Gladson Dungdung is a renowned Activist, Author, Researcher, Public Speaker and Motivator. Some of his path breaking books are ‘Endless Cry in the Red Corridor’, ‘Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India’, ‘Whose Country is it Anyway?’, ‘Crossfire’, ‘Adivasis aur Vanadhikar (Adivasis and Forest Rights) and ‘Vikas Ke Kabragar (Graveyard of Development)’. He comes from the Kharia Adivasi community of the Indian state of Jharkhand. Today, he is one of the recognized Adivasi voice in India. Sunil Raj Philip has spoken to him. Excerpt from the interview.
You are an ardent activist author for human rights violation especially for that of the Indigenous Peoples. Who/what was the inspiration/event that motivated you?
I come from a family, who has paid the heavy price for so-called development. Our agricultural land was submerged in ‘Kelaghagh Dam’ constructed over ‘Chhinda River’ for irrigation project near Simdega town in 1980. Unfortunately, we were neither rehabilitated, nor compansade and the water of Dam also never reached to our remaining land. We were simply betrayed in the name of development and forced to live in the forest area, and later coined as encroachers too. However, my father became one of the well known social activists in the region, later; he was brutally murdered along with my mother while they were going to attend Simdega Civil Court related to a case of land dispute in village in 1990. My father used to say that in whatever situation we may be, but we must fight for the people. I have seen him, while struggling for our survival; he was also fighting for the people. At the beginning of my activism, I travelled across the state of Jharkhand, I could see the pain, suffering and agony of our people, who were alienated, uprooted and displaced from their lands, houses and forests for the so-called public interest, national interest and development, but they were hardly able to raise their issues. Therefore, I decided to take up their causes. My parents especially my father is the main source of my inspiration.
Is there any specific area that concerns you the most regarding the violation of Indigenous People’s rights?
In October 2009, when the joint anti-Naxal operation largely known as ‘Operation Green Hunt’ was launched across the Red Corridor of India by the Indian State, which is actually the Adivasi Corridor, I could see that hundreds of innocent Adivasis were brutally killed in fake encounters, women were raped and thousands of them were brutally tortured and imprisoned by the Security Forces falsely implicating them as Naxals. Anybody who would raise the questions against displacement and police atrocity would be targeted by the State therefore, most of the people decided to keep silent. But my inner voice didn’t allow me to do so therefore, I started roaming in the Red Corridor, did fact finding and filed petitions with the National Human Rights Commission and Jharkhand High Court on the cases of fake encounter, rape, molestation, torture and falsely implicated cases. As a result, the State was forced to accept the gross human rights violation caused by the Security Forces in the Red Corridor. The investigations were done; fake encounters were established and family members were also compensated but the most unfortunate part is that the perpetrators were hardly brought to justice. This is how the impunity continues in our Country, where the Constitution guarantees for the social, economic and political justice to each and everyone. However, the major concern is that the Indian State has been waging war against the Adivasis in the name of bringing peace, good governance and development in their territory but the actual aim is to grab the natural resources, which means there is biggest threat to the existence of Adivasis, wildlife and biodiversity.
Tell us about your book – “Mission Saranda” that was launched in Ranchi, JNU, New Delhi and Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London as well as Suxess Univesity, UK?
In this book, I have documented, reviewed and analyzed the issues of Saranda Forest from a holistic approach, which begins with the challenges of travelling in the Red Corridor. It goes further with the discussion about the relationship between forest and Adivasis and the iron ore mining and its impact in the lives of the Adivasis. It analyses the forest movement and the State suppression, the Naxal Movement, its nexus with the corporate houses and impact on the Adivasis. Further, it analyses the war and human right violations including brutal killing of innocent Adivasis and the role of the National Human Rights Commission. The book reviews the status of health, education and basic needs like drinking water in the Saranda Forest. It analyses the role of media, politicians and local self governance. It also unfolds the corporate houses’ foul play during the public hearings by bribing the community, traditional heads and local politicians. The book analyses the biodiversity and forest rights of the Adivasis. But most importantly, it exposes the failure of the much hyped ‘Saranda Development Plan’, which was propagated as a model for the development of the Naxal affected areas of India.
The book ‘Mission Saranda’ intends to tell the world about the pain, suffering and agony of the Adivasis of Saranda Forest, who are residing over the mineral wealth. It exposes the State sponsored gross human rights violations committed in the name of economic growth, development and establishment of peace and good governance. And of course, it exposes how the Indian State has been waging a war against its own people with clear intention to grab their natural resources, especially the mineral resources and hand those over to the corporate houses. The book aims to bring the Adivasis’ issues at centre stage of the public debate so that the Adivasis are no longer be treated merely either as victims or beneficiaries but they are included as the opinion and decision makers in the corridor of power, which may pave the way for solution to their endless problems.
The case of Saranda Forest in Jharkhand is one of the best examples of how India’s civil war is not about cleansing away the CPI-Maoist so that peace and good governance can be restored in the conflict zones. It is the State’s well planned war against the Adivasis for mineral resources. Although the State, the Corporate Houses, the CPI-Maoist and the Adivasis are the major stakeholders in the war, the losers are the Adivasis.
Presently, on which issue are you working/focusing on?
I’m focusing on the violation of civil and political rights as well and economic, social and cultural rights. For instance, extrajudicial killing, rape, torture, falsely implicated cases by the security forces during anti-Naxal operations. At the same time, I’m also raising the issues of right to life, force displacement, land alienation, freedom of thought and expression, freedom of religion, forest rights, Adivasi identity, autonomy, language, culture, etc.
What is the most challenging obstacle that you face in you ventures?
The State is run by the corporate houses today, who are not allowing to exercise the real democracy, Indian Constitution and people centered Laws. Secondly, there are multiple division among the Adivasis i.e. ethnic group, religion and language, etc., which are not allowing them to unite in one forum. Thirdly, there is also competition among the Adivasi Activists, writers and public intellectuals, which is creating a kind of enmity among us. However, since, I’m in the middle, who have been raising uncomfortable questions against the State, the Corporate houses and the Naxal organizations therefore, I’m targeted from all the corners but I’m least bothered about them.
What are your expectations from people/specifically from the religious Institutions?
The leadership of these institutions must understand the Adivasi issues, Adivasi identity and culture. They should promote the youth leadership in all the areas. Today, providing merely health and education facilities to the Adivasis without critical awareness on their issues will not serve the purposes in long run. There is a thrust need of intellectual revolution among the Adivasis, which will bring back their lost pride, identity, language, culture and autonomy.
What all are the new challenges you find for the Tribals and Adivasis in India under the present Central Government?
The Present government is much more oppressive. Since, the Prime Minister comes from a business community, he sees everything in that perspective therefore, his government has been trying hard to grab the Adivasis’ land, territory and resources by adopting legal route and the Land Acquisition Ordinance is one of the examples of it. He is in too hurry for handing over the natural resources to the corporate houses in the name of economic growth, development and national interest. Besides, this government has been attempting to eliminate the identity of Adivasis by coining them as ‘Vanbandhi’ through government programmes, which is quite dangerous. The right wing Hindutava forces the RSS and its allied organizations used to call the Adivasis as ‘Vanvasi’, which is a derogatory for the Adivasis. Therefore, the Adivasis must understand about the vote bank politics because unless they come together, they are not going to protect their land, territory, resources, identity, culture, tradition, language, etc. And without these, there won’t be Adivasis.
Your message especially to the Indigenous People.
On 5th January 2011, the Supreme Court of India through a landmark judgment has said that the Adivasis and tribals are the real owner of this country and rest are the decedent of either immigrants or invaders. Therefore, the Adivasis must feel proud of being Adivasis, practice their identity, culture, tradition, language and autonomy without fear. Besides, they must take up leadership in all the areas – politics, judiciary, media, literature, education, health, business and what not. If they become leaders, the tide will surly turn on the other side.
Note: Interview was taken in 2016.