Article

Coal Auction and Its Impact

By Gladson Dungdung

coal-sectorThe Indian State seems to be in so hurry in exploiting its remaining natural resources especially the minerals. The exploitation of the mineral resources in the country had begun in 1925 with TISCO’s first iron-ore mining project in Saranda forest of Jharkhand under the tag of development. During the post-independence, it was accelerated with a new tag ‘economic growth’. In the recent development, the Indian government has initiated the process for auctioning 41 coal blocks[1] for commercialization. Interestingly, this time, a new tag ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant India) was added with a powerful narration. A billion-dollar question comes into my mind is whether a farmer be self-reliant after selling his paddy fields? The government’s move would have a drastically impact on the communities and environment.

However, the government claims that their decision to auction these coal blocks is a big step[2] towards making the country ‘Atmanirbhar’ in the energy sector. The government envisages an investment of 33,000 crores, which would create 2.8 lakh jobs including 70,000 direct and 2,10,000 indirect jobs. Of course, if you compare the denial of communities’ rights and environmental impact, the job promises seems to be a cumin in Camel’s mouth, which is purposely done to woo the opportunist middle class. Presently, India produces 60.40 million tons of coal per annum (2018-2019), and the new initiates would be adding 15 percent to it. Unfortunately, while manufacturing the growth story, the government has put aside the environmental and denial of communities’ rights.

Undoubtedly, the coal production is one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emission in the atmosphere. Therefore, many countries like Albania, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Sweden and Switzerland have stopped using coal based generation. Unfortunately, India has been accelerating its coal production, which would surely increase its contribution in the ongoing climate crisis. The clearance of coal mining projects means also the cleansing of the remaining forests in the coal block areas.  Presently, India has merely 21 percent forests, which is less than the required one third of the total geographical area to maintain the environment of the country. In these circumstances, can we dare to cut down the remaining trees and clean the forests? Can India become ‘Atmanirbhar’ with polluted environment? Has India surrendered in front of the corporate lobby?

The coal auction has opened the flood gate for the private sector. As of now, the public-sector undertaking companies have monopoly over the coal production in India. The ECL, BCCL, CCL, WCL, SECL and MCL are the major actors, who have played a crucial role in coal mining. But after the auctioning of 41 coal blocks, private entities like Adani, Tata and others private entities will emerge as the key players.

These coal blocks are located in different states within India and most of them fall under Fifth Schedule areas. Hence, the government’s decision has, unsurprisingly, generated insecurity among the Adivasis, who comprise the indigenous Peoples of India with the population of 104 million people. Their land and traditional habitations can be acquired at any point of time without their consent. The threat of losing livelihood resources has multiplied in those areas, where the Adivasis have been struggling to protect their forest rights.

The auction of 41 coal blocks without consent of the Governors of Fifth Schedule States, Tribe Advisory Councils and Gram Sabhas, is a gross violation of the provisions of the Fifth Schedule of Indian Constitution, PESA Act 1996, Forest Rights Act 2006 and the Supreme Court’s Samata Judgement and Niyamgiri Judgement, which legitimate the role of Gram Sabha in managing the natural resources of a village.

Indeed, the Indian State has suppressed its Constitution and laws for benefiting the private coal sectors companies, who play a crucial role during the Indian election by flooding money. Of course, the State-Corporate nexus has overthrown the rights of Adivasis. There has been onslaught on the Adivasis’ land, territory and natural resources, which needs to be check immediately for the protection of the Adivasis rights and environmental degradation. We cannot allow the government to sell our remaining natural resources.

[1] https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/pm-modi-launches-auction-process-for-41-coal-blocks-for-commercial-mining/article31857963.ece

[2] https://www.cnbctv18.com/india/atmanirbhar-bharat-pm-modi-launches-process-for-commercial-bidding-of-coal-mines-6158441.htm

General, Ground Report

Land Bank and Forest Rights

By Gladson Dungdung

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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

Sl. No. Register Number Plot No. Area in Acres
1. 44 1037 5.36
2. 44 392 3.17
3. 44 88 3.61
Total 01 03 12.14

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[1] 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[2] 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[3] .”

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

Sl. No. District Total Plot Area of land in Acre Forest Land
In Acre In %
1 Ranchi 10,327 1,07,677.69 78,256.44 72.68
2 Khunti 5,863 53,387.93 12,888.14 24.14
3 Lohardaga 3,951 14,372.30 9,742.95 67.79
4 Gumla 98,209 1,81,222.78 87,082.74 48.05
5 Simdega 1,10,766 3,58,450.52 2,44,434.50 68.19
6 East Singhbhum 22,151 31,607.71 8,159.21 25.81
7 West Singhbhum 27,041 3,75,662.09 49,922.02 13.29
8 Saraikela 5,609 24,467.66 5,008.71 20.47
9 Bokaro 2,624 21,827.03 19,823.80 90.82
10 Dhanbad 6,504 30,769.46 11,648.14 37.86
11 Ramgarh 574 4,284.94 2,795.72 65.25
12 Kodarma 278 4,128.11 73.38 1.78
13 Hazaribagh 1,973 25,190.21 15,801.12 62.73
14 Chatra 482 6,490.65 5,993.08 92.33
15 Palamu 0 3,005.20 1,668.50 55.52
16 Garhwa 31,319 33,546.72 7,536.10 22.46
17 Latehar 12,508 79,177.25 34,407.49 43.46
18 Dumka 17,308 77,762.05 16,629.96 21.39
19 Pakur 15,460 69,241.36 31,436.90 45.40
20 Deoghar 7,106 43,562.69 15,424.56 35.41
21 Giridih 16,642 4,52,074.26 3,29,539.12 72.89
22 Godda 4,956 23,417.28 5,929.15 25.32
23 Jamtara 9,607 36,086.36 5,803.17 16.08
24 Sahebganj 7,889 39,591.56 16,675.58 42.12
Total 4,19,147 20,97,003.81 10,16,680.48 48.48

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[4]. 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.

References: 

[1] Dungdung, Gladson. 2019. Ulgulan Ka Sauda. Ranchi: Adivasis Publications.

[2] Letter of the Department of Revenue and Land Reform, dated 31st December 2014.

[3] https://www.theweek.in/content/archival/news/biz-tech/jharkhand-government-creates-land-bank-for-industries.html

[4] Forest Rights Act 2006, Ministry of Tribal Affairs (Govt. of India)

Article

Proposed amendment to Indian Forest Act would deepen injustice

By Gladson Dungdung

singhbhum-singhbhum-jharkhand-village-saranda-crossing-villager_9cd2a066-43e2-11e9-bbe0-3816edd40ae7The 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”[1]. 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.’[2] 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.

[1] Letter of the Inspector General of Forest Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (Govt. of India) dated 7th March 2019.

[2] Hiramath, S.R. Kaniwalli, Sadanand & Kulkarni, Sharad. pp xxiii.

 

Ground Report

Terror of Eviction from the Forest

By Gladson Dungdung

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On 13 February 2019, the Supreme Court of India while hearing on the Writ Petitions (c) No. 109/2008 Wildlife First & Ors Versus Ministry of Forest and Environment & Ors, passed an order for eviction of the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers, whose claims have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act 2006. The Court directed that where the verification/ reverification/review process is pending, the concerned state shall do the needful within four months from today and report be submitted to this Court. Let Forest Survey of India (FSI) make a satellite survey and place on record the encroachment positions and state the positions after the eviction as far as possible[1]. However, on 28 March 2019, the Court stayed its controversial order after the intervention petition was filed by the Central government for modification of the order apprehending its consequences on the general election. The government in its plea said that the forest dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers are extremely poor and illiterate people and not well informed of their rights and procedure under the Act. They live in remote and inaccessible areas of the forest. It is difficult for them to substantiated their claimed before the competent authorities[2] therefore their claims were rejected.

The Court ordered the Chief Secretaries of the state governments to file detailed affidavits covering all the aforesaid aspects and place on record the rejection orders and the details of the procedure followed for settlement of claims and what are the main ground on which the claims have been rejected[3]. The court said that it may also be stated that whether the tribals were given opportunity to adduce evidence and, if yes, to what extent and whether reasoned orders have been passed regarding rejection of the claims[4]. The Court also ordered the Forest Survey of India to make a satellite survey and place on record the encroachment positions as far as possible before the next hearing[5]. In this circumstance, there is an apprehension of eviction of Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers from the forests if the Supreme Court orders to execute its earlier order in forthcoming hearings. There would be eviction of more than 2 million Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers from the forest land and forests. Therefore, we should analysis some cases to understand the impact of eviction. Kudagada is one such examples.

Kudagada is a revenue village comprised of 8 hamlets (Kudagara, Bardanda, Garurpiri, Heso, Fatehpur, Nimdih, Modotoli and Jogitoli) located in the Heso forest, falls under Namkum development block in Ranchi district of Jharkhand. There are 347 households with the population of approximately 1500[6].  The village is dominated by the Munda Adivasis, whose livelihood is based on agriculture and forest produce[7]. The most of the Adivasis own some patches of revenue land and some of them also cultivate on the forest land, which they have prepared for cultivation but don’t have entitlement papers.

When the villagers came to know about the Forest Rights Act 2006, which was enforced to recognize their rights on forest land and forest, they formed a ‘Forest Rights Committee (FRC)’ under the Kudagara Gram Sabha (village council). 36 villagers filed claim forms and submitted to the FRC[8]. The Kudagara Gram Sabha verified the claims and sent those with recommendations to Dr. Sweta, the Circle Officer of Namkum, where most of the claims were rejected and only 6 claims were converted into entitlements with small patches of land.

Interestingly, the claim of the chairperson of the FRC, Purandra Munda was rejected along with 29 others. Munda had filed claim of 1.5 acres of land. The 6 villagers, whose individual rights were recognized and given pattas (entitlement papers) are also upset because the area of land were decreased in the pattas though they have been cultivating and possessing the land for generations. For instance, Bando Munda, who had filed claim on 8 acres of land but given patta of merely 7 decimals of land[9]. Similarly, Somra Munda was given patta of 2 decimals for the claim of 2 acres and Budhram Munda also given patta of merely 2 decimals of land for 2 acres. Bando Munda is upset and angry for denying his rights. He says, “We have been cultivating on eight acres of forest land for three generations but I was given entitlement of merely seven decimals of land. How can my family survive with such small patch of land? This is injustice to me. I’m not going to leave my land.”

The villagers had also filed claim of 700 acres of forest under the community rights but their rights are not yet recognized. The circle officer had asked them to decrease the area of forest in the claim form from 700 acres to 100 acres but they refused to do so therefore, the claim file was deliberately misplaced in the office of CO and they had to file it again. Chairperson of the FRC, Purandra Munda says, “We depend on forest for our survival, therefore, we cannot even imagine our life without forest. We should be given the entitlement of 700 acres of forest, which we have been utilizing and protecting for generations.” In this case, if the SC’s eviction order is enforced, the genuine claimants of the forest rights will not only lose their cultivated land but they will also lose the community forest, which plays a vital role in their economy and entire life cycle. This is the biggest threat to their existence.

The eviction order of the Supreme Court will have adverse effect in the life of more than 2 million forest dwellers mostly the Adivasis of the country. According to the FRA status report as per 30th November 2018, 4,224,951 including 4,076,606 individuals and 148,345 community claims were filed. Out of these claims, 1,894,225 including 1,822,262 individuals and 72,064 community pattas were issued whereas 1,939,231 claims were rejected and 391,495 claims are in pending[10]. Therefore, if the SC’s order is enforced, 1,939,231 families will be chased out of the forests. A billion-dollar question is where will they go? Who will protect their fundamental right to life? The Indian constitution guarantees the right to life to everyone under the Article 21 and the State is duty bound to protect it. Unfortunately, the State has failed to protect the rights of the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers primarily because it intends to grab the remaining natural resources (land, forest and minerals) from them and hand it over to the Corporate Sharks.

[1] Writ Petition (c) No. 109/2008 Wildlife First & Ors Versus Ministry of Forest and Environment & Ors.

[2] https://www.deccanherald.com/national/sc-stays-order-eviction-720787.html

[3] Writ Petition (c) No. 109/2008 Wildlife First & Ors Versus Ministry of Forest and Environment & Ors.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Dungdung, Gladson. 2016. Adivasi aur Vanadhikar. Ranchi: Adivasi Publications. Pp151

[7] Ibid. pp152

[8] Ibid. pp153

[9] Ibid. 153

[10] FRA implementation Status Report November 2018. Ministry of Tribal Affairs.

Research Paper

Adivasis on the March – Crisis and Cultural Genocide in Tribal India  

By Gladson Dungdung & Felix Padel

IMG_1216India’s tribal people are in ferment after a Supreme Court (SC) judgment in February 2019 ordered eviction of over a million tribal families from traditional lands where claims under the Forest Rights Act (2006)[1] have been rejected – as the majority have been, due to obstruction from forest officials and a multitude of murky vested interests.[2] Adivasis are on the march in many states,[3] despite a stay on the judgment asked for by the main political parties.[4]

The case at the SC was brought by several conservation groups. Yet evicting Adivasis is the last thing likely to save India’s surviving forests.[5] Despite hard work by hundreds of dedicated people in conjunction with thousands of tribal families battling mindless bureaucracy, government officials overall have failed outrageously to implement the Forest Rights Act, that was meant to start correcting the massive historic injustice towards Adivasis.[6]

The SC order and Adivasi reactions unfolded in February-March 2019, after vicious government repression of an Adivasi resurgence known as the Pathalgadi movement, in Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh. Pathalgadi (‘installation of stone slab’) represents a highly original attempt to assert Adivasi autonomy and control over land, territory and resources, which has been recognised through several laws, that have not been properly implemented by most state governments (See here).[7]

The context is one of vastly accelerating dispossession of hundreds of tribal communities in India;[8] and the (often admitted) overall failure to implement the PESA (Panchayat [Extension to Scheduled Areas]) Act of 1996, that was meant to decentralise control in tribal areas, giving tribal people the real autonomy supposedly guaranteed under Schedules V & VI of India’s Constitution. Similarly, the Forests Rights ACT (FRA) of 2006 was meant to correct a historic injustice by giving tribal people their due rights to the forests they have always lived in. The SC order appalled tribal rights activists already reeling from the scale of repression.[9] Government representatives failed even to appear in court to answer the highly distorted charges brought by the ‘anti-Adivasi’ conservation groups.[10]

IMG_1304Erecting megaliths is an ancient custom among many of India’s tribal peoples, for commemorating the dead among other purposes. The custom of erecting pathalgadi stones with quotations from the Constitution or PESA Act was initiated by B.D. Sharma along with senior police officer Bandi Oraon, after PESA was passed in 1996. The practice was revived in 2016-17, in Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, in the face of a rising tide of looming land grabs. One part of this was an unprecedented ‘Land Bank’ portal started by the Jharkhand (and other) governments in 2016, which involved listing Adivasi common or unregistered lands, including sacred groves, as available for investors to buy.[11] By January 2019 this Land Bank listed over two million acres of Adivasi lands in Jharkhand,[12] with a similar phenomenon in Odisha,[13] and other states.

Erecting these large, inscribed stones therefore responds to an urgent need to spread recognition of Adivasis’ legally recognised rights.[14] The stones are inscribed with words from India’s Constitution and PESA, that delegate authority to village councils (Gram Sabhas). By April 2018, the Pathalgadi movement was spreading fast,[15] with its epicentre in Khunti district.

IMG_1253Then an event occurred in June 2018 that led to a wave of extreme repression. Several women actors were reported to have been abducted and raped on 19th June after performing at a Catholic school near Kochang village in Khunti district, and the perpetrators were said to be leaders of the Pathalgadi movement. Many elements of the story did not add up however (See here, The Wire report),[16] and those arrested included the school principle, who was certainly innocent, and is still jailed.[17] Police kept the women under ‘protection’ for two months, with no media access, and on their release, they were reportedly told not so speak out, with death threats to them and their families if they did so. No-one who has investigated the incident closely believes that the rape really happened at all.

Just one week later, a police firing took place 50 kms away, after Ghagra village erected a Pathalgadi. Police were angry about the new stone, and threatened villagers with death if they erected more; supposedly, they were also searching for two of the leaders accused of the rape (Joseph Purty and John Junas Tidu, of Udburu village), as well as three Adivasi security guards, who had been abducted from an Adivasi MP’s house (that of Karia Munda in Charidih village), in a bid to insist on dialogue with the police after several Pathalgadi activists had been beaten up. The police firing took place on 26th June, when an estimated 2,000 villagers were opposing the entry of about 500 armed police into Ghagra. One man was killed, and several badly wounded. The slain Adivasi was named Birsa Munda, after the iconic leader who resisted British rule and died in jail in 1900.This young Birsa Munda was from Chamri village, one of the first to erect Pathalgadi stones in Khunti in 2016-17.[18]

Repression soon became very severe,[19] involving many arrests and charges brought by police against over 10,000 Pathalgadi activists. The movement has been branded ‘anti-national’, and Maoist-instigated,[20] with revered non-tribal supporters such as Stan Swamy targeted too.[21]

            This repression was compounded by the murder of Amit Topno in December 2018, a Hindi language journalist covering the Pathalgadi movement in Khunti and its suppression. There has been no proper investigation yet, let alone justice for Amit.[22]

Recently, a new spate of forced takeovers of Adivasi lands has occurred in several parts of Jharkhand, especially for a new coal-fired power plant by Adani in Godda district (in the state’s northeast, bordering Bihar and West Bengal). Villagers have been beaten up and their crops bulldozed, with widely circulated photos of a woman touching an Adani official’s feet, begging him not to do this. Adani’s plan is for a mega-power plant near Godda, for which coal would be brought from Adani’s controversial new mine in Australia, with electricity sold at a large profit to Bangladesh.[23] Similarly extreme repression has taken place against Adivasi protestors against a huge Adani coal project in Surguja district in north Chhattisgarh.[24] This follows years of mining takeovers in many tribal areas of central India, where open-cast coalmining has devastated hundreds of square kilometres of forest, displacing hundreds of  villages, despite strong Adivasi-led movements against this, for example in North Karampura valley in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand.

As Virginius Xaxa has pointed out, one of India’s most respected sociology professors of tribal origin, depicting the Pathalgadi movement as ‘anti-national’ is deeply ironic, since its aim is to disseminate the established and neglected laws of the the Indian Government.[25]

Jharkhand’s Adivasis have been marching in large numbers.[26] It is well recognised that tribal communities have preserved India’s forests better than anyone,[27] and over 100 conservationists have joined calls for rescinding the Supreme Court order.[28]

There are too many vital struggles by tribal communities in India to summarise briefly, including uproar on several issues in Northeast India,[29] some involving mass displacement by big dams, oil and infrastructure projects.[30] Adivasis in north Odisha have vowed to boycott the upcoming elections, since the main parties are so apathetic towards their essential needs and rights.[31] Asurs, Birhors and other members of ‘Particularly Vulnerable Groups’ (PVTGs) are neglected and discriminated against outrageously (see here).[32]

Courageously, Sukhram Munda, the headman of Kochang village, near where the alleged gang-rape took place, has spoken out about how he was manipulated into signing land acquisition papers by police bringing a completely bogus case against him, while other villagers were tricked into signing land away through police gifts of sarees and dhotis. The school for which he donated land has been occupied by armed police, who are seeking more land to set up a permanent camp.[33]

To say that tribal people are being displaced by ‘development’ compounds the injustice.[34] What is forcing the displacement is financial investment, that is making a small number of people rich by sacrificing tens of thousands of those human beings living most sustainably in ecosystems they have lived in symbiosis with for centuries, that are now getting destroyed and turned into wastelands at an unprecedented speed – ecocide unfolding alongside cultural genocide.

The setting up and expansion of boarding schools for tribal children is making this cultural genocide much more intense,[35] promoting an unacknowledged policy of assimilation into the mainstream, that follows very closely the pattern of ‘stolen generation’ boarding schools into which indigenous children were forced throughout North America and Australia[36] – a deeply harmful policy for which the Prime Ministers of Canada and Australia have apologized to their indigenous citizens.[37] The first ‘industrial school’ was set up for native American children near Pittsburgh in 1878.

The policy of assimilation through boarding schools in north America and Australia ended in the 1970s-80s. In India, by contrast, boarding schools for tribal children are getting more numerous and bigger, and recent government directives are for more boarding schools and greater digitialisation of education, removing learning even further from community control.[38] In ‘Ashram schools’ for tribal children, which number several thousand and are now complemented by many more models of private and government tribal boarding schools (such as ‘Eklavya’ and Kasturba Gandhi residential schools), it is regular practice for children to have their hair cut short on enrolment, and to be given a new Hindu name – just as they were assigned Christian names in North America.[39] Traditional languages, ornaments and even religious practices are regularly banned. In many such schools, Sanskrit is taught – a wonderful, ancient language, but alien to tribal culture, while no less ancient languages such as Gondi and about 400 other tribal languages find no place in the curriculum. As a result of the humiliation and denigration associated with these languages, most show a sharp decline, even though Article 350A of India’s Constitution insists on every child’s right to be taught in their mother tongue. The result is a situation of linguistic genocide, and ‘miseducation’.[40]

The world’s biggest boarding school right now is called KISS (Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences) in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, which houses about 27,000 children from all 62 of Odisha’s Scheduled Tribes (STs), and increasing numbers of tribal children from other states too. Parents are enticed into sending their children to this distant school, even though the experience often alienates them from their families, communities and natural environment. This happens through recruitment agents throughout Odisha and beyond, with tribal development agencies, principals of local schools and even police officials persuading parents to send their children to KISS for a free education, with extravagant promises.

Children at KISS are allowed home only once a year. Special foods that their families send with them back to school are automatically thrown away in front of the children when they arrive in the school premises. Mobile phones through which they could keep in touch with their families are reportedly completely forbidden, and if found on children are confiscated or even broken in front of them. Since children can only go home once a year, this banning of mobiles, even to older children, who cannot phone home easily even when they fall ill, greatly accentuates childrens’ sense of isolation and incarceration at KISS.

The institution has won accolades from all sides for the free education on offer ‘from KG [kindergarten] to PG [post-graduate level]’, and its founder Achyuta Samanta’s claim to be doing a major social service to India’s tribal people has won him a recent award from the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes.[41] This promotion is being done by government officials, some very senior,[42] even though the model is a private one. In effect, the government is abdicating its responsibility towards education, with day schools being closed in large numbers.[43]

In addition to the cultural genocide that boarding schools are contributing to, they are also directly damaging a huge number of individual children. Thousands have died in residential schools across India and sexual abuse has been reported repeatedly from tribal boarding schools in Odisha,[44] Chhattisgarh,[45] and elsewhere.

What is particularly sinister about this trend towards large boarding schools is that much of this industrial scale, regimented schooling is being funded by the very mining companies that are seeking to grab tribal lands. Adani is setting up a tribal boarding school called ‘Adani Vidya Mandir’ in Surguja district of Chhattisgarh, where it is grabbing tribal lands for coal mining, funded through its CSR (‘corporate social responsibility’);[46] with another project spreading computerised education in tribal schools in Godda district of Jharkhand where it is using force to acquire land for its power plant. The NMDC (National Mineral Development Corporation) that is expanding iron-ore mines and trying to set up a steel plant in south Chhattisgarh, has set up an ‘Education City’ in Dantewada district,[47] with several more under construction. As for KISS, it has MOU (memoranda of understanding) with Vedanta, Nalco, NMDC and Adani. The Vedanta MOU, for example, promises 20,000 rupees per year from the company for every Dongria Kondh child sent to KISS for education.[48] In other words, it looks as though tribal children are being brainwashed and alienated from their communities so as to facilitate massive further land grabs in the near future.

Other educational models exist! An expanding number of culturally sensitive, small-scale schools in different areas make learning fun,[49] and use tribal languages – a multilingual model that educational research shows produces far better results for improving literacy than imposing a mainstream language from the start. Nagaland has a model in which every village community exercises responsibility over local schools.[50] Is it possible that we can reverse the learning?[51] How can the cultural genocide be stopped? The mainstream world needs to start learning the values of sharing and sustainability from tribal communities, while education for Adivasi children has to become something that is fun and genuinely liberating, while serving their interests and under their own communities’ control.

[1]https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/what-is-forest-rights-act/article26419298.ece?fbclid=IwAR3X0cOo-Shgn7h4QihRLdSWrcX_gb4sXzU3JPI0hoqJ-mAIKMJ1WX4Kst4

[2]https://scroll.in/article/914404/five-reasons-why-claims-by-forest-dwellers-for-their-land-are-low-and-rejections-are-high?fbclid=IwAR2OThS-dFuzr5aR8BP4nigR4n8ZpyRk-3-hMqnZlxBtXUaSzzkjBCc5wyA

[3]https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/tribals-protest-against-their-eviction-from-forests/articleshow/68245292.cms?fbclid=IwAR089Xw794aU3U6R4Sx1mEBn1kRJPvTOq43dKrEA6A8I76mG7rtN-nzMu0w

[4]https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/bjp-congress-cms-to-appeal-scs-forest-order/articleshow/68160730.cms?fbclid=IwAR0_vJ7nsOf3XflQGpzRElnGTMhN5OAcBvVBtEdDasbnDlpI-KfyIM4bcls

[5]https://www.news18.com/news/opinion/opinion-dear-urban-activists-evicting-tribals-does-not-do-wildlife-conservation-any-favours-2056403.html?fbclid=IwAR1p4Dgjsadytt34Uh1WQWZ41pDRPaCEQUTxh2SyDd1eBRhmc5FBK8WMuH0

[6]https://scroll.in/article/914820/conservation-groups-should-be-helping-adivasis-save-forests-instead-they-are-working-to-evict-them?fbclid=IwAR1M_mek29uIT0qL6cjYSnadF448ENFIHTjeTg0lV_K5UVaFcZRbLUfB4SY

[7] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Pathalgarhis-long-shadow-Indias-tribal-heartland-wants-freedom-from-govt-control/articleshow/67673490.cms

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/feb/25/land-grab-tribal-people-india-adivasi?fbclid=IwAR3VUCNOmbrskFiJcSNYBjLeQcZ7ibl0B-FMTKP8YCIyYp9I2tMDRmE_jQI

[9] https://www.counterview.net/2019/02/pro-corporate-supreme-court-order-on.html?spref=fb&fbclid=IwAR24z2Ad1TSKulOf0m3bGwPsVEQ-io7rY6LDt-OZkAcpXrbTnnDj2PrJZT0

[10] https://countercurrents.org/2019/02/23/corporate-conservationists-use-judicial-process-to-annihilate-indias-indigenous-people/?fbclid=IwAR2qiOBnZzAOmsy1acFYSCNK4jAOj4A1GHIXGZKRi58cdR75TbhrWaaXrB8

[11] Jharkhand Land Bank Portal inaugurated, Times of India 5 January 2016, at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/good-governance/jharkhand/Jharkhand-land-bank-portal-inaugurated/articleshow/50448318.cms

[12]https://adivasihunkar.com/2019/01/10/a-memorandum-to-the-governor-of-jharkhand-against-the-land-bank/

[13]https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/governance/odisha-govt-lures-industries-via-land-banks-alienates-people-from-commons-61496

[14] https://thewire.in/politics/jharkhand-religious-freedom-bill-tribes-cnt-spt

[15]https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/the-pathalgadi-rebellion/article23530998.ece

[16]https://thewire.in/rights/police-targeting-pathalgadi-supporters-in-the-jharkhand-gang-rape-case-report

[17] https://thewire.in/rights/jharkhand-pathalgadi-movement-abduction-violence

[18] https://thewire.in/rights/jharkhand-pathalgadi-movement-gang-rape-police-firing

[19] https://thewire.in/rights/jharkhand-pathalgadi-movement-abduction-violence

[20]https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/pathalgadi-a-naxal-act-to-spread-anarchy-jual-oram/articleshow/65047474.cms

[21] https://thewire.in/rights/pathalgadi-movement-adivasis-stan-swamy-sedition

[22]https://thewire.in/rights/amit-topno-journalist-jharkhand-pathalgadi

[23]https://www.indiaspend.com/taking-over-fertile-land-for-adani-group-from-protesting-farmers-jharkhand-government-manipulates-new-law-meant-to-protect-them/

[24]https://caravanmagazine.in/communities/coal-mining-hasdeo-forests-protests?fbclid=IwAR3zREf6lEKYixW0JyTLqFR8VcMRw_SuoJTeJUUsTBbj6k-6vUWKOdXKXsc

[25] https://adivasihunkar.com/2019/01/12/is-the-pathalgadi-movement-in-tribal-areas-anti-constitutional/

[26]https://www.sabrangindia.in/article/10000-jharkhand-tribals-protest-against-sc-order-evicting-forest-dwellers-ancestral-lands?fbclid=IwAR1bJtCAUunTZG9CSSC5yIKp2agz3Swdu3j4Rmc_V6ajop1qSuQPmhSpHOI

[27] https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/how-to-kill-a-forest-adivasis-forest-dwellers-evicted-conservationists-5603789/?fbclid=IwAR0wtLtosyCJ59xYX83pYGj1sbnuxDSbmgmAk9ib0fKLEhX9NVooqDiCHsw

[28] https://www.counterview.in/2019/02/100-indian-world-conservationists.html?fbclid=IwAR3daOkTb0tQi3toO3wFhfWVx-s3KotLPgY1NBa2vwjT4hBKUr3S847IUQo

[29] https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/fear-and-loathing-in-the-north-east-citizenship-bill-brings-region-to-boiling-point/article25986291.ece

[30] http://e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=education.Human_Rights_Legal.Natural_Resources_Management_in_Manipur_By_Jiten_Yumnam

[31]http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2019/mar/04/harried-tribals-of-chakidi-vow-to-boycott-upcoming-elections-1946467.html?fbclid=IwAR3OF7TphY0Ura_3Dd6_Amsoatbn5TA76Hj9OV2WMT4tDrSRia0nlf4iBjU

[32]https://adivasihunkar.com/2019/01/16/the-betrayed-asurs-of-jharkhand/

[33]https://adivasihunkar.com/2019/03/05/i-was-forced-to-sign-on-the-land-acquisition-papers-sukhram-munda/

[34]https://www.epw.in/node/153848/pdf?0=ip_login_no_cache%3Dae806304c296901be13ee691f89f03db

[35]https://www.anthro.ox.ac.uk/files/jaso10120182247pdf

[36]http://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/politics/aguide-to-australias-stolen-generations#toc0

[37] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/15/justin-trudeau-pledges-reconciliation-canada-aboriginal-abuse

[38] https://www.indiatoday.in/union-budget-2018/story/budget-2018-eklavya-model-schools-in-tribal-majority-areas-by-2022-says-arun-jaitley-1158993-2018-02-01

[39] https://www.survivalinternational.org/articles/3524-residentialschools

[40]https://www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/miseducation-in-bastar-13347

[41] https://kalingatv.com/state/kiss-conferred-with-ncst-leadership-award-for-exemplary-services-towards-st/

[42] https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/the-idea-of-kiss-2/

[43] https://scroll.in/article/738028/chhattisgarh-is-closing-down-schools-in-areas-where-it-should-expand-them

[44]http://zeenews.india.com/news/odisha/orissa-cm-ordersprobe-into-sexual-abuse-of-tribal-girls_612376.html

[45] https://www.indiatoday.in/india/east/story/dhanora-sexual-assault-case-neeta-naag-vinod-naag-kanya-ashram-tribal-school-superintendent-dhanora-village-chhattisgarh-184413-2014-03-11

[46] http://indiacsr.in/dr-priti-adani-fronts-adani-vidya-mandir-surguja-chhattisgarh-educate-underprivileged/

[47] https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/news/story/chattisgarh-dantewada-educationcity-109956-2012-07-17

[48] https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/national/vedanta-funds-education-of-100-underprivileged-tribal-children/article23080857.ece

[49] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSIaAIP-wwM

[50] https://www.outlookindia.com/newswire/story/success-story-of-nagalands-communitisation-programme/575565

[51] https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/economy/reverse-the-learning-57776

Interview

I was forced to sign on the land acquisition papers: Sukhram Munda

Sukhram of KochangSukhram Munda is the village headman of Kochang, located in Khunti district of Jharkhand (India). The village was widely known after the incident of gang-rape and it is still in the news for illegal and forceful land acquisition. Gladson Dungdung spoke to Sukhram Munda on the Issue. Excerpt from the interview.

Gladson: How did you join the Pathalgari Movement (Movement for installation of stone slab)?

Sukhram: We were not aware about the provisions of the Indian Constitution. When we heard about the Pathalgadi Movement, some members of the Gram Sabha (village council) participated in some meetings of the Pathalgari Movement, and found is as crucial for the village to protect our land, territory and resources because our area comes under the Fifth Scheduled of the Constitution, where land cannot be acquired without the consent of Gram Sabha. Soon, I conducted a Gram Sabha’s meeting to discuss on Pathalgadi, where all members participated and agreed to install a stone slab at the entrance of our village. Thereafter, we collected the money and bought a stone slab, where the constitutional provisions were curved and installed at the entrance of village on 25th February, 2018.

Gladson: The government authorities claim that Pathalgari Movement is unconstitutional. What is you respond to it?

Sukhram: I don’t think it is unconstitutional. In fact, we have curved the constitutional provision on the stone slab to educate and make aware our Adivasis. Pathalgari is our tradition. We install stone slabs in many social and cultural occasions.

Gladso: The Indian Media claimed that the Adivasis have put barricades at the entrance of the villages. The President of India, the Prime Minister, the Governor, the Chief Minister and other government authorities cannot enter in the village without permission of the Gram Sabha. They must pay tax to the Gram Sabha before entering to the village. Are these allegations true?

Sukhram: These are fake allegations. We have not stopped anyone from entering to our village. Everyone is freely moving here. There is no such barricade or tax system.

Gladson: Pathalgadi leaders Joseph Purty had given a call to boycott the government’s welfare schemes, health & education facilities and developmental activities. Do you agree with him?

Sukhram: Kochang Gram Sabha is very clear about the Pathalgadi, which is good for our village to protect our natural resources but we are against of boycotting welfare schemes, health & education facilities and developmental activities. I have given my land for school in free of cost, health sub-center is being run in my house for last couple of decades and Aanganbadi center was also in my house. Therefore, how can someone blame me of boycotting government’s schemes?

Gladson: You claim that Pathalgadi Movement is to protect land and other natural resources, can you tell me what kind of threat is on the village’s natural resources?

Sukhram: After Kochang gang-rape incident, a police camp was setup in school of my village. I have given land for school in free of cost but another 14 decimals of my land were grabbed for construction of toilet for Jawans(constables) without my consent and compensation.

Gladson: Do you want compensation for your land?

Sukhram: No. I want my land back. How can the government acquire anybody’s land without his/her consent? I know that Adivasis will not survive with compensation. We need land for our existence.

Gladso: Did government take your consent for using school as the security camp?

Sukhram: No. It was done in the night. The para-military forces landed in the night and school was vacated. The teachers were told that their school is merged with the Middle school of Ruguddih village, which is four kilometers far from here.

Gladson: How many children were studying in school? Where are they now? have they shifted to the Middle School, Ruguddih?

Sukhram: 35-36 children of Kochang were studying in the school. Now, they have stopped going to school. The school is far so they don’t want to go. How will I convince them to go to school? This is denial of right to education of our children.

Gladson: Is there any other case of land grabbing in Kochang?

Sukhram: Yes. There is a major case of land grab. The government authorities are violating the power of Gram Sabha for grabbing land of the village. The government intends to setup a permanent police camp in the village but we are against of it. We don’t need a security camp. We are safe without the police.

Gladson: Can you tell me how the government authorities are violating the laws to grab the land in Kochang.

Sukhram: The Circle Officer (CO) of Arki block issued a notice to conduct the Gram Sabha’s meeting for acquisition of 2.47 acre of land for the construction of a community hall. We objected it because how can the CO issues such notice? Only the Gram Sabha has the power to call such meeting. We already have a community hall in the village therefor we don’t need one more community hall. We wanted to know that what kind of community hall the government is going to build in such a huge patch of land? We were surprised to know that government wants to acquire our land for the security camp under the guise of a community hall to avoid the protest, and when we started objecting, the government authorizes are suppressing our voices.

Gladson: Can you explain me how your voices were suppressed and what kind of power is being used to acquire the land?

Sukhram: I was harassed by the police. I’m under their surveillance. On 29th October, 2018, I had gone to Ranchi to attend a seminar. While returning home, the police caught me in Khunti and I was taken to Khunti police station where the Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Arki police station was also present. The OCs of Khunti and Arki forced me to sign on the land acquisition paper. They threatened me to imprison in the false charges of participating in Pathalgari Movement if I disobey them. They said that once I were imprisoned, I would never get out of the Jail. I’m already facing four false cases therefor I was afraid of them so signed on the land acquisition papers. They released me at 11 PM after signing the papers.

Gladson: What kind of cases you are facing?

Sukhram: All four cases are regarding the Pathalgari Movement. I was falsely accused of participating in some events of the Pathalgari Movement, where I was not part of but I was in Ranchi during those events. I have proof too. For instance, I was charged in a case of Kanki, where police personnel were hostage by the Gram Sabha but I was not present in Kanki that day. I was in Ranchi for treatment of my eyes.

Gladson: What happened after you were released from Khunti police station?

Sukhram:  After going back to village. I called for the Gram Sabha’s meeting on 30th October 2018, obeying the CO’s order for land acquisition but the government officers did not turn up. Our time was wasted. On the next day, the OC of Arki police station arrived at Kochang’s village market with three Vehicles. Two vehicles are loaded with Sarees and Dhotis (cloths for Men and Women) and another vehicle was full of police personnel. They distributed the cloths among men and women who were present in the village market and got their signature and thumb impression on blank papers. When some villagers asked them the reason for clothe distribution, they said that they are distributing clothes for ‘Sohrai’ festival. Later, we came to know that the document was converted as the Gram Sabha’s resolution for land acquisition. Immediately, we had a meeting in the village and sent a protest letter to the District Land Acquisition Officer, Khunti. I also met the DLAO, who told me that the Gram Sabha has given its consent for the land acquisition. He showed me the papers which I had signed in the police station and the villagers had singed and impressed their thumbs for receiving clothes. This is how we were cheated and betrayed.

Gladson: Now what will you do to protect the land?

Sukhram: We will fight till our last breath. We have no choice. We will also approach to the Jharkhand High Court.

Gladson: Are you not afraid of the government? The police camp is near your house are you safe? Is there any incident of police atrocity in the village?

Sukhram: Do we have any choice rather than fight for our survival? We have not yet faced any such atrocity in the village but it will not remain the same forever.

Gladson: The Pathalgari Movement is blamed for opium cultivation. While coming to Kochang, I saw opium plants both side of the road. What you have to say?

Sukhram : The Pathalgari Movement has nothing do with the opium cultivation. You have seen how opium is being cultivated in the region openly. The police camp is in Kochang and Jawans go for patrolling everyday but they don’t destroy the opium plants. I’m surprised! I have told the police officers several times about it but they don’t bother for it. I don’t know why?

Gladson: Kochang village was defamed worldwide for gang rape. Can you tell me about it?

Sukhram: I don’t know much about it. The victims also did not meet me. I came to know about the unfortunate incident through newspaper only. But I can say that Fr. Alphonse is innocent but he was falsely accused because he creates awareness among the Adivasis.

Intervention

A Memorandum to the Governor of Jharkhand against brutal Killing of two Adivasi Boys

Ref: JHRM/GOR/01                                                                                    04/02/2019

To,

Her Excellency,

Smt. Droupadi Murmu,

Governor of Jharkhand,

Raj Bhawan,

Ranchi – 834001.

Subject: Requesting for a high-level investigation and action on a case of alleged encounter between the security forces and the Naxals in Longkata forest of Arki in Khunti district of Jharkhand on January 29, 2019, resulted in brutal killing of two minor Adivasi (tribal) Boys.

Dear Madam,

This is to bring your kind attention on a case of alleged encounter occurred between the security forces and the Naxals of People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI) in Longkata forest, comes under the jurisdiction of Arki police station in Khunti district of Jharkhand on January 29, 2019, where five Naxals said to be killed in the alleged encounter. After the encounter, the Superintendent of Police, Khunti, Mr. Aloke, claimed that those killed in the encounter were the Naxals and all of them were adults.

However, the ground realities seem to be different. Two out of five deceased persons were minor boys belonging to the Adivasi (Scheduled Tribe) community. 11-year-old boy Sant Thomas Soy S/o – Mr. Saban Soy & Mrs. Paulina Soy resident of Narang village comes under Arki police station in Khunti District of Jharkhand was studying in class IV in St. John’s School, Murhu (Khunti). The principal of school, Mr. Ishrail Mundu and class teacher Mr. Manjul Prabhat Barla have confirmed that Sant Thomas Soy was their student. Sant Thomas Soy’s mother Mrs. Paulina Soy claims that her son had gone to watch a hockey match in Muchiya village on January 21, 2019 but he didn’t return home in the evening. They were searching for him in their relatives’ villages but shocked to see his dead body later.

The villagers claim that another victim 16-year-old Sanjay Odeya was working as SPO (Special Police Officer) under the guidance of the Superintendent of Police, Khunti, who had promised him to pay Rs. 6,000 per month as salary. He was assigned the work to track the Naxals. The police had given him GPS. He was tracking the Naxals and informing the police. It seems that Sanjay Odeya had informed the police about the presence of Naxals in the forest and the police used his GPS to track them, which perhaps, resulted in encounter, where Sanjay Odeya was also killed.

Indeed, it is the fact that most of the ex-Naxals/Maoists have been deployed as the SPOs in Khunti district, and when they lose their lives, the police deny of using their services. It has been going for years. Unfortunately, the police have put the lives of minors in danger and playing with it. This is unacceptable. The minor Adivasi boys are sandwiched in the district and they have been losing their precious lives.

As per the Article 244(1) of Indian Constitution, you are the custodian of the Fifth Schedule areas of Jharkhand, and the para 5(2) of the Fifth Schedule, assigns you to ensure peace and good governance in the Fifth Schedule area. Therefore, you are constitutionally obelized to ensure peace and good governance in the state. Hence, I request you for the following actions:

  1. To order for a high-level investigation in the case of encounter and brutal killing of two minor Adivasi boys.
  2. To order the police for lodging an FIR under the section – 302 of the IPC and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
  3. To provide the composition of Rs.25,00,000 to each family of both the deceased persons.

I shall be highly obliged to you for the same.

Thanking You.

Yours Sincerely

Gladson Dungdung

General Secretary

JHRM, Ranchi.

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?

Research Paper

Land is Life for Adivasis

by Gladson Dungdung

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“Jan Denge, Jameen Nahi Denge” (We shall surrender our lives but not land). This has been the most popular slogan of the Adivasis’ Movements against Displacement (AMD) across India for last couple of decades, which clearly indicates about the meaning and importance of land for them. ‘Adivasi’ literally means the aboriginal or original inhabitant or first settler of the land.[i] Undoubtedly, the Adivasis are the indigenous peoples of India, which is legitimatized by the Supreme Court of India through its judgement (SLP (Cr) No.10367 of 2010 Kailas & others Vs State of Maharashtra), stating that the tribal people (Scheduled Tribes or Adivasis) are the descendants of the original inhabitants of India[ii]. However, the Indian government denies their Indigenous Identity and recognizes them merely as the scheduled tribes through the Indian Constitution and laws even today.

There are 744 Adivasi or indigenous ethnic groups in India but only 645 of them are identified as the Scheduled Tribes. As per the Census 2011, the Adivasis are 8 percent of the total population with 104 million people, treated as the most marginalized and vulnerable communities in India. An Adivasi legend Dr. Ramdayal Munda describes the true characters of the Adivasi community as ‘casteless, classless, based on equality, community based economic system, co-existence with the nature, consent based self-rule, dignity and autonomy[iii]. The Adivasis live in or around the nature. The government’s data suggests that 89.9 percent of them still live in the rural areas, and merely 10.1 percent[iv] of them have shifted to urban centers. The Adivasi economy, which is also known as the community or need based economy fully depends on forest and agriculture.

The natural resources are the most essential sources of livelihood for the Adivasis but the land is most important among them. However, they do not perceive the land merely as a livelihood resource but they consider it as their heritage, history, autonomy, identity, culture, existence and life. They believe that their sole existence relies on the land. Therefore, if the land is lost, their existence is gone, which could be seen in the cities like Jamshedpur, Bokaro and Ranchi. The so-called civilized people treat the land merely as property or commodity, and sell it in the market rate to make money as much as possible, but the land is life for the Adivasis. That’s the reason why they have been struggling to protect their land for the centuries.

In the ancient period, the Adivasis possessed undisputed ownership rights over the natural resources and they judiciously used these resources to fulfil their needs[v]. They enjoyed autonomy, peace and prosperity with the nature. The situation rapidly changed with the Aryan invasion and turned worse during the British rule in India. On the one hand, the Aryans destroyed the Adivasi civilization, denied them their indigenous identity and did not accept them as fellow human beings, and the Britishers, on the other hand, used violence against the innocent Adivasis for grabbing their land, territory and resources, declared them uncivilized and even listed 127 Adivasi ethnic communities as criminal tribes[vi].

The British introduced a centrally organized administration, a judiciary and a police system. They also introduced the concept of private property as opposed to the traditional notion of collective usufructuary rights of the community. Thus, the natural resources of the community were coined as ‘property’ and individual owners were created. The communal resources were considered as the ‘eminent’ domain and taken over. The forests and other individually unclaimed fallow lands were declared as the property of the State.[vii] Gradually, the government enacted various policies and laws, which induced the marginalization of the Adivasis. They were deprived from the natural resources merely for the government’s revenue yielding measures. The Adivasi way of life was destroyed by imposing revenue on land and duties on the forest produces. The Land Acquisition Act 1894 was the last nail on the coffin, which resulted a huge deprivation of the Adivasis from their land, territory and resources.

After India’s independence, the land alienation was on the rampant. There have been three types of major land alienation of Adivasis – legal, illegal and forcefully. The India State used the Land Acquisition Act 1894 for so-called legal land acquisition and ‘eminent domain’ for forceful acquisition of the Adivasis’ land under the tag of ‘public interest’, ‘national interest’ and ‘development’. The estimated data suggests that 28.2 million Adivasis have already been alienated, uprooted and displaced from their land, territory and resources in the name of public interest, national interest and economic growth & development since 1947 to 2004. Despite the prohibition of the Adivasis’ land alienation legally, the Annual report of the Ministry of Rural Development (Government of India) unfolds that 60,464 cases regarding 85,777.22 acres of illegal transfer of Adivasis’ lands were registered till 2001-2002[viii]. Furthermore, 2,608 cases of illegal land transfer were registered in 2003-2004, 2,657 cases in 2004-2005, 3,230 cases in 2005-2006, 3789 cases in 2006-2007 and 5382 cases in 2007-2008, which clearly indicates that the cases of illegal land alienation are increasing rapidly. The Adivasis’ alienation from their land, territory and resources, has resulted in their impoverishment, destruction and extinction. They have lost their identity, autonomy, language, culture and tradition.

However, today, the Adivasis have been facing even more threat of being alienated, uprooted and displaced from their land, territory and resources. The present nexus among the State, the Corporate Houses and the political parties, seems to be busy in amending the safeguarding laws made for Adivasis, suppressing the dissent voices and crushing down the democratic Adivasis Movements through police and military operations. For instance, the state government of Jharkhand amended the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation & Resettlement Act 2013, attempted to amend the CNT Act 1908 and SPT Act 1949 and constituted Land Bank, where 2.1 million acres of community land, which includes the commons, sacred grooves and forest land, enlisted. Besides, the government has also brought the Industrial and investment promotion policy 2016 to create an industrial corridor in the state. Therefore, there is a thrust need to understand, respect and acknowledge the Adivasi’s perspective about land. Pressurize the Central and state governments for the enforcement of the safeguarding laws, constitutional provisions and Supreme Court’s judgements regarding the Adivasis rights. And fight for the protection of the Adivasis’ land, territory and resources.

References: 

[i] Dungdung, Gladson. 2013. Whose Country is it Anyway? Kolkata : Adivaani.

[ii] The Supreme Court order on the SLP (Cr) No. 10367 of 2010 Kailas & others Vs State of Maharashtra

[iii] Dungdung. 2016. Adivasi aur Vanadhikar. New Delhi: Prithvi Prakashan.

[iv] Statistical profile of Scheduled Tribes in India 2013. Ministry of Tribal Affairs (Govt. of India).

[v] Dungdung. 2016. Adivasi aur Vanadhikar. New Delhi: Prithvi Prakashan.

[vi] Dungdung, Gladson. 2013. Whose Country is it Anyway? Kolkata : Adivaani.

[vii] Munda, R.D. & Mullick,S.B. 2003. The Jharkhand Movement. New Delhi: IWGIA & BIRSA

[viii] Annual Report 2002-03, Ministry of Rural Development (Govt. of India).

Interview

Writers and historians have done grave injustice to Adivasis : Gladson Dungdung

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Adivasi Author Gladson Dungdung writes prolifically on Adivasis’ struggles for their identity and on their existence. He tells Vidya Bhushan Rawat about the challenges facing his community.

Your new book Endless Cry in the Red Corridor has hit the stands recently. What is the central message of this book?

I want to tell the world that the rulers of this country have looted the Adivasis. There is this area of around 92,000 square kilometers, extending from Andhra Pradesh to Nepal. They call it the Red Corridor. They say that there are Maoists in this corridor. But just pick up the map of India and you will find that there are Adivasis, forests and minerals in this corridor and they call it the Red Corridor! Why do they call it the Red Corridor? Because they want to exploit the natural resources of this area, they want to loot and sell the minerals and the water and the forests. In 2008, the Government of India commissioned the British company, Execution Noble & Company Ltd, to study the economic potential of the Red Corridor. It concluded that it has immense business opportunities. If it is exploited, the Indian economy can take a quantum jump, the company’s report said. [Then home secretary] G.K. Pillai promised that the Red Corridor would be vacated by 2013. This was duly given in writing. And to fulfil the promise, two lakh paramilitary troops were sent to this area. Look, how they killed the Adivasis after branding them as Naxals. In at least three states, I have seen how the Adivasis were branded as Naxals and brutally killed them. Later, it came to the fore that they were innocent. They have killed at least 1,000 innocent Adivasis in this manner. More than 500 tribal women were sexually exploited. They were subjected to all kinds of atrocities. In Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, they threw over 27,000 persons behind bars. The book unfolds the brutalities.

In the Saranda forests, about which I have written a book, Mission Saranda … the government says it cannot run schools in that area, it cannot establish Aanganwadis, it cannot build roads. But I have exposed that the mining companies are extracting minerals in that area. If the State cannot do anything there, how are the mining companies operating. They are paying money to the Maoists – some are paying Rs 50 lakhs, some are paying Rs 25 lakhs. They also provide arms to them. But, if an Adivasi even serves food to the Maoists on gunpoint, you put him in jail.

It is obvious that government wants to snatch the land and mineral resources from Adivasis. An English proverb goes, “Give a dog a bad name and hang him.” The government is doing exactly that vis-à-vis the Tribals. Brand them as Naxals and kill them. And no one protests. What is sad is that those who are talking about development for the Adivasis know nothing about them. There is no disputing the fact that development is needed. But how can they decide what is development? How can they decide how to bring it about? I’m sure you remember Chidambaram telling Parliament that Tribals are not a museum piece. Of course, not but how can he talk about the development for Tribals without knowing anything about them?

For argument’s sake, let us accept this definition of development. Now tell me, mining began in the Saranda forests in 1925. Every year, the government extracts iron ore worth Rs 3,000 crores from there. But there is no good road for the Adivasis in the forest, no good school, no good hospital. Why? Why 70 per cent women of the area are anemic? Why 80 per cent Adivasis children are malnourished? Jharkhand is a Adivasi-dominated state but even here Adivasis have been marginalized.

See, whether it is the BJP or the Congress, their agenda has been the same – annihilate the Adivasis. Since the time of Independence, the slogan was that the Adivasis and the Dalits have to be brought into the mainstream. And what is the mainstream? Leave behind all that is yours and come and join us. They want our identity to be destroyed. So, our battle is for our identity. The Supreme Court had said on 5 June 2011 that Adivasis are the indigenous inhabitants of this country. They fear this fact and that is why they want to finish everything. Besides the rest of the world, the Supreme Court has also admitted that the Adivasis are the original inhabitants of this country. What is stopping the government from accepting this fact?

There was a long debate on this issue in the Constituent Assembly during which Jaipal Singh Munda had unequivocally declared that they wanted the “Adivasi” word in the Constitution. “We would settle for nothing less than that,” he said. The word “Adivasi” was inserted in Article 13(5) of the Constitution. Babasaheb Ambedkar did not want the word to be included in the Constitution. Some say that Babasaheb feared Dalits going with the Adivasis if the latter were called the original inhabitants. Babasaheb also said that the word “Adivasi” had no meaning.

Do you have any reference to support your claim?

Of course, I have the proof. On can see the debates of the Constituent Assembly. He said during the debates that the words “Adivasi” and “Untouchable” have the same meaning. This means nothing. He himself faced great persecution. I feel that perhaps, he did not get the time to study the Adivasis community, to understand it. I am saying this because in one of his speeches he said that the government should work for the development of the “uncivilized” tribals. Why uncivilized? Why did he have such a negative perception about the Tribals?

It was not negative. Dr Ambedkar was deeply involved in the problems of his own community. Tribals were not victims of untouchability. So, first we should bring the debate in the Constituent Assembly to light. There were many others in the Constituent Assembly besides Ambedkar and Munda. So, we cannot make this charge against Ambedkar.

I’m not making any charge. I’m just trying to understand things. Ashwini Kumar Pankaj has written a book that says all this.

I also have talked to him about this. I told him that when Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were being discussed in the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar was standing by both.

See, I consider it wrong to categorize Adivasis as a caste. They are not a caste. Calling them “Anusuchit Janjati” is wrong. It should be “Anusuchit Jan”. Today, caste certificates are being issued to Adivasis. When you are not a part of the caste system, why do you need a caste certificate? They should be given certificates saying that they are Adivasis or belonging to the Adivasi community.

Another thing, whether it was Ambedkar or Nehru or Jaipal Singh Munda, all were educated in the West. They learnt about liberalism or democratic liberalism or Western liberalism from the West. On the one hand, we took lessons in democracy from the British; on the other hand, they had colonized us. This is mutually contradictory. Similarly, “aboriginal” and “uncivilized” are used to describe the same people. 

Describing Adivasis as aboriginals may have been negative but it put the others in a difficult situation. It meant that the Adivasis were the original inhabitants and others they came later. But from the very beginning, they have not considered Adivasis as humans. At best, they considered them a slightly developed animal. So, this is the reason Adivasis issues are not in the center stage today.

When we analyze the Ambedkarite movement, people say that it brought about a social revolution because Babasaheb called upon Dalits to shed antiquated traditions and march forward. Shouldn’t the Adivasis do the same?

No. There is no question of tradition here. Since the Adivasis are not a part of the caste system, we don’t need to shed anything. This misconception arises because of the lack of exposure to tribal philosophy. This is why the Adivasis were suppressed. When you want someone to give up something you simply paint a negative picture of it and that person will himself abandon it. This was what was done with the Adivasis. No society is as equal as Adivasis society. They have both social equality and gender equality. Among Adivasis when a prosperous farmer employs a poor man to work his fields, he works shoulder to shoulder with him. He eats food with him, he celebrates festivals and happy occasions with him, he invites him to his place and he visits his place. Just see what happens in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and other states. There is nothing like this anywhere. In fact, there is discrimination based on the rich and the poor. Secondly, Adivasi girls choose their own life partner. And what happens in your civilized society? Lakhs of women are burnt alive, murdered for dowry. Girls are not allowed to be born; and if they are born, they are killed. This is your civilized society?

The way you blocked the CNT [Chotanagpur Tenancy] Act through your relentless struggle is an example for other states. What changes was the government bringing about in this Act?

The issue is not limited to CNT alone, it also includes SPT [Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act]. They were trying to amend sections 21, 49 and 71 of the CNT Act and section 13 of the SPT Act. The first amendment pertained to declaring agricultural land as non-agricultural. This was a very dangerous game and they were playing it very shrewdly. As soon as Modi and his team came to power, it amended the Land Acquisition Act. They did it thrice. Why did they do it? Because the Rehabilitation Rules 2013, framed under the Act, clearly stipulate that there will be no acquisition of land in the Scheduled Areas unless it is very essential. Secondly, even if land is acquired, it should not include agricultural land. And in case this has to be done, you have to provide agricultural land of an equal area to the farmer. So, what did they think of doing to circumvent this problem? They wanted to acquire the power for declaring agricultural land as non-agricultural. Now, if they moved court, they would argue that it was non-agricultural land and they had the power to acquire it. They have still not repealed section 49. We are still fighting for it. According to this section, they can acquire land for industries and mining. It says that the land that has industrial and mining infrastructure, can be regularized by paying one per cent tax within a period of three months. That is why businessmen unitedly support the BJP; that is why they provide funds to the party. And in a quid pro quo, the government protects them. They fear that if in the future, the tribals become judges or enter the government, they will get the mining and industrial infrastructure on tribal land razed. Their objective is to facilitate the businessmen. They want to grab whatever land remains.

In Jharkhand, the leadership of the movement is in the hands of Adivasis. In other states, non-Adivasis are leading the Adivasis. Your take?

Efforts are being made here, too. Others are trying to take over the leadership. But whenever they try, the Adivasis community throws up one leader or the other. That is because Jharkhand has a 300-year-old history of agitation and movements. Writers, litterateurs, poets and historians have all cheated the Adivasis. They say that 1857 was the first war of Independence. Then, what about 1855 when 15,000 Santhals were killed, Sido and Kanhu Murmu were hanged? Those who are wearing their patriotism on their sleeves – let them point out a single place where they had declared that the British rule was not acceptable to them. The Adivasis did that. Sido and Kanhu had the support of 60,000 Santhals and they had told the British in clear terms that they are their own rulers, that the rule of the British was not acceptable to them. When the British opened fired on them, they took the bullets on their chest. Talking of the even earlier times, in 1770, the British told Baba Tilka Manjhi and the Hill Adivasis that they would have to pay land revenue. The Adivasis’ reply was that land, water and forests were the gift of god and they would not pay any tax on them. When the demand for Pakistan was being raised, Babasaheb demanded Dalitsthan. Then, Jaipal Singh Munda also demanded Adivasisthan. But their Adivasisthan was not like Pakistan or Dalitsthan. They said that they wanted to live in India but they should be given autonomy in their areas. There should be no government interference in these areas.

Dr Ambedkar was saying the same thing. He was not demanding a separate Dalitsthan. But the main problem in India is its electoral system. Non-tribals are posted in tribal areas. Non-Muslims are getting elected from Muslim areas. How will they work when they don’t understand the pain of the people they are meant to serve? So this is a major lapse on the part of Parliament for which everyone is responsible …

Sometimes I feel there was no discussion at all between Babasaheb Ambedkar and Jaipal Singh Munda. I haven’t come across any mention that they met outside the Constituent Assembly or held discussions. Just imagine, had they met, had they forged a common strategy, the condition of the Adivasis and the Dalits might have been different.

After Independence, Dr Ambedkar worked in tandem with many others like Dr Ram Manohar Lohia. They held discussions on how to free Dalits and the other poor from poverty. Dr Ambedkar died in 1956. This was a big setback. But what about Captain Munda? He was ignored.

I feel that though he [Jaipal Singh Munda] was in the Congress, in his speeches, which are available in writing, he targeted the Savarnas. He said that the Savarnas did not want we Adivasis to progress. So, Jaipal Singh Munda understood this and after the formation of the Jharkhand party, he won 32 seats. This put the fear in the Congress that they could become a major threat for them in the future. So, the Congress started suppressing them. Secondly, Dr Ambedkar’s friends and others have written much about him. But no one wrote anything about Jaipal Singh Munda. Instead, some began deriding him. Later, the tribal leaders also did not talk about him – whether it is Shibu Soren or Babulal Marandi or anyone else. You see, at that time he had won nine gold medals. He was until then the only Tribal to captain an Indian sports team. When the movement for the creation of Jharkhand state began, the RSS and the BJP were the first to oppose it. They said that we wanted to Balkanize the country. And now, it is they who are enjoying it the most. The RSS-BJP do politics of religion. The day conflict over religion ends, the BJP will be finished.

Don’t you think that every major movement has to take the support of one or the other religion? Dr Ambedkar, for instance, chose Buddhism.

You see, the RSS was born in 1925 and the work for organizing the Adivasis had begun in 1915-16. Jaipal Singh Munda emerged as a political force in 1952. RSS achieved that political status only after 1980. But it is now ruling the country. When Jaipal Singh Munda and his group constituted the Adivasi Mahasabha, they became very powerful. They raised the same basic issues (language, culture, identity, water, forests and land) that are relevant even today. But a big folly on their part was converting Adivasi Mahasabha into Jharkhand Party. Due to this, the Adivasi Mahasabha lost its identity. What they should have done instead was that they should have taken the Mahasabha forward; Jaipal Singh Munda should have handed over its leadership to someone else and founded another organization for doing politics – just as the RSS had done, and which we are trying to do now.

Secondly, we are working on Adivasis literature. Literature has assassinated the Adivasis. Nothing was written about them. Or whatever little was written was full of inaccuracies. It was said that the Adivasis are barbarians, they are illiterates, they move around naked. This was a conspiracy to obliterate us. But now we are writing what is true and we are rebutting what is wrong.

There is this talk of the Dalits and the Adivasis coming on a common platform.

If we are talking about the long battle and the pan-India context, we have launched a Moolniwasi movement. I believe that this is necessary. There should be unity. We cannot fight separately for a long time because if we are divided, we will be sitting ducks for the enemy. But a lot of spadework needs to be done for this because the issues are different.

Looking ten years ahead, don’t you think that Adivasi life is the best, especially in view of the blind race for development we are witnessing today? What do you have to say? 

Over the past three-four years, I have been travelling to Europe frequently. There, people tell me that if we are to continue living, we will have to lead our lives as you do. Around 25 families of London have shifted to the forests of Wales. They are living in small houses. They don’t want internet or mobile. When I asked them why they are doing it, they said that what was being described as development was actually insanity. When this Earth won’t survive, how will we? Hence, if this world has to be saved, we will have to tread the path of Adivasis.

The growing population of outsiders in Jharkhand has become a big challenge for the Adivasis. Your take?

Under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, there should be restrictions on outsiders settling in tribal areas. But when we advocate it, people quote Articles 19 (1) (2) (3) (4) to argue that every Indian has the right to settle anywhere in the country, to work anywhere. But they do not talk of 19 (5) (6), which allow a state to impose restrictions on outsiders.

How does the media look at Adivasis? 

The media publishes news about Adivasis only when it thinks it will sell. The media sees them as a product. It is the most intellectual but at the same time the most racist institution in the country. You won’t find a tribal news editor or bureau chief in the tribal areas. All of them are outsiders. Some of them cannot even write Hindi well. But they are there. This is shameful for the media. They have barred the Adivasis, though you will find Adivasis occupying top positions in many other fields.

Why is there so much emphasis on privatization in India?

This is a shrewd move, because when you complain why reservations are not being given, they can say that the institution concerned is privately owned. How can we give reservations now? You talk of merit. Are Dalits and Adivasis lagging behind in merit? Then, tell me, there is so much corruption in India. Are the Dalits and the Adivasis looting the country? You ran the country for 70 years. Could you solve even one problem? Just tell me one scheme, one programme that was implemented 100 per cent. They build roads and they are in pieces within two years.

What are your future plans?

Protecting the tribal land, water, forests, languages and culture of the Adivasis – for this, the tribal community will have to turn intellectuals. I hold the view that the battle for saving the Adivasis should and will be an intellectual battle. The day an intellectual revolution comes about in the tribal community, it will become invincible. Today, they don’t know the law. They don’t understand how the government is grabbing their land. They do not understand the new laws. On the one hand, the BJP presents itself as a well-wisher of the Adivasis; on the other hand, it is killing Adivasis in Chhattisgarh, branding them as Naxals. Their women are being raped. And this is happening in a state where the BJP has been ruling for the past 15 years. The Adivasis will be able to understand all this only after an intellectual revolution. They will be able to analyze things.

Secondly, people say that conversions are taking place. Christians formed 2 per cent of India’s population in 1951. The 2011 census also says that they are 2 per cent. Where is the question of conversions then? The Christian missionaries run the highest number of educational institutions in the country and children of other religions also study in them. If these institutions were involved in conversions – as the BJP and the RSS say – then the Christian population would have increased. If not more, they would have been at least 10 per cent. All the movements being run by the RSS and the BJP are based on lies.

Shouldn’t Parliament apologize for the atrocities against the Dalits and the Adivasis?

One day, they will have to apologize. That is why we are conducting so much research. If you won’t apologize on your own, we will make you apologize. The day the Dalit-Tribal-OBC unity is established, the rulers will have to apologize for doing injustice to us. That is why cases are being filed to silence people like us. We are being stopped.

Should others also join this battle?

Yes. There is no problem with that. But I have a problem when the non-Adivasis want leadership. People like Medha Patkar and P.V. Rajagopal – there are others also. I salute them. But why do they want the leadership? In her writing, Arundhati Roy wonders what the Adivasis would have done without the Maoists. How can she write that? And that too about the Adivasis, who did not allow the British on their land, who forced them to retreat.

I will give you an example. Gandhi Foundation, London, had to honour the Adivasis of India. And whom did they choose – Bulu Imam and Dr Binayak Sen. I salute their work. But the honour was meant for Adivasis. I objected. I wrote to them asking why they couldn’t find two Adivasis from among the 100 million of them in India? What they told me was astonishing. They said that they were given in writing that there was not a single Tribal in India who could come to London and express his or her views in English. Then, I wrote another letter asking whether the two individuals proved more than a match for 10 crore Indians. I said that if they wanted to honour those two people, they should not have invoked the Adivasis of India. I wrote that this was an insult to the Adivasis and they should apologize. And they did apologize. Initially, some people welcomed me with open arms. These greedy people were thinking I would play into their hands. But when they realized that I would do what I felt like, they started ignoring me.

Someone asked, “What problem do you have if Dr Sen is being honoured?”

What problem could I have? Let them give the Nobel to him. But this honour was meant for Indian Adivasis then how non-Adivasis got it?

Some people say that you have personal issues. Like that about your passport. You raise them frequently?

No, there are no personal issues. My passport was seized twice. There are some IB people who tell me that my passport was seized because I had made Saranda a major international issue. There was no personal issue involved in the seizure of my passport. What happens is that as you rise, you create more and more enemies. Some people are jealous of you. They will try to put you down by raising personal issues. Let them be. This happens. I have my own commitments. I will fight for society till I am alive.

You have struggled a lot in your life. Tell us about your struggles.

My family was very prosperous. My grandfather was a teacher. He was also involved in social work. He was famous locally. He had two sons – my father and his elder brother. My village is Birni, very close to the Kelaghat Dam in Sindera. When my grandfather got a job, he moved to another village. There, he worked as a teacher and did some other work too and bought 10 acres of land. He thought that if he settled his two sons in different places, they would not quarrel over land. The dam was built in 1980. I was not born then. The entire agricultural land in my ancestral village was submerged. We got some money. A case is still pending in the court. My father was forced to move to the other village after my grandfather’s death. So, the land that was purchased for one brother had to be divided between the two brothers. My father’s elder brother got a job. Our situation was such that there was not even enough to eat in our house. I was very young. I remember that my father brought wood from the forests and sold it at a place 17 km away to arrange for food. Then, the forest department foisted cases on my father saying that he felled trees. The police came and took away my father in the night. At the time, my mother’s arm also got fractured. After my father was released, he filed a case about the land in a court in another village. Later, he became a Munshi. He won the case. The other party comprised many people. When, on 20 June 1990, my father and mother were going to court, they were murdered in a valley that fell between the village and the court. Our relatives took us four brothers and sisters into their various homes. I was barely 12 at the time. I was studying in standard eight. Later, I came back to the village. Everyone, including the teachers, knew me. I was kept in a hostel. Then, I quit the hostel and started living in the village. There, I started studying in standard nine. I grew crops to purchase my uniform and books. I passed the matriculation examination but could not arrange Rs 250 for paying college fees. So I could not get admission. I then started working as bicycle mechanic. I lived with my father’s elder brother. I also took his buffaloes for grazing.

My sister lived in Patna. She worked for just Rs 900 a month. When she came to the village, someone told her that she should take me to Patna, for otherwise my life would be ruined. So, my sister took me with her to Patna. But she did not earn enough to send me to a regular college. She had me admitted but I could not attend classes. So, I started studying in the library of an organization called Ekta Parishad. Pradeep Priyadarshi was the head of the Parishad. One day he called me and asked how I could look after the library just like that. So, I started sweeping the floor and cleaning the toilets of the library. If there was a visitor, I used to prepare tea. They saw that this boy is doing all this for free. So, he asked me to take care of the library and do whatever I was doing and said that he would pay me Rs 500 per month. When I started getting Rs 500 per month, I learnt typing. Then, I joined English language coaching. In six months, I picked up a little English, not much. At the time, I saw that the people who had hired a labourer were giving him food in another plate – like they would do to a dog. At the time, I visited Bhojpur for the first time. I worked with the Dalits in Ekta Parishad. Then, a case came up which filled me with great self-confidence. It was a case related to a farmland. The Savarnas had broken the leg of a Dalit woman. They came with her to our office. There was no one at the office then. I did not know what to do. “Let us go to the Naubatpur police station,” I said. The policemen did not register an FIR. I went to the police station in-charge and argued with him, though I was afraid. But I succeeded and the FIR was registered. Those who were booked, they were staring at me; they were trying to threaten me. I did not know their background, so I wasn’t afraid. I came back home. The next day, I was praised effusively at the office – that this little boy had the FIR registered and that too against musclemen. After that, the people of the organization started sending me out for fieldwork.

How long were you at Ekta Parishad?

For around five years. I passed my intermediate exam. Then, I learnt how to operate the computer. There was a problem. The director asked me, “How can you possibly learn here to use the computer?” There was a catholic priest in Patna supported me. He said that since I knew typing, I could work for him and get paid Rs 1,000 per month. That was a challenging time. I had to pay room rent and the college fees with just Rs 1,000. But I had the passion. For six months, I attended a computer class during lunchtime. Then, I got an opportunity to study at the National Centre for Advocacy Study. That brought about a change in my life. There, Dr Gyan Prakash was giving a lecture on Anthropology. I knew nothing about Anthropology. My knowledge of English was also rudimentary. The other students had studied in good colleges. There were one or two friends who had a similar background but they too had attended college. I only had a degree. I felt that it was the end of the road for me. If they asked questions, I wouldn’t be able to answer them. That day, when I went to my room, I could not sleep the whole night. I kept thinking that this was a golden chance for me and I decided that I would study only English for the following one year. After six months, I wrote an article. It was titled A World called Equality. It was about Dalits. I had worked with them and at the time, in 2002, some Dalits were lynched at Jhajjhar. That article was published in a national magazine called Indian Currents. John Dayal was the editor of the magazine. He praised the article. Then, I went to Orissa for my dissertation. I lived in the forests for six months and researched on forest rights. I worked in 10 villages populated by Adivasis. There, some RSS people came after me. They had a news item published in a newspaper that conversions had begun in the area. Then the Graham Staines incident happened. I feared that they would burn me alive. I came to Jharkhand and became associated with the Ekta Parishad again. We organized a month-long cycle rally during which we raised questions on human rights. We went from village to village, from forest to forest and fought for human rights. We took cases to courts, to commissions. We went to the areas from where people were being displaced. We made them aware. Then we studied the documents and wrote about the cases.

 How many books have you written so far?

Around 20 ­– three of them are in English. I write mostly in Hindi. I write small booklets so that they can reach the people living in rural areas. I write in English so that the world can know about the pain of the Adivasis.

https://www.forwardpress.in/2018/06/gladson-dungdung-writers-and-historians-have-done-grave-injustice-to-adivasis/