Ground Report

The Betrayed Asurs of Jharkhand?

By Gladson Dungdung

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‘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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

Article

Is the Pathalgadi Movement in Tribal Areas Anti-constitutional?

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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.

Social Moorings

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.

Legitimate Assertion

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 virg1978@gmail.com

Note:  This article was first published in EPW.

Article

Democracy and Land Rights

By Gladson Dungdung

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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[1]. 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[2] 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[3].

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.

[1] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/number-of-landless-agricultural-labourers-in-india-rises-to-14-43-crore/articleshow/52225793.cms

[2] http://www.indiaspend.com/cover-story/land-reforms-fail-5-of-indias-farmers-control-32-land-31897

[3] Ibid.

Ground Report

Why I’m on the LoC?

By Gladson Dungdung

Gladson Dungdung and Swami Agnivesh

Since 2013, I have been travelling abroad to speak on the Adivasi issues in different forums. I talk about our rights over the land, territory and resources, conservation of the natural resources and protection of ecology of the country. Consequently, I’m under the surveillance of the State as I raise uncomfortable questions frequently. In October 2013, my passport was impounded on the basis of “adverse police report” due to my involvement in the people’s movements against forceful land acquisition and unfolding the gross human rights violation of Adivasis in the counter insurgency in the so-called Red Corridor of India. However, after my special request to the top police officers of Jharkhand for proper verification of the passport, it was restored in July 2014. Thereafter, I attended a couple of conferences in Denmark and the UK. Last, November, I travelled to London following the release of my book, Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India.

This May, I was scheduled to attend a workshop on the environmental politics of South Asia at the University of Sussex, UK. Unfortunately, this became a nightmare for me. On May 9, 2016 after check-in, I collected the boarding card and went to immigration counter. I submitted the immigration form along with the passport and boarding card to the immigration officer. At the beginning, the immigration officer talked to me nicely but later it was inconvenient. After asking general questions, he also asked me whether I’m a student? In response, I told him of being a researcher. The next question he asked was on which topic I do research? I said, “Human Rights”. As soon as he heard the words “Human Rights”, he deserted his chair and went inside to find out his boss. He returned to the counter after 15 minutes and called the Air India staff and ordered him to offload my luggage.

After hearing the word “offloading”, I was stunned, therefore, I asked him the reason for offloading me, he told me that my passport is impounded, so I can’t fly to London. He wrote “offloaded” on the boarding card and handed over a seizure memo for my signature, which reads “Pax was LoC subject”, which clearly means I was under the “look out circular” but I was not told about it. When I was reading the memo before putting my signature on it, the officer told me, “You have enough time to read it later so put your signature on it and give me back”. When the offloading procedure got over after two hours, I was sent to collect my luggage, where I had to wait for another couple of hours. Of course, this kind of treatment was really shocking for me. Suddenly, question arose into my mind was that what would have happened if I were a family member of Malaya, Ambani or Adani family? This time it’s not the nation but I want to know from the nation that why I’m on the look out circular? Am I a security threat to the Nation? Am I anti-State? Am I against of economic growth and development of my own country?

Most interestingly, impounding of passport was told as the reason for offloading me from the Air India 115 but the Regional Passport Officer (RPO) of Ranchi, Sanatan Shrivastava told to the media that my passport was impounded in 2013 but restored after proper police verification and clearance. At the same time, the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi also declined its involvement and said that it is a valid passport therefore, the person is not barred from flying abroad. Indeed, an immigration officer can’t take such steps without authorization either from the top officers or from the Ministry of Home Affairs. Therefore, my question is that who is responsible for it? Where does buck stop? Why I was offloaded?

First of all, we need to understand that the most of Indians think that the human rights is a western concept similar like western dresses, food, culture, etc, which is indeed the gravest threat to Brahamanical social order, therefore, the human rights was propagated in negative sense that it is to protect the criminals, Naxals and terrorists. Thus, those are engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights are seen as the people serving against the interest of the country. Ironically, the foundation of the Indian Constitution is based on the principles of human rights that’s why it is not enforced properly. However, bitter truth is that these days, the wisdom and authority don’t go together therefore, authoritarian governments never engage the dissent voices, which is of course a threat to democracy.

Undoubtedly, we the rights activists are seen as anti-state, who are allegedly said to be going abroad to defame the country and in return, paid huge sum of money by those countries who are against of India’s progress. Of course, that’s not true. It’s happening precisely because the Indian politics is negative. Earlier, the opposition parties were known for negative role but now even the ruling parties play the negative politics, therefore, whoever raises uncomfortable questions are seen as enemy of the State, instead of dissent voices, who needs to be engaged by the State. Question is can democracy survive without the dissent? Can India claim of being the true largest democracy on Earth today? I’m asking these questions precisely because our fundamental rights the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Indian Constitution the right to freedom of expression is being curtailed by the State by the use of varies ways and means. In fact, the State must understand that dissents are not anti-State but they are there to strengthen the democracy.

At the beginning I was alleged as a ‘sympathizer of the Maoist’ but is that true? The fact is I have heavily criticized the Maoist Movement in Jharkhand for their support to the corporate houses, therefore, the State simply cannot allege me of being the Naxal sympathizer. For me, the Maoist Movement is almost equal to a private security agency today, who provides security to anyone who pay for it. The CPI-Maoist is also doing the same in Saranda Forest of Jharkhand, which was the eastern headquarter of the CPI-Maoist for a decade, where the State couldn’t dare to run a school, but more than 12 mining companies were comfortably operating their mining projects in the forest. How was that possible?

My biggest anguish is on the general perception about the Adivasis, who are perceived as anti-development, Naxals and sub-human crowd by the State and non-state actors. But are we? For instance, 1000 innocent Adivasis were brutally killed in the fake encounters, more than 500 women were raped or molested and 25,000 are languishing in different prisons in the allegation of being Naxals across the Red Corridors. 300,000 Adivasis were vacated from 644 villages in Chhatisgarh. What should they do?

Land acquisition is another big issue today. The Adivasis are being alienated from their resources. In the Nagri Mass Movement near Ranchi the capital city of Jharkhand, we were protesting not against the education hub but against the acquisition of prime agriculture land. Our argument was that education hub could be built on the barren land but instead of listening our rational argument, we were branded as a crowd against IIM, IIIT and Law University. How could the nation forget that the corporate model of development the Tata Steel Ltd, dream projects of Nehru i.e. HEC, BSL, Hirakud Dam, Mayurakshi and Tenughat, etc all are built on Adivasis’ land? 80 to 90 percent people displaced in these projects were Adivasi, who were not respited properly. How could the development theory being taught to us by those who have not even surrendered one inch of land for the national interest?

Agriculture was known as backbone of India but today the prime focus in on mining, industry and service sector. In 1950, the contribution of the agricultural sector in GDP was 51 per cent but today it has come down to 18 per cent. The service sector is fine, but mining and industry do not really care about climate change and deforestation. For money, can we sell all our forests and cut down the trees? We have to find other ways. The industry sector is not going to address the unemployment. For instance, when Tata Steel was producing 1 million tonnes steel per annum, 70,000 people were employed. When the yielding went upto 8 million tonnes, they had only 20,000 people. So where are the jobs? We must understand that the food security of majority of rural population is ensured today only because they have small patches of land.

However, in the name of development, the Indian State is grabbing the natural resources from the poor people and handing it over to the rich. Take the example of Jharkhand. Each year, there is an income of Rs 150 billion from mining alone, which is almost equal to the annual budget of Jharkhand. But 36 per cent of the people still live below the poverty line. Why? If so much money is coming from mining, why are people living in poverty? Why the money is not going back to the people? Is it not true that the corporate sharks are being benefited under the guise of economic growth and development of country?

After a lots of hue and cry, the Indian State officially accepted that historical injustice meted out on the Adivais and promised to right the historical wrongs through the Forest Rights Act 2006. However, the enforcement of the Act is very poor with the clear intention to handover the natural resources to the private entities. For instance, 0.5 million claims were rejected in the State of Chhattisgarh, where 345 MoUs have been signed, and entitlement given under the FRA was withdrawn in Sarguja district for coal mining, which is against the Forest Rights Act. Similarly, in Saranda Forest of Jharkhand, 22 new iron ore mining leases were sanctioned to the corporate houses whereas 3000 Adivasis of 30 villages have not yet been given identity cards intentionally so that they could be declared encroachers during the forest clearance.

Finally, I’m much concerned about the upcoming ecological crisis, which India is going to face. Since, the Indian government envisages to achiever 9 percent GDP per annum, therefore, the focus is on economic growth, which to is not only a threat to the existence of Adivasis, but also to our ecology. India has merely 21 percent forest coverage though the requirement for the maintenance of environment is at least 33 per cent. I was really surprised to see the Union Minister, who is supposed to take case of environment, forest and climate change seems busy in issuing environment and forest clearances to the private entities. He brought down from 560 days to 190 days for forest and environment clearance for the so-called development projects. Is this a project clearance ministry? From April 2014 to March 2016, the ministry has diverted 34,620 hectares of forest land, granting them final clearances and another diversion of 40,476 hectares will soon happen once the ministry grants them final clearance. India will not survive by selling its natural resources for economic growth. The ruling elites must understand that the economy can not be expanded on the cost of ecology but who is going to tell them? And of course, when I tell them the fact about livelihood, ecological and human crisis in publicly they put me on LoC.

On 20 May 2015, I met the Regional Passport Officer, Ranchi to know the status of my passport, and I was surprised to know that the passport is valid. However, the offloading was done by immigration authority without proper verification. What does it mean? It clearly means that I was offloaded because of my book – Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India, which exposed that how the Indian State has been waging a war primarily for grabbing the natural resources under the guise of cleansing the naxal menace. Finally, my passport was restored with a letter, which states that my passport is valid therefore, I can fly to any country. But of course, my name is not remove from the LoC. Why? Am I still a gravest security threat to the nation? Where is my right to freedom?