary and in the Christmas before he died he spent his last savings on celebrating with children and loved ones. His loss will be felt throughout the tribal community of Jharkhand of which he was one of the most profound artistic voices. His preserved artworks and vast collections of village objects, and the mud house he built will be testaments of beauty and tribute to his genius. My wife Elizabeth, his mother, is an Oraon tribal and he inherited her tribal genes which gave him his deep insight in the ordinary things of life.

Jason's inner house with Khovar comib cutting decorations

Jason’s inner house with Khovar comib cutting decorations

 He had been sick for nearly half a year. He was so special that it is unnecessary to try to even describe his illness or how he reacted to it. He kept his humour and generosity to the very last moment. He was not married and had no children. Every son is precious to his parents. Ours is no exception. Jason was a creative phenomenon in his own right and earned the respect of both his peers and seniors in important art venues around the world. He placed our tribal art of Jharkhand in a new dimension and much more was expected but time cut his work short. The abilities of his mind and hand will perhaps never be reborn again. Whatever of his vast output remains will be carefully preserved and displayed along with the outstanding house he built from mud with his own hands as a living symbol of himself. He was passionately devoted to the LITTLE THINGS which pass unnoticed and he immortalized these in small arrangements. His art was a celebration of the tiny fragments that make up our whole universe in its diversity. Collections of seeds, stones, wood, insects, even the preservation of cobwebs and stray assortments remind us of an amazing worship of the LITTLE THINGS. A complete disregard for materialism and what money buys was intrinsic to his mindset. As a father I feel that I have lost a greater part of myself than I ever knew, and my strength is in his mother who produced such genius. I can go on and on but I think I have expressed myself enough to share both my gratitude for your thoughts and the pain of my feelings in this hour of deepest grief. His brothers Justin (elder), Julian (younger), Gustav (youngest) and his three sisters Juliet, Cherry and June are left to mourn him with his mother Elizabeth, Philomina and myself. We are fully aware of our own iconic statement as a family devoted to tribal expressions of art and which in this passing phase is a moment of history moving before us which will be recorded and later interpreted but must never lose the authenticity of the ORDINARY, of what I have called the LITTLE, the greatest truths of the simple which create the deepest as well as loftiest expressions of Art and Genius in this ephemeral world and of which Jason was an out-flowing of the eternal spirit. He rests in peace in each of the hearts who knew him and loved him and his work. He left us during the spring festival of the mother goddess Saraswati devoted to learning when the moon is in its resplendent pregnant stage of womanhood immortalized in our Mesolithic rockart as Kokkethai, as well as in his own paintings inspired by a lifetime’s experience of the most unusual kind in the forests and villages studying and documenting the prehistory of the Chotanagpur plateau. The day of his leaving us , 11th February 2013, at the closing of the Maha-Kumbh Mela, was the fulfillment of a destiny for one born on the Deepavali festival of 3rd November 1975. He was only thirty-eight years old when this cycle was completed. OM .TAD EKAM.

Bulu Imam is Jason’s father. He is also a cultural activist and joint recipient of The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2011.

To view a portfolio of Jason’s work please click: Jason Imam’s portfolio

New Book Review – Whose Country is it anyway? by Gladson Dungdung and reviewed by Felix Padel

whose country is it anyway GD.Gladson Dungdung – Whose Country is it anyway?

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: 9788125038672

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.

New Opencast Coal Mines Destroying Tigerland by Bulu Imam

16th October 2012

I must admit to being a romantic and idealist by nature. Having said that I must declare that I believe romance and idealism to be amongst the most prized possessions of our species apart from instinct itself. Up until the advent of what we know as civilization man had an imagination which was centred on the survival of the species. But then imagination became increasingly diluted with passing time and with sedentarization, fortification of settlements, and later the expeditions of conquest over weaker societies and opened the way for colonization of new territories, and in due course monopoly of authority centred about a few powerful individuals and the greed of their supporters. Entire civilizations and weaker cultures were vanquished and history resounds with the rhetoric of military conquest ascribed to so-called great and murderous rulers. A certain glory is sought to be portrayed in the genocidal career of successful hordes of destroyers taming the planet and looting its resources for the benefit of the fortunate dominant populations of the plunderers. Technology was meant to be a tool for human advancement, not destruction, but the cannibalism inherent in complete authority led to a new age dawning in the period known as the age of colonialism as weaker sections of dominant societies were enslaved by the industrial machine. This age was supported by the discovery of the latent power in fossil solar energy stored over millennia within the body and the surface of the planet itself. This was mainly coal, and oil. Coal brought about the Industrial Revolution in England whereby the discoveries of the iron age, coupled with the discovery of gunpowder and later steel and its manufacture led to such extremes of European power that it could result in an Enlightenment based not only upon agricultural surplus as in the past but upon an economic surplus. This took place in the nineteenth century and whereby entire swathes of non European populations across the globe could be exterminated and the remaining populations made subjects within the territories which they had once possessed.

To read the full article: New Opencast Coal Mines Destroying Tigerland by Bulu Imam

Bulu Imam is a cultural activist and joint recipient of The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2011. He can be contacted at: buluimam@gmail.com


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.

India’s National Highways Widening Project – Bulu Imam

Bulu Imam
23rd August, 2012

Over the past decade and half India’s government conceived and implemented the plan to widen the country’s major highways. This included in the first phase the old Grand Trunk Road running east to west across north India through the vast plains and densely populated villages along the road. Millions of ancient fruiting and sacred indigenous trees were felled, and in the Jharkhand forested area the road ploughed through the forest. The existing eighty feet wide highway area was doubled, in some places almost tripled. This was the legendary road developed by Sher Shah and the Mughals in Delhi and later was to prove useful to the East India Company in 1772 in pushing its domain westward across northern India. This became a flagship project under the so called Golden Quadrilateral Project (linking Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata), the presently called National Highway 1. It is impossible to comprehend what such a project across a densely populated, forested and agricultural country like India could do. Two lane highways were expanded into treeless, habitationless, desert like tracts winding across the endless north Indian plain, in summer cutting all traditional transport connectivity between villages. India has planned to widen 70,934 kilometres of such highways eventually. The idea began during the BJP government when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee conceived it fourteen years ago (1998). Originally called The Golden Quadrilateral Project it was implemented by the National Highways Development Project to upgrade, widen, rehabilitate India’s major highways, in various stages. Managed by the National Highways Authority of India under the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, it was implemented with an outlay of USD 60 billion (INR 3,00,000 crores) (USD 71 billion as of 2006). The highways to be upgraded through this dream project cover in its first phase, the golden quadrilateral 5846 kilometres initiated by then Prime Minister A.B.Vajpayee which is estimated to cost USD 6.8 billion funded by special petroleum tax revenues and loans from international banks, including the World Bank. Sixty percent of the project is to be privately financed. The World Bank has reportedly already given a loan of USD 40 billion for the overall highways expansion project. It is designed along American lines and the highways themselves when completed will largely resemble the treeless barren highways of the United States.

 In its second phase the project covers the north-south 2000 kilometres (Srinagar to Kanyakumari), east-west 2000 kilometers ( Silchar in the North-east to Porbandar in western Gujarat). It is definitely the “mother and father of all Silk Roads”! In the third phase the government recently approved upgrading 12,109 kilometres of highways on a Build, Operate, Transfer (BOT) basis handed to contractors and which will expand existing highways between state capitals and economic centres across India. Contracts have been awarded for 2075 kilometres. Later more such expansion phases will come.

God alone knows the effects which they will have on both the common man and the environment – both of which do not appear in India’s economic chart. Because I have been witness to its destructive potential at first hand I am fearful for the overall impact of this kind of project on the whole nation. Certainly it will usher in a sea-change, but will the impacts of this new addiction bear good fruit? In my opinion it can not.

This ambitious project has shown its destructiveness to villages in its way, and the roadside trees which were the glory of Mughal roads in India, and in our region which were developed by Sher Shah. As the road widening slowly started showing its effects we witnessed the disappearance of the landscape along the roads, the wholesale cutting down of massive trees. My own N.H 33 in Hazaribagh was denuded of an estimated fifty thousand ancient trees on its way to Ranchi barely 100 kilometres away. Hundreds of thousands of smaller trees also disappeared along the highway. From Kolkata to Barhi to Benares and Allahabad and on to Delhi the old Grand Trunk Road became a barren treeless mass of linear concrete winding across the northern plain, the villages on its both sides being largely destroyed by the massive ever widening concrete road running through; small towns felt the full wrath of the highway with hundreds of thousands of solid brick and cement houses being destroyed. Where there were forests such as in the highlands of Jharkhand, these were mowed down. In bigger towns and cities immense flyovers and by-passes were built. The present highway expansion across India covers a distance of 60,000 kilometres at a cost of approximately a billion dollars for every thousand kilometers. The loss of buildings and normal life along the highways is not calculated, nor is the ecological costs incurred through cutting down of ancient shade, fruit, and sacred trees like banyan (ficus bengalensis) andpipul (Ficus religiosa). Other valuable trees like mango (Mangoferus indica) and neem (azadirachta indica) have been destroyed by the millions. I have seen the effects of this highway expansion in my home state of Jharkhand first-hand and the effects it is having on the roadside buildings and populations, often very poor people, as well as the clearing of all the roadside trees that formerly provided shade during the very hot summer. The summer temperatures every year are dramatically rising, the concrete highway being a burning concrete strip, while rainfall patterns in these areas has dwindled affecting the rice plantations along the highway. Millions of hectares of rice fields have also become victims of highway expansion. The National Highway 33 passes through Hazaribagh, the town where I live, a stretch of slightly over four hundred kilometers connecting the nearby town of Barhi (on N.H.1) and the town of Baharagora in the southwest on the border of Jharkhand with the state of Orissa. This road is entirely within Jharkhand state. It is only one of the many similar highways in my region being destroyed to create a new India. Like all other state development projects the costs are not counted, neither human, social or ecological costs which will be handed over to future generations of Indians. There is another cost, the one of the aesthetic loss to the nation. The danger of the highways expansion is not only affecting the national highways, but is also affecting state highways, which are being developed from two to four lanes as well. The roadside trees and villages face the same harrowing fate as the “national” highways have started. Recently I visited south Jharkhand and saw the road from Simdega to Kunkurri being widened, a distance of approximately a hundred and odd kilometers. The present roads in the small township of Simdega are hellish, so is the present road from Simdega to Kunkurri (In Chhatisgarh state) is equally hellish, but instead of repairing the existing roads a massive new highway is planned. In the small village of Kurdeg which is on this highway I was shown where 40 feet on either side of the existing 80 feet wide road would destroy houses. It was an appalling sight, but in retrospect only a microcosm in comparison to what is happening in almost every district of India even now as I write!

When will modern India learn to value her own great traditional wealth and stop imitating the west? When will we learn to stand on our own feet? I return to Hazaribagh.

Earlier the N.H.33 ran through the most picturesque hilly scenery imaginable running from the plateau of Hazaribagh through densely forested Ghats to the beautiful valley of the Damodar which has been turned into a desert of concrete arteries, underground coal mine fires smoking beside the highway, atmospheric pollution so dense you can cut it with a knife, coal blackened streams and shanties in which the coal blackened faces of the former healthy tribes-people stare at you as you pass in your air-conditioned vehicle. THIS is the cost of modern India’s development. The poor and their lands have been sacrificed, the minerals stripped by the state, and the residue of humanity left to rot by the wayside…When one revisits this stretch of road from the still “pleasant leafy town of Hazaribagh” (Lonely Planet Guide) in the observations of a famous administrator during far-off British days – F.B.Bradley-Birt in his book CHOTA NAGPORE: A Little-known Province of the Empire (1903) – one is immediately transported into the past. He has left us with an unforgettable view of these plateaux – the old road from Giridih to Hazaribagh; the approach to the Ranchi plateau from Purulia; and of course the road from Hazaribagh down to the once-beautiful valley of the Damodar, and up the picturesque hill ranges to the fertile farmland of Ranchi plateau mainly inhabited by the Oraon and Munda tribes. I know that things change, but change has been brought too fast and haphazardly in modern India. England may not be exactly as Caesar knew it, but when I have driven by the English shires I have been constantly aware of the preservation of the lovely English landscape, and its archaeological sites (even Stonehenge!). There has to be in the official developers of nations a sense of history, an appreciation of landscapes, and a respect for citizens’ rights. In modern India these senses and understandings have been completely lost. It happened during the 1950s in Soviet Russia, it is happening even now in China. India must learn to understand the value to future generation in the preservation of its social and natural environment for future generations. We do not want to leave them a desert of a once fruitful and bountiful land? The government’s preoccupation with the Neo-Liberalism, the Economy and Growth, has led to the destruction of modern Indian society and the environment. I know that the once red-gravel (morum) highways had to become tar-macadam sometime, even as they are now turned into cement-concrete, but why have we lost the old sense of the need to preserve what we in fact do not need to destroy. To destroy something for a brief momentary gain to incur a significant long-term loss is either highway robbery or crass stupidity. I think our modern Indian planners are guilty of both. The administrators being government servants can do little but take orders and sometimes reap side benefits, the politicians and legislators steer a course for personal and party profit.

The Hazaribagh-Ranchi stretch of the N.H.33 described by Bradley-Birt is today a sight of the most abject desolation where hundreds of thousands of roadside trees have been systematically cut, some very ancient, using villagers’ axes and JCB machines to carry the old trunks away, village houses and small-town buildings have been swept away, crumbling ruins and slum shanties everywhere, millions displaced. I heard that when a search for the felled trees was made they were untraceable, the timber having been pirated! These things are taken for granted in modern India, after all there are bigger scams happening in New Delhi! This is always the excuse for not reacting to scams at the state level – the scams are bigger in the national capital!!

The greatest danger to the fabric of India’s human and natural environment is overlooked in contrast to the scale of India herself – a vast and almost limitless land, a densely inhabited and rich agricultural and forested habitat from the rising Himalayas in the north to the sun swept lands of the south and fairly barren Deccan plateaux, nursed on either sides by the Eastern and Western Ghats which stand as ramparts over the Bay of Bengal in the east and the Arabian Sea on the west. When the National Highways Project is seen in context of Indian highways it accounts for only a mere two percent of India’s highways (much left by the British) but the new highways being widened are crucial for economic development since they carry 40 percent of India’s industrial traffic. With the government’s promotion of economic liberalism ever since Rajiv Gandhi introduced this as state policy during the 1980s, to the efforts of successive governments, prime ministers and finance ministers, both of the BJP and Congress, the mantra of economic development sounded sweet and economic liberalism was promoted as government policy in this “developing the nation”. With the rapid increase of economic-liberalism and the increasing advent of corporations and government’s privatization of public sector industries the effects of the world economic order started to weigh heavily on Indian priorities. The evolving corporate state has become the anathema of everything which Gandhi envisioned for modern India. The peoples’ lands are being grabbed at gunpoint, sectors of tribal society are being declared terrorists and hunted down, stricter and stricter legislation is being imposed and in my view India is evolving towards a police state. But democracy still stands. Unlike in Pakistan or China we can still speak our minds in public. But for how long? George Bernard Shaw in his inimitable way once remarked “Democracy is not real freedom”. He was referring to government. Democracy is all about government and not about freedom. It is perhaps the greatest hoax perpetrated against freedom, whether Abe Lincoln would have liked it or not. And so we are saddled with government, and dissent against government policy can make one anything from a seditionist to an anarchist, let alone a Luddite. But I still hold India is a Democracy in the best sense because its citizens – at least up until this moment – can voice dissent. Perhaps it is a carry-over from the nationalist freedom movement, the idealizing of the dissent of India’s freedom fighters against British rule, the creation of martyrs, and the distribution of Tamba-0patras (Copper Plate awards) to Freedom Fighters. The fight for India’s independence from British rule laid down the foundations upon which modern India was built.

However, to return to the subject of these new national highways being drawn out by planners in New Delhi sitting in air-conditioned buildings, to the common man living with his family along the remnants of his house on a new highway being built …. Supposedly for the welfare of his children (!) is a long distance. As we have seen the National Highways expansion project is not only mind boggling for a nation in which 40 percent live below the poverty line (50 cents a day), but also in the scale of its mass destruction of trees and the cost to the nation of losing housing whose value to the common man have never been taken into consideration both as national assets or as the production of human resources of Indians themselves which are national assets in the long run. On the other hands the dozens of billions of dollars in loans which the government is taking from international banks including the World Bank (I am informed USD 40 billion) is money in the government’s hands on the hypothecation of the nation’s natural reserves, which should be seen as an impoverishment of this nation. The human and ecological losses can never be calculated. As India presents itself as a growing economy so too daily India is falling into the trap of other developed nations relying on foreign banks…. It is falling into a debt-trap from which it cannot emerge, and which will have to be faced by future generations – and our rising population, climate change, and resulting lack of will to live will destroy the fabric of future Indian life.

Bulu Imam is a cultural activist and joint recipient of The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2011. He can be contacted at: buluimam@gmail.com

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.

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