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Indian government bars another activist from leaving the country

By Max Bearak

May 10, 2016


Gladson Dungdung is either a security threat, or the Indian government doesn’t want the attendees of a workshop on environmental politics at the University of Sussex, in England, to hear what he has to say. The activist’s passport was impounded at Delhi’s airport on Monday morning while he was on his way to London. This is the second London-bound environmental activist to be turned around — Priya Pillai, a Greenpeace campaigner, was similarly “offloaded” from her flight before she could present evidence to British members of parliament on human rights violations surrounding coal mining operations in central India. Two months later, Delhi’s High Court overturned the bar on Pillai’s travel in an order that noted: “You can’t muzzle dissent in a democracy.”

Dungdung is a member of one of India’s “adivasi” or “tribal” communities, which make up about 8 percent of the national population, and are widely thought to be indigenous to the subcontinent. That population is concentrated in central and eastern India, in tracts that are or were formerly forested. Those regions are also home to India’s most intensive mining and some of its largest dams, which are essential to fulfilling the government’s vision of providing electricity to over 300 million Indians who don’t yet have access. Adivasi communities have close spiritual ties to the land, often relying on it for their livelihoods, and they have produced some of the staunchest opponents of India’s resource-extraction economy. Some have joined a half-century-old Maoist guerrilla insurgency, which Indian armed forces have failed to fully quash over the decades.

Adivasi activists, as well as others who work in the human and environmental rights spheres in eastern and central India, are often conflated with Maoists — and being a Maoist, or working with them in any way, is against the law, and would certainly lead to a travel ban. But Dungdung has written that he couldn’t possibly be a Maoist in a piece that directly asks the question in the title: “Am I a Maoist?”

“I have never read about Maoism. I deliberately do not read about any ideology because I know that Maoists teach the Adivasis about Maoism, Gandhians preach them about Gandhism and Marxists ask them to walk on Marxism,” he wrote. “But no one bothers about Adivasism, which is the best ‘ism’ among these, which perhaps leads to a just and equitable society.”

Rather, since Dungdung had traveled abroad in the recent past, he believes that something he just did must have led to his name ending up on a blacklist: publishing Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India, which follows his first book, Whose Country Is It Anyway: Untold Stories of the Indigenous Peoples of India. Many have accused him, as they did with Priya Pillai, of being an “anti-national,” and standing in the way of India’s development.

Dungdung’s personal story follows the contours of displacement and harassment that haunt adivasi communities around India. “When I was just one year old, my family was displaced. Our 20 acres of fertile land was taken away from us in the name of development,” he wrote. “Our ancestral land was submerged in a Dam, which came up at Chinda River near Simdega town in 1980.”

He said his family of six was given a pittance in compensation, and those in his community who protested were jailed. Later, his family settled in a nearby forest, but were constantly hounded out of their home by forestry officials who accused them of illegal encroachment and woodcutting. When he was still a boy, both of his parents were murdered, and the culprits were never apprehended. He believes that most of this is because of discrimination. “Why there is no electricity in my village even today? Why my people do not get water for their field whose lands were taken for the irrigation projects? Why there is no electricity in those houses, who have given their land for the power project? And why people are still living in small mud houses whose lands were taken for the steel plants? It seems that the Adivasis are only born to suffer and other to enjoy over our graves.”

Jharkhand Adivasi activist’s passport seized at Delhi airport

Deepu Sebastian & Vijaita Singh

CHENNAI:, MAY 10, 2016 09:25 IST

In a case similar to that of Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai’s, Ranchi-based Adivasi activist Gladson Dungdung’s passport was seized citing a Look Out Circular at the New Delhi airport on Monday and he was not allowed to board a flight to London.

Mr. Dungdung (36) was to conduct a workshop at the University of Sussex on Environmental Politics and Activism on May 10; this would be part of a larger workshop on Environmental History and Politics of South Asia. He said that two others who would be part of his workshop – anthropologist Felix Padel and researcher Malvika Gupta – had been allowed to make the trip.

Mr. Gladson’s passport had been impounded earlier too. In January 2014, he had to surrender the document after an adverse police report mentioned his activism at Nagri, a village on the outskirts of Ranchi. Adivasis had been agitating against the acquisition of farmland to construct institutes of higher education. The passport was returned six months later after a second police verification. Gladson said he has travelled abroad twice after. “I released by book Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India at the University of Sussex on November 20 last year. I also travelled to Denmark,” he said.

Immigration sources said that Mr. Dungdung had been stopped due to reasons linked to the first instance and not because of his activism. “He had reported his passport lost in 2013. The Regional Passport office reported the matter to us only in January this year by saying that the passport had been cancelled,” said an official. He countered this by saying that he had never lost his passport; two notices dated October 22, 2013 from the RPO had asked him to surrender his passport for verification in the light of the adverse police report.

Mr. Dungdung was to fly from New Delhi to London by Air India’s AI115, due to depart at 5.30 AM. Speaking over the phone from the airport, Mr. Dungdung – preparing to fly back to Ranchi – said, “I was stopped at immigration and asked whether I was a student. When I said I was a human rights activist, they asked me to wait.” Mr. Dungdung said that after a while, an immigration officer informed him that they were retaining his passport. “They said I was in wrongful possession of it,” he said.

“Pax [Person] was LOC [Look Out Circular] subject, allowing impounding of passport. Hence passport seized and sent to concerned authority through FRRO [Foreigner Regional Registration Office] Delhi,” said the seizure memo handed to Mr. Dunddung by an Immigration Clearing Officer. Mr. Dungdung has an academic visa that expires only on November 1. He had both onward and return tickets.

Mr. Dungdung is the author of seven books, five in Hindi and two in English. An Adivasi himself, he came to prominence in 2011 when Jharkhand police and paramilitary forces launched Operation Anaconda within the state’s Saranda forests to flush out CPI(Maoist) members from the headquarters of their Eastern Regional Bureau. Mr. Dungdung was able to document and expose the plight of villagers caught in the crossfire. Later, he was one of the leaders of an agitation in the outskirts of Ranchi: villagers of Nagri opposed the takeover of farmland for multiple educational institutions.

“Defaulters of millions of INR like Mr. Vijay Malaya (sic.) can’t be offloaded but activists like me are bound to be offloaded. However, my fight for the Advasis’ ownership rights over the natural resources, Adivasi identity, human rights, ecology and against unjust development processes will continue till they take away my right to life forever,” Mr.Dungdung said in a Facebook post.

Ms. Pillai said there were similarities between her case and Mr.Dungdung’s. “I also checked in and was stopped at immigration,” she said. However, officials did not take away her passport and instead stamped “Offload” on it; the HC asked that it be removed. “At the time, I was not told of a Look Out Circular – officials said I was on a blacklist, a database of people not allowed to travel. The government accepted the existence of a Look Out Circular only during court proceedings,” she said. 

There can be no economy without ecology, says tribal rights activist ‘offloaded’ from London-bound plane

Written by Tarishi Verma | New Delhi |

Updated: May 9, 2016 8:23:52 pm

In a case similar to that of Greenpeace activist Priya Pilla, tribal rights activist Gladson Dungdung on Monday claimed he was “offloaded” from a London-bound Air India flight, citing his passport as an issue.

Dungdung was supposed to be on a flight from New Delhi to London where he was going to attend a workshop on Environmental History and Politics of South Asia, to be held at the University of Sussex on May 10.

“When I went to the immigration officer about one-and-a-half hours before my flight, he first greeted me nicely, asking me about myself. Then he asked me if I was a student. When I said no, I was a researcher, he asked me what was my area of research. As soon as I said human rights, he became alert and excused himself,” Dungdung told over phone.

The officer then started contacting the Air India staff. Dungdung overheard the officer mentioning the word “offloading”.

“I asked him why I was being offloaded. He said my passport has been impounded. I reasoned with him that I had surrendered my passport in 2013 and all the formalities were over in that year. I also told him that I had traveled overseas in 2014 and 2015. To this he replied that this was 2016 and that he couldn’t do anything,” he said.

Dungdung was subsequently not allowed to board the flight and had to return to his home in Ranchi. The authorities also seized his passport.

 Gladson is a tribal rights activist and believes in retaining and increasing the forest cover for the adivasi population as well as for the betterment of the world.

“There can be no economy without ecology. Are people going to eat iron and money instead of rice and grain,” he said.

Dungdung has recently authored the book ‘Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India’, which focuses on human rights violations and mining issues in Saranda Forest which houses India’s rich Adivasi cultural heritage.

In January 2015, Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai was also offloaded from a flight going to the UK where she was supposed to testify against the UK-based firm Mahaan Coal Limited.

More News report

1 thought on “Indian government bars another activist from leaving the country”

  1. Those who bring out in the open what is hidden inside will be hounded. But that is not going to hinder them from speaking out. Gladson and Priya are two such persons with whom we express our solidarity.

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