By Gladson Dungdung
9 November, 2009
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 email@example.com