By Gladson Dungdung
‘Tutwapani’ is one of the centres of anti-displacement movement, which is situated in the plateau of Netarhat in Jharkhand. The Adivasis have halted the proposed ‘Netarhat Field Firing Range’ project of the Indian Army. ‘Jan Denge, Jamin Nahi Denge’ (we shall surrender our lives but not land). This is the slogan, which inspired thousands of Adivasis to push back the India Army. Paradoxically, hundreds of Bauxites loaded trucks cross this place every day. The Oraons, Mundas, Birjiyas, Nagesias and Asur Adivasis live in the region but the Bauxite hills belong to the Asurs. The Asurs’ world begins from Tutwapani. The Asurs reside on the plateau, which is full of Bauxite but they never get benefit of it except using the useless left out Bauxite stones as boundaries of their houses because they cannot sell the hills. The philosophy of their life doesn’t allow them to make money from the nature instead they used it for their survival.
Historically, the Asurs are known as the first settlers of the region. They had invented the iron before any scientist could do. The first Asur couple – Shukra and Shukri invented the iron, while they were cooking food for them in a traditional oven made of stones. After cooking food, they realised that the stones used for oven were melted into iron due to heat of the fire. They used a piece of iron as a hammer and made arrows and axes from the rest of it for the hunting. The Asurs worship a hammer as their God even today. Later, they adopted the iron melting work as the occupation and made weapons for hunting and equipment for agriculture. However, the occupation didn’t survive after emergence of the Tata company in 1907. The company introduced agriculture equipment in much lower prices, led to destruction of the traditional occupation of Asurs. They were forced to adopt the agriculture for their survival. The supporters of the capitalism argue that the big industries produce more jobs but that’s not the only truth. The bitter truth is that the mega industries do not just grab the land, territory and resources of the Adivasis but they also swallow the traditional occupations. Indeed, they are making the Adivasis resource less and measurable.
On December 28, 2018, a group of 21 of us comprises of activists, writers and researchers went to the plateau, where Asur Adivasis live. It was an exercise to understand the Adivasis’ world view. When we reached Tutwapani, it was 7pm already. The area was calm and quiet, and looks like a deserted place. Since, the temperature falls to minus degree in the night during winter therefore, the Adivasis accomplish their work and go to bed too early. As soon as, we left the main road, the vehicles hit the mud road and the red dust start floating in the air, which looks terrible in the vehicle’s light. It was the dust of Bauxite, which was enough to indicate that the worst was waiting for us. The road and pits followed equally. One could see the Bauxite stones on the road, which was used to filled up the pits. The Bauxite loaded heavy trucks convert the mud road into terrible pits and the useless abandoned Bauxite stones are used to fill up those pits so that trucks can continue carry the Bauxites.
The trucks start carrying Bauxite from 4 O’clock in the morning and go up to 10 O’clock in the night every day. This is enough to tell you that how much the mining companies are in hurry to sell out the Bauxite hills. I’m sure, they’ll not rest till every single Bauxite stone is sold out. After sometime, we were in the middle of the forest. We could see the lights seem to be coming out from the four different holes of a wall and a few colorful tiny bulbs twinkling in the middle of it, which look beautiful. These are trucks carrying Bauxites from the forest and going towards the cities. The trucks moving in a queue creates beautiful scene in the night but it fails to bring smiles on the Asurs’ faces. They simply don’t care about it.
The Asur territory is spread over four districts – Gumla, Lohardaga, Latehar and Palamu of Jharkhand. The availability of Bauxite in the territory has created hell for Asurs. They are displaced and uprooted from their ancestor’s land and territory. Their livelihood resources are snatched away in the name of development. The Asurs are notified as one of the primitive tribes in Jharkhand. Therefore, the central and state government claim of spending millions of rupees for their welfare but the Asurs are improvised day by day. There are only 7,783 members left in the community. If the mighty State can’t even able to provide the basic facilities to such a small number of people after grabbing their mineral resources, then how can you expect the bigger things from it? The quality education, health services, employment, houses, sanitation, drinking water, etc. are still a distance dream for them. Their voices can’t be heard in the Indian democracy because now it has become merely a number game therefore, they have no role in it.
The village roads, connected with the main mud road look the same in the night because the trucks, tractors and earth movers have the same marks everywhere. An Asur couple was our guide but we lost our direction and reached to a small valley in the night. The mining companies are to be blamed for it not the couple. The couple had come to the village a year ago, since then, the geography of the region has been changed as lot due to the Bauxite mining. They live in Ghaghra, which is about 90 kilometers far from the village. Finally, we reached Chaurapat village. It was an Asur village but now Mundas are in the majority. Most of the Asurs have departed from the village long ago in search of the livelihood. However, Asur girls of adjoining villages are studying in the government residential school, where we stayed for couple of days. We were fully tired because of a long journey therefore every one of us consumed some khichri (mixed rice) and rested.
In the next morning, the Sun rays hitting from a broken window of residential school was enough to indicates that the day has already begun. The caretaker of residential school, Melan Asur had return to his residence after having bath in a stream down to the plateau in cold water at 6am. While lying on the bed, I opened my eyes and others too. It was an undeclared abandoned building, which might fall within a couple of years. I could see the clear marks of water leakages during the rainy season. Most of us got up and went to see the other rooms, toilets and campus. The small layer of ceiling of several rooms had fallen. 88 Adivasi girls from class one to eight used to stay in this pathetic building. They had gone their homes to enjoy the winter vacation. One can’t even imagine how the girls stay and do their study in this residential school.
Meanwhile, I went to get some water from a hand pump installed in the campus but it was out of order. Suddenly, I saw a new water tank, installed in front of school building but unfortunately there too was no water. Melan Asur told me that the water was never filled up in the tank but in fact it was installed to show the visitors especially the government officials during their visit. There are two toilets in school building, which are in pathetic condition so can’t be used and most of the toilets are half built but the contractors have already withdrawn the money showing the accomplished construction on papers. The girls are sent to the forest for toilet and streams for bathing. They bath in the streams, washes their cloths and drink from the same streams. Modi government’s highly hyped the clean India project has no meaning for them. The food is cooked with firewood, therefore, couple of class rooms are used to keep firewood. There are many solar lights installed in the school premises but not even one is operational. They have become show pieces without batteries. There are only three teachers to teach the students from class one to eight and one of them spends full time in the management of hostel. Can you imagine what kind of future these girls will have?
Now it was time to visit the forest and stream. As soon as we came out of school premises, the entire area looks red like there was a mass killing a few hours back. Of course, it was a mass killing of Bauxite hills, agriculture fields and trees, which has been going on for decades. There is a Bauxite mining office near the residential school. One could see couple of trucks and earth movers halted in front of the office. Surprisingly, there is no signboard of the mining office, which is enough to indicate that there is something drastically wrong. Usually, once the mining companies acquire the mining leases, they install the signboards immediately to declare the area as their territory. The nameless companies don’t do so. They work secretly. After a few minutes’ walk, we could see the entire vicinity from uphill. The forests and hills look well connected with each other similar like the Adivasis do while performing a folk dance. Soon, the heartbreaking scene appears in front of our eyes. The uprooted dried trees are scatted, the roots of a few trees are out of the earth, which look like a half murder, some trees are struggling for survival and agriculture fields of uphill are full of mining pits and red mud and the abandoned mining pits seen everywhere in the forest. It looks like someone has robbed the treasury of entire vicinity in the night.
The villagers unfold the story. There are two kinds of Bauxite mining in the vicinity – legal and illegal. According to the available data, the Birla’s Hindalco is the major legal mining lease holder of Bauxite in Jharkhand with 5 leases. The company produces 2.23 Mt Bauxite per annum. There are also several illegal operators, who keep small offices, few trucks for transportation and earth movers for excavation. These illegal operators, trap some local unemployed Adivasi youth. They deploy them as local contractors, whose prime role is to convince the Adivasi land holders to give their land for mining. A so-called local contractor Adivasi youth is given Rs.1500 per truck and a land owner gets Rs.200 against one truck of Bauxite excavated from his agriculture field, which is less than daily wage. These days even a daily wage labourer earn Rs.400 per day.
The illegal miners sell the Bauxites to the legal holders like Hindalco @ Rs.9500 per truck. After cutting the cost of loading, transportation, land owner, local contractor, levy to the Maoists and bribe to the government officers, the illegal miners earn Rs.5000 per truck. So, one can imagine how much money they make every day by selling the Bauxite hills in the name of development. These companies violate the forest conservation Act 1980, Forest Rights Act 2006 and PESA Act 1996. They neither get the forest and environment clearances nor consent of the Gram Sabha (village council). One would question that how is it possible to mine in such a huge area without permission? Is government not aware about it? Do they have any kind of nexus to protect their business interest? We get the answer of some of these questions immediately.
The villagers tell us that 11 Maoist Guerrillas had arrived in the village on December 25, 2018 just three days before our arrival. The owners of the mining companies had ordered to cook local chicken for them. They had chicken party in the mining office and went back. We were told that the Maoist Guerrillas were still in the forest next to the village. They already had information about our arrival and if they would smell any kind of threat, they can go against us to any extent. When there is such a strong nexus between the Maoists and illegal miners, who will dare to stand against them? The Maoists and illegal miners both are against of building a concrete road. They know that a concrete road will make their heaven unsafe. The police and government officers can access to the region at any time. The business of the mining companies is flourishing without a concrete road but it has created hell for the Adivasis. They cycle 20 to 25 kilometres in such a pathetic road. The Bauxite mining has become a major source of levy for the Maoists. These days, they convey meetings with the mining Mafias instead of the Adivasis. Now you can decide, for whom they are fighting a war. Of course, they are not fighting for the Asur Adivasis but protecting the business interest of the mining Mafias. Should we still deny the reality of sandwich theory and take for guaranteed that they are messiahs for the Adivasis?
The Adivasis can foresee about the upcoming livelihood crisis. Most of the Bauxites have already been excavated in the plain area as well as in the forest, and now the mining activities have been slowing moving towards the main agricultural land. When these prime agriculture land is grabbed for mining, the Adivasis will starve. How long Rs.200 earn from per truck Bauxite will ensure food for them? And once the excavation is done, the land would be no longer usable for the agriculture. The Adivasis depend on agriculture for their survival. The straws kept for cattle on the wooden platforms are enough to tell that there was very good harvest this year. Melan Asur says that mining will destroy the Adivasis. They will have no other option than migrating to the adjoining town and cities for their survival.
Finally, we reach near the streams. There are several small streams naturally created, where the water comes out of the Bauxite hills. These are the main sources of water for the Adivasis, animals and birds. The water flows toward a river. The water of the river is cold like an ice. The villagers go to the forest for defecation and we to follow their paths. The toilet facilities are not available in the village but the irony is that the Jharkhand government has already declared the entire block area as free from the open defecation. The villagers say that they can’t use toilet even if the government builds toilets for them because of the lack of water in the uphill. Who will carry the water from the downstream for toilets? The villagers carry water for cooking and drinking from the streams, which are both sides of the village. Our team members were instructed not to take photos of people while defecating in open places, which can create unrest for the Indian State and the Media can also spend its precious time to depict us as an anti-Modi gang. The women and children wash the dishes in streams and fetch water in the aluminum pots made of Bauxite. The water is contaminated with high mineral but they have no choice.
There is not even one hospital in the region. The villagers say that they go to Bishunpur, which is 50 kilometers far from the village. The transportation facility is also not available in the region; therefore, the villagers use the Bauxite trucks as transport. They pay the driver for it. In fact, this is a major source of extra income for the truck drivers and the assistants. Melan Asur says that he calls the parents and handover the girls if they fall sick. The government hospitals are at 40 to 50 kilometers from either side. The mining companies don’t spend money for health and education of Adivasis. They are only interested is making money from the Bauxites under the tag of development for them. Of course, the government subscribes their idea of development that why they don’t feel of being responsible for the infrastructure development of the region. I think if the Adivasis would have stopped the Bauxite trucks, these mining companies would have launched the CSR programmes to woo them. But no one dare to stop the Bauxite trucks because of the Maoists connection with it.
There are five government residential schools for the Adivasi children in the region. Among these, three schools are for the boys and two for the girls. The capacity of boy’s schools are three times more than the girls’ schools have. This is a unique example of gender inequality promoted by the government, who claims of protecting and educating the girl children with a slogan “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhawo” (protect and educate a girl child). The first Asur teacher, Chat Asur, who served as head teacher in Jobhipat residential school says that the residential schools lack teachers, toilet facilities and school buildings but everything is good on papers.
One can see the electric polls installed in the village and electric wire are also connected with a few of them. But electric wires are also broken down between couple of electric polls. The state government has declared of providing electricity to all the villages in Jharkhand. There were breaking news is the media, which states that the government has provided electricity to every village after 70 years. What an achievement? Besides, the government spent millions of Rupees in the advertisements just to inform the people that it has provided electricity in the entire state. I say that it is a kind of official bribe to the media houses. That’s the reason why the media houses are not interested to check the ground realities. But is it possible to bury the truth forever? I believe that nothing is hidden, which will not be revealed because the villagers keep telling everyone, whoever visit their village.
While roaming in the village, we could also see and understand what going on, in the Adivasi children’s minds, which has been well reflected on the black walls of every house. The Bauxite trucks, earth movers and mining pits have replaced the birds, animals, flowers, fruits, trees, forests and water bodies from children’s minds. They have drawn the pictures of Bauxite loaded trucks, earth movers and mining sites on the walls of their houses. Of course, this is frightening. Do these children intent to earn money from the Bauxite hills? What kind of education is being imparted? Do teachers discuss with children on the impact of Bauxite mining in the social science classes or do they talk about how to make profit by selling the Bauxite hills?
After understanding the Adivasi wisdom, witnessing the loot of Bauxite under the guise of development and seeing the ground reality of rural development, we started moving out of the Asurs’ world. The road looks red in the sunlight. The trucks were also moving on the road and dust could be seen floating in the air. The mining companies must pour water on the road everyday as per the law and develop the area of 10 kilometers but they do nothing except trading the Bauxites. The green leaves of Sal trees have turned into red. The dust enters in the lungs of every human being, birds and animals equally. The Adivasis, animal, birds, trees and all living beings are facing the breathing problem.
After sometime, we reached Tutwapani and the several questions arose into my mind that why is the mighty power of Adivasis, who pushed back the Indian Army is unable to stop the Bauxite loaded trucks? Why don’t the companies and government who have been selling out the Bauxite hills think about the Adivasis, animals, birds, trees and forest? Why do our political leaders attend the international conferences on global warming if they still busy in selling the hills, forests and water bodies in the name of development? Does the development means selling the hills? Is this kind of development not hurting the Asurs?