Autonomy for tribal communities in central India #indigenousrights


The Hindu : June 18, 2013

Right place, wrong arrangement

Sonum Gayatri Malhotra, 

Moving governance of tribal areas in central India from the Fifth to the Sixth Schedule will help address the demand for autonomy

(Sonum Gayatri Malhotra is with the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.)

The targeted attack by Maoists in Chhattisgarh against the State Congress leadership in which V.C. Shukla, Mahendra Karma and the party’s other top leaders were killed has rekindled a familiar debate on the military aspects of counterinsurgency. However, the continuing cycle of violence in the State underscores the need for a closer examination of the social and political impact of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution through which the tribal areas of peninsular India are governed.

India’s population consists of 100 million tribal people who have constitutionally been addressed via two distinct avenues. The Fifth Schedule applies to an overwhelming majority of India’s tribes in nine States, while the Sixth Schedule covers areas that are settled in the northeastern States bordering China and Myanmar. Bastar district in Chhattisgarh is governed by the Fifth Schedule, but it wants to move into the Sixth Schedule.

The Sixth Schedule gives tribal communities considerable autonomy; The States of Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, and Mizoram are autonomous regions under the Sixth Schedule. The role of the Governor and the State are subject to significant limitations, with greater powers devolved locally. The District Council and the Regional Council under the Sixth Schedule have real power to make laws, possibility on the various legislative subjects, receiving grants-in-aids from the Consolidated Fund of India to meet the costs of schemes for development, health care, education, roads and regulatory powers to state control. The mandate towards Devolution, deconcentration and divestment determines the protection of their customs, better economic development and most importantly ethnic security.

The Fifth Schedule on the other hand fails because it has never been applied. Recent parliamentary moves to provide greater autonomy within the Fifth Schedule have not had the desired results. The 1996 PESA or Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act should have been a landmark for the tribal communities. It mandates the state to devolve certain political, administrative and fiscal powers to local governments elected by the communities. This became exclusive to the Fifth Schedule areas, to promote tribal self-government. PESA was meant to benefit not only the majority of tribals but also extended to cover minority non-tribal communities. It guarantees tribes half of the seats in the elected local governments and the seat of the chairperson at all hierarchical levels of the Panchayat system.

Samatha judgment

PESA was considered the most logical step in the Fifth Schedule areas to ensure tribal welfare and accountability. But, alas, it has not been properly implemented. Tribal communities have progressively been denied self-government and rights to their communities’ natural resources that should have been provided under the legislation. In its 1997 Samatha decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fifth Schedule enjoined Governors to bar purchase of tribal land for mining activity by any entity that was not state-owned. This judgment however, led to an opposite reaction from the Ministry of Mines, and subsequent appeals from the Andhra Pradesh government claiming that Samatha would have an adverse effect not only on the mining sector but also on non-agricultural activities especially industrial activity and hence would impact the economic development throughout the country. In response, the Governors were then given unfettered authority in the transfer of Scheduled Tribe land to the government and allotment to non-tribals, altering the balance of power and undermining the stated goal of tribal autonomy.

Other examples abound, including the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Rights Act of December 2006, which ostensibly recognises the right of communities to protect and manage their forests (as does PESA), but only if the state decides whether a certain region is denoted as Village Forest or Reserved Forest. In this process, many communities are evicted without a proper channel of rehabilitation.

For these reasons, it is evident that PESA and the Fifth Schedule have been counterproductive, inconsistent in addressing issues regarding tribal rights and the propensity of failure justifies serious debates on the existing endeavours.

Many tribal voices are therefore demanding introduction of the Sixth Schedule in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district, which would give them a special status to participate directly in governance as in the North East States currently under the Sixth Schedule.

Furthermore, the Sixth Schedule has certain features that can be implanted in any governance model for tribal areas, particularly concepts of constitutional and legislative subjects that are exclusive to local governments. An autonomous district council will give greater role in directing administrative requirements without depending on the Central State structure.

However, the working of a system is always different from the Idea of it. The Sixth Schedule that embodies autonomy has its own shortcomings; breakdown of laws, elections not being contested, rather than empowerment there is exclusion that fails to provide much-needed protection to tribes in the absence of political will, and, live by the mercy of government funds.

But in spite of the negatives underlying the Sixth Schedule, Bastar district envisages a true form of local bodies like the District Council and Regional Council that have provided a fair degree of autonomy.

(Sonum Gayatri Malhotra is with the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.)

#India – From war to peace #chattisgarh #Maoists


 
By Binayak & Ilina Sen
Story Dated: Saturday, June 15, 2013 , The Week
Illustration: Bhaskaran

The horrific killings of Congress leaders by armed Maoist guerillas that took place at Jiram Ghati in Chhattisgarh on May 25 have drawn the world’s attention. The latest victim was Vidya Charan Shukla, who succumbed to his wounds on June 11, at the age of 84. The victims included Nandkumar Patel and his son Dinesh, who were shot in cold blood after being led away. The bodies were found with their hands tied behind their backs. Sixteen of the victims were unarmed Congress workers, who were returning from an open political rally organised by the Congress in preparation for the coming Assembly elections.

In a statement issued after the incident, the Maoist spokesperson regretted the loss of lives of the unintended victims, in an argument that chillingly echoed the justification provided by the government for the killing of eight unarmed civilians, including four children, by CRPF commandos at Edesmata a week earlier. The militarisation and existence of dual state power have transformed political discourse into a hall of mirrors.

Many today recognise and accept the legitimacy of the resistance of tribal communities against the forcible acquisition of land, water, minerals and other natural resources by the state for handing over to large-scale corporate interests in the current climate of neo-liberalisation. Displacement and dispossession in the course of these developments have become a threat to the very survival of these communities, dependent, as they are, on their access to common property resources. Many would also accept that in case of widespread militarisation of state intervention in campaigns like Salwa Judum and Operation Green Hunt, these targeted communities had the right to defend themselves and their interests.

However, the reduction of the terms of discourse to military resolution only precludes any other points of view from being articulated. What we would also like to emphasise is that the so-called ‘collateral damage’ of battle is actually the main product of violent conflict, a huge proportion of which is paid for by women, children and other vulnerable sections of society. Thus, while much of the discourse centred on this confrontation is about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of different components of this violence, perhaps it may be more productive to shift our focus on ways and means to get past this current impasse and concentrate instead on the possibilities of inducting a discourse that is centred on the restoration of peace and well-being of the communities that live in conflict areas.

We are more than conscious of the fact that such declarations of peaceful intent are greeted in most circles with raucous laughter. However, people who are thus amused should remind themselves that those opting for a scaling up of conflict have little to show for the strategies they have advocated. Political declarations made by the ruling elite, as well as the advocates of revolutionary violence, that have been made after the Jiram Ghati incident, as a necessary step to ensure justice, do not give much hope for the possibilities of peace. Perhaps, that is why, at this juncture, it is more necessary than ever for those who believe in peace and the possibilities of a strategy based on peace, to declare themselves and commit to work towards creative alternatives.

editor@the-week.com

 

#India – Tribal land is Eklavya’s thumb, Dronacharya, the State is demanding as the price for ‘development’


There can also be an alternative universe

PK Vijayan and Karen Gabriel
June 12, 2013, Hindustan Times
Mahendra Karma engineered Salwa Judum (SJ), a vigilante tribal group hired and armed by the State-corporate land and mining nexus to exterminate tribals resisting resource loot. Karma was responsible for the execution of thousands of tribals, and the torture, rape, displacement and destitution oflakhs. This is the man the Congress nurtured, protected and now mourns. The State has never regretted the lakhs of civilian deaths it has caused, whether through Operation Green Hunt (OGH) or otherwise.State and corporate-sponsored violence remains under-reported and frequently justified. The government urges Maoists to eschew violence but itself plans military attacks on civilians. Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s directives, SJ continues in its new avatar as the ‘Koya commandos’.  Abuse of State power, corporate loot and violation of human rights during OGH (and intensifying in Phase II of OGH) — all in the guise of ‘national security’ and ‘development’ — led to national and international protests and bad press. The State responded with news blackouts. The State’s right to violence is conceded only if the State is regarded as above the law, impartial and anonymous. We need to ask inconvenient questions like, ‘why has the State been violent, since when, and for whose benefit?’ ‘Why are the tribals retaliating?’ They are tired of being “collateral damage” in the intensely violent and unjust privatisation of resources (protected under the Fifth Schedule) and national wealth that is passing for ‘development’.

All areas designated Maoist are also areas in which memorandums of understanding amounting to trillions of rupees have been signed with many MNC’s for mineral extraction. When this looting is supplemented with the mythologies of ‘democracy’ and ‘progress’, the villain becomes the anti-development, non-progressive Maoist tribal. The D Bandhopadhyay report of the Planning Commission notes that the Maoists have undertaken development that the State should have. Genuine pro-poor development should enhance tribals’ productive relations with the land, not disposses them.

The tribals are asked to ‘eschew violence’ and ‘join the democratic mainstream’. But the electoral process that constitutes this ‘democratic mainstream’ is a cynical numbers game. The ‘first-past-the-post’ system has meant that parties need address the demands of only the voting populace of very specific constituencies, differentiated along lines of tribe, caste, religion, etc. And that too, only on the influential sections within them, who in turn will (often coercively) ensure the remaining votes. This has not only created  long-standing traditions of nepotism and inherited privilege, it has meant that, after six-plus decades of independence, the needs of the vast majority remain unaddressed. They have not opted out of the ‘mainstream’: they have been systematically excluded.

This exclusion has resulted in systemic, systematic and mind-boggling poverty, destitution, violence and deaths. This ‘political mainstream’ has failed so completely that even these deaths have no meaning for it. They are inconsequential, never on par with the individual deaths of the privileged who constitute the ‘political mainstream’.

The coveted tribal land is Eklavya’s thumb. This is what the Dronacharya of the State is demanding as the price for ‘development’. Why should Eklavya concede? Dronacharya and Eklavya are nowhere near equal, and well-intentioned if naïve calls for both to respect the Geneva Convention should understand this. The State denies that it is at war with its own people, and given their disparity in strength, the Maoists are hardly likely to endorse the Convention unilaterally.

If the Maoists have an alternative understanding of democracy and development that may prove more inclusive and sustainable, then perhaps it is time to listen to them, rather than banning and ‘encountering’ them. The post-May 25 suggestions to intensify police and military action in these regions will prove disastrous. The State must recognise its own strength and responsibilities, and make the first move toward peace by lifting the ban. It must allow transparent media coverage and observers in these regions. The question — whether one is for or against Maoist ideology —  trivialises, distorts and distracts from the central issues.

PK Vijayan is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Hindu College. Karen Gabriel is Associate Professor, Department of English, St. Stephen’s College
The views expressed by the authors are personal

 

#India -‘Tribals turn extremists because states are too busy making money from land’


 Down to Earth
Author(s): Sonum Gayatri M…
Date:Jun 13, 2013

The world’s largest democracy is facing a surge in tribal uprisings. The recent killings of Mahendra Karma and other Congress leaders in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh  has prompted the government to address issues of land dispossession and socioeconomic deprivations of tribals. These are the key issues that have been precipitating recurring violence across various parts of the country. Union Minister of Tribal Affairs Kishore Chandra Deo speaks to Sonum Gayatri Malhotra about the obstacles hindering effective governance of tribal communities in Schedule Five areas and how to overcome them. Edited excerpts from the interview

Kishore Chandra DeoKishore Chandra DeoTribals of Bastar are protesting against the provisions of the Fifth Schedule. With elections nearing, they are demanding tribal autonomy in the district as provided under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Do you think the Sixth Schedule is working better in protecting tribal rights?

The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution has no dearth of laws in protecting the tribal rights. Bastar’s demand to introduce Sixth Schedule provisions in a Fifth Schedule area is not pragmatic and is definitely not well thought through.

Hypothetically, introduction of Sixth Schedule in Fifth Schedule areas would need a statutory amendment to the Constitution. This is an interminable process. Moreover, amending the composition of the Constitution is a process that first needs to be addressed by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. The Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs is relatively a new ministry, which came into existence 12 years ago. Before that, scheduled tribes came under the purview of the home ministry. Unfortunately, not all powers have been transferred to the tribal affairs ministry yet. This is a problem. I have limitations as a Union minister. I can only guide the governors of Schedule Five states to evoke their discretionary powers and inform the President of the situation.

But there is confusion over the role of governors in Schedule Five areas. In 2009, then President Pratibha Patil said that the Fifth Schedule devolves special responsibility on the governors in administering scheduled areas and ensuring peace and good governance among tribal communities. But recently, Assistant Solicitor General (ASG) Fouzia Mirza in her submission to the Bilaspur High Court said that a governor under the Fifth Schedule has no discretionary power. Based on her submission, the court dismissed a petition challenging constitutionality of the Tribes Advisory Council and powers of the governor under this schedule. Tribal rights activists have now approached the Centre seeking Presidential reference to the Supreme Court on interpretation of the Fifth Schedule.

The case was recently brought to my notice in response to letters I had sent out to all governors holding posts in Fifth Scheduled states.

The powers exercised by the governor especially under the Fifth Schedule are discretionary powers. The governor is not only the administrative and executive head of the state but also represents the Centre at the state. Fouzia Mirza has got it wrong. I am sad that an ASG, a top government official, erred on such a critical matter.

Most scholars and opposition parties also think that governors are of partisan nature, considering they have never evoked their powers given under the Fifth Schedule. Former governor of Odisha M C Bhandare had said “governors’ role constitutionally exists on paper but actually there is no existing support on ground”.

It is time governors started taking responsibility and invoked the powers which have been conferred on them under the provisions of Article 244 under the Fifth Schedule. It is time for a wake-up call. We are talking about the most marginalised sections. If the government of a state is not directing laws to benefit scheduled tribes, it is the role of the governor to intervene and set things right. When the Constitution was being framed, it was decided that a representative would ensure equality for indigenous communities that would protect them from the burgeoning globalising expansions and secure their fundamental rights. That’s why the governor is not bound by the aid and advice of the Tribes Advisory Council but can direct executive orders in his own discretion.

M C Bhandare has done wrong by not doing anything for the tribal communities of Odisha, where mining has been a critical issue. Constitutionally, the governor is to administer, legislate and execute directives for Fifth Schedule areas. Implementation of development programmes are channelled through the state department, however, the governors can direct laws for areas inhabited by scheduled tribes.

I am ready to take charge of the Fifth Schedule states that have seen governors neglecting their duties. The nodal ministry can empower to assign themselves the powers that have been conferred under the Fifth Schedule for the peace and good governance in tribal regions.

Don’t you think the contentious conflicts between ministries have only imploded to create mistrust among the tribals towards the government? In the latest such instance, the Union environment ministry headed by Jayanthi Natarajan has sought dilution of power of the gram sabha

Today, the growing mining sector is the main threat in Schedule Five areas. This has shaken the confidence and faith of the people in these regions in our democratic system. In many cases, powerful lobbies are trying to encourage mining in a flagrant violation of Constitutional provisions. The variant ideologies of ministries seem to have stemmed from market incitement. Ministries are working at cross-purposes. This is a turf war, lamentably in a social sector which is the most unfortunate.

Fifth Schedule areas in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are governed by the Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act. Such areas are meant to be lightly policed. But the government’s emphasis on policing and militarism is evident. Your comment

Deployment of forces in areas inhabited by tribal communities is sending out a message that can only provoke disorder other than what is desired. Sending military or paramilitary forces to these areas will not help contain the uprisings as these are not merely law and order problems. Having said that, one should address the core issue of these uprisings; these areas do not have adequate development. Basic human amenities like food, drinking water and healthcare are lacking. It is the duty of the state government to develop the regions responsibly in accordance with the communities’ requirement.

Most people from the tribal communities end up joining extremists’ movement because the state is too busy concentrating on how to use land in the most profitable way. Lashkar-e-Toiba is funding the Naxalite Movement. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has alleged that the biggest internal threats to the country are its tribal communities. Inevitable alien militant forces triggering hostility in Fifth Schedule Areas, especially bordering states, is bound to undermine the very national integrity.

Sonum Gayatri Malhotra works with Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

 

Interviewee:
Kishore Chandra Deo

 

#India – Naxal elephant in the drawing room #Chhattisgarh


D. SAMPATHKUMAR

  ·

The institutionalised resistance to State authority, which is really what Naxalite violence is all about, has been around for a very long time.

June 9, 2013:

It isn’t quite the run-of-the-mill elephant jokes that were popular at one time (Google it if you are so inclined), although the elephant figures in it in a major way.

I have in mind a tale about a mother elephant that had calved on top of a hill. It was narrated to me by the manager of a company I worked in for a while. He would insist on coming up with the most comprehensive solution to a problem that the team under him could barely get started on solving. While that is an awful state of affairs, you could go just as terribly wrong by getting started on the first thing that strikes you as the solution.

The story goes that there existed a temple on top of a thickly wooded hill. There was a pathway that was barely enough for people to go up in single file, if they wanted to get to the top. The climb was not just arduous but treacherous as well.

On most days, the temple priest would be the only one to go up the hill and, that too, because it fell upon him to perform the morning rituals. The rest confined themselves to offering prayers only on important festival days.

Cracking the calf puzzle

One morning, when the priest went up to perform his daily puja, he was astonished to find a calf elephant crying out plaintively for help. Soon, all the villagers trekked to the top of the hill. The question in everyone’s mind was, ‘‘How did the baby elephant get to the top when even expert trekkers found the going so tough?’’

The villagers were scratching their heads trying to find an answer. Soon, the village wisecrack hit upon an explanation. He said, ‘‘Look, I think it is like this. The mother elephant must have gone up the hill and given birth to a calf.’’ . The villagers nodded their heads. ‘‘Oh yes, that is really how it must have happened’’, they seemed to be telling each other and dispersed in the secure knowledge that they had cracked a puzzle. But, of course, the real mystery was not how the calf happened to get there, but how a pregnant elephant managed to get to the top of the hill and give birth to a calf.

So it would seem, for the talking heads and writers in the media, when it comes to understanding the Naxalite violence and the role of private militia orsalwa judum as it is called.

If only the Government had not created this monster, the problem of Naxalite violence would not have escalated to the extent of wiping out the entire state Congress party leadership in the manner in which it did.

But the truth is, salwa judum or not, Naxalites have been around for a long time. Also, it isn’t as though they have all of a sudden embarked on the path of violence after being strong adherents of the principle of ahimsa. The reality is a bit more nuanced.

Truckload of charges

Years ago, I was, for a brief while, engaged in nothing more onerous than doling out payments to transport contractors within the finance set up at the Tata’s truck plant in Pune.

Dealing as I did, with truck drivers and assorted other minions in the world of commerce, I acquired a deeper understanding of the politics and social mores of India’s vast countryside existing outside the metros.

The company had engaged the services of the cooperative society of ex-servicemen for driving away fully assembled truck chassis from Pune to various towns where Tata dealers were located.

The transportation charges that were payable took into account the distance involved; the quantity of fuel to be consumed, besides wages and daily allowance to the driver for the duration of time it took him to deliver the vehicle and return. You could say that pretty much everything had been factored in, to the last minute detail. Or at least, so the company thought.

The extra levy

But when the bills were submitted there was an extra item charged at Rs 20 per truck (not a small sum in the 80s) for some destinations which were not built into the contract. The clerk in charge of transport payments would routinely disallow that claim and pay only the balance which was, as per the terms, agreed upon.

Over time, it added up to a sizeable sum which brought the secretary of the ex-servicemen society to my office. He explained that all chassis that passed through the town of Jagdalpur in the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh for upcountry destinations, suffered a levy in the hands of the local militia and this couldn’t be incorporated in the contract.

He went on to explain in some detail, the internal security situation in the eastern parts of India. He would know; he was, after all, a retired colonel of the Indian army. Jagdalpur is at the very heart of the Naxalite movement in the State of Chhattisgarh.

It was all a long time ago. But nothing much has changed. One, the institutionalised resistance to State authority, which is really what this is all about, has been around for a very long time.

Two, such organised resistance was defeated only in the plains of Gangetic West Bengal and later in the plains of East Punjab. More specifically, the resistance could never be quelled with any degree of success where the movement operated with the advantage of hills and forests.

It is one thing to evict Naxalites from Jadavpur University which they occupied for a brief while. But it’s quite another to beat down the resistance dispersed around the hills of Chota Nagpur or the forests of Malkangiri in Odisha.

Operating at the margin

That said, no one is quite seriously doing anything about it either. The movement is being sustained because the energy needed to keep it going is generated from within. Both the rebels and the components of the established authority of the State (ruling party and the party in opposition) have no incentive to disturb the status quo.

The rebels are quite content to operate at the margin, collecting a toll on traffic in their domain; much like what warlords did when caravans passed through the Silk Road in the era before sea lanes of commerce were discovered. The political parties too do not want to destroy the rebels.

Each political party thinks that the rebels would be useful at some future date for forming an alliance to outwit the other party/parties contesting for political power.

In any case, the mindset of the rulers, no matter which party is in power, is not dissimilar to that of the rebels themselves.

There is no grand vision for the country where Naxalites stand in the way and, therefore, need to be either reformed or eliminated. They too prefer to make money at the margin from industrial investments, administrative clearances, and so on.

In other words, they operate at the margin sucking out what they can, much like the Naxalites themselves.

If Naxalites operate from the safety of the hills and forests, the ruling establishments prefer to operate from the safety of secretariats in the States and the North and the South Blocks in the Centre.

(This article was published on June 9, 2013,in Hindu )

 

#India – The Brechtian choice in the Red Corridor


Photo: Shailendra Pandey

 

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

It was a Sunday morning and Om Shanti Om was playing on television. For a tiny shack, the TV was too big – a hideously odd addition. Apart from an old man and two kids sleeping on the floor, a young man was having brunch watching TV. Travelling in a remote village in the Kalimella block of Malkangiri district in Odisha, I was meeting someone who could speak Hindi. “Chhattisgarh se hai…” he said responding to my surprised look. I had by then visited enough Adivasi villages in the block to believe that Hindi was non-existent here. As it turned out, 25-year-old Ranga, an adivasi teacher from a village in Dornapal, Chhattisgarh was in Kalimella, visiting his wife and kid as the summer vacation allowed him to.

Our conversation was supposed to be about mundane subjects related to village development. What do you do about circumstances though?

Even as we were talking about development in the village, Ranga got a call from his cousin in Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh giving him every detail of the Maoist attack that had taken place the previous evening. Mahindra Karma had been killed. So were Nand Kumar Patel and 28 others. Once the conversation was over, Ranga came back inside to fill me with details. This 25-year-old teacher (who teaches class four students) evidently had enough exposure to the media to know what interests journalists. He began with all the details of the incident as was told to him. I listened with equal interest. He ended it with, “Karma ji nahi rahe. Diggaj neta the.” Ranga was an admirer of Mahendra Karma, the founder of Salwa Judum.

The conversation that followed, has kept me thinking till now.

Me: Karma ji diggaj neta the? (Was Karma a tall leader?)

Ranga: Haan. Judum ke chalte bohut accha kaam kiya unhone. Judum ne shanti laaya… (Yes. He did a lot of good work by creating Salwa Judum. Judum brought a lot of peace in our area)

Me: Accha? Toh aap Judum ke samarthak hai? (So, are you a supporter of Judam?)

Ranga: Naxali bohut tang karte the gaon walon ko. Zameen cheen ke baant dete the… Agar mera chota sa zameen hai toh aap usse kaise cheen sakte ho? Dhaan bhi le jaate the aur baant dete the… (The naxals used to trouble villagers. They would snatch our land and redistribute it. How can you snatch the small plot of my land? They would also take away the grains and redistribute it…)

Me: Lekhin Judum ne toh bohut saare gaon jalaye… Balatkaar kiya mahilaon par… (But Judum also burnt a lot of villages… They also raped a lot of women)

Ranga: Tension mein har koi hinsa karta hai… Aap aise socho. Agar mere friend ko kal koi marega, toh main kisko support karoonga? (Everyone indulges in violence when they’re in “tension”. Think of it like this, if my friend is going to be killed by someone, who will I support?)

I smiled and chose not to probe him further. He too smiled. No, he did not bear a look of satisfaction of having won an argument. His tone too did not have an assertiveness that you would find in people who really want to prove something to you. Here was someone’s lived reality that needed no assertion or crafty presentation. Mere narration carries through the message.

This conversation had begun to bother me, doubting my ability to understand and place politics in historically identified categories. A friend came very close to the answer. “It is the Brechtian choice. This one has made the choice. Survival comes first. Everything else comes later,” said the friend.

‘The Brechtian choice’, well, is something like this. As Eric Bentley observed in his review of Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht: “What is the philosophy of this philosopher? Reduced to a single proposition, it is that if you concede defeat on the larger issue, you can achieve some nice victories in smaller ways. The larger issue is whether the world can be changed. It can’t. But brandy is still drunk, and can be sold. One can survive, and one can help one’s children to survive by teaching each to make appropriate use of the qualities God gave him.”

But then, in Malkangiri district itself, for every Ranga, I could find ten young men who would support the Naxals. In Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, I could easily find a hundred. They have made their choices too. Their friends had been /are being/will be killed by SPOs, policemen and the security forces. These would often be extra-judicial murders. The police torture them. The courts speak a language there is absolutely no way they can understand. Hell, I have been to villages where young men and women do not know when Independence Day is, who the Prime Minister is or for that matter, what their country is. But these were young men/women who support the anna log (naxals, as referred to in Odisha) because the Forest Department and police are bad news.

* * * *

From far away, I think it’s too bad Brecht never wrote ‘An instruction for the illegal adivasi’.

Here’s Brecht’s An instruction for the illegal agent

Part from your comrades at the station
Enter the city in the morning with your jacket buttoned up
Look for a room, and when your comrade knocks:
Do not, o do not open the door
But
Cover your tracks!

If you meet your parents in Hamburg or elsewhere
Pass them like strangers, turn the corner, don’t recognize them
Pull the hat they gave you over your face, and
Do not, o do not show your face
But
Cover your tracks!

Eat the meat that’s there. Don’t stint yourself.
Go into any house when it rains and sit on any chair that is in it
But don’t sit long. And don’t forget your hat.
I tell you:
Cover your tracks!

Whatever you say, don’t say it twice
If you find your ideas in anyone else, disown them.
The man who hasn’t signed anything, who has left no picture
Who was not there, who said nothing:
How can they catch him?
Cover your tracks!

See when you come to think of dying
That no gravestone stands and betrays where you lie
With a clear inscription to denounce you
And the year of your death to give you away.
Once again:
Cover your tracks!
(That is what they taught me.)

 Author- G Vishnu has worked as a cameraman and assistant script-writer on two documentary films on tribal issues with Shri Prakash, a prominent film-maker in Jharkhand. He has reported on matters like Naxal-State conflict and politics as is seen in New Delhi. He has been a part of TEHELKA’s investigations team since August 2011. He finished his post-graduation in Communication from Manipal University in 2009.

 

India’s Maoist Insurgency Grinds On


naxalarea

By Chandrahas Choudhury Jun 1, 2013 3:20 ,BLOOMBERG

An outlawed revolutionary group, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which has for more than three decades carried on a guerrilla war in the forests of central India, carried out a vicious strike last weekend. On the evening of May 25, a band of about 200 armed Maoists, both men and women, ambushed a convoy of Congress Party leaders that was on its way to a political rally in the state of Chhattisgarh. Almost the entire top rung of Congress leaders in the state was eliminated in the attack, in which 28 people were killed. Some of the victims were dragged out of their cars and shot dead at point-blank range.

The Congress, which holds power as the leading party in India’s UPA coalition government but is the opposition in Chhattisgarh, was unnerved by the attack. Rahul Gandhi, the party’s vice president, traveled immediately to Chhattisgarh, where he said that the massacre was “not an attack on Congress” but “an attack on democracy.” The Maoists, meanwhile, sent a four-page statement signed by a top Maoist leader to the BBC, which said that the attack was “necessary revenge against the UPA’s fascist Operation Green Hunt, which is being run in connivance with several state governments.”

The letter-writer granted, in the cold language that characterizes violent revolutionary movements worldwide, that “some innocent people and low-level Congress workers were killed. They were not our enemies but they lost their lives. We express regret over their death and offer our condolence to the bereaved families.”

The Maoists, known as Naxalites, were after one target in particular: the controversial Congress leader Mahendra Karma, whose killing was especially brutal (78 stab wounds were discovered on his body). Karma was the brain behind an organization fashioned to deal with the Maoist menace in Chhattisgarh: the Salwa Judum, or “Purification Hunt” in the local tribal dialect. This civilian vigilante force, made up mainly of tribal youth, was set up in 2006 with the approval of the government of Chhattisgarh to assist the local police and Indian paramilitary forces with their counterinsurgency initiative, Operation Green Hunt.

Members of the Salwa Judum were each given a gun and the status of “special police officer” by the state government, and asked to monitor other civilians. This was to invite upon the tribal peoples of the state a second rule of the gun to that imposed by the Maoists and put civilians in the crossfire. What Karma had achieved, as the Indian sociologist Nandini Sundar, one of themost perceptive observers of the crisis in India’s “red corridor,” was essentially a situation of “my militia versus yours.” As the writer Ramachandra Guha wrote earlier this week:

The combined depredations of the Naxalites and Salwa Judum created a regime of terror and despair across the district. An estimated 150,000 adivasis [tribals] fled their native villages. A large number sought refuge along the roads of the Dantewada district. Here they lived, in ramshackle tents, away from their lands, their cattle, their homes and their shrines. An equally large number fled into the neighbouring State of Andhra Pradesh, living likewise destitute and tragic lives.

In 2011, acting on a petition by Sundar and others, the Supreme Court of India judged the Salwa Judum to be unconstitutional and ordered the government of Chhattisgarh to disband it. By this time, however, the Judum already stood accused of several outrages. And Karma, a tribal leader who had challenged the Maoist claim over the tribals of Chhattisgarh, was already a marked man, surviving several attempts on his life.

This back story explains the reluctance of the Indian press, even as it condemned the attack, to endorse the opinion of Raman Singh, the chief minister of Chhattisgarh, who said of Karma: “He was a great fighter against Maoists. His fight will always be remembered.” In the newspaper Mint, Sudeep Chakravarti, the author of an excellent book on the Maoist movement called “Red Sun,” wrote:

Mahendra Karma is dead. And I am here to write ill of him.

This may be construed as indelicate in the aftermath of the savage Maoist attack on 25 May in southern Chhattisgarh that left him and several others dead—unlike Karma, many innocent of human rights wrongdoing. But it certainly is not an act of hypocrisy. Karma wasn’t exactly a man of probity. For long, the Congress party’s point man in Bastar, sometimes called “Bastar Tiger”, Karma often resembled a wolf that preyed on the tribals of southern Chhattisgarh, many of them from his own tribe, with utter disregard for their livelihood and lives. While I abhor violence, including the revenge hit by Maoists that finally claimed Karma at 62, his death should not be used to whitewash his crimes against humanity….

The endgame in the battle against Maoist rebels is still to begin in earnest, but it will likely come sooner than later, precipitated by the 25 May incident. Meanwhile, the competitive hell that they and Karma & Co. created in Chhattisgarh festers. For now, Maoists remain here in force, intermittently fighting security forces.

It’s clear, though, that the Maoists won’t be rooted out any time soon. Long accused of havingcreated the conditions that enabled Maoism to flourish by its apathy and arrogance toward the region’s overwhelmingly poor population, the Indian state has been working belatedly on a double-sided approach to the counterinsurgency. The UPA government has allocated special funds to Indian districts — there are as many as 34 of them — affected by left-wing extremism, even as it has sent in almost 50,000 federal paramilitary troops to assist state forces in four states as part of Operation Green Hunt.

This project could require a few decades to take effect. Having entrenched themselves, the Maoists, who by some estimates number about 40,000, would now hardly be willing to give up the gains of their own “extortion economy” in mineral-rich Chhattisgarh, where several major Indian business have set up steel and power plants. The Maoist cadre unites around exercises in bloodlust, such as the gruesome beheading of a policeman in Jharkhand in 2009. And when the revolutionary leaders dismiss parliamentary democracy as merely imperialism by another name and seek nothing less than the overthrow of the state (anything can seem like light reading after half an hour perusing the Maoist document “Strategy & Tactics of the Indian Revolution“), it’s hard to see what the government could offer them that they would find acceptable. As Subir Bhaumik wrote in a piece in 2010:

The body count will rise as Operation Green Hunt intensifies. Unlike India’s many ethnic separatist movements in the country’s Northeast or elsewhere, who negotiate for political space and call it a day when they get their pound of flesh, there is very little ground for negotiations between the Indian government and the Maoists. The Maoists seek a structural change of Indian polity that’s unacceptable for India’s neo-ruling elite, who have developed a stake in globalisation, liberalisation and capitalism.

The best books on the Maoist problem — in particular works in the last five years by Arundhati RoySudeep Chakravarti and Satnam — are worth reading because they demonstrate how knotty the problem is, establish what historical and economic frames illuminate it best, and suggest what citizens can attempt to do to keep Indian democracy and the establishment honest. They give the Maoists a human face, something that the Maoists themselves have proved incapable of doing. These writers spent time in Maoist camps, and came back with stories about a cadre at once tremendously idealistic and committed, and pathetically doctrinal.

Indian democracy has many flaws. But when the reading of its failures is as uncompromising as that advanced by the “grim, military imagination” (Roy’s phrase) of the Maoists, the result can only be a cycle of revolutionary violence and state reprisals, doomed to repeat itself endlessly and to take down many innocents in the crossfire.

(Chandrahas Choudhury, a novelist, is the New Delhi correspondent for World View. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the author of this blog post: Chandrahas Choudhury at Chandrahas.choudhury@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this post: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net

 

#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

 

#India- A warning to Prime Minister of India , think twice before jumping the gun


Mr PM, think twice before jumping the gun

Pushing in more troops to fight Maoists will only aid the onset of a full-scale insurgency
Prem Shankar Jha

15-06-2013, Issue 24 Volume 10

t

Back to square one Demands for retribution after the Darbha hills massacre could prove to be counter-productive Back to square one Demands for retribution after the Darbha hills massacre could prove to be counter-productive

In September 2001, the US reacted to al Qaeda’s attack with an explosion of rage and declaration of a War on Terror that has so far cost more than a million lives and turned the CIA into what author and The New York Times columnist Mark Mazetti calls a “killing machine”. Has the US gained anything from this bloodletting? Has it destroyed al Qaeda? Has it made its allies in West Asia feel more secure? Has it won the hearts and minds of the people it set out to ‘liberate’? One has only to ask these questions to know the answers.

The Congress party has reacted to the  attack on 25 May that claimed the lives of its leaders in the Darbha hills of Bastar with a similar burst of rage and demands for retribution. The  government has promised to bring the culprits to justice and sent in 600 additional paramilitary personnel. Accusing the  of not being interested in talks or following the democratic process, MoS for Home Affairs RPN Singh has said there is an urgent need to review the policy on dealing with the . Echoing what former home minister P Chidambaram had said in 2009, he affirmed that there would be no talks with the  until they gave up violence.

The Centre has inducted the air force into the battle by making it agree to provide helicopters for search, rescue and surveillance missions against the Maoists. It has thus broken the cardinal rule of the armed forces — not to intervene in insurrectionary wars within the country.

All the signs are therefore pointing to another campaign against the Maoists. Will this meet with any more success than Operation Green Hunt, launched in 2009? Or will it leave behind a trail of bitterness that will further swell support for the Maoists in Chhattisgarh and elsewhere on the ‘Red Corridor’?

The answer, here too, is self-evident. In the past five years, the number of districts “seriously affected” by left-wing insurgency has increased to 56 and those seriously or moderately affected, to 83. These make up almost one-sixth of India. In the worst affected areas such as Dantewada and Bastar, as Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh conceded, the writ of the State has virtually ceased to run, and there has been no development for the past 20 years.

New Delhi and Raipur have placed the blame for the 25 May slaughter on a monumental intelligence failure and launched not one but two inquiries into this ‘lapse’. But this is no isolated incident. The failure was equally complete when the Maoists wiped out almost an entire company of CRPF personnel in Dantewada in 2009. It was highlighted, less tragically, a year later when the government discovered a road that the Maoists had built in the forest to spirit away hijacked trucks, entirely by accident.

Although it began decades earlier, the alienation of the  gathered momentum only after the pace of economic growth increased the hunger for land. When Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand were carved out from Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh began to shower mining concessions on corporates like confetti. Neither he, nor anyone at the Centre, spared a thought for the , who would lose their traditional rights of usage in forest lands, their livelihood from selling forest produce and the herbal remedies on which they relied for their health.

What completed their alienation was the creation of the , an armed militia of tribal louts recruited mostly by Mahendra Karma in 2005, but quickly endorsed by the state government. Its main purpose was to drive the villagers off their land in the name of ‘development’. This was a rare example of Congress-BJP collaboration that somehow escaped Sonia Gandhi’s notice.

By 2011, the Salwa Judum had driven people out of at least 644 villages, killed almost a thousand tribals and displaced at least 1.5 lakh more. Of those it has killed, Maoist leaders in Chhattisgarh told Shubhranshu Choudhary, author of Let’s Call Him Vasu, no more than 200 were members of their Sangham. Human rights organisations brought 537 of these killings to the notice of the Chhattisgarh government, but so far the state has ordered only eight magisterial inquiries, of which only one has begun.

In 2011, when the Supreme Court banned the Salwa Judum in one of the harshest indictments of a state government on record, Raman Singh inducted 3,000 of its cadres into the police as Special Police Officers (SPOs) on a salary of Rs 1,500 a month. Since then these SPOs have been responsible for some of the worst massacres in the state. To the Adivasis, this is the democracy that the politicians are extolling. No wonder, they consider the Maoists their defenders and the State their oppressor.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must prevent another mindless resort to violence, for it will only accelerate the onset of a full-scale insurgency. The war that will ensue will be unwinnable for, unlike the US, which has won battles but is losing the War on Terror, New Delhi has been losing both the battles and the war against the Maoists. Green Hunt was a failure because the Maoists emerged from it not only ideologically but also militarily stronger. In 2011 and ’12, the scales have tilted further in favour of the Maoists because, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, while the security forces have killed 80 Maoists, they have lost 126 of their own people.

As for the battle for the people’s minds, it is already, irretrievably, lost. According to ‘Vasu’, Choudhary’s eponymous contact in the Maoist leadership, “Though we called the movement People’s War, it was the Salwa Judum that made it a real people’s war. The Salwa Judum left no room for fence-sitters.”

Before going further down the road to repression, the PM would do well to re-examine the assumptions upon which it has been based. The first is that the insurgency is being fed by acute poverty. The second is that this can only be alleviated by ‘development’ — roads, schools, hospitals and power supply. The third is that the tribals are the authors of their own misery because they are not interested in development. The fourth and most important is that the Maoists are against democracy and oppose development. Therefore, they have to be eliminated for good sense to prevail among the Adivasis once more.

Choudhary’s book, written after months of living with the Maoists and chronicling their lives, thoughts and aspirations, shows the superficiality and hollowness of these assumptions. Poverty does not feed the insurgency any more than it fed the French revolution. What feeds the insurgency is injustice. The government claims to have been elected by them, yet takes decisions that take away their rights, break the slender thread that binds them to nature and its bounty, and make their lives more precarious. Denied any voice in decision-making, when they protest, they have to face atrocities by the police or the Salwa Judum. Maoists spoke of these events as casually as townspeople talk about corruption. But the anger that burned in them accounted for the high proportion of women in the armed cadres. It also helps us understand why Karma was stabbed 78 times in addition to being shot.

It is true that the Adivasis are not interested in New Delhi’s concept of economic development, because this is the root cause of their misery. But it is most certainly not true that they do not want any development and wish to be left as noble savages. Choudhary describes the pains the Maoists take to procure medicines, attract doctors, create village schools, bring out ‘comrade’ teachers to teach in them, and enable the tribals to get better prices for their produce.

As for their goals and willingness to seek them peacefully, Rajanna, the Maoists’ chief armourer, has the following things to say: “The party has addressed, and to an extent alleviated, excessive poverty in Dandakaranya. People have access to the forest and the land now. A single Mahua tree yields an income of Rs 5,000 a year; people are not starving anymore. The fight should transform itself into a demand for tribal autonomy. We should demand that all Dandakaranya be able to decide its fate without interference from outsiders. Schedule Five of the Constitution gives these rights in theory, but we should work towards making them a reality.”

When people cite the Indian Constitution, it means that given the right circumstances, they are not averse to living within it. Rajanna is not a moderate or an aberration. So his reflections need to be treated seriously.

letters@tehelka.com

(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 10 Issue 24, Dated 15 June 2013)

 

#India- Dealing with Maoists


The Maoists want a military conflict as it brings more adivasis into their fold. The Indian state‘s best bet is in ensuring that it wins over the aam adivasis to its side.
CHITRANGADA CHOUDHURYAJAY DANDEKAR, Outlook

May 25th’s condemnable attack by the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army, which ended up killing and injuring over 50 people from Congress politicians to migrant adivasi labourers, cannot be understood without recognising the Maoist party’s explicit political aims. These aims include zero tolerance for any competing political force in the party’s area of armed influence. Also, as stated often by male members of the party’s non-adivasi leadership, the polarising hardships created by military conflict are desirable since they hold the opportunity of swelling the party’s ranks.

But to make deeper sense of the attack, Indians must also acknowledge the routine stymieing of democracy and governance in adivasi India— the context that nurtures the current avatar of India’s four-decade-old Naxalite rebellion.

If the Indian establishment wishes to effectively end such attacks in the long run, it cannot sidestep a hard look at why it stands so discredited in the aam adivasi’s eyes across central and eastern India. If  “democratic values” are what are at stake, as leading politicians argued in the wake of the attack, their parties must also act to uphold and defend such values in numerous adivasi blocks where the Maoists neither challenge the writ of the state nor hold out the threat of political assassinations.

Here are some specifics dos and don’ts:

1. Implement land rights safeguards: From the adivasi bonded labour agitations in neglected western Orissa to the struggles against losing land and livelihoods for mining and industrialization across the bauxite, coal and iron ore-rich tracts of central and eastern India, land is at the heart of much of the ongoing violence adivasis suffer. This despite clear safeguards in the Constitution, dedicated land alienation laws and the atrocities act, all of which are meant to prevent and redress adivasi displacement and dispossession. Existing constitutional and legal provisions have to be seriously implemented to address this growing crisis.

2. Fast-track the Forest Rights ActFrom the adivasi perspective, the 2006 Forest Rights Act (FRA) was arguably the most meaningful legislation of independent India. It overturned colonial notions of the state as owner of the forest, and recognised adivasis and other forest-inhabitants as rightful cultivators of forest produce and key actors in forest conservation. But states have been reluctant to cede control— as per the government’s latest status report (April 2013), under 50% of land title claims filed by villagers in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Orissa have resulted in titles. On the ground, this translates into deliberate neglect. In a mid-May interview with one of the columnists, residents of a Gond village in Orissa’s forested coal belt said they had filed FRA claims in 2010 but there was no administrative action to process them. Instead, forest officials had been making rounds of the village with officials of a private mining company. The other important aspect of the law—giving adivasi communities the right to market their forest produce—has been implemented in only a handful of villages across India.

3. Stop criminalising legitimate spaces of expression and protest: A wide spectrum of non-violent adivasi movements today exist on the ground, agitating on multiple issues including forced displacement, the loss of access to natural resources, the absence of meaningful economic and social rehabilitation, below-minimum wages, government liquor shops and indebtedness. Many of these struggles get little public or media attention. The state’s common reaction is to throttle and intimidate such agitations, often through outright physical assaults or by filing criminal charges against protestors, including those of Naxalism. In Chhattisgarh, such non-violent movements have had to coalesce under a single banner hoping for strength in numbers, given the perennial fear of imprisonment under the state’s harsh Public Security Act.

4. Pay closer attention to justice: The criminal justice system as it exists today is loaded against the adivasi. On the one hand, there is little recognition for crimes—from police atrocities to cheating and forced displacement—committed against the adivasi. NHRC’s April visit to Chattisgarh reinforced this principle of zero culpability when it did not recommend criminal charges in any of the questionable encounters that killed adivasi villagers. On the other hand, adivasis are routinely picked up and imprisoned, spending years in a hostile system they can make little sense of. Court proceedings often take place in a language they do not understand, the official legal aid system takes little interest in them, and private lawyers who can get them bail are beyond reach. This April, a year after a committee was set up to examine cases of adivasi prisoners, its head and former bureaucrat Nirmala Buch said she did not know if the Chhattisgarh government had acted on the recommendation that prosecutors not oppose bail for 110 adivasi undertrials in the 235 cases the committee had examined. Undertake a dedicated review of adivasi undertrials, and act on its findings. Create a distinctive legal aid program for adivasis with funds from the Tribal Sub-plan budget. Institute criminal charges on adivasi complaints.

5. Hold businesses accountable: Among the leading violators of human rights in India’s adivasi belt are businesses, in particular mining corporations who have made an unparalleled entry into these areas over the past decade. This presence will only expand in the coming years, but there is alarmingly little attention by the state on the profound implications of this for vulnerable communities on the ground. Corporate misdemeanours range from intimidating gram sabhas, falsifying records, fixing public hearings, nurturing land speculation and alienation, bribing politicians, the bureaucracy and the district media to facilitate violations, sapping natural resources including groundwater, and polluting without any notion of having to pay for it. All of these are open secrets through various levels of government. Yet a blind eye is turned since the consequences of these violations are primarily borne by adivasis. Businesses operating in adivasi areas need to be held to a code of conduct with clear principles of responsibility and accountability.

6. Address the head-on policy collision between mining and adivasi rights: There is a nascent but overdue debate within government on how mining in its current form is incompatible with the constitutional provisions for adivasis. V Kishore Chandra Deo, the most engaged Tribal Affairs Minister India has seen in a long time, has repeatedly pointed to the crisis of confidence and trust in adivasi areas mining is causing. He took this position most strongly in a letter on April 4 to the governors of all adivasi-populated states, men of power who have routinely ignored their constitutional mandate of ensuring ‘peace and good governance’ in adivasi areas. Deo’s concerns over mining have been publicly seconded by his colleague Jairam Ramesh. It is no coincidence that these are the only cabinet members who spend time in adivasi areas and see the damage on the ground first-hand. What is the larger strategic plan for our mineral resources and where might we draw the line on the social and economic costs adivasis bear for our extractive industries? Give these questions the seriousness they deserve, even though they are difficult ones to ask, when spoils from mining enrich individual MPs and MLAs across party lines, and bankroll electoral campaigns.

7. Engage, don’t exclude: Through a series of executive orders, the current government has shrunk the legitimate powers of gram sabhas in adivasi areas to participate in decisions over matters that affect them, from developmental and mining projects to diverting and destroying forests. None of these rollbacks were run by locals or justified to them. They orders came in response to high-level lobbying, and often after explicit PMO directives. The effective message to adivasis is that their participation is irrelevant, or an irritant. Dedicated area development funds in adivasi areas such as the Integrated Action Plan are imbued with a similar scuttling of participatory norms. IAP funds, hundreds of crores of rupees, are entirely controlled by 3 district bureaucrats, violating the legal mandates of local communities and elected panchayats. What proportion of IAP money and energies were spent to engage communities in key challenges like creating accessible and meaningful healthcare in their area?

8. Don’t patronise the adivasi: Adivasis are not our ‘backward’ siblings but full and equal citizens confronted with, and living through enormous inequality and injustice. Recognize that adivasi societies are home to deep and distinctive traditions, which add to the diversity India takes pride in. They also possess an evolved ecological awareness, acquired over generations of managing their environments and livelihoods— knowledge systems that arguably rival those of the most celebrated “development experts”. If the rest of India has the humility to listen, adivasi communities might hold valuable policy insights on how we could avoid replicating the fate of China, which has gravely damaged its environment on the path to economic progress. Incidentally, adivasi societies also possess better sex ratios than some of India’s most developed areas including South Delhi and South Mumbai. Don’t look down on adivasis for “staying aloof from the meanstream [sic] of modern society”, as one government document on Malkangiri’s IAP put it. The fundamental issue seeking resolution is not adivasi difference, but mitigating the inequality and injustice that compromise democratic values for them at every turn.


Chitrangada Choudhury is Research Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Ajay Dandekar is Professor, Central University, Gujarat.

 

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