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Introspecting Time For Aadivasi Movements For Autonomy

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

15 February, 2013

The world’s largest democracy is suffering from various ailments in this representative system which is more suitable to ‘democratic’ ‘symbolism’ than providing solutions to issues of survival, identity and culture of the indigenous communities in India. That way, Indian democracy is largely inadequate and manipulative which has been coopted by various corporate interest groups who are fixing agenda for it through complete control over information technology and medium of communications.

The result of a corporate influenced democracy is the vast mass unrest which India is currently witnessing. While the media is enthusiastically reporting the anti-corruption movements yet it has little time to report the historical demands of the tribal and Dalits for their rights all over the country. The battle for the tribal culture and rights over resources in Chhattishgarh is not alone as Jharkhand, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka shamelessly looted tribal resources and handed over those regions to greedy miners and big corporates who sucked the natural resources, damaged the environment for their profit making ventures.

Though Indian parliament reserve seats for tribal representation, the fact is that this representation is more symbolic in nature and less representation of the community leadership. There are numerous tribal and Primitive Tribe Groups who remained unrepresented in Indian parliament. Is it not a paradox that a state like Chhattishgarh which was created on the issue of tribal identity does not have a tribal chief minister? The region of Bastar which is the hotbed of Maoist insurgency at the moment has not seen a tribal leader at the moment. When democracy is manipulative and adjustment of a few votes here and there, the real representation of the communities will never happen. Unless there is a real representation of our representatives in Parliament and assemblies, the issue of tribal would never get addressed properly.

Boxas, Kol, and Tharu are two very important tribal communities in Uttarakhand, Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar. They reside in the forest zones of foothills of Tarai and in Bundelkhand region. It does not look unprecedented that these communities virtually have no representation since independence neither in the assemblies nor in the Parliament. There might be some aberrations but yet the reality is hard. Indian democracy does not seem to have any concern on these issues and the result is that tribal have paid heavy price for this political brinkmanship of Indian political class. Kol resides in the Bundelkhand region which is partly in Madhya Pradesh and partly in Uttar-Pradesh. For them, there homeland is Bundelkhand as they don’t care the new boundaries created by our state. Historical town of Chitrakoot is divided between Uttar-Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and it is shameful how the politics have denied the tribal their due right. Kol are declared as scheduled tribe in Madhya Pradesh but scheduled caste in Uttar-Pradesh hence in Uttar-Pradesh the Kols cannot have the same right to the forest produce according to Forest Right Act as in Madhya Pradesh.

Similarly the condition of Boxas and Tharus is dismal in the Tarai region of Uttar-Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Their land has been illegally occupied by the migrant Sikhs who have misused the ignorance and naivity of the tribe communities for their own purposes. Today, right from Pilibhit to Rudrapur, Khatima and Nainital has become a new territory of the Sikh land lords who are selling their land in Punjab and buying huge plots of land here. There is another reality and dirty show. In the entire Tarai region, the sale-purchase of tribal land is prohibited under Indian law. Sale of land from tribal to non-tribal is now allowed yet it is happening fraudulently with active connivance of the authorities. Today, Tharus and Boxas have become bonded in their own lands. In the entire belt of Uttar-Pradesh, Uttarakhand as well as Bihar, there is just one Tharu MLA in Uttarakhand. This non representation of the tribal population results in their alienation in public life and policy making

In the last 50 years over 90 lakh people have been displaced due to various projects in India and a huge majority of them belong to the tribal. The forest lands were out of reach for the government for years as they never ever thought of venturing into those regions. Hence there was no development in the region. It is not an irony that the state did nothing to the areas and people who should have been its first priority according to the directive principles of the constitution. Tragically, there are no hospitals where the people could go and get treatment. People are still dying of those diseases which have effective treatments such as Malaria, typhoid and brain fever. Ofcourse, in the absence of proper health care, cases of HIV AIDS have also been reported among many of the primitive tribe groups in Andhra Pradesh. The neglect of the state caused to education resulted in unemployment and more beliefs in supernatural powers. Today, the tribal zones have forest and water but no other facility. They live in dark as electricity is out of bound of them. In the name of development, new road networks are being developed in these locations where our planners never ever visited. The neglect resulted in these zones under the new regimes of the Maoists who redistributed some of the land and developed them as ‘independent’ Zone. It is not that the government is helpless in taking action against them but it is the government which has created them and both justify their positions.

If the Indian state is slaughtered one culture and community, it is the tribals as they are paying the price of our neglect to their welfare. Post 1990s when the big corporate started coming to India in search of their ventures.

Tribal population in India is 8.2% of the total population which is 8,43,26,240 according to 2011 census. A majority of them are landless who live in difficult terrains and yet happier than others. The sex ratio among them was 978 as per 2001 census which was much above average to ‘normal’ Indian’s 933 despite abysmally low literacy rate of 47%. The tribal love their habitats which are now prized possession for the industries and for protecting that they have become victim of state highhandedness. According to an ILO report 85.39 lakh tribal have been displaced between 1947 and 2001 in various development projects in India. It is about 55.16% of all the displaced population of India. More than 64.32% of them are yet to be rehabilitated. Chhattishgarh government went much ahead when it created Salwajudam, an unaccountable brutal army of young Aadivasis to counter the Maoist insurgency in Bastar and other districts resulting in displacement of nearly four lakh people in over 644 villages. Over 40,000 people were living in relief camps and the situation was grim reminder of how state has thrown the people from their own land and converted them into strangers.

Article 244 of the Indian Constitution provide administrative control of the tribal in states other than Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram which falls under the Vth schedule of the Constitution in the hands of tribal community. This was extended in Panchayats also terming it as PESA (Panchayat Extension of Scheduled Areas Act) but it is deeply disgusting and shameful that Panahcyats have rarely been asked before launching a project in these regions. PESA came into force in 1996 which provided key provision of International laws into it particularly related to governance of natural resources in their region and protection of their culture. Over the years, the PESA has become a bone of contention for the Central and the state government as in their greed to handover the naturally rich resources to trans-national corporations, we have bypassed the tribal autonomy and Panchayat institutions. In fact in 1994, the Supreme Court gave the historic ‘Samata’ judgment delivered by Justice K.Ramaswamy who maintained that the government has no authority to bypass the Panchayat if they want to handover these places to big mining companies in India and abroad.

Today, the tribal question has jolted the people who have conscience. It needs a thoughtful and sensible understanding as why there is unrest in the entire tribal belt of Central India. Let us first have a look at the government records. According to Ministry of Rural Development,’

3.75 lakh cases of tribal land alienation were registered covering 8.55 lakhs acres of land.

Out of the above, 1.62 lakh cases ( 43.2%) were disposed of in favor of tribal covering a total of 4.47 ( 55. 28%) lakh hectare of land.

1.55 lakh cases covering an area of 3.63 lakh acres were rejected by the courts on various grounds

57,521 cases involving .44 lakh acres of land are pending in various courts of the country.

(Report quoted in ‘ India and the Rights of Indigneous people published by ILO).

There are huge mining in these regions. Forests are out of bound for tribal now. The areas where they developed their culture and nurture India’s huge forest are now under the government control. There was no attempt to bring them into national mainstream. Health, road network, schools, PDS , communications were out of bound for them. For years, tribal suffered in the abject and shameless neglect by the Indian state and hence different forces entered there to ‘liberate’ them. In the absence of credible leadership, tribal looked for messiah in different varieties of ‘political’ thoughts right from ’Marxism’ to Maoism. The Christian missionaries also went to them but perhaps failed to reassure them of their future. The Hindu fundamentalists went there and only ensure that tribal become ‘Hanuman’ who can only ensure faith against all the odds and no questioning to the racist philosophy which isolated them. The fact is that tribal do not come to them because of their ‘ideological’ affinity to these people. They come because it has become the issue of their survival. When the Hindutva fanatics rarely bothered about their cultural issues and never ever questioned the corporate take over the tribal habitat then why should they go to them? The Missionaries were pious enough to help them in education as well as provide them health facilities yet there was no answer to the growing annihilation of tribal home land and their culture. Hence, when so called Maoists or armed struggle ventured into these forest zones, it gave them a new strength to fight back with keeping their head high to fight for their land and forests. They kept these forests intact and beautiful for generations and now government want to hand it over to companies for commercial greed without even talking to the community. The Maoist captured that vacuum left by democratic space. In the din of identity politics, nobody really cared for tribal questions. This is shameful that those who talk about dalit bahujan identities rarely thought beyond their own question and understood the tribal question.

Tribal questions cannot be spoken without understanding the issue of land, forest and water. For many of the Dalit Bahujan ideologues these are ‘bogus’ theories to keep us ‘subjugated’. It is a dangerous connotation. The tribal community had a historic track record of fighting for their autonomy and we cannot ignore the historic and heroic struggle of Birsa Munda against the British colonialism. In the constituent Assembly, we had a historical representation from the tribal community of Jharkhand, Captain Jai Pal Singh who was also the captain of India’s world cup winning Hockey team as well as Olympian with Gold medal. They all realized the tribal questions and its autonomy and that is why the constitution made specific provisions for maintaining them but our political class always tried to serve the bramanical interests and hence tribal were duped.

The Movement for self-respect and saving their Resources

It is not that the tribal are just working under the leadership of non- tribal. The movement is strong and resistance is growing. In Jharkhand Dayamani Barla, indefatigable Aadivasi woman who has fought intensively for the rights of the tribal on their resources is behind the bar. She was arrested on a fake case filed by the state government several years ago when she organized the NREGS workers. In the Nagri village of Jharkhand, just about 25 kilometers from Ranchi, tribal residents are protesting against the government attempt to acquire over 200 acres of farmland for setting up a law university and a campus of the Indian Institute of Management.

Dayamani Barla has been in the jail since October 18, 2012 for a case dating back to 2006, where she was accused of leading a protest that caused a roadblock. Two days later, the land rights activist got bail in the case, but was immediately re-arrested and put back in jail in two other old cases where she is accused of disrupting law and order during a protest. It is tragic that the Jharkhand High Court too has rejected her bail petition. People have been protesting against her arrest which is absolutely unlawful and show how highhanded the governments have become when the question of tribal land is concern. Civil society organisations as well as tribal organisatons have been protesting against her arrest.

Jharkhand’s state movement itself was the movement for tribal home land which was led by Shibu Soren who later became chief minister of the state. In fact, despite his weaknesses and media making him a villain on various issues, Soren, remains the tallest tribal leader of the community who organized his people against the regular onslaught of outsiders. It was not for easy reasons that the Bihar was ready to handover Jharkhand as a separate state but stiff tribal protest under the leadership of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha which was the sole tribal voice for the tribal home land.

In Odisha, the movements to save Niyamgiri hills have now reached internationally. The Vedanta after sucking the blood in Chhattishgarh entered into a deal with Odisha government in 1997 for Boxite mining in these hills endangering the bio diversity as wel as the Kondhs tribals. People resisted and despite oppressive government machinery, they continue to fight against forcible land acquisition. Over 25 villages belonging to tribal with a population of 15,000 face complete destruction of their lives and they are resisting against the same. The anti Posco movement to save the tribal land is well known and building up. These movements may not be visible all over the country on our TV screens and newspapers but they exists everywhere. Tribal may not have credible face from their own community but there are many like Dayamani Barla working for their community at different places locally.

In Chhattishgarh, the tribal are resisting the mining being imposed on them. In the border areas with Andhra Pradesh the tribal are protesting against Polevaram Dam which will uproot over 3 lakh tribal from Odisha, Chhattishgarh and Andhra Pradesh.

The problem is that the tribal movement though growing in India is still fighting against forcible land acquisition and to save their culture. It is resisting land, forest and water in Chhattishgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Bengal and Jharkhand irrespestive of who is leading them. The reason for that is isolation of tribal from the beginning and their distinct cultural conditions which isolated them from rest of the country.

It has also to be noted that tribal movement in India for their life style and autonomy from the very beginning as the tribal would never allow their culture to be assimilated in the broader non-tribal culture. They may be simple yet would always resist any attempt to ruin their culture which is ‘protection of forests, wild life and bio diversity. That way the unambiguous rejection of the forces of mining and ‘development’ by the tribal all over the country means that they are wary of the danger to their cultural value system and destruction of natural wealth in their region which they are not ready to do away with. They have lived with nature for centuries and have never termed those ‘resources’ in terms of material wealth and hence this resistance is a ‘war of civilisation’.

There is a learning of lesson for the tribal today. They can learn a lot from Dalit movement and its success particularly in political spectrum. It may have weaknesses and we agree when the movement grows there are bound to have some weaknesses yet in terms of political representation and social movements, dalit succeeded in a much better way. The region is in their growth of leadership emerging from the communities and emancipation in Ambedkarism. While there is no denial that tribal should fight for their forest and water yet also important is to embrace modern values and democratic institutions. It is important that a credible tribal leadership is allowed to emerge from within those communities. What has happened that everybody else is ready to work for tribal as long as they are being made as leaders? Many of the people say that tribal could not have survived if Maoists were not there as there is a heavy onslaught by the government. Unfortunately, this fact again ignore the historicity of tribal struggle in various parts of the country much before independence and even today without the Maoists being its leader. Yes, when the Maoist came, the issue of tribal question became important and that all the tribal who joined in their bandwagon may not know exactly what Maoism is and what Mao stood for as most of them are there to protect their land and resources. This has happened because the democratic forces failed there and did not even bother about their physical condition. It is surprising that despite so much of violence and displacement, we do not hear anything from Member of Parliament from Chhatishgarh and Jharkhand.

There is another danger which seems to be being played both by the government and the Maoists. By treating every tribal who is asking for his right as Maoist the government has conceded that the entire tribal zone has turned Maoist and idea that suits to the Maoists also who were feeling isolated for long and confined to a few zones of Chhattishgarh and Odisha. There are reports of rebellion in Jharkhand and Odisha against the upper caste imposed leadership from Andhra Pradesh. For government, this gives an excuse to enter the tribal zones with arms to vacate their land to handover to the powerful corporations who are eyeing these places. If the tribal were not projected as Maoists, the government of India would have been liable to answer to international community for the annihilation of tribal culture and people in the past sixty years but with branding all the tribal as Maoist they have escaped that and continue with their assault on tribal people without any shame. A credible tribal leadership must emerge from the communities and start open dialogue with the government as this is a historic moment to rise up and come out of the shadows of various ‘isms’ so that only issue to discuss and deal with remain the tribal identity and its protection.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com twitter : freetohumanity skype : vbrawat Facebook : Vidya Bhushan Rawat vbrawat@gmail.com





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