Does Democratic Government Listen To Adivasis?

By Gladson Dungdung

9 November, 2009 

Picture 037
Adivasis Marching in Ranchi

On 4th November 2009, the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manhohan Singh, while addressing a conference of Chief Ministers and State Ministers of Tribal Affairs said, “There has been a “systemic failure” in giving tribals a stake in the modern economic processes”. He helplessly went on saying, “The alienation built over decades is now taking a dangerous turn. We must change our ways of dealing with tribals. We have to win the battle for their hearts. Administrative machinery in some of such areas is “either weak or virtually non-existent”, the “heavy hand of criminal justice system has become a source of harassment and exploitation” and over the years, a large number of cases have been registered against the tribals, whose traditional rights were not recognized by earlier forest laws”. “Systematic exploitation and social and economic abuse of our tribal communities can no longer be tolerated”, he warned emotionally. One surprises, is it the realization of a democratic government after 62 years of Independence or just one more attempt of wooing, manipulating and betraying the Adivasis?

On the next day, thousands of Adivasis belonging to 37 people’s organizations gathered under the banner of ‘Bisthapan Virodhi Nav Nirman Morcha’ (a state level united forum of displacement movements) in Ranchi the capital city of Jharkhand and marched from Railway station to Rajbhawan by scaling about 3 km distance. This time, they were surely not with the bows and arrows or any other traditional weapon (which they have been carrying for the centuries) as holding these are used as proofs for branding them as Maoists by the democratic government(s) and the media. Of course, these Adivasis had neither come to demand their share in the development programmes meant for them nor even to acquire power in the political arena but they had come to tell the democratic government (through the governor) very simple thing: “Stop grabbing their land, which their ancestors have given them”. 

As the Jharkhand Assembly election is at the door therefore they wanted to convey the messages to the political leaders that they do not want to surrender their land for the so-called development project at any cost therefore the democratic government should stopped snatching their “land” the only resource they have. Later on they submitted a memorandum to the governor through his executive magistrate as the governor was in Delhi (now the governors turn as political persons in our democracy, Jharkhand governor inaugurated and given political speeches more than most of previous Jharkhand Chief Ministers). They have also conveyed the message that branding them as Maoists, anti-development people or anti-nationals will not stop their fight for protecting their land. They are resolved to fight for protecting their ancestral lands till the last breath. 

Unfortunately, this did not become the breaking news for the 24 hours news channels and the print media, who recently carried out tireless campaigns for a month, branding the Adivasis as Naxalites. It would have been surely become the breaking news for them if the Adivasis would have marched in the city with the bows and arrows in their hands. In that case, the media would have made one more attempt to brand them as Maoists or at least Maoists supporters of course. This is how the fourth realms (media) of the democracy is playing bias role for the Adivasis. Ironically, the same Media teaches the Adivasis about the democracy, whose society is based on the collectivism.

One of the award winner news anchors asked me whether I lost hope in the Indian democracy. Of course, in the so-called democracy, I replied. He was upset for a day by thinking that why a young man at the age of 30 lost hope in the idea of India. He writes in twitter, “Still thinking of the Jharkhand activist who was in our studio, his parents were murdered over land dispute, has lost faith in the idea of India”. Indeed, he failed to understand what I mean. Can anyone tell me that how one would have hope in so-called democracy, where a winning candidate/party gets merely 30 to 40 percent votes (mostly by money (according to latest information the Corporate Houses are all set to spend Rs 300 crore in coming Jharkhand Assemble Election by giving money to the big political parties so that they can buy the votes), muscle and manipulation power). 

The story does not end here. Later on, the winning candidates are treated like God merely for winning the elections and most of them become billionaires within one term (five years) by bagging the public money. The poor voters have only right to vote, garland these billionaires and express their pathetic conditions year by year. If one talks about the role of Media in the democracy, recent Assembly elections shows the roadmap of how the culture of “coverage packages” exploded across Maharashtra, where the media followed the principle of “no money no news”. The replication begins in Jharkhand too. The media houses have told to Netas (political leaders), if they want good coverage, they must give them money in form of ads. Can still any news anchor ask me to have hope in so-called largest democracy? 

However, the Corporate Home Minister P. Chidambaram sees the ‘democracy as panacea’ to existing social, economic, political, cultural and developmental issues of the Adivasis. In his recent impassioned speech at the Nani Palkhiwala lecture, he said, “If the Naxalites accuse elected governments of capitalism, land grabbing, exploiting and displacing tribal people, what prevents them from winning power through elections and reversing current policies? Can Chidambaram tell us about ten major issues, which the democratic India government has addressed in last 6 decades? Can he explain us, why the democratic government failed to address the basic issues of India i.e. food, clothing and shelter for last 62 years? Can he tell us why the political parties always bargain for money generating ministries after acquiring people’s mandates? Why do the Indian (developing country) elections cost more than American (developed country) elections? Should we still clap for our so-called largest democracy, where a Chief Minister holding office for 706 days bags Rs.4000 crore and a personal secretary of a minister secure fix deposit of 13 crore with in five years and even a cycle rider Neta becomes billionaire merely in five years? What kind of democracy it is? 

In six decades of the Indian democracy, the Adivasis have received their shares only as alienation, exploitation, discrimination, deprivation and dispossession. The democratic government(s) have never listened to the Adivasis. When they demanded their citizen rights as the Indigenous People of the land, the India government denied them. When they claimed the forests as their only abode, they were officially coined as the enemy of trees, forests and wild animals through the various legislations, and finally, when they denied surrendering their lands for the so-called development projects, many false criminal cases were filed against them, they had to face the bullets of police and they were branded as Maoists and anti-national. All these happened with them in a democratic country. The government of India officially accepts through the Forest Rights Act 2006 that historic injustice was done to the Adivasis. The Prime Minister added more on it but he failed to provide a radical mechanism to right the historic wrongs. Let’s accept the fact that the Adivasis will not survive without land and forests therefore ensuring their ownership over the natural resources are the way forward but the question remains unanswered is will the democratic government listen to them? 

Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist and Writer from Jharkhand. He can be reached at

10 thoughts on “Does Democratic Government Listen To Adivasis?”

  1. Gladson thank you very much for rasing extremely valid questions. I think it is time for the government to step forward to answer them. If they accept that not enough has been done, then they must tell us what is it that they are ready to do now and not make anymore empty promises.

  2. Dear Gladson
    Thank you very much for the article “Does Democratic Government Listen Adivasis?” I am very much impressed with your Article. I would like to know the progress of the first para questions and Dr. Manmohan Singh’s reply to his and Adivasis’ questions.
    With best wishes to you for your amazing endeavour in Adivasis’ issues.
    Erenius Toppo

  3. There are two things in this article. One- you are accepting that a group of tribals are being branded as Maoists and then taken to task by the government. Second you justify action by Maoists saying this is a fight to save the tribals of their land and rights.

    This is hypocrisy of first order. If you are trying to save Adivasi rights, no body would prevent you to do so. But you must show the right kind of leadership. If you are a sympathiser of violent activities, you are equally a criminal and irresponsible despite whatever education you have.

    Remember when Gandhi became a leader for the country, the situation was much worse then. If you fail to provide peace to the society as a leader, do not be a villain to take away the peace from the society.


    Biraja Mahapatra

  4. Is it true that Naxalism is the only alternative solution when the Democratic Govt. does not listen to Adivasis ? Is there no other way of awakening and empowering the Adivasis ? Present-day Naxalites or Maoists are serious or pseudo-serious for the tribals ?

    Democracy is the only way through which downtroddens of our society can be empowered and the very basic human rights of them can be protected. India is a Socialist country and will remain. But if Naxalites want to bring Communism to India , it is never going to be achieved unless the Indian State or Indian Democracy completely fails . Do the Naxalites or Maoists or their supporters want to destabilise our Indian State and Democracy by any means. Those who are stongly supporting the violent activities of Naxalites should not try to be the leaders of the Adivasis by provoking them, not to be part of Democracy. Rather the Adivasis must be empowered at every level to take advantages from the existing Democratic form of Governments in Indian states so that they can raise their own voice at every level by becoming the very part of the Democratic Governance.After all Democracy is By , Of and For the people.Why these supporters of Naxalism first do not try themselves with Democracy ?

    Nobody or no Govt. restricts them to participate in the elections starting from Gram Panchayat to Lok Sabha.Why they don’t raise their voice inside the Parliament rather than protesting through violence and killings and followed by writings of some intellectuals who are directly and indirectly motivating Naxalism in India .These intellectuals take necessary benefits or advantages from Democracy , but on the other hand express their views remaining far away from the practical and valid solution to the problems of Adivasis.

    If these intellectuals are the sole voices of Adivasiis why then they do not represent them in Loka Sabha or Vidhan Sabhas and influence and direct the policy making and implementation of every development activities / schemes / laws for Adivasis, instead of only being cofined to indoor discussions and protests in Jantar Mantar with the help of some of the profit making NGOs. To make it possible where Domocratic Governments listen to Adivasis , participating in Democracy is the only way, not the participation in Naxalism .

    Media must play a very crucial role in making Democracy sufficiently accessible to Adivasis where each and every voice of Adivasis is heard by our Democratic Governments , ensuring an Inclusive Governance with complete participation of the Adivasis.

    Media is very rightly performing its role as the Fourth pillar of Democracy , now it is those supporters and followers of Naxalism to join Democracy by becoming the Fifth pillar of Democracy . This can actually make the voices of Adivasis heard by the Democratic Governments of India.

    With Regards,
    Tejeswar Parida

  5. Hello
    I am from nagpur a housewife , activist and business woman (if all these three can go together )
    this is just to express my appreciation of yoyr article in counter currents and express my own frustration and anger about our failed state as a business woman and activist i have been facing difficult govt officers
    for the last 5 and 15 years respectively, sometimes I feel shootin is too good for them.

    However I must say that the RTI has resulted in great improvements particularly in madhya pradesh
    shyamala sanyal

  6. Gladson ……….. you have hit the nail on the head !! Those who ask tribals to follow democracy do not really understand what it means ?? They have never ‘sacrificed’ their lands and homes ‘in the name of development of the nation’ !!!!! i was pondering about your lines about the dilemma of the news anchor ….. That anchor has only seen the ndia that PC and Manmohan and the likes have shown him !!!!! he has never seen the ‘real India’ that lies battered and bruised on 80% of the country ???? Therefore he fails to realise why you cannot put faith in his ‘shining India’. He would be able to empathise with you had he cared to step out of his A/C bews studio and roughed it out in the grime and abuse of the tribal hinterland ….. But where do these news anchors have the time for ‘real’ realities ???? They are busy faking up national hysteria over the red terror from their posh and glittering A/c studios …..

    The Corporate PM and his aide the Corporate HM are suddenly singing a different tune one, for the elections, the other because they have realised they have barked up the wrong tree ….. the tribals will not give up their fight in the fear of ‘an operation’ !!!!!

  7. Hello Gladson Sir,

    Hope you are fine in every aspect over there.

    I’m Akash Bhuyan and basically from Orissa and work as an IT engg in Gurgaon.

    I write to you based on the article “Does Democratic Governments Listen Adivasis ?” which just now i read from the Orissadiary Newsletter dated on Monday, November 09, 2009.

    It was quite informative and at the same time also composed.

    It’s really a true and a genuine fact that you are trying to place in front of the INDIAN democratic govt and as well as indian citizen.

    Being a general citizen of INDIA it’s really shame even to think about the way we are moving forward in this world.

    Undoubtedly we are developing in certain aspects like Telecommunications and educations and at the same time the condition of our country is deteriorating in other aspects like giving rights to the Tribal community and also to provide basic needs of food cloth andsealter to the ordinary people.

    Certainly our present democratic system needs a radical change otherwise we will move to a state where we live a life without any certainty.

    I mostly appreciate the way you present your thought and look forward to see many more such type of articles from you.

    God bless you.

    Thanks in advance,
    Akash BHUYAN

  8. Dear Gladson,

    Thanks to my friend Vispi that I just read your above article. It is revealing. The politician just wishes to pay lip service restricted to election time.

    How will the rights of Adivasis be protected? What we as individuals can do? This is a question that arises. Is the process of education not making a chang3e in the lives and livelyhood of the Adivasis in Jharkhand?

    Education ande especially of the female child will make all the difference. How are those who have beniffitted and climbed the ladder of Beauraucracy as a result of reservation behave? Have they not a conscience for their fellow Adivasis? If this has not beniffitted is it worth continuing the system?

    These and other thoughts arise in the mind and I hope you can throw light on these in another article

    Warm regards and good luck to your activism

    Kanu Kamdar

  9. Dear Gladson,

    Again as usual you have written very lucidly and eloquently and I always wonder how come intelligent and educated people cannot appreciate your persuasive arguments. As far as I am concerned, there is no India without the indigenous population and we definitly cannot accept the fact that India should become like another America or Australia where the rights of the native population were grossly and brazenly violated and the majority kept an unpardonable silence.

    We are with you all the way.

    Prem P. Verma
    Jharkhand Alternative Development Forum

  10. You are right ….Government doesn’t listen. Bastar which should have been declared Bio-sphere Reserve is fighting to save its identity from the cultural assault by the State and Central Government in the name of development…

    All the virgin forest are being uprooted for mining…is this the way our government is fighting Global Warming?


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