by Gladson Dungdung
“Jan Denge, Jameen Nahi Denge” (We shall surrender our lives but not land). This has been the most popular slogan of the Adivasis’ Movements against Displacement (AMD) across India for last couple of decades, which clearly indicates about the meaning and importance of land for them. ‘Adivasi’ literally means the aboriginal or original inhabitant or first settler of the land.[i] Undoubtedly, the Adivasis are the indigenous peoples of India, which is legitimatized by the Supreme Court of India through its judgement (SLP (Cr) No.10367 of 2010 Kailas & others Vs State of Maharashtra), stating that the tribal people (Scheduled Tribes or Adivasis) are the descendants of the original inhabitants of India[ii]. However, the Indian government denies their Indigenous Identity and recognizes them merely as the scheduled tribes through the Indian Constitution and laws even today.
There are 744 Adivasi or indigenous ethnic groups in India but only 645 of them are identified as the Scheduled Tribes. As per the Census 2011, the Adivasis are 8 percent of the total population with 104 million people, treated as the most marginalized and vulnerable communities in India. An Adivasi legend Dr. Ramdayal Munda describes the true characters of the Adivasi community as ‘casteless, classless, based on equality, community based economic system, co-existence with the nature, consent based self-rule, dignity and autonomy[iii]. The Adivasis live in or around the nature. The government’s data suggests that 89.9 percent of them still live in the rural areas, and merely 10.1 percent[iv] of them have shifted to urban centers. The Adivasi economy, which is also known as the community or need based economy fully depends on forest and agriculture.
The natural resources are the most essential sources of livelihood for the Adivasis but the land is most important among them. However, they do not perceive the land merely as a livelihood resource but they consider it as their heritage, history, autonomy, identity, culture, existence and life. They believe that their sole existence relies on the land. Therefore, if the land is lost, their existence is gone, which could be seen in the cities like Jamshedpur, Bokaro and Ranchi. The so-called civilized people treat the land merely as property or commodity, and sell it in the market rate to make money as much as possible, but the land is life for the Adivasis. That’s the reason why they have been struggling to protect their land for the centuries.
In the ancient period, the Adivasis possessed undisputed ownership rights over the natural resources and they judiciously used these resources to fulfil their needs[v]. They enjoyed autonomy, peace and prosperity with the nature. The situation rapidly changed with the Aryan invasion and turned worse during the British rule in India. On the one hand, the Aryans destroyed the Adivasi civilization, denied them their indigenous identity and did not accept them as fellow human beings, and the Britishers, on the other hand, used violence against the innocent Adivasis for grabbing their land, territory and resources, declared them uncivilized and even listed 127 Adivasi ethnic communities as criminal tribes[vi].
The British introduced a centrally organized administration, a judiciary and a police system. They also introduced the concept of private property as opposed to the traditional notion of collective usufructuary rights of the community. Thus, the natural resources of the community were coined as ‘property’ and individual owners were created. The communal resources were considered as the ‘eminent’ domain and taken over. The forests and other individually unclaimed fallow lands were declared as the property of the State.[vii] Gradually, the government enacted various policies and laws, which induced the marginalization of the Adivasis. They were deprived from the natural resources merely for the government’s revenue yielding measures. The Adivasi way of life was destroyed by imposing revenue on land and duties on the forest produces. The Land Acquisition Act 1894 was the last nail on the coffin, which resulted a huge deprivation of the Adivasis from their land, territory and resources.
After India’s independence, the land alienation was on the rampant. There have been three types of major land alienation of Adivasis – legal, illegal and forcefully. The India State used the Land Acquisition Act 1894 for so-called legal land acquisition and ‘eminent domain’ for forceful acquisition of the Adivasis’ land under the tag of ‘public interest’, ‘national interest’ and ‘development’. The estimated data suggests that 28.2 million Adivasis have already been alienated, uprooted and displaced from their land, territory and resources in the name of public interest, national interest and economic growth & development since 1947 to 2004. Despite the prohibition of the Adivasis’ land alienation legally, the Annual report of the Ministry of Rural Development (Government of India) unfolds that 60,464 cases regarding 85,777.22 acres of illegal transfer of Adivasis’ lands were registered till 2001-2002[viii]. Furthermore, 2,608 cases of illegal land transfer were registered in 2003-2004, 2,657 cases in 2004-2005, 3,230 cases in 2005-2006, 3789 cases in 2006-2007 and 5382 cases in 2007-2008, which clearly indicates that the cases of illegal land alienation are increasing rapidly. The Adivasis’ alienation from their land, territory and resources, has resulted in their impoverishment, destruction and extinction. They have lost their identity, autonomy, language, culture and tradition.
However, today, the Adivasis have been facing even more threat of being alienated, uprooted and displaced from their land, territory and resources. The present nexus among the State, the Corporate Houses and the political parties, seems to be busy in amending the safeguarding laws made for Adivasis, suppressing the dissent voices and crushing down the democratic Adivasis Movements through police and military operations. For instance, the state government of Jharkhand amended the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation & Resettlement Act 2013, attempted to amend the CNT Act 1908 and SPT Act 1949 and constituted Land Bank, where 2.1 million acres of community land, which includes the commons, sacred grooves and forest land, enlisted. Besides, the government has also brought the Industrial and investment promotion policy 2016 to create an industrial corridor in the state. Therefore, there is a thrust need to understand, respect and acknowledge the Adivasi’s perspective about land. Pressurize the Central and state governments for the enforcement of the safeguarding laws, constitutional provisions and Supreme Court’s judgements regarding the Adivasis rights. And fight for the protection of the Adivasis’ land, territory and resources.
[i] Dungdung, Gladson. 2013. Whose Country is it Anyway? Kolkata : Adivaani.
[ii] The Supreme Court order on the SLP (Cr) No. 10367 of 2010 Kailas & others Vs State of Maharashtra
[iii] Dungdung. 2016. Adivasi aur Vanadhikar. New Delhi: Prithvi Prakashan.
[iv] Statistical profile of Scheduled Tribes in India 2013. Ministry of Tribal Affairs (Govt. of India).
[v] Dungdung. 2016. Adivasi aur Vanadhikar. New Delhi: Prithvi Prakashan.
[vi] Dungdung, Gladson. 2013. Whose Country is it Anyway? Kolkata : Adivaani.
[vii] Munda, R.D. & Mullick,S.B. 2003. The Jharkhand Movement. New Delhi: IWGIA & BIRSA
[viii] Annual Report 2002-03, Ministry of Rural Development (Govt. of India).