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Free Trade – A war against
Dalits & Adivasis

By Goldy M. George

10 November, 2004
Countercurrents.org

Dalits and Adivasis (Indigenous people) have never been the part of the conventional trade systems in India. Today they are faced with the horrible hostility of trade and market policies. In recent times trade entered the scene on mass scale through the principles of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation. Mega industrial production still plays the key role in all trade deal not only at the national level but also at the international level.

Industrialisation, which made a colourful and dreamy entry, is turning out to be the worst form of human development. The steady economic growth of industries with active support from the state machinery is directly proportional to the unchecked exploitation of masses. Most of them belong to marginalized communities such as Dalits, Adivasis, women, working class, etc. Though during the independence struggle “land to the tillers” and “factory to the workers” prominently came on to the national agenda, nowhere in India had we witnessed the later one being implemented in the post independence era. Resultant displacement, migration, repercussion of workers, loss of land and livelihood, pilfering state revenue, forest resources, etc. has outgrown to monstrous level.

This has amplified particularly with WTO taking the centre stage of all sorts of trade related agreements and transactions at the international level. Trade is no longer buying and selling of goods and services but it encompasses issues like Intellectual Property Rights. With this the global market has wide open for exploration and exploitation of resources under the aegis of free trade. Industrialised nations found their tools to maintain supremacy on world trade. Prophets of trade and commerce argue that free trade maximises world economic output. This is what is considered to be progress. But what we have been witnessing with the Dalits and Adivasis in India is diametrically opposite to these claims.

Decline of people’s rights on Natural Resources:

The symbiotic relationship between the forest-dwelling communities, especially the Adivasis and the forest Eco-system is an eternal truth. They had traditional system of preserving the forest and wild life. Many of the indigenous communities worship the forest; give offerings to the forest-gods, forest-goddess and even the wild animals. Their life cannot be segregated into watertight compartments such as social, economic, political, religious, cultural, administrative, intellectual, spiritual, etc. Life is a single organic whole. Because of the fast changing socio-economic trends, social values and traditional life style is vastly being diverted. The degrees of change vary from rural to urban, urban to metropolitan, poverty to affluence etc. Today industrialisation, urbanisation induced with the modern education had adversely affected the integrity of mankind. Spread of the modern education, effect of media and expansion of rural bureaucracy has induced an element of elitism in rural areas.

Undoubtedly Adivasis, live in close relationship with the forest and have the greater dependency on it. There are many Dalit communities who are also quite dependent on forests and natural resources for their survival. Artisan and craftsman Dalit communities like Kurava in Kerala, Mala communities in Andhra Pradesh, Basod in Madhya Pradesh are to greater extent dependent on the forest resources. Various projects have already ousted them from land and property on many occasions in order to eke out a marginal living. Due to their emotional attachment with the forest, they always search for resembling locality. So whenever they are victimised in the name of progress and development they settle down in a similar environment. It is because of this past that the Adivasis and Dalits in many parts of the country are branded as encroachers. Apparently their customary and traditional rights were either curtailed or ignored by every ruler – both by the Colonial and National ruler.

The past policies of the state had seriously disturbed the close and lively relationship between people and natural resources – leading to the unrestricted destruction of forest wealth, affecting their wholesome life style and stuck at their very survival. The rule of globalisation added extra intensity on the question of natural resources.

These policies were directly or indirectly related to capture the resources throughout the world, which includes the natural resources too. One of the greatest failures of this period was the scantiness of unified attempts from the third world to resist this move. The segmentation of the third world and their internal fighting to established power ensured enthusiasm and enriched the exploiter camp to manipulate the situation. Nevertheless, this reduced People’s control over Natural Resources.

People’s control over Natural Resources was further reduced with the direct intervention of IMF, World Bank, WTO, etc. Several World Bank funded projects have already deteriorated the condition of the forests and forest dwelling communities. The capitalistic nation foresaw the treasure of wealth in forest, the rich biodiversity, bionetwork genealogy, natural knowledge systems, medicinal value of herbs in Indian forests, etc. Accordingly modifying the operative formula of globalisation, liberalisation, privatisation and open market economy were the inevitable innovation of these agencies, even in forest-based regions. The major intention was not just to capture the resources from the indigenous people, but also to establish an unquestionable political and social control over the world.

For the indigenous communities like the Adivasis and Dalits their dependency on land and forest is not just as a productive asset but as a symbol of their self-determination, co-existence, community feeling and dignity. Now this became a tradable commodity.

Corporate property YES! People’s rights NO!

Forests, the nurturer of thousands of Adivasis and other forest workers, are well under inspection of the corporate investors. This is what the principle of open market economy and international trade policies demands. The government along with the forest department has been engaged in dispossessing the forest-based communities under the pretext of forest conservation and wildlife protection. On the contrary it is opened for industrial purpose like mining, power, dams, etc., defence projects, so-called wilflife management, botanical gardens, bio-experiments, eco-tourism and so on.

For example in Chhattisgarh itself almost 17 lakh acres of land has been demarcated as protected area for the sake of wildlife conservation, where people face the threat of eviction. According to government sources there are more than 250 villages with a population above 35 thousand. The majority of them are Adivasis and Dalits. Adivasis and Dalits living in forest regions are almost bonded labourers of the forest department.

Let me present the example of Chhattisgarh. This zone has high potential in terms of forest resources. In fact it covered nearly 45% of the total forests in the erstwhile Madhya Pradesh. Baster alone can serve at least 10% of the national requirement of forest. But in the last two decades due to irresponsible approach of the government it is on the downslide; the forest have gradually degraded.

In Chhattisgarh 10 major projects have already been completed, for which 257032.585 acres of land have been lost. In all 238 villages have been affected by these dams and their rehabilitation has not yet been done. In addition to this there are 30 medium projects affecting 123 villages, for which 32745.13 acres of land have been acquired. Further there are 8 projects pending and 6 medium projects have been proposed affecting 150 villages for which 261314.59 acres of land is to be occupied. Majority of the land lost is either forests land or fueled the destruction of forests. These are the statistics in 2000 when the state was about to be created. This chart has probably grown much higher.

Another major reason of forest destruction is the mass felling of trees for commercial purpose. In many areas of Chhattisgarh there are cases of coop felling of trees and this happens through the forest department. A powerful lobby of timber contractors, politicians, bureaucrats are actively operating the illegal felling. One major case of similar character was exposed in Bastar. This case drew a lot of attention and the Supreme Court ordered a CBI investigation.

There already exists an unfair line created by the unjust socio-political divide. Under this circumstance what it would be meant by free trade?

Free Trade-A war against indigenous people!

War because the indigenous people are thrown out of their resource zones and livelihoods. Forceful change in life style, culture and eco-friendly ethos is reversed through this process. Land and forests turned to be a commodity of consumption, with concentration on private and individual (corporate) capital; it is not meant for the welfare of all.

War because their right to land, water and forests are yet to be defined by the nation state. Although there are sufficient facts to realise the symbiotic relationship of Adivasis and Dalits with forest environment and the eco-system at large – they are systematically and strategically bypassed, excluded and isolated. They are not recognised as the original inhabitants and owners of land. Many so-called development projects resulted in mass displacement and migration creating an army of domestic refugees. And let us not forget free trade is also considered to be a part of economic growth and development. Hence the historical omission of the already betrayed and battered continues in higher degree and magnitude.

War because their skills and knowledge are patented under the newly coined phenomenon of IPRs. The wealth of Indian natural zones and skills and knowledge of indigenous communities are immense. Once this is transferred it could easily brought under the IPRs.

War because everything is now in the market. But the Dalits and Adivasis are nowhere in the market. Other production-based communities have a minimum right to enter the market, but the indigenous people have no right to market. Is it not really silly that the inherited ones are out of livelihood, profession, trade and even market? Rank of Dalits & Adivasis in Trade process is nothing more than a big cipher.

War because the exploitation of non-renewable resources is diametrically opposite to the man-resource relationship. This at large disturbs eco-system and erupts major ecological problems, which threatens the life of the mother earth to unpredictable magnitude. In other words life on earth is and will be at stake if the present process continues. This is particularly related to the question of mining. In fact the communities have no right to mining on their own. The mining and mineral policy has contributed a lot to this process in tune with the principles of market and trade for the MNCs.

War because the jargons like ecological democracy and ecological equity won’t go hand in hand with globalisation and market. Both are wholly opposite to each other.

War because the corporate house needs resources whereas people need their livelihood. It is a war between surplus vs. survival. Thus the subsistent economy is transferred into market economy.

War because in an age of free trade and market the life values sustained through the community life and love are constantly diffusing and substituted with competition.

War because those who resist and "refuse to disappear," as the Zapatistas say, are routinely arrested, beaten and even killed.

War because when this kind of low-intensity repression fails to clear the path to corporate liberation, the real wars begin. This is the war being witnessed in Kashipur, Nagarnar, Mehendikheda, Koelkaro, Umbergoan and many other places. Perhaps free trade flows from the barrel of gun and tip of lathis in India.

What next?

Many pundits state it as TINA meaning “There Is No Alternative”. This is not true, nor it is the right approach. Our approach should begin from two primary viewpoints. One is that globalisation is not development. Second is that trade and financial liberalisation does not raise social and labour standards. Once again globalisation continues to colonise the poor, women, ecosystem and environment as an integral part of this development. The greatest enemies of terror never lose sight of the economic interests served by violence, or the violence of capitalism itself. If trade is really free?

To identify viable alternatives, one must understand that the root causes of today’s predicament lie in the devastating development based on industrialism and wasteful growth, development packages, spread by colonialism – capitalism. Developing countries must be allowed the policy flexibility and the political space to create national development strategies that increase incomes and secure livelihoods. Policies, which create employment and raise productivity – especially in the agricultural and natural resources, and informal sector – linked with a progressive taxation system, land reform and equitable access to assets such as education, health, credit and technology, are the best means of raising social and labour standards.

Essentially one has to campaign for to recognise and support the identity, culture and rights of Indigenous Peoples; and promote appropriate conditions for Indigenous Peoples so they can benefit from forest use, maintain their cultural identity, and achieve adequate levels of livelihood through, inter alia, land tenure arrangements which serve as incentives for the sustainable management of forests.

Right to land when not recognised leads to land alienation. In case of the indigenous communities it at large leads to depeasantisation. Since land alienation is the crux of the depeasantisation of the indigenous people, the concept assumes utmost importance in the analysis of their rights as a part of human rights discourse. The problem of land alienation is a much deeply connected phenomenon with full of contradictions related to the existing socio-economic order. The separation of land from the indigenous communities can be understood in a more scientific way with the assistance of the theoretical formulations of the concept of alienation.

Come lets’ build a campaign:

It is vital that the Dalit and Adivasi communities build a campaign against the politics of free-trade and market economy. However this needs to come as a bottom-top model other than the top-bottom model that we had been witnessing for the past many years. This is essential not only to protect the Dalits and Adivasis in India but also the indigenous and ethnic minorities as well as the aboriginals across the world.

No one is going to escape this trap in any way. This one should understand from the historical viewpoint of the functioning of capitalism. By all means it is the re-establishment of the capitalistic regime through the imperialist formula of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation. Attaining absoluteness of capitalism is the primary intention of open market and free trade in the current phase. Essentially this needs to be blocked at all levels with urgency. To start with one need to think in terms of building a campaign against trade, trade related policies and market economy at large.

What could be the core of the campaign?

- Reorienting our economies from the emphasis on production for export to production for the local market.

- Strengthening the local market and its mechanisms through appropriate interventions.

- Strengthening community’s base on natural resources ensuring rights over land, water and forest.

- Reinforcing the traditional systems of community life in an organic manner with rights over resources.

- In cases of exploration of minerals, the Adivasi & Dalit communities should be actively involved in it. Free trade won’t take place without taking the local community into serious consideration. Since the land belongs or belonged to them they have a legitimate right on these resources.

- Transfer of mining lease without Adivasis has been prohibited with the Samata Judgment. Basically banned the mining! Such verdict needs to be upheld.

- Drawing most of our financial resources for development from within rather than becoming dependent on foreign investment and foreign financial markets.

- Carrying out the long-postponed measures of income redistribution and land redistribution to create a vibrant internal market that would be the anchor of the economy.

- De-emphasising growth and maximising equity in order to radically reduce environmental disequilibrium.

- Not leaving strategic economic decisions to the market but making them subject to democratic choice.

- Subjecting the private sector and the state to constant monitoring by civil society.

- Creating a new production and exchange complex that includes community cooperatives, private enterprises, and state enterprises, and excludes TNCs.

- Enshrining the principle of subsidiary in economic life by encouraging production of goods to take place at the community and national level if it can be done so at reasonable cost in order to preserve community.

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The author could be contacted at dalitstudycircle@yahoo.com. He is a Dalit-Adivasi activist in Chhattisgarh, India.


 

 

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