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Indian State’s policy towards the Indigenous Adivasi People

Adivasi women protest government repression in Lalgarh, West Bengal

by Stan Swamy, November 9, 2010

Dispossess them first . . .

Displacement is painful for anybody. To leave the place where one was born and brought up, the house that one built up with one’s own labour can be even more painful. Most of all, when no rehabilitation has been worked out and one has nowhere to go, it is most painful. And when it comes to the Adivasi People for whom their land is not just an economic commodity but a source of spiritual sustenance, it can be heart-rending.

Displacement in Jharkhand

Undoubtedly the most pressing problem facing the poor, rural and tribal population in Jharkhand is the constant threat of their displacement from their ancestral habitat. This displacement is being justified by the politicians, bureaucrats and the urbanites, (totaling only 23% of the population of Jharkhand), as necessary for the progress(?) and development(?) of this State. The progress and development is for whom and for whose benefit is a matter that is often left unsaid.

The figures for displacement resulting in misery for the majority of Jharkhandis are quite revealing – a population of about 17 lakhs [1.7 million] have been displaced so far, out of which almost 85% are tribals and locals and only about 25% have been halfway and half-heartedly resettled. The above figure points out  only the formally displaced for various projects and not the informally displaced.

A recent report says that about two lakh [200,000] Adivasi young women from Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal are presently working as house-maids in middle-class homes: 61,000 in Delhi, 42,000 in Kolkata, 36,000 in Mumbai, 13,000 in Bangalore, 26,000 in Goa. (Source: ‘Two lakh young adivasi women working as house-maids in big cities’, by Manoj in Hindustan (Hindi, March 24, 2003).

Land alienation

During this same period, about 15 lakh acres of land has been alienated from the Adivasi / Moolvasi people for various projects. This again does not include the illegal alienation amounting to about 8 lakh acres in and around the towns & cities of Jharkhand .

The Permanent Forum of the Indigenous Peoples of the U.N. has spelt out some principles to guide the process of the rehabilitation of the indigenous people when they are displaced: Free, prior and informed consent of the displaced persons/ families/communities must be ensured before displacing them.(Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues-UN- Sixth Session, 25 May 2007)

Their CONSENT must be

* Free:  People’s consent has to be free of all coercion, pressure tactics, threats, promise of employment etc. The way the Indian govt and the companies go about the process of acquiring the land of the Indigenous People is the opposite of what it should be.

* Prior:  The usual practice is first to start the project and when the to-be-affected people gather to protest or stop the project, the concerned company or the govt give them some scanty and incorrect information about the project and make some vague promises in terms of compensation / rehabilitation.

* Informed:   it is necessary that people give their informed consent because otherwise they are forced to say yes without knowing all the implications and how exactly they will gain or lose.

* Consent:  First of all, we must be very clear that consultation is not consent. Often the govt or the company go through the pretence of consultation with a few pliable persons from the affected villages, offer them some gifts in cash or kind, and afterwards claim that they have consulted people and the people have agreed for the project, to the compensation/rehabilitation package. This is a cheating game.

Let it be made very clear that the Indian State and corporate houses are guilty of violating the above norms.

Plethora of MoUs  [Memoranda of Understanding between the government and the companies]

* Over the last decade, Jharkhand govt blindly went on signing one MoU after another with national and multi-national companies, totalling to more than a hundred, in complete disregard of existing constitutional provisions in favour of Adivasi People such as the CNT / SPT Acts, the Vth Schedule of the Constitution, the PESA Act, Forest Rights Act etc. Sad but true, neither the concerned company nor the govt ever thought that the people who are to sacrifice their land should also be consulted and their consent obtained. It is an irony of history that the incumbent Chief Minister Arjun Munda, during his two previous avatars as chief minister, signed the most number of MoUs (54 to be precise) .

Resistance to displacement:

* Not being able to put up any more with the callousness of the govt, the arrogance of the industrialists and the unsympathetic attitude of the police, people have started to resist displacement & land alienation on their own in and through local & regional level Resistance Movements. More than 100 groups and people’s organisations have come together under three to four umbrella organisations and are expressing mutual solidarity & support to each other’s struggles vs displacement & land alienation by holding big rallies & public meetings in major cities like Ranchi, Jamshedpur to express their unity, renew their resolve and manifest their show of strength.

Ants driving out the elephant

* An important achievement of this united people’s action has been that no big company has been able to set up shop in Jharkhand. Even the giant Mittal company was forced to roll up its mat and leave. True, some smaller companies (cement, sponge iron etc.) have succeeded in setting up their production units mostly by wholesale cheating and dividing local communities in connivance with local administration & police.

. . .and hunt them down as criminals

Operation Green Hunt

*  This state of affairs was too much for the corporates to digest. Using their concerted pressure on the central govt and the men at helm such as Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram, a new path was found by which all those leading the people’s movements vs displacement & land alienation would be considered enemies of the state and their proper name from now on will be ‘extremist’, ‘naxalite’, ‘maoist’. By the stroke of a genius, the name Operation Green Hunt was invented. Para-military forces from far and wide, known by their stinging names such as greyhounds, cobras, scorpions, have been brought in their thousands to do the hunting. . . not of any animals but of the impoverished and starving Adivasi people .

*  The Home Minister did not tarry long to assure the nation that all the naxals / Maoists will be physically eliminated in five years time. He went further to announce that all those young men & women who will be suspected as “supporting / aiding” the naxals will be booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act with ten years in jail.

*  The stage is all set to reach the peak of Operation Green Hunt. Hundreds of young men and some young women have been arrested as being naxals or supporters of naxals. About 50 village schools have been occupied by the para-military forces and another 40 schools on an on-and-off basis, thus halting the education of the little ones. The mid-day meal which for most of the children is the only full meal they get to eat has also been stopped in these schools. Any one found coming from the forest is assumed as having met the naxals, taken for questioning and beaten up. As women and children are forbidden to go into the forest they cannot collect any forest produce. For the first time in adivasi history, weekly village bazaars are closing down for lack of people to buy & sell forest produce. In short, our people are passing from the stage of hunger to one of starvation. Added to it is the state-sponsored programme of treating them as criminals.

The ‘encounter-killings’

* During the past five months, three encounter-killings of “naxals” by para-military forces were reported in the media. (1) a 30 year old house wife and mother of three small children by name Jasmintha Devi of Kherwa primitive tribe was killed in Ladhi village, Barvadih Block, Latehar Dist. on 27 April 2010, (2) a 45 year old Etwa Munda was killed near Gunti village, Tamar Block, Ranchi Dist. on 5 July 2010, (3) a 22 [?] year old Rajesh Singh Munda was killed near Heso village, Namkum Block, Ranchi Dist on 1 August 2010.Operation Green Hunt Virodhi Nagrik Manch, composed of some concerned citizens, did a fact-finding study of all three incidents and found none of the three killings were encounter-killings but murder in cold-blood.

*  The comfortably settled govt bureaucrat babus, the ‘profit-first’ business fraternity, the up-coming amoral professionals, the slumbering self-styled ‘intellectuals’, the consumer-thirsty urban middle class are the least concerned about the harassment and atrocities perpetrated on the meek and humble people living on the periphery of society. Religious bodies know what is happening but will not sully their hands with what they consider ‘dirty politics’ and prefer to look the other way. Social organisations and most NGOs realise the gravity of the situation but would rather not meddle with it lest it jeopardises the copious foreign funds they are receiving.

So, finally it is a handful few from different walks of life who enter the arena knowing full well the risk they are taking and start blowing the whistle. This small group includes several men and women from the exploited, oppressed communities. The emergence of Op Green Hunt Virodhi Nagrik Manch (OGHVNM) is one such effort.

Four members of OGHVNM have been arrested during the past three months

On 25th June 2010 OGHVNM organised a rally & public meeting against Op Green Hunt in Ranchi. Over a thousand men & women who were on their way in about ten buses from some outlying districts were stopped by the police and prevented from proceeding to Ranchi.

First disposess them then hunt them down is the policy of the state

*  Most of the Adivasi People living in the far flung villages are an impoverished people. The whole state of Jharkhand has been declared ‘drought-affected’ but no relief packages have been mobilised. Every day a few hundred men, women and children are migrating to far off places without even knowing the destination they are headed to. Young Adivasi women are disappearing by the dozens under a well designed racketeering system.

*  All this does not seem to be a matter of concern to the govt, the predominantly outsider bureaucrats of local administrations, the industrial & business class, the upper & middle classes. In fact they are all very much for Operation Green Hunt. The print and electronic media do not lag far behind in so far as they vie with each other in highlighting the “success stories” of the police & para-military forces in arresting and killing young Adivasi men & women who have become automatic suspects of either being naxals or supporters of naxals. In short, the Adivasi People of central & east India are perhaps at the lowest ebb of their existence as a people . At least they were never hunted like animals in their own land in any other part of their history.