By Gladson Dungdung
Since 2013, I have been travelling abroad to speak on the Adivasi issues in different forums. I talk about our rights over the land, territory and resources, conservation of the natural resources and protection of ecology of the country. Consequently, I’m under the surveillance of the State as I raise uncomfortable questions frequently. In October 2013, my passport was impounded on the basis of “adverse police report” due to my involvement in the people’s movements against forceful land acquisition and unfolding the gross human rights violation of Adivasis in the counter insurgency in the so-called Red Corridor of India. However, after my special request to the top police officers of Jharkhand for proper verification of the passport, it was restored in July 2014. Thereafter, I attended a couple of conferences in Denmark and the UK. Last, November, I travelled to London following the release of my book, Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India.
This May, I was scheduled to attend a workshop on the environmental politics of South Asia at the University of Sussex, UK. Unfortunately, this became a nightmare for me. On May 9, 2016 after check-in, I collected the boarding card and went to immigration counter. I submitted the immigration form along with the passport and boarding card to the immigration officer. At the beginning, the immigration officer talked to me nicely but later it was inconvenient. After asking general questions, he also asked me whether I’m a student? In response, I told him of being a researcher. The next question he asked was on which topic I do research? I said, “Human Rights”. As soon as he heard the words “Human Rights”, he deserted his chair and went inside to find out his boss. He returned to the counter after 15 minutes and called the Air India staff and ordered him to offload my luggage.
After hearing the word “offloading”, I was stunned, therefore, I asked him the reason for offloading me, he told me that my passport is impounded, so I can’t fly to London. He wrote “offloaded” on the boarding card and handed over a seizure memo for my signature, which reads “Pax was LoC subject”, which clearly means I was under the “look out circular” but I was not told about it. When I was reading the memo before putting my signature on it, the officer told me, “You have enough time to read it later so put your signature on it and give me back”. When the offloading procedure got over after two hours, I was sent to collect my luggage, where I had to wait for another couple of hours. Of course, this kind of treatment was really shocking for me. Suddenly, question arose into my mind was that what would have happened if I were a family member of Malaya, Ambani or Adani family? This time it’s not the nation but I want to know from the nation that why I’m on the look out circular? Am I a security threat to the Nation? Am I anti-State? Am I against of economic growth and development of my own country?
Most interestingly, impounding of passport was told as the reason for offloading me from the Air India 115 but the Regional Passport Officer (RPO) of Ranchi, Sanatan Shrivastava told to the media that my passport was impounded in 2013 but restored after proper police verification and clearance. At the same time, the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi also declined its involvement and said that it is a valid passport therefore, the person is not barred from flying abroad. Indeed, an immigration officer can’t take such steps without authorization either from the top officers or from the Ministry of Home Affairs. Therefore, my question is that who is responsible for it? Where does buck stop? Why I was offloaded?
First of all, we need to understand that the most of Indians think that the human rights is a western concept similar like western dresses, food, culture, etc, which is indeed the gravest threat to Brahamanical social order, therefore, the human rights was propagated in negative sense that it is to protect the criminals, Naxals and terrorists. Thus, those are engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights are seen as the people serving against the interest of the country. Ironically, the foundation of the Indian Constitution is based on the principles of human rights that’s why it is not enforced properly. However, bitter truth is that these days, the wisdom and authority don’t go together therefore, authoritarian governments never engage the dissent voices, which is of course a threat to democracy.
Undoubtedly, we the rights activists are seen as anti-state, who are allegedly said to be going abroad to defame the country and in return, paid huge sum of money by those countries who are against of India’s progress. Of course, that’s not true. It’s happening precisely because the Indian politics is negative. Earlier, the opposition parties were known for negative role but now even the ruling parties play the negative politics, therefore, whoever raises uncomfortable questions are seen as enemy of the State, instead of dissent voices, who needs to be engaged by the State. Question is can democracy survive without the dissent? Can India claim of being the true largest democracy on Earth today? I’m asking these questions precisely because our fundamental rights the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Indian Constitution the right to freedom of expression is being curtailed by the State by the use of varies ways and means. In fact, the State must understand that dissents are not anti-State but they are there to strengthen the democracy.
At the beginning I was alleged as a ‘sympathizer of the Maoist’ but is that true? The fact is I have heavily criticized the Maoist Movement in Jharkhand for their support to the corporate houses, therefore, the State simply cannot allege me of being the Naxal sympathizer. For me, the Maoist Movement is almost equal to a private security agency today, who provides security to anyone who pay for it. The CPI-Maoist is also doing the same in Saranda Forest of Jharkhand, which was the eastern headquarter of the CPI-Maoist for a decade, where the State couldn’t dare to run a school, but more than 12 mining companies were comfortably operating their mining projects in the forest. How was that possible?
My biggest anguish is on the general perception about the Adivasis, who are perceived as anti-development, Naxals and sub-human crowd by the State and non-state actors. But are we? For instance, 1000 innocent Adivasis were brutally killed in the fake encounters, more than 500 women were raped or molested and 25,000 are languishing in different prisons in the allegation of being Naxals across the Red Corridors. 300,000 Adivasis were vacated from 644 villages in Chhatisgarh. What should they do?
Land acquisition is another big issue today. The Adivasis are being alienated from their resources. In the Nagri Mass Movement near Ranchi the capital city of Jharkhand, we were protesting not against the education hub but against the acquisition of prime agriculture land. Our argument was that education hub could be built on the barren land but instead of listening our rational argument, we were branded as a crowd against IIM, IIIT and Law University. How could the nation forget that the corporate model of development the Tata Steel Ltd, dream projects of Nehru i.e. HEC, BSL, Hirakud Dam, Mayurakshi and Tenughat, etc all are built on Adivasis’ land? 80 to 90 percent people displaced in these projects were Adivasi, who were not respited properly. How could the development theory being taught to us by those who have not even surrendered one inch of land for the national interest?
Agriculture was known as backbone of India but today the prime focus in on mining, industry and service sector. In 1950, the contribution of the agricultural sector in GDP was 51 per cent but today it has come down to 18 per cent. The service sector is fine, but mining and industry do not really care about climate change and deforestation. For money, can we sell all our forests and cut down the trees? We have to find other ways. The industry sector is not going to address the unemployment. For instance, when Tata Steel was producing 1 million tonnes steel per annum, 70,000 people were employed. When the yielding went upto 8 million tonnes, they had only 20,000 people. So where are the jobs? We must understand that the food security of majority of rural population is ensured today only because they have small patches of land.
However, in the name of development, the Indian State is grabbing the natural resources from the poor people and handing it over to the rich. Take the example of Jharkhand. Each year, there is an income of Rs 150 billion from mining alone, which is almost equal to the annual budget of Jharkhand. But 36 per cent of the people still live below the poverty line. Why? If so much money is coming from mining, why are people living in poverty? Why the money is not going back to the people? Is it not true that the corporate sharks are being benefited under the guise of economic growth and development of country?
After a lots of hue and cry, the Indian State officially accepted that historical injustice meted out on the Adivais and promised to right the historical wrongs through the Forest Rights Act 2006. However, the enforcement of the Act is very poor with the clear intention to handover the natural resources to the private entities. For instance, 0.5 million claims were rejected in the State of Chhattisgarh, where 345 MoUs have been signed, and entitlement given under the FRA was withdrawn in Sarguja district for coal mining, which is against the Forest Rights Act. Similarly, in Saranda Forest of Jharkhand, 22 new iron ore mining leases were sanctioned to the corporate houses whereas 3000 Adivasis of 30 villages have not yet been given identity cards intentionally so that they could be declared encroachers during the forest clearance.
Finally, I’m much concerned about the upcoming ecological crisis, which India is going to face. Since, the Indian government envisages to achiever 9 percent GDP per annum, therefore, the focus is on economic growth, which to is not only a threat to the existence of Adivasis, but also to our ecology. India has merely 21 percent forest coverage though the requirement for the maintenance of environment is at least 33 per cent. I was really surprised to see the Union Minister, who is supposed to take case of environment, forest and climate change seems busy in issuing environment and forest clearances to the private entities. He brought down from 560 days to 190 days for forest and environment clearance for the so-called development projects. Is this a project clearance ministry? From April 2014 to March 2016, the ministry has diverted 34,620 hectares of forest land, granting them final clearances and another diversion of 40,476 hectares will soon happen once the ministry grants them final clearance. India will not survive by selling its natural resources for economic growth. The ruling elites must understand that the economy can not be expanded on the cost of ecology but who is going to tell them? And of course, when I tell them the fact about livelihood, ecological and human crisis in publicly they put me on LoC.
On 20 May 2015, I met the Regional Passport Officer, Ranchi to know the status of my passport, and I was surprised to know that the passport is valid. However, the offloading was done by immigration authority without proper verification. What does it mean? It clearly means that I was offloaded because of my book – Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India, which exposed that how the Indian State has been waging a war primarily for grabbing the natural resources under the guise of cleansing the naxal menace. Finally, my passport was restored with a letter, which states that my passport is valid therefore, I can fly to any country. But of course, my name is not remove from the LoC. Why? Am I still a gravest security threat to the nation? Where is my right to freedom?