All Nuclear Power Fans, learn from this tiny village in ladakh, light years ahead #mustshare


This tiny village in Ladakh might be frozen in time, but its initiative to harness renewable energy has led to all-round empowerment

RAMAPATI KUMAR, The Hindu

Sonam Tsomo prepares dinner on her electric cooker at her home in Udmaroo in Ladakh’s Nubra Valley. A micro-hydropower unit supplies electricity to the village for six hours every evening. Photo: Harikrishna Katragadda/Greenpeace

“Stupid TV,” Rigzen Tsomo mutters in the local Bodhi language as she taps her black & white TV set hard enough to get the reception back. “There…,” she smiles and returns to her seat.

Main samay hoon…,” says a man on the screen. “It’s Mahabharat!” I shout in excitement and turn to Rigzen. She looks at me, nods and quickly returns to watching the serial.

Udmaroo village in Ladakh is a civilization away from civilization. After a nine-hour journey from the capital Leh that involves trekking across two mountains, crossing a flower valley and a river, one reaches Udmaroo, a bright green triangle located at 10,320ft. This tiny village of 90 farmer families might be frozen 25 years back in time, but in terms of energy generation, it is at least 10 years ahead of all of us.

Ushering in hydropower

In 2005, the villagers put away their smoky kerosene lamps and a small diesel generator gifted to them by the Army, and approached the Ladakh Ecological Development Group to help them move ahead. Coal-based electricity was never an option for this remote village far away from the national grid. So, the group began to assess the villagers’ needs and feasibility of various types of renewable energy. Within three years, in 2008, Udmaroo was basking in the glow of electricity generated from a micro-hydro power plant installed in a glacier stream above the village.

Empowerment

Though just a power plant, in no time, it became a matter of pride, a source of income and a generator of happiness for the people of Udmaroo. Households got electricity to run their appliances. Children could play music and watch TV. A group of women, who bought an oil extraction machine to crush mustard seeds and apricot kernels, paid Rs.15 an hour for electricity and sold their hourly produce for Rs.80. Excess oil was packaged and sold to the Army for Rs.300. Another women’s group bought a pulping machine, making 750 bottles of apricot jam every year. The men’s carpentry group doubled its income after it purchased an electric wood carving machine. While households paid Rs.90 per month, widows were given free electricity because they have no source of income. And even after all this, the village still had surplus electricity.

To understand what renewable energy is doing in a country like India where 300 million people still have no access to basic electricity, Udmaroo couldn’t explain it better. For the villagers, the hydropower plant didn’t just light up homes. It brought a community together. It gave people the key to control their lives and the power to choose how and when their resources are used. It helped the village save Rs.1.2 lakh that it used to spend every year to buy diesel for the generator. For the government, it is about saving money that it would have spent on importing coal to meet everybody’s energy needs. For environmentalists, it is about saving the climate. For human rights groups, it is about human well-being and poverty reduction. For feminists, it is about women’s empowerment.

Across India

Gone are the days when renewable energy meant dim solar lanterns. Small-scale renewable energy power plants are now cheaper, more reliable and more efficient. In Durbuk, in Ladakh, a solar power plant is powering 347 households, a clinic, a school and some government offices. In Tamil Nadu, apanchayat purchased a windmill that is not only providing electricity to the entire village but is also selling the surplus to State utilities and earning profit. In Bihar, a company named Husk Power Systems is using rice husk to generate electricity and supplying it to 250 villages.

Unlike coal that kills everything around it, renewable energy plays a transformational role by uplifting those who were earlier languishing in the dark. But the irony is that clean energy risks being typecast as a poor man’s fuel when it should be everyone’s first choice.

India is currently the world’s third largest carbon emitter. According to the Copenhagen Accord, which India signed along with 167 other countries, 80 per cent of the world’s proven coal, oil and natural gas reserves must remain in the ground in order to avoid warming the planet beyond the internationally agreed limit of 2° Celsius rise in average temperature. To achieve this, renewable energy must come up on a large scale and not as isolated stories of miracles.

Depleting reserves

From an economic point of view, no one needs proof that India is facing a power crisis. Coal reserves are depleting and getting expensive. Nearly 21 major plants in the country are facing severe coal shortages. In the last fiscal, India imported over 50 million tonnes of the fossil fuel, widening the country’s fiscal deficit to further dangerous levels.

From a social point of view, the government had promised to deliver electricity to the entire population by 2012. But considering that providing electricity to all means providing it for 24 hours of 365 days and not four hours in a day, the government missed the target by a long shot. Worse, it was the same year when India faced the world’s biggest power blackout.

Renewable energy is the need of the hour and it is capable of delivering what India needs. But will we, like the people of Udmaroo, realise it in time?

(Ramapati Kumar is campaign manager, Climate and Energy, Greenpeace India. June 5 is World Environment Day.)

Keywords: Udmaroo villageLadakhrenewable energycarbon emission

 

#India- Government eavesdropping ‘chilling’, says rights group #CMS #Monitoring


Agence France Presse | Updated: June 07, 2013 17:03 IST

 Indian government eavesdropping 'chilling', says rights group
New DelhiThe Indian government‘s move to implement blanket eavesdropping of online activities, telephone calls and text messages is “chilling”, Human Rights Watch said today as controversy raged in the US about Internet surveillance.The Central Monitoring System was announced in parliament late last year and is a so-called “single window” allowing Indian state bodies such as the National Investigation Agency or tax authorities to monitor communications.

New York-based Human Rights Watch demanded a full public debate about “the intended use of the system before proceeding” as the monitoring was created without parliamentary approval.

The Indian surveillance comes as reports emerged that the US National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been tapping into the servers of Google, Yahoo!, Facebook and six other top US Internet companies, stirring a major row in the United States.

The US White House defended the clandestine data collection as a critical tool for preventing “the threat posed by terrorists” and said it was only targeting foreigners, not Americans.

In December 2012, the Indian government said in a statement its monitoring system would “lawfully intercept Internet and telephone services”.

A government spokesman declined to comment Wednesday on media reports that the government had begun rolling out the system.

Human Rights Watch said clear laws were needed to ensure that increased surveillance of phones and the Internet does not undermine rights to privacy and free expression.

“The Indian government’s centralised monitoring is chilling, given its reckless and irresponsible use of the sedition and Internet laws,” said Cynthia Wong, senior Internet researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Indian activists have raised concerns that the monitoring will inhibit them from expressing their opinions and sharing information.

The government has released scant information about what Indian agencies will have access to the system, who may authorise surveillance, and what legal standards must be met to intercept various kinds of data or communications.

India does not have a law to protect against intrusions on privacy.

A government appointed expert group observed in a 2012 report that current privacy regulations were “prone to misuse”.

Wong said Indian authorities should amend the existing Information Technology Act to protect free speech “and be fully transparent about any surveillance system that might chill people’s willingness to share opinions and information”.

In recent years, Indian authorities have arrested people for posting comments critical of the government on social media, put pressure on websites such as Facebook to filter or block content and imposed liability on private telecom operators to filter and remove content from users.

 

Don’t fund Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant , locals urge European banks


Friday, Jun 7, 2013, 6:47 IST | Agency: DNA

Protesters at the proposed site for a nuclear plant at Jaitapur sent an e-mail to the three main bankers — BNP Paribas, Societe Generale and Credit Agricole in France — on Tuesday, requesting the CEOs not to fund the project.

They have intensified their cause to save the environment from effects of radioactivity.

Indian government officials are set to meet French and other European investors over the week in Paris to discuss funding opportunities for the nuclear project.

Sources said about 1,000 people gathered around the proposed nuclear site on Tuesday at Jaitapur after learning that officials were going to negotiate the financial aspect of the proposed project with with French as well as other European bankers.

“They were riled by the news that Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) and Department of Atomic Energy officials were going to Paris to discuss financing of the project with French bankers. Slogans were raised against NPCIL, Areva and the French bankers,” a source told dna.

Amjad Borkar, an activist from the fishermen’s community, said: “The project will destroy marine life and make fishermen destitute.”

The e-mail to the bankers stated: “NPCIL and the Government of India officials are making wrong representations, concealing the ground information and distorting the facts and are trying their best to convince you to finance the mega project.”

Activists Premanand Tevedkar and Mansoor Solkar said that despite an increase in compensation, the farmers were not going to give up their land. “Protesters said they would lay down their lives but not give up their land and right to livelihood,” he added.

The e-mail was sent by the villagers, farmers and fisherfolk of Jaitapur, Madban, Sakhari Nate, Mithgavane, Niveli, Karel and all the surrounding villages situated near the site.

“We will never allow anybody to contaminate our ancestral land and sea, marine as well as land of the Konkan coast with nuclear energy. It’s our right to life and livelihood and we will not give these up at any cost,” said the e-mail to the bankers.

 

#India- Political Parties afraid of #RTI


 

Let’s ask the political parties what makes them fear public scrutiny
Shailesh Gandhi

15-06-2013, Issue 24 Volume 10

Illustration: Vikram NongmaithemIllustration: Vikram Nongmaithem

The recent decision of the Central Information Commission (CIC) to bring political parties within the ambit of the Right to Information () Act is a welcome step. And there’s nothing surprising in the way the political parties have reacted to it. After all, no one in a position of power wants to be transparent. It’s almost a human tendency. In this case, the political class clearly does not know what the  is. In fact, a common user of the knows it better than them. The negative reactions of the political class stem from the typical mindset of “why should I?”

Three key questions must in turn be asked of the political parties. Firstly, are they not financed by government funds? If they are not, the CIC’s judgment is flawed. But if they are, then they must come under the RTI. The RTI Act clearly says any non-government organisation that is substantially financed by government funds is a public authority — and that includes political parties. In this judgment, the bench has clearly cited instances of the massive tax exemptions they get, the huge subsidies on the government land allotted to them and so on.

Secondly, are they are not receiving funds in crores? Isn’t that substantial? They cannot refute that it is and so they are public authorities as defined by law. If they still object, they must explain why they should not be subject to RTI.

Thirdly, do the political parties believe transparency will do them good? If they don’t, then we must ask them what harm it would do.

If you are a public authority, you come under the RTI. but the Act also provides exemptions to protect you from disclosure of certain types of information. based on these exemptions, various public authorities have now functioned for over seven years without any major damage to the institutions.

The parties ask, how can people dictate how they choose candidates. The answer is, they cannot. The information that parties do not have on record, is not information and hence does not have to be provided. but citizens have the right to ask if there is a process and what are the criteria laid down. beyond that, this law doesn’t in any way allow the citizen to “dictate” any terms. besides, the humble Indian citizen cannot dictate to the powerful, but can hope to speak the truth to power, and make them truthful.

Parties also argue that they are already monitored by the Election commission. come election time, they go and beg for votes. Are they saying they don’t want ordinary citizens to monitor them? That they are not answerable to individual citizens, and find the idea abhorrent? Let them answer that and we will know where we stand. Some political parties even declared themselves as private organisations. Do they really think they are businesses?

I think the political parties don’t really know where they might get hit. The  scam got exposed because of RTI. It’s an unknown animal, and so political parties believe it’s best to avoid it. Some of their illegal acts, their arbitrariness, may come out, hence the fear.

If you become transparent, you become better. Transparency is a tool for self-improvement and in the long-term interest of the political parties. Today, we have a trust deficit that may lessen if they become transparent. Tomorrow, if the  says they will do it, the congress will also fall in line, provided there is a national clamour.

If they choose to take the CIC order to court, it will be unfortunate and cause an indefinite delay, in case the court stays the order. One of the respondents, the Association for Democratic reforms, a civil society group, has already filed a caveat in the Delhi High Court, asking to be heard before any political party gets a stay against the CIC order.

The rhetoric on news channels has been mostly along the lines of “shouldn’t the citizens know?” That’s a side comment, but not a valid legal argument. An organisation doesn’t become a public authority on the grounds that “a citizen must know”. we have a strong case as the parties are substantially funded by the government, and are therefore public authorities as defined in the RTI Act.

As a believer in transparency, I think a ‘No RTI, No Vote’ campaign is a great idea. If we can build up a nationwide clamour for it, there is some hope that this order will be effectively implemented. That will be an extremely important step for democracy.

(As told to )

letters@tehelka.com

(Published in Tehelka Magaz

 

Violence in Dalit hostel: NHRC issues notice to HRD Ministry


BS|  New Delhi  June 5, 2013

The National Human Rights Commission today issued a notice to the Union HRD Ministry over alleged caste-based discrimination and violence in a hostel of Dalit students in Patna University.

According to an NHRC statement, the Commission issued notice to the Secretary of the ministry and has given him four weeks time to respond.

The notice was issued after the rights panel took cognisance of a media report alleging fierce caste-based discrimination and violence in the PU hostel accommodating Dalit students.

The panel has also received a complaint from an NGO, Navsarjan Trust of Ahmedabad, quoting media reports that 18 Dalit students committed suicides during the last four years in premier educational institutions including IIT-Mumbai, IIScBengaluru, IIT-Kanpur, AIIMS, the statement said.

It has observed that the news report, if true, reflects widespread prevalence of discrimination towards Dalits in the educational institutions driving them to take extreme steps.

“The state has the responsibility and duty to ensure that an atmosphere is created in educational institutions wherein everyone, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, can pursue studies. The Constitution has also elaborate provisions to stop discrimination against the Dalits,” the statement said.

 

Vanniyar woman ‘sacrifices’ marriage with dalit youth following pressure from community #Vaw


, TNN | Jun 7, 2013,

Vanniyar woman 'sacrifices' marriage with dalit youth following pressure from community
When 22-year-old Divya, who belongs to the vanniyar community, decided to elope and marry a dailt youth, all hell broke loose.
CHENNAI: Divya Nagarajan could barely stand in the Madras high court premises on Thursday. The pressures of a seventh-month ordeal that included a daring elopement, an inter-caste marriage and caste violence, with strong political overtones that spread across Dharmapuri district, sat heavily on her young shoulders. When 22-year-old Divya, who belongs to the vanniyar community, decided to elope and marry a dailt youth, all hell broke loose. Her father Nagarajan committed suicide, promptingvanniyar community members to go on the rampage in the dalit habitation in Natham colony in Dharmapuri district in November last year. “My husband and I are under huge pressure. I have decided to sacrifice my love, my marriage, for the sake of a society that is caste-obsessed, and for the sake of my mother,” Divya told TOI.

There was high drama in the court premises, when, in an unexpected turn of events, Divya, who had braved the storm and stubbornly refused to leave her dalithusband all through the caste turmoil that rocked Dharmapuri, arrived unexpectedly at the Madras high court on Thursday in response to a habeas corpus plea filed by her mother Thenmozhi last year. She had disappeared from her husband’s house on Tuesday night. Her husband E Elavarasan (20), who had filed a ‘missing’ complaint with theDharmapuri town police, was also present in the court. Divya declined to respond to her husband’s attempts to speak to her. But, Elavarasan, appearing shocked, said, “I strongly believe she will not leave me. We have been facing all these troubles only because I am born a dalit.”

Divya said she was under tremendous pressure to leave her husband and that she was in a disturbed state of mind. Her mother and relatives accompanied the young woman, who appeared too weak to even stand on her own, in the court premises. Her marriage to dalit youth Elavarasan in October last year against the wishes of her family precipitated a deep vanniyar-dalit rift not seen in the region for more than a decade. Under pressure from village leaders to advice his daughter to return to the family, Nagaragan committed suicide, triggering violence that spread rapidly in the region. “My father’s death was unexpected. I have been feeling guilty about his suicide, the violence that followed and the houses of dalit families that were burnt down. I am unable to sleep or eat properly due to the trauma,” Divya said, breaking down.

“Now, whenever I think about it, I shiver with fear. I can’t understand why caste plays such a role in our society?” she said. Justifying her decision to suddenly leave her husband and to return to her mother, Divya said, “I have certain responsibilities towards my family. At the same time I am also grateful to Elavarasan, who took good care of me despite the turmoil around us,” she said, adding that she was forced to remove her mangalsutra soon after she reached her mother’s house in Sellankottai in the district.

Divya said she was not kidnapped or forcibly taken away from her husband. “I have been talking to my mother in recent months over phone. I can understand her trauma. Elavarasan and I have also been under huge social pressure,” she said. On Tuesday, when her mother came to Dharmapuri town for medical treatment, Divya decided to meet her and accompany her back home. “It was a tough decision for me,” she Divya, trying to hold back tears.

Listening to her daughter, Thenmozhi said, “I am in a fix. I don’t know whether to be happy because my daughter has returned to me or feel sad that her married life has been shattered.” Embittered by the events, Elavarasan said, “The last three months I thought her mother had a change of heart and was backing us. It is only now that I believe she has been influencing her daughter and is still opposed to our marriage.”

 

Pakistani Dalits – the disadvantaged survivours


 


By Amar Guriro 

KARACHI: Dalits or co-called lower caste Hindus – comprising 90 percent of Pakistan‘s religious minorities – are the most underprivileged, with lowest access to education, said a study conducted by Pakistan Hindu Seva (Welfare Trust).

The report said only 16 percent Pakistani Dalits get basic education and only 3 percent of them reach graduation level, while 2 percent go for postgraduate studies.

According to Indian National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, Dalits are ‘outcasts’ falling outside the traditional four-fold caste system consisting of the hereditary Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra classes; they are considered impure and polluting and are therefore physically and socially excluded and isolated from the rest of society.

“Majority of Dalit students are compelled to leave their education between primary and middle level because of their parents low income, who neither work in public sector nor on daily wages, but rather do mean jobs to survive.”

Explaining facts behind the low literacy ratio, the study said that it was because of the dropout ratio of Dalit students during primary and middle school, as their parents find it difficult to afford their educational expenses. Even though the public sector schools give exemptions, the rest including uniform, school shoes, and books are the parent’s responsibility, which they find difficult to fulfil.

Dalits are on the last step of ladder of Hindu caste system, in which they are treated as third-grade citizens. Most Pakistani Dalits live in different districts of Sindh with a majority in Mirpurkhas division and Thar Desert.

“Doughts in the Thar Desert frequently prompt temporary migration of Dalits to barrage areas to scour water, livelihood and fodder for their livestock. This seasonal migration affects their children’s education,” said the study.

Dalits often work as landless peasants on farms of some of the most powerful feudal lords, who treat them as slaves. “In many places, the landlords ask Dalits about the strength of their family members for assistance in work, prior to employing them. Resultantly, influential land owners take Dalit children under their custody, which is another reason behind low literacy ratio,” the study claims.

“In Pakistan, parliament approved thousands of programmes for health, education and poverty reduction during each of their reign, but none of the programmes specifically focus on the issues faced by Dalits,” said Vice President Hindu Seva, Chander Kolhi.

Low literacy rate combined with lack of awareness regarding basic human rights has made matters worse for Dalits; facing issues like bonded labour, being denied seats in public transport, and made to clean toilets, even after passing primary or secondary level education, they are systematically discriminated against, he said.

“Government must know that minorities are a valuable asset and have been living here for a long time, even before partition. It is their right to get complete and free education, good health facilities at hospitals, proper freedom and employment as per their eligibility,” said Kolhi.

“It is unfortunate and sad, that it has been more than six decades since the establishment of Pakistan, but the discrimination and gap between minorities and majority keeps widening with no hope in sight,” said Hindu Seva President Sanjesh Kumar.

 

source- http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/

 

Delhi University’s caste counters spark outrage


 

Mallica Joshi, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, June 07, 2013

 First Published: 01:10 IST(7/6/2013)

“I feel I live in South Africa of the apartheid era.” The segregation is not along racial lines but at Delhi University‘s form counters, the caste divide is too evident and “humiliating” – as is obvious from the statement of a student who belongs to one of the reserved categories and doesn’t wish to be identified.

The university has segregated the sale counters on the basis of caste, a move antithetical to principles of social justice and inclusion.

On Thursday, at the faculty of arts, the busiest centre for sale of forms, paper slips in bold letters above the sale windows indicated the category of students the counters were meant for.

While two of the windows were marked general/OBC (other backward classes) forms, the remaining two had SC/ST/PWD (persons with disabilities) written on them.

Students, understandably, are not happy.

 

“I came here with a group of friends. While they are standing in the line for the general category, I have to stand in a different line,” said a student, who did not want to be named.

The university said they realised the mistake and assimilated the centres on Wednesday, the first day forms went on sale.

“It was decided in a meeting of the centre heads that no such distinction was to be made. We have informed everyone about the decision,” JM Khurana, dean, students’ welfare, said.

“It seems the change was not made at the faculty of arts. We will ensure that the notes are removed.”

 

#India – Villagers speak- The Maoists Support Us, But We Haven’t Joined Them’


In Odisha’s Koraput district, hardly a week passes without the police announcing the “surrender” of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS) members. But what crimes did the Adivasis commit for which they had to surrender? That’s a question even the Koraput Superintendent of Police Avinash Kumar finds hard to answer. CMAS chief Nachika Linga, an Adivasi who is currently underground, has been named in every case filed against the CMAS or the CPI(Maoist) in Narayanpatna, Bandhugaon and Laxmipur blocks of the district. Linga spoke to G Vishnu from an undisclosed location

G Vishnu

G VISHNU , Tehelka

June 7, 2013

Nachika Linga

 | 44
Chief, Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha.
Photo: 

EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW

How many of your activists were arrested? How many are still in jail?
Till now, over 500 innocent Adivasis have been jailed. Most of them were members or sympathisers of the CMAS. There has not been a single conviction. When the cases reach the court, they have always ended in acquittal. More than 100 activists are still in prison.

Why are so many CMAS activists surrendering to the police?
Since 2009, there has been an aggressive campaign to loot Adivasi lands at gun point. Farmers are being told by the police either to surrender or face the bullet. Ordinary Adivasi villagers are being forced into police jeeps and later paraded in front of the media. Those who have asserted themselves and fought for their rights are being shown as ‘surrendered’ CMAS members.

What are the goals of your organisation?
I was a bonded labourer for a moneylender. Ever since I was a child, I have seen how alcohol is used as a weapon against Adivasis. Ours is a democratic struggle for our rights. Adivasis managed to acquire land only after facing great odds, but the liquor mafia and non-tribal landlords enslaved us on our own land. “Jameen MuktiMadhaMuktiGoti Mukti (Struggle for land, emancipation from alcoholism and bonded labour)”: that’s the motto of the CMAS. The CMAS aims to create awareness among Adivasis about their rights.

Though your movement was non-violent initially, the police say you are Maoists.
We are fighting for our rights, and anybody can support us. The Maoists, and even intellectuals in Bhubaneswar and New Delhi, support Adivasi movements. But it is wrong to claim we have joined the Maoists. The police victimise Adivasis by branding them as Maoists. This must stop.

When innocent Adivasis are killed, some people see it as ‘collateral damage’. Do you also think some sacrifices are necessary?
The ordinary Adivasi fights with the elements to grow crops. Where do your people get rice from? Adivasis and farmers provide that rice, but today they are the ones getting killed. On top of that, the establishment claims it can ensure the welfare of Adivasis. Adivasi blood is being shed everywhere, so it doesn’t matter whether or not I think sacrifices are necessary.

vishnu@tehelka.com

 

Dayamani Barla – The Voice of Jharkhand #indigenous #tribalrights


EPW, Vol – XLVIII No. 23, June 08, 2013 | Moushumi Basu

Activist-journalist Dayamani Barla has won many awards, the latest being the Ellen L Lutz Indigenous Rights Award from Cultural Survival. The first journalist from the Munda tribe in Jharkhand Dayamani wields her pen and leads the struggles of fellow tribals equally powerfully against the machinations of the state and big business.

Moushumi Basu (basu.moushumi@gmail.com)is a freelance journalist based in Kolkata

The email status message of Dayamani Barla, the tribal activist from Jharkhand always reads, “Ladenge.. Jeetenge…” (We will fight… we will win). Fighting against the establishment’s unjust policies and protecting her fellow tribals from displacement has become second nature for Dayamani. Along with the struggles however, there have also been awards and accolades.

The awards she has won include the Counter Media Award for Rural Journalism, the National Foundation for India Fellowship, and the Chingari Award. The latest is the 2013 Ellen L Lutz Indigenous Rights Award from Cultural Survival, an international non-governmental organization (NGO) in recognition of her pioneering  grass root leadership for tribal rights. Cultural Survival works with indigenous peoples across the world to defend their lands, language and culture.  Barla was chosen from amongst 60 nominees from across the world.

Described as the “Iron Lady of Jharkhand” for her fearless opposition against the infringement of adivasi rights, she was presented the award, which includes a US $10,000 cash prize, at a ceremony at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York on 23 May. The event also coincides with the twelfth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). The award has been instituted in the memory of late Ellen L Lutz (1955-2010), a well-known human rights lawyer and former executive director of Cultural Survival.

“Cultural Survival is honored to present Dayamani Barla, an Indigenous human rights activist and journalist from the Munda tribe in the Indian state of Jharkhand, with the award,” said its Executive Director Suzanne Benally. Barla has been at the forefront of people’s movements against corporate and government-led land grabs and other injustices that threaten the survival, dignity, and livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples. “This award is presented in recognition of outstanding human rights work, dedicated leadership for Indigenous Peoples rights, and a deep life commitment to protecting, sustaining, and revitalising indigenous cultures, lands, and languages,” Benally added.

Protecting Every Inch of Land

Her crusade to protect the rights of fellow tribals began from the days of agitation against the Koel Karo  hydel power project in the 1990s, near Ranchi, in then undivided Bihar. The proposed dam threatened to submerge nearly 55,000 acres of agricultural land displacing about 2,50,000 indigenous people.  Further, 27,000 acres of forests would have met a watery grave alongwith the sarna sasan diri (religious sites) of the tribal communities. The agitation gave birth to a new slogan “We will not part with an inch of our land….” which continues to reverberate in the tribal areas of Jharkhand even today. The proposal of the dam had to be finally shelved by the state government, after nearly eight tribals lost their lives in police firing on 2 February, 2001.

Barla points out:

Koel and Karo are not just rivers for us – they represent our cultural identity forming the basis of our livelihoods. When eight adivasis were martyred on 2 February, we realised that the state whose foundation stone was laid on 15 November 2000 is not actually for us tribals, but simply for the exploitation and plunder of  the natural resources of our native state and jeopardisation of our existence….

She took the challenge headlong on behalf of her tribal community, leading several agitations in the state against land grabs. She dared to rise against the world steel giant Arcelor Mittal who had proposed  a 12 MT steel plant by taking away about 12,000 acres of land spread across nearly 40 villages in Khunti and Gumla districts of the state.  In 2006 she began mobilising the public against such attempts at forcible land acquisition under the banner of the Adivasi Moolvasi Astitva Raksha Manch (Forum for the Protection of Indigenous People).

“ Loha nahi anaj chahiye!” (“We want grains, not iron!”) was the rallying cry of indigenous communities protesting against this project.  “The government says that those getting displaced will be compensated and rehabilitated. But the question is – what will the government and the companies compensate for?” asks Barla. “Can they rehabilitate our pure air, forests, rivers, waterfalls, our language culture, Sarna-Sasan Diri, our identity and our history? No, that is absolutely impossible…for us adivasis land is just not land but the heritage of our ancestors who cleared the forests and made the land worth living and cultivating,” she adds. Finally, the steel baron had to give up his dreams of setting up a steel plant in the tribal state.

Tribal Model of Development

Barla however clarifies that the tribals are not against development but it should be sustainable and not at the cost of uprooting them. “We should also be a part of this development process by getting access to health, education, jobs etc. We want development of our identity and our history— social values, language and culture. We want the polluted rivers to be pollution free. We want wastelands to be turned green…. This is our model of development”, she says.

Recently, the state government was locked in a major anti-displacement struggle against adivasi farmers at Nagri. Barla who was at the forefront of the agitation was jailed from 16 October to 24 December, for taking part in demonstrations with the farmers of Jharkhand. The battle was over 227 acres of fertile land that has sustained the tribals in the region for generations. However, the  government had allotted it to the Indian Institute of Management, the Indian Institute of Information Technology and the National University of Study and Research in Law (NUSRL). Caught in this crossfire were about 128 affected families, who claim to be the lawful owners of the land. They contend that neither they nor their forefathers had agreed to sell their lands and had not accepted the amounts for the deal at that time.

Is This Freedom?

Coming from a family of bonded labourers who had lost their lands in the name of national development, Barla could well identify with their sufferings. Barla argued that the instituions be allotted alternative area for their campuses instead of their fertile paddy land. “If we demand a National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) card, they issue a property warrant. If we demand our land, water, forests, the Jharkhand government says we are a danger to the state. They book us in false cases, by calling us Maoists…. Is this the freedom that leaders like Birsa Munda fought for?” she asks.

Considered as the “Voice of Jharkhand” for her struggles and powerful pen, she is also the first journalist from the Munda tribe. “Barla has charted new waters as an Indigenous woman to ensure the voices and perspectives of Adivasi people are heard by the larger mainstream society,” says her nominator Terry Odendahl, executive director and CEO of Global Greengrants Fund. She funded her education by working as a domestic help. Even today, her source of livelihood is a road side tea and snacks stall “Jharkhand Hotel”, run by her husband Nelson.

For Barla, activism and journalism go hand in hand.  “When I visit different villages as a journalist I listen to their issues first. Then they ask for possible solutions to their concerns and in the process, I find myself getting involved in their struggles”, she confesses.

But to be involved with the struggles and stand with the people does not mean that she has to quit writing. “I am an activist as well as a journalist.” However, it has not been easy for her to make forays into mainstream journalism “It has always looked down upon us adivasis as uncivilised, naïve and foolish. It is a stereotype to say that adivasi are stupid. Now we are trying to prove that we are not… ” she says, smiling.

 

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