No Land Even
By C.K Janu ,Jaison
Chacko & Subhash Gatade
23 March, 2005
Ms C.K. JANU, leader
of the tribals of Kerala has carved out a niche for herself in the history
of peoples movement in Kerala. Presently she is in Delhi as member
of a delegation of Five AGMS (Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha) members to
meet Ms.Sonia Gandhi Chairperson UPA and Chairperson of the National
Human Rights Commission to bring to their notice the hardships faced
by the adivasis of Kerala. In a recent with Jaison Chacko and Subhash
Gatade she discusses the genesis of the struggle led by her, the role
of the political parties and her future plans. Excerpts of the interview
are given below.
It is now history
that the 48 day dharana (sit in) of hundreds of tribals before the Kerala
state secretariat led by Ms C.K.Janu for tribal land rights compelled
the then government led by A.K. Antony to go in for compromise with
the tribals. The immediate provocation for agitation of the tribals
was the 32 starvation deaths among the adivasis. A senior Kerala minister
had brushed aside these deaths as being caused by consumption of illicit
liquor. Driven by the horror of such mass starvation deaths hundreds
of tribals stormed the state secretariat and erected refugee huts
before the offices of government. The government bowing to the public
pressure negotiated with the tribals and promised lands to the thousands
of landless adivasis in a phased manner. ( 16 October 2001) It was a
sad commentary on the state of affairs in Indias highly contested
polity that the two mainstream parties who were interchanging seats
of power in the state were found to be wanting on the deprivation faced
by the tribals.
O fcourse the victory
of the tribals remained shortlived. After the initial euphoria was over
the Antony government started dilly dallying on its promise. This led
to another historic action by the tribals. Hundreds of tribals alongwith
their families occupied the Muthanga wildlife sanctuary
to expose the governments failure to honour their commitment to
the tribals (January 2003). Forcible eviction by the police resulted
in the death of one tribal and injuries to others.
It is significant
that the autonomous militant intervention for Land Rights by the tribals
has been able to influence a significant section of the intelligentsia
also. It was not surprising that after the forcible vacation of the
Muthanga forest range by the police and the loss of human life the famous
activist-writer Ms Arundhati Roy had blasted the state government with
her famous open letter You have blood on Your Hands.
Chairperson Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha and President Adivasi Rashtriya
Q. What are the things, which prompted you to start this agitation?
Adivasis are the
real owners of land. Our lands were snatched away from us. None of the
governments came into power in the state took any serious initiative
to provide this land back to these real owners. Adivasis and dalits
were nowhere in the picture of the policies of the govt. We were always
neglected. Even within the last four months four adivasis died in different
parts of Tiruananthapuram and there was no land to bury their body as
per our tradition. In two such incidents, we buried their bodies in
the kitchens of their hutments itself. In another occasion we buried
one person in another ones land.
Q. What is your
The right to live
in the land where we are born till death.
Q. Could you
explain your struggle to reach to stature of the undisputed leader of
the all adivasis groups in Kerala?
I was born in a
very poor family. As like in the case of any Adivasi family I also experienced
all hardships of life like starvation, illness, unemployment etc. At
the tender age of 6, I was sent to another place to do the job of a
maidservant to shoulder the burden of my family. I continued this till
I was 13. Then I came back to my house. After sometime I started working
as a labourer .At the same time I started working with CPM and was very
active in all the activities of the party.
I continued there
for many years. Bur gradually I fell into a certain kind of desperation
about the issues undertaken by the parties. I noticed that whatever
agitations and strikes are held, our community people were the main
participants everywhere. But the slogans raised and the issues handled
by the party did not have any resemblance with our life. The party was
always fighting for the cause of the influential groups who can send
them to power. Our people were used like the tools in anothers
hand. These facts made me to introspect. I raised these things in the
party platforms, but without any result. At last I resigned from the
party in the year 1987, protesting against all these exploitations.
In the initial years
our activities were limited to dialogues and meetings at the local level.
We worked hard to motivate our fellow beings about the ill treatment
faced by the community. Then we formed a forum at the taluk level. Gradually
our ideas became widespread among our community and in the year 2002
we formed the AGMS at the state level.
I do not read much.
All I learned is from my own experience. . My life taught me a lot.
Always I like to be among our people work for them. I dont fear
to fight for justice. I will be happy, even if I die in this struggle
to provide justice to our brethren who have been oppressed and exploited
for long long years.
Q. What has prompted
you to start the Muthanga agitation?
The agitation started
after 32 adivasis died in the state due to starvation. We started our
struggle by erecting hutments in front of the state assembly. This agitation
continued for 48 days. At the end government agreed to provide free
rations to the adivasis to prevent them from starvation. But the adivasis
insisted that nowhere in the world, any government could to protect
any community by providing free food for life long. So they demanded
land rights as the ultimate solution for these problems. There the adivasis
would be able to work and seek their livelihoods.
First the govt.pretended
that not sufficient land was available to distribute among all the adivasis.
But the AGMS corroborated it by evidence and facts. At present 11 lakhs
hectares of land is under the unofficial custody of the govt. in the
state and even if it is distributed among the 3.5 lakhs adivasis only
1.5 lakh hectare is needed for this purpose.
Then the govt came
forward made an agreement with AGMS. Accordingly every Adivasi family
would get 1 to 5 acres of land, as per the availability of land in the
state. The govt agreed that this process would start within the allotted
term of five years of this government. But other than making this agreement
the government did not heed any interest to implement it. Initially
they allotted land to 3000 families. After that gradually they stopped
it. So in order to compel the government to implement the agreement
the adivasis encroached the forest land at Muthanga, made hutments and
agitated their for 43 days.
Q. What are the
points you find as against you in the CBI report?
Ans. In its report
the State HRC recommended that the following things to be enquired.
Along with other things the commission sought clarifications about the
circumstances, which led the adivasis to gather at Muthanga, the murder
of Jogi, and the atrocities done against the children and women at Muthanga
and post-Muthanga at the forest office rest house which continued for
three days after the incident. But through the enquiry the CBI tried
to protect the vested interests of the state government and found only
the adivasis guilty in the report.
Q. What are the
hardships you face now?
183 people are accused
in the CBI report. Among them around 10 are ladies. Some are having
children with 3-4 months. The case against the adivasis are filed in
the Chief Judicial Magistrates court at Eranakulam that is approximately
400 K.M away from Wynadu District. Every month all the 183 accused are
to appear in the court. If anybody fails to appear in the court for
three consecutive terms the curt issue arrest warrant against him or
her. Then AGMS has to arrange bail for them .In order to get bail also
they should produce land revenue receipts. Hence the adivasis are landless
people they are unable to produce these documents. All the adivasis
earn their livelihood as labourers in the agriculture and other sectors.
Many times they are compelled to travel upto the neighboring Karnataka
state in search of their daily bread. So they fail to appear in the
court on time. Every month the AGMS hires two buses to fetch the 183
people to the court @ 13000/- as hiring charges. So to arrange the finance
to run the cases and bear all other misllaneous expenses is also a big
burden on the movement.
The CBI has filed
altogether 7 cases. In another 7 cases filed by the forest department
till now 380 people have been charged with different accusations. And
the process of filing cases is going on.
Q. What prompted
you to start the AGMS and Adivasi Rashtriya Mahasabha
The inability of
other parties to protect our interests prompted us take this step. We
were nowhere in the picture of the political map of Kerala. We would
like to cite two similar incidents to prove it. After the Muthanga struggle
when the Marad communal riots took place in Kerala the state govt. provided
10 lakhs rupees to the 9 deceased peoples family. Lakhs of rupees were
spent to provide compensations. But at Muthanga not a single penny was
spent on either the deceased persons family nor on the injured
despite the stated HRCs order. The same HRC made a similar order at
Killi at Tiruananthapuram for compensations for atrocities by policemen
and the govt acted overnight to implement this order. These all was
done to please different communal forces of the state who comprise a
major vote bank of the state. So the adivasis recognized that in order
to influence the policies of the govt. we should come forward and form
our association. Thus we formed the AGSS political wing of AGMS
which also comprise the dalits of the state.
Q. After Muthanga
what are the main agitations you undertake?
After Muthanga we
are trying very hard to defend ourselves on the different cases filed
against us in the courts. The legal proceedings and allied activities
consume the larger amount of energy of the organization. Still we conducted
many agitations and strikes in different parts of the state and our
fighting spirit has not deteriorated. The last Lok Sabha Election also
gave us a good platform for us to create a good public opinion. Kerala
is the motherland of sustaining coalition politics. Not a single party
is dared to fight the election as their own. But we fought the election
without any coalition partners. Given the fact that Crores of rupees
are spent on every election, we fought without much money or manpower.
Still I got 11800 votes and the other three candidates got between 5000-6000
Q. Does the adivasis are desperate because AGMS could not achieve
We started our movement
in the year 2002 only. Still we could provide land to 3000 landless
families. We count it as a real achievement. The mainstream parties
who have decades long experience could not provide single piece of land
to even a single family. Looking at the success of our movement they
are also compelled to talk more about land rights for tribals. Is it
not our achievement that we have been able to set agenda before them.
Now the adivasis
have got a new political direction and upliftment. They are ready to
fight for their rights and even ready to face the bullets. We have nothing
to lose. Our belief is that if we have no land to do our burial (Six
Feet) there is no meaning in living in this land.
Q. Normally CPM
took the agitations in favour of the poor and deprived classes. What
is your experience with them In Kerala?
CPM of Kerala pretends
to be the supporters of the poor and the oppressed. But it is not true.
Traditionally the adivasis hold the vote bank of the CPM. We participated
in their rallies; raised slogans for them, and caste vote in their favour.
In Kerala each front come into power after every five years. But whenever
they come into power, the left never did anything for our cause.
The first left government
under EMS Namboothirippad made a Cheengeri Project in favour of the
adivasis. Accordingly the government allotted 526 acres of land under
this project to be distributed to the adivasis after five years. But
none of the left governments came into power after 1957 dared implement
the decision of their own government.
In 1975 the parliament
enacted a law under the 9th schedule to provide all the lost land to
the adivasis. Accordingly, all the encroachments on Adivasi lands from
1960 onwards were to be compensated with alternate land. But the Nayanar
Govt. made new law and got passed in the assembly to amend the above
said law and made the applicability of the 1975 law from 1986. All the
encroachments have happened prior to 1986. It is evident from the fact
that according to this new law the government got only 800 hundred applications
from a mammoth group of 3.5 lakhs landless adivasis.
Even recently when
the central and state governments jointly decided to distribute the
land at the Aralam farm among the adivasis, seven left party M.P.s objected
to it in parliament and pleaded to transform this site for research
Q. You are critical
about CPM. But what about Congress and BJP ?
We are opposed to
all the parties and fronts. We keep eqi-distance from all the fronts.
If any of these fronts would have done anything for our cause, then
there was no reason to form any other movement. We are more critical
about Congress and Left in the fact that these two fronts run the alternate
govts in the state. If BJP come into power in the state and do the same,
our approach would be similar with them also.
Q. What about
CPI(ML) and (Red flag) ?
Initially they supported
our movement but now they are engaged in a slander campaign against
our movement. They propagate that I am an agent of NGOs and tarnish
our image that we receive foreign funds for our activities. Though we
do not receive any money, we believe that no one else in India is eligible
to speak about foreign funds. We eat our daily food from the borrowed
amount from the World Bank. They oppose us due to the threat of erosion
of their limited vote bank, which they hold in the state from our community.
Q.Do you receive
any financial assistance from within or outside the country.
Though many of our
opponents thinks and propagates like that, the fact remains that we
do not receive any funding to run our activities. All knows it that
if any body wants to transact any amount of money, it is possible only
through govt. control and regulations. So we challenge them to refer
the matter to the govt. and they can verify it.
we collect to run our cases and to organize our strikes and agitations
are raised from within our community. The Scheduled Tribe employees
and officers from the community are the main benefactors of our movement.
Q. What is the
structure of your organization? - AGMS
First there are
Oorusabhas at the grass root level which stand as the decision making
body of each tribe at the local level. There are 36 types of tribes
are there in Kerala. Each tribe got its own rituals and practices. The
representatives of the Oorusabhas constitute the state presidium of
the AGMS. This forum frames the policies and decisions on behalf of
Q.What are the
other achievements of AGMS you count as noteworthy.
When we erected
hutments at Muthanga, our agitations have shaken the foundations of
the political parties of the state. All the political parties came together
and conducted a mammoth strike by blocking the interstate highway. Their
demand was that the adivasis should be evicted from Muthanga because
they are polluting the atmosphere there.
After the Muthanga
agitation the opposition leader of Kerala Shri.Achudanandan proclaimed
that his party also would undertake Janu Model Strike
in the state for the adivasis. And they did the same in some parts of
Wynadu dt. So we compelled the mainstream parties to change their policies
and slogans on our way. At present they do not have any other slogan
other than what are raised by us. Still when they felt an erosion of
people to our movement, they formed an outfit in the name of AKS, in
the pretext to protect the interests of the adivasis.
Q. What are your
future plans and activities.
We are very much
optimistic about our future. We hope AGMS would achieve all the rights
for the adivasis. We are looking forward to a new dawn where there is
no exploitation prevail against us. W e are also net working with other
adivasis groups outside the state.
Contact : B2/51, Rohini, Sector 16, Delhi 110085 Ph : 011-27872835