30-year-old Raju Champia (name changed), resident of Chiria village located in the middle of Saranda forest in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, had migrated to Bangalore in search of a job. While working as a labourer in a construction site, he got infected with Covid-19, but wasn’t aware about it. When the countrywide lockdown was declared, he lost his job and was forced to return to his village.
At the outskirts of the village, however, he realized that the villagers had barricaded the village with bamboos. Forced, hence, to go to the quarantine centre, he was further shocked to be declared corona positive.
There are several migrant workers like Raju Champia in Saranda forest, who have been infected with virus and are now struggling to save their precious lives in the quarantines centres. The case of Chiria mines unmasks India’s development paradigm, which everyone must understand.
The Chiria iron-ore mines, named after the village called Chiria, is operated by the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), which is India’s largest Iron Ore producer/miner with reserves of 2,000 million tonnes. Chiria Mines is the most extensive iron ore mines in the Saranda forest, covering about 2376 hectares, which is 3 per cent of the entire Forest. The SAIL has been carrying out mining activities at Chiria since 1938. The SAIL operates five integrated steel plants based at Bokaro, Bhilai, Rourkela, Durgapur and Burnpur, which fully depend on the iron-ore of Chiria mines.
The SAIL produces 16.30 million metric tons of steel per annum and close to 69,808 are employed. Ironically, the SAIL has failed to provide employment to the local Adivasis like Raju Champia, whose livelihood resources were destroyed by their mining activities and has forced many to migrate to cities for their livelihood. The government despite claiming that they would provide jobs to local communities through the mining and industrialisation has, thus far not lived up to any of these promises.
Although the SAIL is a government of India undertaking, in functioning, it is no different from that of a private mining company. SAIL, in fact, not only denies jobs to the Adivasis, it has also shamelessly gone about destroying their agricultural lands and throwing them behind the bars when they have protested. In 1990, SAIL extended its mining activities in Chiria, and illegally sub-leased the excavation work to an Orissa based private mining company, ‘ORS India Ltd’, a unit of the Adhunik group, which was actively carrying out mining activities near Dubil village ─ located almost opposite to Chiria village.
Interestingly, ORS India Ltd, did not acquire the lands from the villagers. Instead, because the mining activities have been carried out at the top of the hill above the village, the mining waste descends directly onto their paddy fields during the rainy season. This has been happening for the last two decades. Consequently, 100 acres of fertile agricultural land has turned barren in the last two decades, without the villages receiving any compensation. The company claims that since it did not acquire the land from the villagers, it has no obligation to compensate the land owners. This is how ORS India Ltd tries to disown responsibility. The villagers didn’t just lose 100 acres of fertile land; they also lost a stream which was their life line, Dolbati Jharna. The mining dust, red mud and red water have had hugely detrimental impacts on the health and livelihood system of these villagers.
Since they had lost their major source of livelihood, inhabitants of Dubil and neighbouring communities organised a meeting, and decided to fight for their rights. In June 2011, they went to the company’s office to demand jobs, and staged a protest there. As a result, the company’s General Manager, Guchait Iqubal, filed a case against six key villagers – Ramlal Champia, Sukhram Champia, Mohan Hansada, Ramkishan Tudu, Budhram Bading and Ram Hansada, alleging that they were holding the company to ransom. On the basis of this complaint, the police arrested many villagers, and locked them up in Jail for 13 days. It is also peculiar that stations are always proactive in Saranda whenever they are asked to take any legal or illegal action to protect the interests of mining companies.
Another interesting episode in the entire story is that 50 villagers from Dubil have been working in Chiria as casual mining labour since 1991, but none of them were regularised. The Company’s unfair rules allow regularisation only after someone has worked as a casual labour for three year in a row, yet these villagers were not regularized even after working as casual labourer for a decade. Thus, villagers who lost their agricultural livelihoods are forced to become daily wage labourers. The agriculture land is covered by iron dust; the waters of the streams and river and other water bodies has turned red and the entire environment is polluted. The iron ore mining has destroyed the livelihood of the Adivasis. Consequently, the villagers of Dubil, Chiria and other neighbouring villages are forced to migrate to the cities.
Presently, the Adivasis are trapped from all corners. On the one hand, the mining activities have destroyed their livelihood resources, and on the other, they get infected with the Covid-19 virus when they migrate to the cities in search of jobs. A billion-dollar question is how will they survive?
The Corona pandemic has exposed the ugly face of the corporate model of development, which has looted the natural resources under the guise of growth and development, and brought tears and inflicted even hardship on the Adivasis.
Forest Clearance for SAIL’s Chiria Iron ore mines, by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (Govt. of India), 2011.
Corona Pandemic had hit India at the end of January 2020. The MBBS students studying in Wuhan city of China, carried the virus with them unknowingly while returning home to enjoy their summer vacation. Later, the international tourists, NRIs, Indian tourists, students and Tabhlighi Jamaties became Corona carriers, and carried it across the country. When the Covid-19 spread in India, the Prime Minister Modi declared the country wide lockdown without discussion and consent of the Chief Ministers of states. The lockdown hit mostly the workers/ labourers, who depend on medium and small size businesses, real-estate and small industries for their survival.
The business entities, real-estate and industries were shut down. Consequently, approximately, 400 million workers/labourers became jobless in one day. They were desperately waiting for reopening of the workplaces but the aggressive Covid-19 denied it. India was forced to extend the lockdown for four times. It was heartbreaking for the workers/labourers. They had nothing left to eat. Besides, the terror of Covid-19 overshadowed them. They lost their patience and decided to walk on the highways for thousand kilometers to reach their homes. A few of them died on the way caused by sunstroke, dehydration, scarcity of food and unavailability of healthcare facilities. Couple of pregnant women delivered their babies on the highways. Shockingly, after delivery, they walked for miles in the heat. Thousands of workers/labourers were also severely injured.
Who are these labourers? Why do they migrate to the cities? Why do they remain poor forever even after doing hard work every day? Why were they forced to walk on the highways? Who is responsible for the loss of many lives during the lockdown? These are some overwhelming questions one needs to answer. However, instead of finding answers, I would like to focus on the Adivasis, the Indigenous Peoples of India, who are 8 percent of the total population with approximately 104 million people. These people live in the natural resource rich regions of India, mostly the coal, iron-ore, Bauxite, etc. But the most interesting fact is that they don’t find jobs in the mining companies, which operate in their territories under the tag of development, economic growth and job opportunities. Hence, they are forced to migrate to the cities for their survival.
The state of Jharkhand is a crucial example to understand the dichotomy. The state has 40 percent of mineral resources of India and 46 percent of its people are below poverty line. However, 60% of Adivasis and Dalits (untouchables) are still below poverty line in the state. Presently, the state is producing about 160 million tonnes of various minerals annually, worth Rs. 15,000 crore. So, it can also be called the rich state of poor masses.
The most shocking factor is that the Adivasis, who are presiding over the mineral wealth, are the poorest masses in the country, forced to migrate to the cities. The corona pandemic has fully exposed the corporate model of growth and development, which is bound to increase economic inequality. There are thousands of mining, Steel, power and other companies like Tata, Jindal, Asser, Vedanta, SAIL, etc. operating in the state for decades but they have miserably failed in providing jobs to the local Adivasis and other labourers. Instead, they have alienated them from their livelihood resources.
While monitoring Covid-19 cases, Chief Minister of Jharkhand, accepted that his government is batting hard for the safe return of 810,000 labourers to the state. Most of these labourers are either Adivasis or Dalits. A billion dollar question is why do these people are forced to migrate to the cities despite presiding over the mineral wealth?
The iron-ore rich Saranda forest of Jharkhand is an example to understand the main reason of Adivasis migrating to the cities. I’m bringing it here precisely because a few of Adivasis, who had migrated to the city of Bangalore and elsewhere, have returned to the forest after infected with Covid-19. ‘Saranda’ literally means a ‘land of seven hundred hills’ situated in the hilly tract of West Singhbhum district in the state of Jharkhand. The forest covers an area of approximately 847 square kilometers, which is the abode of the Ho and Munda Adivasis. Approximately 25,000 Adivasi families, with a total population of about 1,25,000 people, reside in the forest. Their economy is agro-forest-based. They used to agriculture practices, collection of minor forest products and rearing livestock.
Saranda Forest is estimated to contain 25% of the total iron ore of the country, which is itself a record. The exploitation of Saranda’s iron ore began in the early 20th century with the establishment of the Tata company, whose principal mines at Noamundi were exploited since 1925 deprived the Adivasis from their livelihood resources. Their agricultural lands were acquired without respite, they were not given any job and collection of forest produces was also denied. They had no place to graze the livestock. They were forced to migrate from the region. As soon as mining activities multiplied, the miseries of Adivasis too multiplied.
Presently, 50 mining iron ore leases are operational, covering an area of 14,410.07 hectares. Besides, the Jharkhand government has sanctioned 22 new leases to several national and multinational companies, including Arcellor Mittal Company, Tata Steel, Jindal Steel & Power Ltd, JSW, Bhushan Steel & Power Ltd, Essar Steel Ltd, and Electro Steel Casting Ltd. Once these 22 new mining projects, which are in different stages of approval, are given the go ahead, an additional 9337.54 hectares, or more than one-seventh of Saranda Forest, will be opened up for mining, which is indeed a severe threat to the continued existence of Adivasis and Saranda Forest itself, with all its outstanding wild life.
The mining activities have forced the Adivasis to migrate to the cities and elsewhere for earning. However, the covid-19 has forced them to return to their native, where they hardly have houses to live in. The major question is how would they survive? Who is responsible for making them resources less, landless and miserable? Can the State be held accountable?
A village called ‘Perka’ is situated at Murhu development block in Khunti district of Jharkhand, which is approximately 55 kilometers from Ranchi, the capital city of Jharkhand. 113 families residing in the village. As per the Census 2011, the village has total population of 581 of which 300 are males while 281 are female. The village is dominated by the Munda Adivasis with the population of 550 including 285 males and 265 females. In 2011, literacy rate of Perka village was 66.46 % with Male literacy of 75.20 % and 56.96 % of female literacy.
However, the villagers are unaware about the tricks of the Jharkhand government for grabbing their community, religious and forest land. Here, I would like to focus on the forest land alone because the Forest Rights Act 2006 was said to be the historic legislation to right the historic wrongs done to the Adivasis and other traditional forest Dwellers. As per the land Bank data prepared by the Department of Revenue and Land Reform (Govt. of Jharkhand), three plots of the village forest with the area of 12.14 acres is enlisted in the Land Bank (See Table 1). Interestingly, in 1932 the villagers have been given the forest for their use. This has been officially recorded in the land record in the Khatiyan Part – II. As per the provisions of the forest rights Act 2006, the government authorities should have recognized the rights of the villagers on the village forest.
Table 1. Status of Forest of Perka in Land Bank
Area in Acres
Source: Land Bank, Department of Land Reform and Revenue (Govt. of Jharkhand)
The Adivasis of Perka are shocked to know that their forest is kept in the land Bank data with a clear intention to lease out to the private business entities. 55-year-old Petrus Tiru says, “I have land record papers of 1932, where we have been given right to use the forest. How can government keep our forest in the land Bank?” Another villager, 50-year-old Santosh Soy says, “We have been protecting the forest for more than 20 years. Two villagers keep watch on the forest every day. We also discuss about the protection and minimum use of the forest in our weekly Gram Sabha meetings. How can government take such step without our consent?” In the present circumstance, one needs to understand the history, concept and intention behind the formation of land Bank, which is paving the way to denial of the forest rights to the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers.
The state of Jharkhand is popularly known as the land of Adivasis’ struggle. The Adivasis have been resisting to protect their identity, autonomy, culture, languages, land, territory and natural resources for more than 300 years. The creation of Jharkhand as a new state in the political map of India was one of the results of the struggle. After formation of the state, the Adivasi struggle was concentrated on anti-displacement Movement as 74 MoUs were signed by the successive governments one after another within a decade. Fortunately, none of the mega project was materialized. The Adivasis forced the Arcellar Mittal Company, Jindal Company and Tata Steel Ltd to desert the proposed land for their dream steel projects.
However, learning from the past, the new BJP government, formed in 2014, changed the land acquisition strategy. On 31st December 2014, the government through its Department of Revenue and Land Reform issued a circular to the Deputy Commissioners of all 24 districts asking them to conduct survey and prepared a land data incorporating all kinds of land except the private land for the land bank. After accumulation of the land data, the department of Revenue and Land Reform created a new website https://jharbhoomi.nic.in, where 2,097,003.81 acres of land was shown as government land in the land bank.
Finally, Jharkhand’s Chief Minister Rabhuvar Das launched the website of Land Bank on 5th January 2016, which was followed by the signing of 210 new MoUs with the Corporate Houses during the ‘Global Investors Summit’ held at Khelgoan, Ranchi on 16-17 February 2017. Now, the Government has been attempting to acquire the common land, sacred groves and forest land without (free, prior and informed) consent of the communities. For instance, the state government has given 42 acres of so-called government land to the Vedanta company at Dimbuli village near Saranda forest in West Sighbhum district of Jharkhand and the government has been attempting to acquire the private land of the Adivasis for the company against their consent. The government is ensuring the Corporate’s entry to the villages through the land Bank.
Indeed, the land Bank was created with a clear objective to ensure the land to the corporate houses. This was categorically expressed by the Jharkhand’s Chief Minister, Raghuvar Das while speaking to the media on July 27th, 2016. He said, “Land acquisition has never been a challenge for us as we have a land bank of 1,75,000 acres readily available for different industries to set up their businesses. Farmers are ready to give us land as we are paying a handsome price. We currently hold 40 per cent of India’s natural mineral wealth and we are on the way to becoming the power hub of the country by 2019 .”
Interestingly, under the tag of the government land, three categories of land data were incorporated in the land bank – 1) common land of the villages including grazing land, play grounds, village paths, etc. 2) sacred groves (Sarna, Deshavali and Jaherthan) and 3) forest land, which entitlements were supposed to be given to the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers.
The most surprising aspect of the land bank is that out of 2,097,003.81 acres of land 1,016,680.48 acres of land is forest land, which is 48.4 percent of the total land of the land bank (see Table 2). If we analyze the data of land bank at the district level, Chatra district tops the list with 92.3 percent of the forest land reserved in the land bank. Bokaro secures second place with 90.8 percent and Giridih gets third berth with 72.8 percent of forest land kept in the land bank. However, in terms of area of forest land, Giridih gets the first place with 329,539.12 acres of forest land out of 452,074.26 acres of land of land bank. Simdega secures second position with 244,434.50 acres out of 358,450.52 acres and Gumla acquires third place with 87,082.74 acres of forest land out of 181,222.78 acres of land of the land bank.
Table 2: Forest land in Land Bank
Area of land in Acre
Source: Land Bank, Department of Land Reform and Revenue (Govt. of Jharkhand)
This is a gross violation of the section 4(1) and (5) of the Forest Rights Act 2006, which recognizes the individual and community rights over the forest and forest land. It has been categorically mentioned in the section 4(5) that no member of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dweller shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete. In fact, the forest rights are denied to the community by enlisting the forest land and community forests in the land Bank.
The land Bank also violates the Provisions of Panchayat (Extension) in Scheduled Area Act (PESA) 1996, which recognizes the self determination of the Adivasis and empowers the Gram Sabha (village council) to manage the natural resources. This is also the violation of the Supreme Court judgment in the case of ‘Odisha Mining Corporation vs Ministry of Forest and Environment and others (c) No. 180 of 2011, which clearly states that the Gram Sabha is the owner of the natural resources, therefore, the common land, sacred groves and forest & forest land of the villages cannot be acquired without the consent of the Gram Sabhas. The formation of the Land Bank is a clear denial of the forest rights to the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers, which will also ensure the continuation of the historical injustice.
 Dungdung, Gladson. 2019. Ulgulan Ka Sauda. Ranchi: Adivasis Publications.
 Letter of the Department of Revenue and Land Reform, dated 31st December 2014.
The amendments proposed in the colonial-era Indian Forest Act, 1927 reflect the Centre’s attempt to grab natural resources owned by the Adivasis for generations. As per the new draft, forest officials have been given the absolute authority to shoot Adivasis for “violation of laws”. If a forest guard kills a so-called “offender”, the move will invite no prosecution by the state governments without first initiating an inquiry into the matter under an executive magistrate. Under the new amendment, forest departments can also declare any forest as reserved and alienate the Adivasis and other forest-dwelling communities from their ancestral lands.
This will have a terrible effect on the Adivasis, who are struggling for survival. As per the Census data 2011, Adivasis are 8.6% of the total population of India, which is 104 million people. Out of these merely 8.9% of them have shifted to small towns and the cities, and 91.1% of them still live in or near the forests, which clearly means that most of the Adivasi population will be affected if the amendments are enforced.
In India, forest governance has turned significantly democratic in the past few years. Back in 1976, the National Commission on Agriculture had advocated for commercialization of forests ‘at all costs and with disregard to the sustenance of Adivasis in the forests.’ The Commission completely denied the rights and privileges of the Adivasis and other forest dweller communities. The Commission also alleged that ‘free supply of forest produce to the rural population and the rights and privileges have brought destruction to the forests and so it is necessary to reverse the process. Based on that, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 came into being.
However, through the National Forest Policy of 1988, the Centre recognized the symbiotic relationship between Adivasis and forests for the first time. This was then consolidated with the passage of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, when the Centre agreed that historical injustice had been committed and tried to undo the wrong. But with the proposed amendment, the injustice will be deeper.
During the 1980s and 1990s, at least the Centre showed sympathy for the Adivasis, because of which important legislations like FRA and the Provisions of Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA), were enacted. But in the past five years, I have noticed that the Indian State has dishonoured these laws by being harsh with Adivasis. If the proposed amendment comes into force, Adivasis will be defenseless while the forest department will be powerful. Earlier, foresters used to allege that Adivasis are Maoists in disguise. After the amendment is passed, the forest bureaucracy will term them as “encroachers” and shoot. It will change the fundamentals of community-driven forest governance. The proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act will deepen the injustice against the Adivasis.
 Letter of the Inspector General of Forest Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (Govt. of India) dated 7th March 2019.
The Pathalgadi movement has stemmed from the unabated alienation of land from tribal people, and is a democratic assertion for the realisation of their rights in light of the government’s failure to implement the same.
A movement known as the Pathalgadi movement has been brewing for quite some time in the tribal areas in the heart of India. Yet, it had not caught the attention of the people at large and the national media, until the alleged kidnap and gang rape of five non-governmental organisation (NGO) workers by some youths in the Khunti district of Jharkhand. The movement, though not confined to them, is more notable in the states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The state administration and regional media have dubbed the movement as anti-national and Maoist-driven. Cases of sedition have been filed against people sympathetic to, and those associated with the movement, as well as villagers supporting the movement. A large number of people have been arrested. Some are on bail while others are still languishing in jails. The Pathalgadis, on the other hand, claim it to be constitutional. The claim, in my view, is true and tenable, though they have been over-enthusiastic in their interpretation of some provisions. The problem with the special provisions provided for tribes in the Constitution and laws enacted for their safeguard is that the very people and institutions—politicians, administrators and the judiciary—that are to administer them, have generally little knowledge and understanding of the special provisions and laws themselves. These are special provisions and laws, and cannot be subservient to the laws, rules and regulations applicable to the general population.
Pathalgadi as Tribal Tradition
The term Pathalgadi has been drawn from a tribal custom of placing a stone at the tomb of a dead person, especially among tribes belonging to the Austro–Asiatic linguistic family such as the Mundas, Khasis, etc. Sasandiri was the original term the Mundas used to describe this practice. However, after the enactment of the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) in 1996, former Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officer B D Sharma and former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Bandi Oraon initiated the practice of placing stone slabs inscribed with provisions of the act. This was done with a view to raise awareness of the provisions among the villagers. It is worth noting here that the 73rd (Panchayati Raj) and 74th (Nagarpalika) constitutional amendment acts of 1992 were excluded from their extension to the Fifth and Sixth Scheduled Areas. Parliament was to extend provisions for Scheduled Areas by enacting separate laws, which it did through the PESA in 1996. The act extended the provisions of the Panchayat Act to the Scheduled Areas.
What is happening today in the tribal areas in the heart of India, reminds one of the early phase of the British rule in these areas. The British brought tribes under the same rule and administration as others, once the territories they inhabited were incorporated into British India. There was an imposition of laws, rules, regulation and administration that were alien to the tribes. The new land and revenue settlements resulting in the introduction of private property in land along with written documents in support of it, was one such instance that played havoc in tribal areas. This was the beginning of the alienation of tribal land to non-tribes. The improvement of the means of communication to tribal areas only accelerated these processes as the regions were now not only opened to the movement of traders, merchants and moneylenders, but also to the land-hungry non-tribal peasants from the plains in its vicinity. This accelerated the alienation of the tribal land leading to general restlessness among tribes, culminating in a series of revolts and rebellions at a regular interval all through the late 18th and 19th centuries. Often, these revolts are treated as wars of independence of the tribes against the British. It is worth noting that these wars were as much against the people of the plains as against the British. Both were equal partners in the oppression and exploitation of the tribes. The recurrent revolts did pose a threat to the British rule and administration. As a measure to contain such recurrences in the future, the British therefore toyed with the idea of certain safeguards. These came in the form of non-regulation tracts where general laws and regulation were not applicable unless felt otherwise. Later, such areas came to be referred to as excluded and partially excluded areas, which provided some space for traditional systems of self-governance.
Much of the problems the tribals have been facing today have their roots in this colonial legacy, which became even more entrenched in post-independence India. What is being witnessed today in tribal areas is a repeat of what their forefathers had been through about 200 years ago. Alienation of land from the tribes to non-tribes has continued unabated despite the constitutional provision of bringing much of the areas that the tribes inhabit into the Scheduled Areas, either under the provision of the Fifth or Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. This problem has been compounded by the extent of displacement that the tribes in the region, especially the Fifth Scheduled Areas, have been witness to following the state development projects as a part of the nation-building process. With the opening up of the Indian economy to the wider world through the processes of liberalisation and globalisation since the early 1990s, there has been an unprecedented entry of the private companies, including multinational corporations (MNCs), for resource extraction and profit. The state governments have been very proactive in facilitating and aiding this process. As there are laws restricting alienation of land from tribes to non-tribes, states began acquiring lands and making it available at the disposal of private companies at a price higher than what it paid to tribes as compensation.
Such passing of tribal land by the state to private companies in the Fifth Scheduled Areas, as per the historic Samata judgment of the Supreme Court in 1997, is legally and constitutionally untenable. Hence, the state governments have been toying with the idea of tampering with the legal and constitutional safeguards meant for the tribes. This has been most evident in Jharkhand. There had been attempts to bring in amendments to the Chhotanagpur Land Tenancy Act, 1908 and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1949. The former was enacted in the aftermath of the tumultuous Birsa Munda movement. The bill failed to receive the assent of the Governor due to massive protests by the tribals. As a strategy to break the unity of the tribes, the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Bill was introduced and passed in 2017. A few months later, an ordinance was passed introducing the amendment to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Settlement (Jharkhand Amendment) Bill, 2017. The ordinance has been awaiting assent of the Governor and President. All these moves are pointers to the persistent attempts by the government to counter the provisions of protection and safeguard enshrined in the Constitution and laws.
Given such repeated moves by the states for the acquisition of tribal lands, the tribes are pushed to defend themselves. Earlier, they had been resisting such projects through protest, rallies and other democratic means on a continuing basis. Of late, however, they have been trying to defend themselves from such assault by asserting their constitutional and legal rights emanating from the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. In the Fifth Schedule, the governors, to begin with, are vested with special powers to safeguard and protect the interests of the tribal population. They are expected to examine laws enacted by Parliament and the state legislature to ascertain if they are in keeping with safeguarding of tribal interests, and accordingly have the power to restrain their application in Scheduled Areas or suggest their application along with suitable amendments. They are responsible for the maintenance of law and good governance in tribal areas. In all these they are expected to take the advice of the Tribes Advisory Council. They are also expected to submit annual reports to the President of India on the tribal situation of the state. Paradoxically, however, the governors have shied away from this constitutional responsibility. Due to this, much harm has already been done and is still being done, but the governors seem to be oblivious of their responsibility. Under the Sixth Schedule too, the Governor is a custodian of tribal interest though there is a provision of self-governance in the form of autonomous district councils. The autonomous council has legislative, executive and judicial power over certain subjects. What the Fifth Scheduled Areas of mainland India did not have is self-governance. Hence, there was a campaign and movement for self-governance which was led by Bharat Jan Andolan, an umbrella organisation of NGOs, activists, academics and grass-roots tribal community organisations. The slogan of the movement was “hamara gaon hamara raj” (our village, our rule). The movement culminated in the enactment of the PESA in 1996.
In short, the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution provides for administration and control of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes (STs) and gives power to the Governor to make regulations for peace and good governance of the Scheduled Areas. Deriving force from these enabling provisions in the Constitution aimed at ensuring social, economic and political equity, several specific legislations have further been enacted by the central and state governments for the welfare of the STs, the PESA being one of them. Essentially, the Fifth Schedule is a historic guarantee to the STs over the land they live on.
However, the acronym PESA for Provisions of Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act is somewhat misleading. It is important to note that it is not an extension of panchayati raj as it is generally viewed, but an extension of the provisions of the panchayat to Scheduled Areas. The provisions provided in the PESA are substantially different in letter and spirit from the Panchayat Raj constitutional amendment act of 1992. The latter was exempted from its application in the Fifth and Sixth Scheduled Areas. The PESA provides for self-governance through traditional gram sabhas for people living in the Fifth Scheduled Areas. In fact, the PESA mandates that notwithstanding anything contained under Part IX of the Constitution, the legislatures of the states shall not make any law under that part which is inconsistent with any of the features of the PESA. The key features are:
(i) A state legislation on the panchayat that may be made shall be in consonance with the customary law, social and religious practices and traditional management practices of community resources. Every gram sabha shall be competent to safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of the people, their cultural identity, community resources and customary mode of dispute resolution.
(ii) All relevant subject laws and rules, central and state are to harmonise with the aims and objectives of the PESA. Some of the key acts that need consideration in this context are those regarding land acquisition, mines and minerals, forests, forest conservation, excise, etc.
(iii) While endowing panchayats in the Scheduled Areas with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-governance, the state legislature is to ensure that the panchayats and the gram sabha are endowed with power and authority to enforce or regulate the ownership of minor forest produce, power to prevent alienation of land and to restore alienated land, the power to manage village markets, exercise control over moneylending, excise, etc.
Given such powers to tribes under the PESA, it is extremely problematic to treat the Pathalgadi movement as anti-national and book people associated with the movement under charges of sedition. In fact, the people are merely asserting the rights provided to them by law and the Constitution. If they have gone somewhat overboard with regard to the interpretation of some of the provisions, the state governments are almost totally ignorant of special rights provided to tribes in the Constitution and law enacted by the state. If governments fail to implement the rights given to the people, it is only imperative that people engage in democratic assertion for the realisation of their rights. Indeed, history is witness to the fact that the implementation of laws has been effective only where there are grass-roots organisations to ensure the effective realisation of rights.
Virginius Xaxa is Professor of Eminence at Tezpur University Assam. He can be reached at email@example.com
Indian democracy is known as the largest democracy on the Earth but the irony is that one of the thrust issues i.e. land reform to ensure land rights to the landless masses remains as unfinished agenda even today. The land reform, which clearly means to ensure ‘land to the tiller’ was one of the promises made during the freedom struggle of India. In 1950, ‘landlord system was abolished by the enforcement of the land reform Act. At the same time, Binoba Bhave launched the nationwide land donation movement largely known as ‘Bhoodan Movement’. He asked the landlords to donate their surplus land for the landless people of India, which had become a ray of hope for the landless masses.
However, this hope stuck with the contradictions; on one hand, the landless people were given the land rights on the surplus land, which was taken from the landlords after enforcement of the land ceiling and on the other hand, the government enforced the Russian model of development and acquired the land of the small and marginal farmers mostly the Adivasis for so-called development projects under the tags of ‘national interest’ and ‘development’. Thus, millions of people became landless across the country.
In 1991, the government of India accepted the liberal economic policy, which further opened up the door for the corporate world, which created huge pressure on democracy and land rights. The corporate houses began their lobby in the corridors of power to influence the policy formation to ensure the natural resources mostly the land and mineral resources. Consequently, the land reform was put aside by the government(s).
In 21st century, the Indian democracy was transformed into the corporate democracy. The owners of the corporate houses entered the Parliament by buying tickets for the Raj Sabha the upper house. There is also example where the billionaires became the people’s representatives by contesting parliamentary elections. Presently, most of the members of the Parliament are billionaires. Consequently, the most thrust issue of land reform has been lost, whereas the number of landless people is increasing day by day. The most important question to be raised is can a billionaire represents the thrust issues of the poor masses? The number of landless masses has been increasing day by day but there is no serious debate is taking place in the Parliament.
According to the Census report, the number of landless agricultural labourers in the country rose to 14.43 crore in 2011 from 10.67 crore in 2001. The most interesting figure is that 4.9% of farmers control 32% of India’s farmland and 101.4 million or 56.4% of rural households own no agricultural land and 17,73,040 people are houseless. As of December 2015, land declared “surplus” (meaning, it could be taken away from landlords) across India stood at 6.7 million acres; the government took over 6.1 million acres; and distributed 5.1 million acres. 1 million acres of land remained for distribution.
In 1950s, we used to call the farmers as the backbone of the country because the contribution of agriculture to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 51%. Today, as many as 570 million Indians or 47.1% still depend on agriculture, which contributes merely 17% to GDP. 95.1% of Indian farmers are called “marginal, small and semi-medium”, meaning they own up to 2.47, 4.94 and 9.88 acres of land, respectively. These farmers own 68.2% of cultivated land.
Presently, we have the corporate democracy in India, where there is a huge nexus between the State and the corporate houses. The corporate houses fund the Indian elections and manipulate the government later. The corporate houses pressurise the government to introduce new policies to profit them, amend the existing laws, which are obstacle for resource grabbing especially in the schedule areas and acquire land using paramilitary forces. This is the reason why 1% people own 73% wealth of India. It was 55% in 2014, which clearly means the policies of the present government are completely corporate centric whereas the food security of the most marginalized people depends on marginal farming. Therefore, the land rights need to be ensure to the landless people.
However, today, the most challenging matter is how to protect the small patches of land of those marginal farmers who are residing in the mineral corridors of India because there is huge pressure from the corporate world. For instance, the Global Investors Summits were organized in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Gujarat and Assam to attract the investors. The state governments also signed hundreds of MoUs with the corporate house. The state governments of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh also amended the safeguarding land laws to secure land for the corporate houses. In the state of Jharkhand, 2.1 million acres of commons land was enlisted in the ‘Land Bank’and the forest department has also proposed three wildlife corridors and three sub-corridor projects, where 870 villages will be relocated from the forests. There is also a proposal to build Industrial Corridor in the state, where the land will be acquired with 25 km each side of four lanning roads between Koderma and Bahragora. Similarly, the Agriculture Minister of Chhattisgarh prohibited the farmers to cultivate paddy during the summer season claiming that the corporate houses have first right on the water. In these circumstance, where farmers will go to protect their fundamental rights?
It is obvious that the democracy doesn’t work for the landless and marginal farmers. However, since, the Indian Constitution promises to ensure the social, economic and political justice to each and every one, therefore, we must continue to strive for ensuring that the democracy delivers the land rights to the landless and marginalized people of India. The food security of the marginalized people depends on agriculture therefore; land rights must be ensured to them.
Jharkhand has been in the line of fire after lynching of 12 innocent people by the mobs, when a rumour of kidnapping kids, spread in the region. The opposition parties constantly attacked the state government for its failure in maintaining the law and order in the state, and the media too concluded it as the State’s failure in protecting its citizens. But is it so simple matter, which is merely related to the failure of law and order in the state? One should see the larger politics of the state to understand the reasons behind the incident. In fact, it was a well-designed plan, executed by the right-wing forces to divert the public attention, discourse and unrest from ongoing resistance against the BJP government on the issue of handing over the Adivasis’ lands to the private business entities.
The Adivasis have been resisting against the state government for amending two land legislations – Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act 1908 and Santal Pargana Tenancy (supplementary provisions) Act 1949, which are known as the safeguards to the Adivasi land. This resulted in the electoral loss to the BJP, who lost the Littipada by-election recently, despite, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi distributed smart mobile phones under the digital india programme to the Adivasi women and jobs appointment letters to some Paharia Adivasis. This has created unrest in the minds of BJP leaders, who are aspiring to retain the power in 2019.
The RSS and its allied organizations have been operating in the Chhottanagpur and Santal Pargana regions of the state for decades, where the BJP won most of the Assembly seats. However, the Adivasis have been protesting the BJP MLAs making them responsible for the amendment of land laws. There are several Adivasi organisations and traditional bodies, who have ostracized some of the BJP MLAs and openly declaring that they’ll campaign against the BJP in 2019. This clearly means, the BJP is going to lose the power in the state in coming election. If the Adivasis denounce the BJP, the party will become irrelevant in the state similar like the Congress party, which is upsetting the party leadership.
The Adivasis were the traditional vote bank of the Congress Party and there was no such divide based on the religion among the Adivasis. In 1938 the Adivasi Mahasabha was formed and in 1939 Jaipal Singh Munda presided over the outfit, which was later transformed as Jharkhand Party, the first political entity of the Adivasis. The party started the statehood movement to protect the Adivasi identity, autonomy and rights over the land, territory and resources. In 1952 and 1957 the party won 32-32 assembly seats in Bihar subsequently, and became the opposition party. This created terror in the Congress party. Thus, the right wings forces inside the congress party, started dividing the Adivasis on the basis of religion.
Since, the Congress party had already created religious based division among the Adivasis, which was a great opportunity for the Sangh Parivar to enter in the Adivasis’ territory. In 1990s the Sangh Parivar realized that the party can rule the region if it succeeds in dividing the Adivasis based on Sarna vs Christian Adivasis. The Sangh Parivar adopted the same methods of JESUIT, approaching the Adivasi community by providing education and health services. The RSS runs NGOs i.e. Vanvashi Kalayan Ashram, Vanvashi Kalyan Kendra and Vikas Bharti played a vital role in creating division among the Adivasis. The sister organizations of RSS i.e. VHP, Bajran Dal and others also fanned the religious flame. After formation of the state, the Sangh Parivar succeeded in imprinting the conversion in the minds of Sarna Adivasis as their prime issue and made the missionaries as their biggest enaminy. Thereafter, a series of conflicts were created on the matter of Kurukh version of Bible, use of the red boarder sari for the statue of Mother Mary, seizing the benefit of reservation to the converted Adivasis, demand for anti-conversion law and re-conversion of Christian Adivasis to Hinduism under the tag of Ghar Wapsi (returning to the origin).
This resulted in a huge electoral gain for the BJP, who ruled the state most of the time. In the last Assembly Election held in December 2014, Modi had promised to protect the Adivasis’ land. However, after winning the election, the BJP made first non-tribal as its Chief Minister against the tradition of make an Adivasi as head of the government. The Chief Minister, Raghuvar Das also enforced the domicile police, which recognizes everyone as resident of the state. The Jharkhand government amended the CNT/SPT Acts and enlisted 21 lakh acres of GM land in the land bank, which includes the lands of sacred groves, village paths, play grounds, graveyards, forest lands, hills, etc. The Government also organized a Global Investors Summit and signed 210 MoUs with corporate houses, who proposed the investment of Rs. 3.10 lakh crores in the state.
The government’s these activities fueled the anger of the Adivasis, who started series of protests against it. The Chief Minister Raghuvar Das attempted to play the religious politics by blaming the Christian Missionaries of instigating the Adivasis but it had no impact on the Adivasis. The Sarna Adivasis realized that the government has a clear intention to divide the Adivasis on religious line and handover their lands and other natural resources to the corporate houses. The governments acts paved the way for Adivasis unity, which upset the BJP leadership and RSS.
The Sangh Parivar knows that its politics will flourish in the state till the religious divide remain among the Adivasis, and if the issue of land conflict survive for a longer time, the BJP will surely lose the coming elections. Therefore, the present priority of the right-wing forces is to divert the land related discourse, keep the issues alive by false propagation, which sustain the religious divide among the Adivasis and create communal conflicts to polarize the communal votes. The BJP government has failed in realization of the electoral promises and Adivasis aspirations, therefore, it keeps shifting the goalposts. Hence, one shouldn’t be surprised if the incidents like Jamshedpur keep happening in the state till next elections.
It was first time in the Indian history, when the Indian State had officially accepted the historical injustice committed to the Adivasis and other forest dweller communities, and promised to right the historic wrongs by recognizing their traditional rights over the forest and forest land under the Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, popularly known as the Forest Rights Act. However, before the Act would be translated into reality, the BJP led NDA Government put the speed breaker by enforcing the CAMPA, which is a great setback to the forest rights of the Adivasis and other forest dweller communities. There is huge fund Rs. 44,000 crore remained unspent under CAMPA and there would be availability of additional Rs. 600 crore every year under the CAMPA fund. Hence, the Indian Bureaucracy is overwhelmed to enforce the CAMPA, which will provide them a great opportunity for harvesting.
As far as the forest governance is concerned, the forest department has regained the lost hegemonic power through CAPMA, which will further complicate the problems and, of course, the department will unleashed the violence, atrocities and suppression against the Adivasis and other forest dweller communities while enforcing it. The question is whether it is merely an apprehension? There are numbers of past and present circumstances, which suggest that the CAMPA is returns of the British regime to the forest, which will further enhance the resource based conflict and also, regenerate the enmity between the State and the communities.
The state of Jharkhand is one of the crucial examples, which has a long history of resources based conflict between the State and the Adivasi communities, that had begun during the British regime in 1779, when the revenue was imposed on land and forest produces, and the Adivasis’ habitations were also declared as eminent domain and property of the State by enforcement of the draconian laws – the Permanent Settlement Act 1793, Land Acquisition Act 1894, Indian Forest Act 1865 and so on, which facilitated the grabbing of the Adivasis’ lands, territory and resources. After India’s independence, the Laws, policies and programmes remain the same. Instead of white, the black rulers continue the same pace of violence, atrocities and suppression against the Adivasis with a clear intention to grab their remaining natural resources.
The CAMPA has enhanced the State’s power to grab the community forest resources, which is the only source for the survival of the 60 percent Adivasis. Needless to say that the Adivasis economy is completely based on agro-forest and 91.1 percent Adivasis still live in the rural areas and merely 8.9 percent of them have shifted to the cities. This clearly means the community will not survive without the forest, which is not merely the livelihood resources for them but their identity, culture, tradition, ethos and existence rely on it. Unfortunately, once again, they would be pushed out of the forests in the name of regeneration, protection and development of the forest.
Much before the CAMPA was passed by the Indian Parliament, the Jharkhand government had already started the processes for enforcement of the CAMPA. The Chief Secretary, Rajbala Verma, confirms in a meeting of the Forest officials, held in Ranchi on 25 July 2016 that the Jharkhand Government had already sent a CAMPA plan to the Centre Government. In the financial year 2016-17, the Jharkhand government had proposed to built 36,400 forest fencing pillars, with the investment of Rs. 1440 million, which the Centre has already sanctioned. In the CAMPA fund, Jharkhand will have a share of Rs. 3990 million. Consequently, under the guise of regeneration of the forest, the Forest Department has already begun to build the forest boundaries in Simdega, West Singhbhum and other districts of Jharkhand leading to a huge conflict between the Forest Department and the Adivasis. The Adivasis are protesting and destroying the forest boundaries, and in response, the Forest Department has filed against them, unleashed violence and suppressed them.
The CAMPA has pushed back the agenda of Forest Rights as the Government is more interested in enforcing the CAPMA instead of Forest Rights Act. Johnson Topno, the State Manager of PACS, the organization jointly enforcing the forest rights with the Tribal Welfare Department of Jharkhand Government, reveals that there are 14,000 villages in the forest region in Jharkhand alone, where there is possibilities of one million individuals and 12 thousand community claims, which will take another five in converting to entitlements. By the end of April 2016, the Jharkhand government had distributed merely 46,149 entitlements under the Forest Rights Act 2006 including 44,702 individual and 1447 community entitlements.
The CAMPA disregards the Forest Rights Act and PESA Act 1996. Both the Acts empower the Gram Sabha (village council) for management, development and regeneration of the village’s natural resources. Therefore, there was a demand that the CAMPA fund to be given to the Gram Sabhas for the protection, regeneration and management of forest and forest biodiversity, which was disregarded due to corporate, environmentalist and so-called conservationists’ lobby. The most important question is whether is CAMPA has really intention to protect the forest? In the last two year of NDA regime, 34,620 hectare forest land is already diverted for so-called development projects and 40,478 is in pipeline. The Indian government acknowledged in Forest Survey 2011 that the forests are remaining only in those regions where Adivasis are residing. What does it mean?
Let’s not forget that the Jharkhand is one of the crucial states, where 22 out of 24 districts are under the control of the left wings extremists and the centre is spending huge amount of money under IAP in the name of containing the Naxalism. Most importantly, when the state was curved out from Bihar in November 2000, there were only eight Naxal infested districts. One of the most important reasons for the shifting of the Naxal Movement from the Dalits’ hamlets to the Adivasis’ natural resource hub is the violence, atrocities and torture unleashed against the Adivasis by the Forest Department, which clearly means the CAMPA will further provide fertile soil for the growth of Naxalism in the forest regions.
The fact is that the Adivasis are not only consumers of the forests but protectors and conserves too. In fact, the idea of co-existence, which exists in Adivasi philosophy, is the only way for regeneration, protection and development of the forest. The Adivasis have their century old comprehensive methods, rules and policies for preservation, protection and conservation of the forests, which needs to be promoted and encouraged, and incorporated in the CAMPA. Without respecting of rights and entitlement of the Adivasis over the forest and forest land will always generate more and more conflict and complicate the problem instead of resolving it.
‘Adivasis live in the forest. The government has declared all of them as terrorists. You have committed a blunder mistake by coming to the Adivasis’ territory. They are neither human beings nor animals. They are devils, devils!” “I have come here to transform these devils into human beings. I have devoted my entire life for the cause.” These dialogues of Hindi feature film MSG-2, starred and directed by Saint Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh of Dera Saccha Sauda (DSS), had triggered a wave of anger among the Adivasis of India. They protested in different ways across the country, demanding a ban on the film and legal action against its producer and director, and against members of the Central Board for Film Certification (Censor Board). They also approached the courts. Worried about their Adivasi vote bank, the BJP governments of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh banned the film. However, the central government did not take any action and the Delhi High Court’s judgment on the case, has brought this question to the fore: Are Adivasis ‘devils’?
In fact, even more shocking than the attitude of the Indian government and the Censor Board, was the judgment of the Delhi High Court. Prem Mardi, a resident of Ghatshila, Jharkhand, had filed a writ petition in the court seeking cancellation of the film’s certification and legal action against its producer and director. The Justice of Delhi High Court, Rajiv Sahai Endlaw delivered a rather bizarre judgment while rejecting the petition. It was stated in the judgement that the petitioner has used the word ‘Adivasi’ to refer to the members of Scheduled Tribes and thus argued that the film spread hatred against the STs. The entire case of the petitioner is premised on the use in the film of the word ‘adivasi’. The petitioner assumes the adivasis to be meaning tribals or more particularly the scheduled tribals and thus finds the film de-sensitive of the tribals and more particularly scheduled tribals and promoting hatred against the tribals and scheduled tribals. “However that is not my understanding of the word ‘adivasi’. As per my understanding, ‘adivasi’ connotes aboriginal people and not people falling in the definition of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in Articles 341 and 342 of the Constitution of India,” the judge emphasised.
He further describes, “To verify which of the aforesaid understandings is correct, I have checked the meaning of ‘adivasis’ and find the same described as people living in India before the arrival of the Aryans in the second millennium BC and descendents thereof. Adivasi, translated in English means the earliest inhabitants of the earth. Per contra, Tribes is understood as a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader. Just like Article 341 of the Constitution of India defines scheduled castes as the castes, races or tribes or parts of or groups within castes, races or tribes which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be scheduled castes in relation to that State or Union, Article 342 defines Scheduled Tribes as tribe or tribal community or part of or groups within tribe or tribal communities which shall for the purposes of the Constitution be deemed to be scheduled tribes in relation to that State or Union Territory”.
“To be sure, I have also seen the Constitution of India in Hindi and do not find the word ‘adivasi’ being used in Articles 341, 342 and 366 in place of the word ‘tribe’. The word used for the word tribe therein is ‘janjati’. It, even otherwise, as per the dictionary is the Hindi equivalent of tribe. I may thus reinforce that the term ‘adivasi’ is not indicative of tribes or scheduled tribes but is indicative of the earliest inhabitants of any land whether it be in India or anywhere else in the world. I find the term ‘adivasi’ being used for the earliest settlers of the land that is now known as Bangladesh, Nepal, Srilanka as well. On the same parity of reasoning, the aborigines of America would also qualify as adivasis. The reference in the film to Adivasis is not found to be relatable in any manner to Scheduled Tribes. There is thus no merit in the petition. Dismissed,” the judge wrote.
No end to the bizarreness
The Delhi High Court’s judgment raises many questions. Since, the judgement well acknowledges that the Adivasis lived in India before the arrival of the Aryans; therefore, the question is where have they gone now? Are they living in Bangladesh, Nepal or Sri Lanka? If we are to go by the judge’s reasoning, the Adivasis of Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, America and Africa are ‘devils’. What kind of mentality is this? Is the judge biased or simply uneducated? Before delivering his verdict, he did not care to read an important judgment of the Supreme Court delivered by Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra in CA No 11/2011, SLP (C) No 10367/20 Kailash & others versus State of Maharashtra in which they have used the terms ‘Tribal’, ‘Scheduled Tribe’ and ‘Adivasi’ interchangeably, which clearly means the word ‘adivasi’ stands for ‘tribe’ ‘tribal’ and ‘Scheduled Tribes’.
In the debates of the Constituent Assembly, Jaipal Singh Munda, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Dr B.R. Ambedkar and many others have repeatedly used the words Adivasis, aboriginals, Tribals and Scheduled Tribes. Similarly, in the draft Constitution of India, the word ‘Adivasi’ was initially used in ‘Article 13(5) and then removed as Ambedkar insisted for it because it legitimises the Adivasis as Indigenous People of India and rest as outsiders’. In addition, these words were also used in anthropological studies, history books and in documents prepared by the Planning Commission and state governments. Interestingly, the Jharkhand government celebrates international indigenous day officially on 9th August every year since 2014 and organises series of programmes for the Adivasis, who are categorises as Scheduled Tribe in the Constitution.
Despite the availability of several references and established fact that the Adivasis are the aborigines and indigenous peoples of India, who are called the Scheduled Tribe constitutionally, the judge dismissed the petition arguing that ‘STs’ and ‘Adivasis’ have different meanings than ‘adivasi’. This is what the understanding about the Adivasis, the so-called educated people have in India. What is more interesting is that the film MSG-2 brands Advasis as ‘devils’ and portrays Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh as a ‘human being’ and claims that he has devoted his entire life for transformation of Adivasis from ‘devils’ to ‘human beings’. However, there is nothing new in this assault on the identity and existence of Adivasis. It has been happening for thousands of years.
Historically, in the ancient period, the Adivasis had ownership rights on the natural resources and they judiciously used these resources for their survival. Consequently, they were living with autonomy, peace and prosperity. They were freely practicing their identity, tradition, culture, religion and language. The situation changed after the Aryan invasion which destroyed the Adivasi Civilization, denied the indigenous identity and did not accept them as fellow human beings. The Aryan invaders raided the Adivasis’ territories and destroyed their civilization. They declared themselves as “Devas” and “Surs”, and that they were superior, pure and civilized, while branded the Adivasis as “Asurs”, devils, demons, barbarians, uncivilized, etc. Then, when Mughals came, they too considered the Adivasis as demon, barbarians and uncivilized people.
Language of development
The British introduced the spectre of development and, after depriving the Adivasis from their livelihood resources, branded them as hungry, semi-clad, poor, helpless, uncivilized, criminals and marginalized. During the freedom movement, Gandhi referred to them as “Girijan” (hill dwellers) and Ambedkar called them uncivilized. Further, the right wing Hindutava ‘Sangh Parivar’ coined them as “Vanvasis” (forest dwellers/uncivilized) and launched an organised campaign against them. Thus began the use of the word “Vanvasi” for Adivasi, because the Aryans wanted to establish themselves as the original inhabitants of this country. The Total Revolution of 1974 brought with it a flood of NGOs and outsiders to the Adivasis’ territory. They began claiming that had devoted their lives to the welfare of the Adivasis. Despite these messiahs coming to their rescue, the Adivasis remained where they were. Governments, NGOs and non-Adivasis branded Adivasis as hungry, poor, helpless, backward, uncivilized and earned name, fame and money for bringing about their “development”, making them part of the “mainstream” and giving them a “better” life. MSG-2 is a part of this stratagem.
Fearful of losing votes, the BJP government of Jharkhand was the first to ban the film. What Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das wrote on his Facebook page after ordering the ban is shameful and ample proof that the Sangh Parivar wants to usurp Adivasis by effacing their identity and distinct existence. He wrote, “No one in the state will be allowed to play with the sentiments of Adivasi, Vanvasi brothers and sisters…the film MSG-2, which uses unconstitutional and objectionable language about the Adivasi brothers and sisters, will not be allowed to be screened in the state.” But using the word “Vanvasi” for Adivasis is also insulting, dehumanising and abusing them. That is because Aryans and Mughals also described them as “junglee”, which means backward, barbaric and uncivilized.
By branding Adivasis as ‘devils’ in the film MSG-2 is a well-planned attack on the identity and existence of the Adivasis. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh knows that no matter how bitter his attack on them is, the central government won’t take any action against him because Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has himself made words like ‘vanbandhu’ (friends of forest) a part of the official one for the Adivasis. Modi uses the word ‘Dalit’ for Scheduled Castes but he carefully refrains from using the word ‘Adivasi’ for Scheduled Tribes. That is because his masters – the controllers of the saffron brotherhood – have been running a campaign on a war footing for several decades to destroy the identity and existence of the Adivasis by addressing them as “vanvasi”. And that is because once the word “Adivasi” (literally original inhabitants) is accepted, the non-Adivasis, who are in a majority, would automatically become outsiders. But will this verbal jugglery change the important judgment of the Supreme Court, delivered on January 5, 2011, in which the court said that the Adivasis are the ‘decedents of the original inhabitants of India known as the ‘aborigines’ or Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis), who presently comprise of only about 8% of the population of India? The rest 92 % of the population of India consists of descendants of immigrants’. How can these facts be suppressed and under covered?
The apex court also observed that ‘the injustice done to the tribal people of India is a shameful chapter in our country’s history. The tribals were called ‘rakshas’ (demons), ‘asuras’, and what not. They were slaughtered in large numbers, and the survivors and their descendants were degraded, humiliated, and all kinds of atrocities inflicted on them for centuries. Despite this horrible oppression on them, the tribals of India have generally (though not invariably) retained a higher level of ethics than the non-tribals in our country. They normally do not cheat, tell lies, and do other misdeeds which many non-tribals do. They are generally superior in character to the non-tribals. It is time now to undo the historical injustice to them’. However, the Indian State is hardly concerned about the Adivasis that’s the reason why anyone dehumanises, discriminated and exploits the Adivasis.
However, even after such a strong opposition on film, the DSS has claimed in the ‘spotlight page’ of Hindi magazine the ‘Outlook’ that the MSG-2 is based on a true story of Rajasthan. It further states that in the year 2000, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had gone to Jhadol Tahsil of Udaipur district in Rajasthan for meditation programmes, where the local residents prohibited him from roaming in the Adivasi areas. They told him that anyone going there is simply looted, beaten and killed. Despite, he went there and the Adivasis attacked him with poisoned arrows, still he talked to them and civilised them. The DSS strongly claims that prior to this civilisation, the Adivasis life was totally uncivilized. They were naked and addicted to liquor. Boys and girls used to elope and bearing children before marriage, and children were dancing in their parents’ marriage. They used to hang living cattle in a tree, sucking their blood and eating raw flesh, cutting with their nails. But he made all of them civilized and many became teachers too. The claim of DSS is strange and shocking but the government take no step on such claim. Now since the DSS has claimed it as a true story, will the court accept it and deliver justice to the Adivasis?
The MSG-2 has once again proved that non-Adivasi Indians nurture a deep hatred of the Adivasis and are biased against them. They aren’t interested in freeing themselves from these negative notions. It is high time that Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, RSS and the non-Adivasis must reflect on who are actually uncivilized, characterless, asur, barbaric and a ‘devil’? One thing is certain, though: If Adivasis are ‘devils’, then no one in the world can be a ‘human being’ because the best human values – communism, liberty, equality, fraternity and Justice can be found only in the Adivasi philosophy. Those who boast of being superior, civilized, cultured, educated and developed still have a lot to learn from the Adivasis.
 Delhi High Court Judgement on W.P. (C) No.8883/2015 Prem Mardi Vs Union of India & Others.
In the Indian political map, clear boundaries have been drawn for the Adivasis, and when they cross those; their identity is suspected, questioned and changed immediately. One can stunned to know that as soon as they leave their territories, they are counted in the general category and their constitutional and legal rights are denied officially. But at the same time, the same sets of rules are not applied to the people of the privileged sections of the India society. Of course, it keeps happening with the Adivasis precisely because the Indian state is utterly biased against them on the basis of their race. But still they have no choice to cross the political boundaries because their own land, territory and resources have been grabbed in the name of economic growth, development of the nation and for the greater common good unconstitutionally and illegally. Thus, some of them cross their political boundaries in search of the better livelihood opportunities but most of them are forced to do so. However, the end result is, they are being slaughtered, raped, tortured, imprisoned and discriminated actors across the country.
Unfortunately, instead of resolving the problems, the Indian state seems to be more interested in deploying more troops in the Adivasis’ territory, imposing curfews, shooting them, running relief camps and of course, buying their dead bodies too. Besides, the state also blames the Adivasis for their miseries. In the recent Assam violence unleashed by the extremist outfit the ‘National Democratic Front of Bodoland’ (Songbijit), where 81 people mostly the Adivasis were brutally killed, which also includes the killing of 3 innocent people by our brave soldiers, using their mighty power of ‘shoot on sight order’ while villagers were protesting against the violence. Besides, 15,000 people were made homeless and forced to live in the relief camps. Since, inception of the state called ‘India’ has been buying the dead bodies so Rs 500,000 was paid for each dead body this time too. Is it not a shameful incident for the largest democracy on the Earth? How long the state would count the dead bodies and buy them?
Interestingly, whenever the violence erupts in Assam, the Indian political class portrays it as the outcome of an ‘ethnic clash’. The state, whose prime responsibility is to uphold the constitution, which guarantees a dignified life to each and everyone in the country, either becomes merely a mute spectator or party to it. The questions need to be raised are, why is the Indian state not able to resolve the ethnic clash in Assam? Is it merely an ethnic violence? Is it not the state sponsored political violence in the name of the ethnicity? Indeed, everyone knows that the prime reason of violence is ‘self determination in the territory’. The Bodo Tribes claim that they are the owners of the territory so the other people should desert it. Besides, infiltration, demographic change, loss of land, shrinking of livelihood opportunities and intensified competition for political power have intensified a deadly potency to the issue of who has a right to Assam. Thus, the Adivasis are called the outsiders by Bodos and indeed, the state was never serious to resolve the issue in fear of losing the political mandate, consequently the violence continues.
Of course, it’s very difficult to understand the algebra of scheduling of the ‘Tribes’ in India. For instance, the webpage of the ‘Ministry of Tribal Affairs’ states two very strange aspects regarding the identity of the ‘Scheduled Tribes’. On the one hand, it describes that a person migrates from one state to another, he can claim to belong to a scheduled tribe, only in relation to the state to which he originally belonged and not in respect of the state to which he has migrated, and on the other hand, it also states that a person who is a member of a schedule tribe would continue to be a member of that scheduled Tribe, even after his or her marriage with a person who does not belong to a Scheduled Tribe. Why there are two different parameters for the same Adivasis? How can the persons born as Adivasis fall into general category just after crossing their state’s boundary whereas marrying to non-Adivasis make no difference? Why do the upper caste people enjoy the same rights and privileges across the country but Adivasis don’t? Is it not the state sponsored crime against them?
The state sponsored crime against the Adivasis of Assam had begun in ‘1950 by denying them the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST) in the Indian Constitution’. However, the crime was mated out on them in large scale in ‘1996 in forms of the ‘ethnic cleansing’, where 10,000 Adivasis had been killed, thousands of them were injured and more than 200,000 were made homeless and compelled to live in the relief camps for more than 15 years’. Similarly, on November 24, 2007, about ‘5000 Adivasis comprising of men, women and children were attacked in Beltola of Guwahati while they were attending a peaceful procession in demand of the Schedule Tribe status for them. They were attacked by the local people of Beltola including shopkeepers. Consequently ‘300 Adivasis were brutally wounded, hit by bamboos, iron rods and bricks. More than one dead, women were raped and a teenage girl Laxmi Oraon was stripped, chased and kicked’. As usual, the ‘police either remained mute spectators or joined the crowd in brutality’. However, instead of protecting the Adivasis, the government justified the brutalities and fixed blame on the Adivasis organizations for it.
In 2010, the Assam Government forcefully evicted the Adivasis of Lungsung forest block located at Kokrajhar district of Assam, where they had settled down ‘much earlier than 1965. However, the forest department claimed that they had encroached the highly biodiversity forest though there was no such forest anymore. Thus, the forest department launched an eviction move and had deployed the forest protection force for evicting the Adivasis. In this process, the forest protection force burnt down 67 villages to asses. Consequently, 7013 Adivasis including 3869 adults and 3144 minors belonging to 1267 families were affected. 2 year-old boy Mangal Hembrom died after struggling between life and death for more than 2 months as he was half burnt during the eviction process. ‘40 people who were leading the protests against the eviction, arrested and later on 7 of them (students) were released and rest 33 men were sent to Kokrajhar jail’. However, after protest and legal intervention they were also released.
Historically, the Adivasis were brought to the state of Assam in three different circumstances. Firstly, the ‘Adivasis in general and Santals in particulars were brought to Assam for their resettlement after the Santal Revolt of 1855’.They were settled down especially in the ‘western part, now in the north-west of Kokrajhar district. This settlement is recorded as in the year 1881’. Secondly, in ‘1880 the tea industry grew very fast, numbers of tea garden were started led to scarcity of labourers in Assam therefore the planters appointed agents and sent them to different places for recruitment of labourers’. Thus, the Adivasis were ‘coerced, kidnapped and incited to come to Assam, live and work under appalling conditions’. Thirdly, in large scale of land alienation for the development projects also pushed the Adivasis into Assam in search of the livelihood as there were many job opportunities in the tea gardens. Thus the Adivasis settled down in the state of Assam. Over the period of time, they also cleared the trees and bushes, and made cultivable land by shedding their sweat and blood.
Obviously, the Adivasis were also enjoying the ‘Scheduled Tribe (ST) status during the British rules. However, after India’s independence, they were de-scheduled in 1947 and when the Indian constitution was enacted in 1950, they were considered as outsiders as then the Chief Minister of Assam, Gopinath Bordoloi opposed the scheduling of the Adivasis of Assam’. Whereas, the same ethnic groups enjoy the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST), rights and privileges in their parental states i.e. Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bengal and Orissa but they are denied in the state of Assam. The government merely recognizes them as either tea or ex-tea tribe. Consequently, the people of Assam also treat them as sub-human and called them as Coolie-Bengali or labourers with the derogatory remark and ton. This is a classic example of discrimination with Adivasis by the state and the society.
The Adivasis are discriminated in every level, which is of course, a crime. For example, in ‘1974 the government evicted the people but after strong people’s resistance the government had promised them to give land entitlements’. At that time, Samar Brahma was the forest minister and as per his promised he started the process of land allocation in phased manner. However, he allocated the land to the ‘Bodos and some other communities. With his expulsion the process of land allocation also stopped’. Thus, the Adivasis were betrayed. Similarly, according to the Forest Rights Act 2006, the Adivasis are entitled to claim their rights on the forest land which they posses before December 13, 2005. However, the Adivasis of Assam are denied their rights under the FRA as well. In fact, the ‘Adivasis have been living in Lungsung Forest areas much earlier than 1965’ but they were not given rights and entitlement on the forest lands which they have been cultivating for decades.
Indeed, the history of Assam suggests that the ‘state is itself a problem, not the solution’. There are more than 70,00,000 Adivasis’ residing in the state of Assam are still not recognized as the ‘Scheduled Tribe’ merely because of the political reasons of losing the Bodo voters. However, the most stunning factor in this episode is the complete silence of the outspoken India Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. He has not yet opened his mouth on Assam massacre though the national wants to know his reaction. On 25 December, 2014, he was much busy in celebrating ‘good governance day’ when the Adivasis of Assam were burying the dead bodies and crying for justice. But why is he silent? Is it only because the victims are the marginalized people? Is it merely because the most of the victims were used to follow the Christianity? How can the head of the state be such a narrow minded, biased and selective one? Or does he open his mouth only for the political gain?
The track record of Narendra Modi shows that after taking auth as the Prime Minister, he has spent most of his time either with the corporate sharks or in wooing voters in the political campaigns. However, it’s the right time for him to show his courage of action to protect the rights of the Adivasis as he has been preaching in the Adivasis’ territory. The ruling elites also must understand that the violence of Assam is not merely confined to the ethnic violence but it has become the political ethnic violence well scripted and sponsored by the state. Therefore, it is high need of the hour to uproot the main roots of the violence instead of taking side with the intension to serve the political interest. Since the ethnic problem of Assam is political therefore the solution will be the political. But a billion dollar question is who will bell the cat?
 Dungdung, Gladson. 2013. Whose Country is it anyway? Kolkata: Adivaani.
 N.A. 2011. ‘Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice’ jointly published by PAJHRA, HUL, PAD, DBSS and NBS.