Saturday, October 31, 2009
By: Ketan Ranga Date: 2009-09-24 Place: Mumbai
I met Kobad Ghandy from my early days in college when he was working in Nagpur and I was in Chandrapur.
I met him for the last time in 1993," says Mumbai advocate Susan Gonzalves, who said they were revolutionaries, working for change in society.
Susan's husband Vernon, who was also arrested from Mumbai on August 17, 2007, for allegedly being a state committee member of the Naxals. Bandra boy Arun Ferreira was arrested three months before her husband.
Said Susan, "Kobad is a very enlightened and learned person. He is fighting against an unjust system, where a handful of people are getting luxuries, while others suffer. Kobad inspired people like us."
She added, "The police will never want a change in the society. No one wants a revolution. Hence the person, who is following the revolution or working for it, will be treated in the same manner."
His Wife Was My Classmate, Says Journo
Freelance journalist Jyoti Punwani, who was Anuradha Ghandy's classmate at Elphinstone College said, "Anuradha and I studied Sociology.
She was bubbly, vivacious, the belle of the ball. But even then she was involved with the Leftist movement."
Post college, Punwani worked with both Kobad and Anuradha on a quarterly magazine she edited for the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) called Adhikaar Raksha.
The couple then went underground, "I did not know where they were, but they did keep in touch when they came in to Mumbai," said Punwani.
THE INDIAN STATE 'S DECLARATION OF WAR AGAINST ITS POOREST!
SOLIDARITY WITH THE OPPRESSED TRIBALS' STRUGGLE LED BY MAOIST REVOLUTIONARIES.
Speaker: G N Saibaba, General Secretary, Revolutionary Democratic Front, India
Friday 27th November at 7pm, Marchmont Community Hall
62 Marchmont Street London. WC1N 1AB, Russell Square tube station
CO-ORDINATION COMMITTEE OF REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNISTS OF BRITAIN
(c/o BM Box 2978, London WC1N 3XX)
George Jackson Socialist League Britain-South Asia Solidarity Forum
World People's Resistance Movement-Britain Indian Workers Association (GB)
October 21, 2009
The Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), which held the Koraput district administration to ransom for months and forced non-tribals out of Narayanpatna, on Tuesday threw a challenge to the Government right in the capital.
The Sangha, its leaders announced in a rally, would carry out land grabbing movement by the tribals in other areas of the State. The organisation, considered a Maoist-backed outfit, had created a flutter by forcibly ploughing over 2,000 acres of land belonging to non-tribals in Narayanpatna block. The aggressive posture of the CMAS had sparked off protest and there were rallies demanding the arrest of its leaders at least in five places in the district.
The tribal rally was organised here amidst unprecedented security. The CMAS threatened that if their demands for amendment to the Land Reforms Act and halt to mining lease in forest areas were not accepted by the Government, the agitation will be extended to more areas.
“Give us our genuine rights. Get prepared to be killed if there is any negligence,’’ said a poster at the meeting venue at the busy MG Road, which connects the railway station and the state secretariat. “We will forcibly free tribal land in the possession of landlords in other tribal dominated districts as the authorities have failed to give justice to the people,’’ CMAS adviser Gananath Patra told the gathering.
Criticising the Government for trying to “suppress democratic movements” in the name of Maoism, Patra alleged that even journalists and common men are not spared. He demanded immediate release of all innocent tribals languishing in different jails. Orissa Forest Mazdoor Union leader Dandapani Mohanty alleged that multinational companies are acquiring tribal land for mining and setting up industries. Social activist Prafulla Samantray demanded that cases should be lodged against police officials involved in false encounter cases.
Bhubaneshwar, Orissa: Tribals take to the streets against police atrocities
Amidst unprecedented security arrangements, hundreds of tribals gathered in Bhubaneswar on Tuesday to warn the state government that it must be ready to face consequences unless it changes policies.
At joint rally here, the tribals shouted slogans. The posters they were carrying read: “Kana kholi kari suna sarakar. Ama hak, adhikar amaku dia, na deba jabi mariba pai prastuta hua,” (Government listen carefully. Give us our rights or be ready to die).
The tribals, mostly from southern districts of Koraput and Rayagada, asked the state government to stop police atrocities on the people in the name of curbing Maoist activities. They demanded that the government stop allotment of cultivable and forestlands to industrial houses and said they will continue their land-grabbing spree until their rights were restored. They also demanded inclusion of changes in the Land Act and full rights over forestland.
“This is an integrated, anti-feudal and anti-imperialist movement against land lords, liquor mafia and multi-national companies, who have grabbed everything that belongs to the poor. This rally is a reminder to the government that time is running out,” advisor of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS) Gananath Patra said.
Also a member of CPI (ML), Patra said, the CMAS has so far captured 2,000 acres of land from the people and have re-distributed them to the poor and landless tribals in the nine panchayats of the two districts. The movement has already spread its tentacles into Keonjhar, Dhenakanal and Mayurbhanj districts.
“The government has admitted that there are at lest three lakh landless people in the state. But the government still gives away hundreds of acres of land, rich forest and water to the MNCs,” Raisun Habuda, a tribal from Narayan Patna block, said.
Admittedly it has been an old problem with most movements, that they have treated the media only as a means to an end, ‘a way of making themselves heard,’ and so long as they got some coverage with the help of conscientious friends within the media, they were satisfied. The larger dynamics of the media, as a certain sort of work, in a certain sort of work place, with human agents who are workers here, has not been addressed. Newspapers and news channels should be and can be the strongest arms of a democratic society; they can make sure that the voice of the people finds representation. Though cliché, one has to point out how the media can raise difficult questions, but the onus is upon journalists as responsible citizens and in their capacity as workers to raise them.
The decidedly undemocratic tenor of mainstream newspapers and news channels, whose editorial bosses seem to be dummies through which the state on the one hand and multinational capital on the other preach their doctrines, is not merely a sign of the larger move away from democratic values, but also of the way in which journalism is becoming an alienated activity. Responsible journalism, bent upon bringing out the democratic truth languishes as the unholy nexus of the state and moneyed interest decides the ‘line’ of a newspaper. The inability of journalists to raise their voices against recent pay-cuts in houses like The Times of India (TOI) is not unconnected from the destruction of democratic space within journalism and mass media. Both of these get subsumed in the large movement away from true democracy - maximization of profit that a few make, in the last analysis determines all these tendencies. That is to say that the general antipathy to democratic movements visible in the lack of honest media coverage and an anti-people, non-democratic shift in the Indian situation at large not only go hand in hand but are also born out of the same tendencies.
Where do we see all this? For one, in the highly disproportionate coverage of various people’s movements by mainstream media. For instance, the space/airtime given to non-violent movements like Narmada Bachao or in Tehri is negligible. One could argue that violent movements catch the media’s attention more, but they are nonetheless covered very selectively. The struggles in the North East against AFSPA are barely covered. No true attempt to understand ULFA or LTTE is to be found in the mainstream, no attempt to go to the depths of the issue and to not simply report (reinforce) the state’s position. While the many social activists who have done serious work in the North East, J&K, or Chattisgarh report the excesses and violence committed by the paramilitary, Special Police Officers or the Salwa Judum on innocents, it is only rarely, if ever, mentioned by the media. At the moment though, with the Maoists taking centre stage on the front pages of newspapers and on prime time news, one cannot complain on grounds of quantity. But on grounds of quality, even here there is a lot to be said.
It has been assumed that the Maoist movement is not a mass movement; it’s only a bunch of ‘outsiders’ imposing themselves upon hapless tribes. The absurdity of the ‘outsider’ clause becomes obvious if one spares a moment’s thought to the way in which they function. The nature and width of their activities could not have been made possible without mass support. This is not the place to substantiate this assertion. What one needs to recognize at the primary level is that this is an open question and needs to be treated as such. If it is an open question with many opinions, the least the media can do is give space to these opinions, and accept the complex nature of the issue. It might be pointed out that the debate shows on news-channels do bring in people of different opinions. However, a closer look at the dynamics of these shows will demonstrate how easily the biases of the mainstream hijack the entire debate. The newer, uncommon opinion cannot be expressed in the 10 seconds given to the participants, unlike the hegemonic narrative that we are all so familiar with. This inability to say everything in the imposed time limit is read as the lack of substance in these new voices, and a consensus on the issue is ‘created’.
Arnab Goswami is a good example. He seems to have found answers to all questions posed by him on his show. Furthermore, his show is an exercise in forcing his moment of epiphany upon others. ‘Mr. Varavara Rao, is Kobad Gandhy an ideologue or a terrorist, ideologue or terrorist, yes or no?’ We need to move beyond these multiple choice questions - reality is more layered than the media’s projection of it. We can all do with some thinking, including our editor-in-chief. Arnabism is actually symbolic of the lack of depth, and the fear of depths that haunts the journalism of big news houses. Maoist violence is highlighted again and again, often with cheap melodrama (showing the lack of humanity implicit in this form of reporting) as if it exists in a vacuum. Such portrayal denudes an act of its nature as an utterance, which responds to a situation (possibly another violent act on the state’s part) and is informed by necessities of a spatio-temporal/socio-political position. In the same way the struggles for self-determination are defined only in terms of their separatist or fundamentalist tendencies’, (one could go out on a limb and suggest that the refusal to understand or explain Islamic violence, as something more than madness or blood-thirstiness is a sign of the same problem). Just touching the surface, there too a very small section of the surface, the mainstream media presents it to its consumers (for that is what passive reception is) as the entire reality, the sole and complete truth.
It needs to be understood, and this cannot be stated any other way, that the media is responsible for manufacturing consent for war. It has taken the state’s call for war forward by eliminating dissenting voices within. In addition to several other things, the majoritarian nature of the media poses serious questions about any semblance of internal democracy. We have to make a choice between pushing for greater democracy within and allowing ourselves to get subsumed in the state’s narrative. If we choose the latter then we need to question the idea of journalism being ‘free and fair’ and see it as an instrument in the hands of a few who hold power and seek to keep it in their hands.
It is not only that journalists should try and understand the crucial position they can occupy in the struggles of the people. It is important for them to place themselves within these struggles, for even if they try to ‘keep out,’ their attempt to exclude themselves becomes the shape of their inclusion. It is never somebody else’s fight, it is always our own. In the final analysis journalists are nothing but (whether high paid or low) workers working under the imposition of capital, continuously losing control over their own work, unable to determine the conditions of their own existence.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
– Himanshu Kumar, Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, Dantewada - Bombay Tragedy
As I write this critical note on the worst ever crisis undivided Bastar is facing, ambushes and gun battles between para-military, Salwa Judum and State Police forces and Naxal cadres are being played out in jungles of Dantewada and Bijapur districts of undivided Bastar in South Chhattisgarh. To understand this crisis one needs to have a brief knowledge of the previous crises that have confronted Bastar. It must be stated upfront that since historically this region has been a forested, tribal dominated and physically difficult terrain, it has also been a malgoverned region ! And this malgovernance manifested itself in injustice and denial of rights for the tribals inhabiting this region with the State eyeing it only for its mineral deposits and forest resources. This somewhere laid the ground for the crisis that is unfolding here since June 2005.
In June 2005, as part of a larger plan to tighten control over the rich mineral and forest resources of Bastar, the State, backed by private capital, launched a major offensive on tribals of this region and called it ironically Salwa Judum or peace movement. On the face of it Salwa Judum was a people’s uprising for peace against Naxal violence but the hidden agenda, as is gradually unfolding, was the corporate grabbing of resources. The sum total of four years of Salwa Judum has been the internal and forced displacement of more than 3.5 lakh people from their villages, a 30 fold escalation of violence and a 22 time swell in support base and area under control by the very Naxals whom the Judum aimed at decimating ! But the State never learns from failures – even after unleashing the loosing battle of horrifying violence on tribals of Bastar in name of Salwa Judum, it has launched a phase two in the name of Operation Green Hunt and Operation Godavari in Bastar and adjacent districts of Malkangiri (Orissa). This confrontation of Bastar’s tribals with the ‘guns of peace’ will unleash the worst crisis this region has ever seen or will ever see … but that is only if remaining tribals ever survive these ‘guns of peace’.
So through this note I am attempting to simply analyse each strategy and act of the State and map its impact on tribals of Bastar and how counter-productively it has benefited the CPI (Maoist) party!
The State launched Salwa Judum in 2005 to counter insurgency by cadres of CPI (Maoist) or Naxalites through civil defense by recruiting and training civilians in ‘armed resistance’
But soon Salwa Judum cadres went beyond the control of para-military and police forces under whom they were supposed to function and began looting, burning, raping, murdering and kidnapping of tribals and remained beyond any accountability due to political support.
The State forcefully evicted tribals from 700 villages and dumped them in 30 odd camps built for them and cordorned by security forces – it was protecting people from Naxal violence ! It was following the American counter insurgency strategy of ‘draining the water and killing the fish’ … State forgot that tribals are not fish and villages are not fish bowls!
But freedom loving and nature-dependent tribals refused to move into camps and fled for fear of being captured, tortured and then deported to camps – reminds one of the Jewish Holocaust. While a meager 50,000 population shifted to camps, about 50,000 fled to the adjacent district in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa where they had relatives and clan families and remaining 2.5 lakh people hid deeper in jungles living a life of fear, hunger and death.
Human rights and civil society groups watching over the State’s warfare, challenged its American copy of counter insurgency. And when they were tried to be silenced, they went up to State High Courts and Indian Supreme Court challenging the notions and strategies of mitigating Naxal violence and restoring peace.
The State retaliated by creating an imaginary divider, obviously through corporate media houses, in the minds of the middle class. If you are in its camps, you are with the State and if you are in the jungles, then you are Naxalite …. thus declaring the 2.5 lakh tribals hiding in the jungles as Naxalites and thereby justifying training its guns of peace on them ! And another divider declared anyone supporting the ‘Naxal tribals’ as Maoist sympathizers or informers and liable to imprisonment and torture under the draconian Public Securities Act. It unjustly put activists who questioned it behind bars or bulldozed their premises, not even soaring sources of drinking water or simply diverted them by bribing them with funds, contracts and opportunities for sharing the great wealth created through Salwa Judum!
The Indian Supreme Court, hearing out petitioners against Salwa Judum ordered the State to reconsider its civil defense strategy and stop evicting tribals from villages. Instead it asked the State to launch a rehabilitation drive to resettle tribals, provide them with basic services and entitlements and asses damages to life and property. This damage assessment was to be followed by compensation and registering of criminal cases against the offenders, in particular Salwa Judum and para-military forces. This was aimed at cleaning up the mess of Salwa Judum and starting afresh all attempts at just and democratic governance.
The State responded by blatantly violating the Supreme Court orders,speaking white lies before Court when questioned about its inaction.
It neither attempted rehabilitation efforts nor set up district and State committees to look into damage assessment or filing of cases against offenders and also it did not make any attempts at rethinking its strategies. Rather it continued its forced evictions, its looting, burning, rape, kidnap and murder and printed in bold letters its justification of continuing Salwa Judum. In fact it even went a step further by sabotaging and blocking any civil society attempts at rehabilitation, damage assessment and filing of cases against offenders. It used the Public Securities Act against volunteers working for the rehabilitation of internally displaced tribals!
Tribals who fled their villages and hid in jungles are still living nomadic and terrorized lives. In the face of an inhuman onslaught on them, they clung to the only support they got in the forests … that of the Maoists who appeared more human to them than persecuting State forces ?! Their attempts at seeking justice and dignity as citizens of this country were met with arrests and abuses. Their faith in the State dwindled and converted into anger and despair. It was therefore natural for them to pick up their traditional weapons in their self-defence because the State had left no option before them.
How did the State respond ? Whenever tribals came seeking justice through democratic and legal means, their FIRs were not registered, their court cases were dismissed without a hearing and they were arrested for being Naxalites. And any sympathetic judge or officer to the tribal cause was either sent on forced leave or transferred out. No one was ready to listen …. not even local mediapersons who benefited from State dole outs of contracts, advertisements and general patronage. National media too ignored the Bastar question or made half-hearted attempts at covering truth because they were bankrolled by corporates eyeing the mineral and forest resources of Bastar ! How could they let the cat out of the bag and lock out opportunities of profiteering ? Tribals were isolated and rendered helpless.
In such a complex situation of denial and injustice, the State has been expecting tribals to show loyalty to it, abide by its laws and support it in restoring peace. These expectations could be justified and binding on tribals had the State shown respect for the same virtues!
The State talks of loyalty when it has itself distrusted its own tribal citizens and branded them Naxals when they have come seeking justice at its doors … State talks of abiding by its laws when it has itself made a mockery of its own laws – holding Gram Sabhas at gun point to coerce tribals into giving away their lands to mining corporations, subverting laws protecting the tribals’ rights to land and forests as stated in PESA, disrespecting Supreme Court’s orders to rehabilitate villages, deliver entitlements and services, co-opting judiciary, executive and legislature to ratify and justify violence and terror by its forces and so on. In fact the State has been attacking its poor to secure the interests of the rich and still it expects the poor to abide by, put faith in it and support it? There are thousands of cases where the law of the land has been bent backwards to accommodate corporate interests but when it comes to tribals State puts on false pretence of legal systems and democracy!
The State wants tribals to help it in restoring peace – but when did the State believe that peace was possible without justice or that tribals could make peace with guns firing around them – does the State believe that tribals will confront its guns of peace without first arming themselves in their self-defence ? And what peace is the State talking of restoring – had it wanted peace it would have allowed rehabilitation, it would have allowed the nation to know the truth of Bastar, it would have respected its laws and would have adhered to the democratic governance systems it has put in place?
Despite all that I have stated above (not that people in the State do not know what I have stated ?), the State has launched its second Salwa Judum through its strategic military operations called Green Hunt (hunting whom ?) and Godavari. But what will be the net impact of this Salwa Judum II ? The same, if not worse. The crisis will just deepen, the tribals will get further terrorized, Naxals will further consolidate their support base and area under control and voices of sanity among civil society and human rights groups will further get silenced and decimated. This military offensive will only isolate the tribals more and they will begin to look upon every non-tribal as an aggressor. And do we believe that in such a situation peace and democracy can prevail ? Thus military operation will simply push democracy further away and endanger the Indian socio-political system.
Thus, as tribals continue resisting corporate grab of land and resources in the garb of Salwa Judum and Operation Green Hunt, State repression will just rise manifold. One must remember that it is not as if repression never happened but it has got heightened with dash of corporates to set up mining and industrial units while the great global market goes booming. Corporates are just making hay while the sun is shining and all this at expenses of the State ! And Governments have also readily complied by disposing off their socialist agenda to follow routes tread by private capital. And to make this a reality, these proxy wars are being fought on tribal territory. But who really will be targeted ? Not Naxals who are deft at guerilla warfare and will escape bullets of Salwa Judum and para military forces. It will be the tribals who will be caught in the crossfire.
Salwa Judum (Phase I) resulted in a near civil war that destroyed over 644 villages and displaced 3.5 lakh tribals in one way or the other and filled the lives of tribals with fake encounters, gangrape of tribal women, looting and burning of livestock and belongings of poor tribals, brutal suppression of any resistance or protest has become the order of the day in the name of combating Naxals. This makes us wonder whether they are still bonafide denizens of this country or have they been obliterated as people of India!?
We have gone to villages to understand the truth behind encounters, have interviewed dozens of tribal women gangraped or enslaved for months by Salwa Judum and para military forces and witnessed the total demolition of my house and office premises because we dared to expose these acts of violence through several cases filed in Chhattisgarh High Court. Is this the democracy and tribal development our Governments want us to espouse? I shudder to think what will be the outcome of Salwa Judum (Phase II) …… yet another fake encounters, yet more gangrapes and yet more souls gone down fighting injustice and repression in the name of peace and democracy?
But for how long are tribals going to bear the brunt of a brutal and inhuman police force? For how long will tribals stand in the crossfire between Naxals, a militarized State and a demonized police? For how long will middle class ‘bhadralok’ remain silent spectators to State’s colonization of tribal territory to subsidize urban growth in the name of ‘tribal development‘ ? And for how long will we look on helplessly as tribals get butchered, raped and exterminated? We believe that some day the tribal specter will rise and fall heavily on those who repress loot and pauperize them. But who will get sacrificed and who will survive? The fittest … as Darwin eulogized evolution? The question is who is fitter – you and me who enjoy privileges of a subsidized consumer culture or tribals whom we have hanged giving them the name of savage, backward and poor ? I guess we all know the answers … but don’t want to articulate it, preferring to ignore it exists. But we cannot so this and so we strive to call the State’s bluff and turn every stone in our path in the attempt to bring justice, peace, dignity and democracy into Bastar so that we never have to confront the guns of peace!
– Himanshu Kumar, Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, Dantewada, firstname.lastname@example.org, Mobile – 09425260031
Statement against Government of India’s planned military offensive in adivasi-populated regions: National and international signatories
Sanhati (www.sanhati.com), a collective of activists/academics who have been working in solidarity with peoples’ movements in India by providing information and analysis, took the initiative to bring together voices from around the world against the Government of India’s planned military offensive in Central India. A statement and a background note were drafted in consultation with Indian activists, and duly circulated for endorsement.
Dr. Manmohan Singh
Government of India,
South Block, Raisina Hill,
We are deeply concerned by the Indian government’s plans for launching an unprecedented military offensive by army and paramilitary forces in the adivasi (indigeneous people)-populated regions of Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa and West Bengal states. The stated objective of the offensive is to “liberate” these areas from the influence of Maoist rebels. Such a military campaign will endanger the lives and livelihoods of millions of the poorest people living in those areas, resulting in massive displacement, destitution and human rights violation of ordinary citizens. To hunt down the poorest of Indian citizens in the name of trying to curb the shadow of an insurgency is both counter-productive and vicious. The ongoing campaigns by paramilitary forces, buttressed by anti-rebel militias, organised and funded by government agencies, have already created a civil war like situation in some parts of Chattisgarh and West Bengal, with hundreds killed and thousands displaced. The proposed armed offensive will not only aggravate the poverty, hunger, humiliation and insecurity of the adivasi people, but also spread it over a larger region.
Grinding poverty and abysmal living conditions that has been the lot of India’s adivasi population has been complemented by increasing state violence since the neoliberal turn in the policy framework of the Indian state in the early 1990s. Whatever little access the poor had to forests, land, rivers, common pastures, village tanks and other common property resources has come under increasing attack by the Indian state in the guise of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and other “development” projects related to mining, industrial development, Information Technology parks, etc. The geographical terrain, where the government’s military offensive is planned to be carried out, is very rich in natural resources like minerals, forest wealth and water, and has been the target of large scale appropriation by several corporations. The desperate resistance of the local indigenous people against their displacement and dispossession has in many cases prevented the government-backed corporations from making inroads into these areas. We fear that the government’s offensive is also an attempt to crush such popular resistances in order to facilitate the entry and operation of these corporations and to pave the way for unbridled exploitation of the natural resources and the people of these regions. It is the widening levels of disparity and the continuing problems of social deprivation and structural violence, and the state repression on the non-violent resistance of the poor and marginalized against their dispossession, which gives rise to social anger and unrest and takes the form of political violence by the poor. Instead of addressing the source of the problem, the Indian state has decided to launch a military offensive to deal with this problem: kill the poor and not the poverty, seems to be the implicit slogan of the Indian government.
We feel that it would deliver a crippling blow to Indian democracy if the government tries to subjugate its own people militarily without addressing their grievances. Even as the short-term military success of such a venture is very doubtful, enormous misery for the common people is not in doubt, as has been witnessed in the case of numerous insurgent movements in the world. We urge the Indian government to immediately withdraw the armed forces and stop all plans for carrying out such military operations that has the potential for triggering a civil war which will inflict widespread misery on the poorest and most vulnerable section of the Indian population and clear the way for the plundering of their resources by corporations. We call upon all democratic-minded people to join us in this appeal.
Arundhati Roy, Author and Activist, India
Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, Center for Economic Studies and Planning, JNU, India
Sandeep Pandey, Social Activist, N.A.P.M., India
Manoranjan Mohanty, Durgabai Deshmukh Professor of Social Development, Council for Social Development, India
Prashant Bhushan, Supreme Court Advocate, India
Nandini Sundar, Professor of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, India
Colin Gonzalves, Supreme Court Advocate, India
Arvind Kejriwal, Social Activist, India
Arundhati Dhuru, Activist, N.A.P.M., India
Swapna Banerjee-Guha, Department of Geography, University of Mumbai, India
Anand Patwardhan, Film Maker, India
Dipankar Bhattachararya, General Secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, India
Bernard D’Mello, Associate Editor, Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), India
Sumit Sarkar, Retired Professor of History, Delhi University, India
Tanika Sarkar, Professor of History, J.N.U., India
Gautam Navlakha, Consulting Editor, Economic and Political Weekly, India
Madhu Bhaduri, Ex-ambassador
Sumanta Banerjee, Writer, India
Dr. Vandana Shiva, Philosopher, Writer, Environmental Activist, India
M.V. Ramana, Visiting Research Scholar, Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy; Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University, USA
Dipanjan Rai Chaudhari, Retired Professor, Presidency College, India
Amit Bhattacharyya, Professor, Department of History. Jadavpur University, Kolkata
D.N. Jha, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Delhi, India
Paromita Vohra, Devi Pictures
Sunil Shanbag, Theater Director
Saroj Giri, Lecturer in Political Science, Delhi University, India
Hilal Ahmed, Associate Fellow, Center for the Studies of Development of Societies, India
Sriparna Bandopadhyay, India
Sudeshna Banerjee, Department of History, Jadavpur University, India
Kaushik Banyopadhyay, Student, IIT KGP, India
Pranab Kanti Basu, Department of Economics and Politics, Vishwa Bharati University, India
Harsh Bora, Student, Delhi Law Faculty, India
Kaushik Bose, Reader, Vidyasagar University, India
Anjan Chakrabarti, Professor of Economics, Calcutta University, India
Shitansu Shekhar Chakraborty, Student, IIT Kharagpur, India
Achin Chakraborty, Professor of Economics, Institute of Development Studies, Calcutta University Alipore, India
Anand Chakravarty, Retired Professor, Delhi University, India
Uma Chakravarty, Retired Professor, Delhi University, India
Indira Chakravarthi, Public Health Researcher, India
Nandini Chandra, Member of Faculty, Delhi University, India
Navin Chandra, Visiting Senior Fellow, Institude of Human Development, India
Jagadish Chandra, New Socialist Alternative, CWI, India
Pratyush Chandra, Activist, Freelance Journalist, and Researcher, India
Kunal Chattopadhyay, Professor of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, India
Debarshi Das, IIT Guwahati, India
Probal Dasgupta, Linguistic Research Unit, I.S.I., India
Subha Chakraborty Dasgupta, Professor, Jadavpur University, India
Surya Shankar Dash, Independent Filmmaker, India
Ashokankur Datta, Graduate Student, I.S.I. (Planning Unit), India
Amiya Dev, Emiritus Professor of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, India
S. Dutta, Delhi Platform, India
Madhumita Dutta, Green Youth Movement, India, Based in Chennai
Durga Prasad Duvvuri, Independent Management Consultant, India
Ajit Eapen, Mumbai, India
Sampath G, Mumbai, India
Subhash Gatade, Writer and Social Activisit, India
Pothik Ghosh, Editor, Radical Notes, India
Rajeev Godara, General Secretary, Sampooran Kranti Manch, Haryana (associated with Lok Rajniti Manch), India (Also an Advocatein Punjab and Haryana High Courts)
Abhijit Guha, Vidyasagar University, India
Jacob, South Asia Study Center
Manish Jain, Assistant Professor, Center for Studies of Sociology of Education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India
Shishir K. Jha, IIT Mumbai, India
Avinash K. Jha, Assistant Professor of Economics, Shri Ram College of Commerce, India
Bodhisattva Kar, Fellow in History, Center for Studies in Social Science, India
Harish Karnick, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, IIT Kanpur, India
Sumbul Jawed Khan, Biological Sciences and Bio. Eng. Department, IIT Kanpur, India
Kavita Krishnan, AIPWA, India
Ravi Kumar, Editor of Radical Notes and Assistant Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia, Central University, India
Abhijit Kundu, Faculty, Sociology, University of Delhi
Gauri Lankesh, Editor, Lankesh Patrike, India
Julie Koppel Maldonado
Dr Nandini Manjrekar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
Tista Mitra, Journalist, India
Najeeb Mubarki, Assistant Editor, Editorial page, Economic Times, India
Dipankar Mukherjee, PDF, Delhi, India
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It has been widely reported in the press that the Indian government is planning an unprecedented military offensive against alleged Maoist rebels, using paramilitary and counter-insurgency forces, possibly the Indian Armed Forces and even the Indian Air Force. This military operation is going to be carried out in the forested and semi-forested rural areas of the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand,West Bengal and Maharashtra, populated mainly by the tribal (indigenous) people of India. Reportedly, the offensive has been planned in consultation with US counter-insurgency agencies. To put the Indian government’s proposed military offensive in proper perspective one needs to understand the economic, social and political background to the conflict. In particular, there are three dimensions of the crisis that needs to be emphasized, because it is often overlooked: (a) the development failure of the post-colonial Indian state, (b) the continued existence and often exacerbation of the structural violence faced by the poor and marginalized, and (c) the full-scale assault on the meager resource base of the peasantry and the tribal (indigenous people) in the name of “development”. Let us look at each of these in turn, but before we do so it needs to be stressed that the facts we mention below are not novel; they are well-known if only conveniently forgotten. Most of these facts were pointed out by the April 2008 Report of the Expert Group of the Planning Commission of the Indian Government (headed by retired civil servant D. Bandopadhyay) to study “development challenges in extremist affected areas”.
The post-colonial Indian State, both in its earlier Nehruvian and the more recent neoliberal variant, has failed miserably to solve the basic problems of poverty, employment and income, housing, primary health care, education and inequality and social discrimination of the people of the country. The utter failure of the development strategy of the post-colonial State is the ground on which the current conflict arises. To recount some well known but oft-forgotten facts, recall that about 77 percent of the Indian population in 2004-05 had a per capita daily consumption expenditure of less than Rs. 20; that is less than 50 cents by the current nominal exchange rate between the rupee and the US dollar and about $2 in purchasing power parity terms. According to the 2001 Census, even 62 years after political independence, only about 42 percent of Indian households have access to electricity. About 80 percent of the households do not have access to safe drinking water; that is a staggering 800 million people lacking access to potable water.
What is the condition of the working people in the country? 93 percent of the workforce, the overwhelming majority of the working people in India, are what the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) called “informal workers”; these workers lack any employment security, work security and social security. About 58 percent of them work in the agricultural sector and the rest is engaged in manufacturing and services. Wages are very low and working conditions extremely onerous, leading to persistent and deep poverty, which has been increasing over the last decade and a half in absolute terms: the number of what the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) called the “poor and vulnerable” increased from 811 million in 1999-00 to 836 million in 2004-05. Since majority of the working people still work in the agricultural sector, the economic stagnation in agriculture is a major cause for the continued poverty of the vast majority of the people. Since the Indian state did not undertake land reforms in any meaningful sense, the distribution of land remains extremely skewed to this day. Close to 60 percent of rural households are effectively landless; and extreme economic vulnerability and despair among the small and marginal peasantry has resulted in the largest wave of suicides in history: between 1997 and 2007, 182,936 farmers committed suicide. This is the economic setting of the current conflict.
But in this sea of poverty and misery, there are two sections of the population that are much worse off than the rest: the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) population. On almost all indicators of social well being, the SCs and STs are worse off than the general population: poverty rates are higher, landlessness is higher, infant mortality rates are higher, levels of formal education are lower, and so on. To understand this differential in social and economic deprivation we need to look at the second aspect of the current crisis that we had alluded to: structural violence.
There are two dimensions of this structural violence: (a) oppression, humiliation and discrimination along the lines of caste and ethnicity and (b) regular harassment, violence and torture by arms of the State. For the SC and ST population, therefore, the violence of poverty, hunger and abysmal living conditions has been complemented and worsened by the structural violence that they encounter daily. It is the combination of the two, general poverty and the brutality and injustice of the age old caste system, kept alive by countless social practices despite numerous legislative measures by the Indian state, that makes this the most economically deprived and socially marginalized section of the Indian population. This social discrimination, humiliation and oppression is of course very faithfully reflected in the behavior of the police and other law-enforcing agencies of the State towards the poor SC and ST population, who are constantly harassed, beaten up and arrested on the slightest pretext. For this population, therefore, the State has not only totally neglected their economic and social development, it is an oppressor and exploiter. While the SC and ST population together account for close to a quarter of the Indian population, they are the overwhelming majority in the areas where the Indian government proposes to carry out its military offensive against alleged Maoist rebels. This, then, is the social background of the current conflict.
This brings us to the third dimension of the problem: unprecedented attack on the access of the marginalized and poor to common property resources. Compounding the persistent poverty and the continuing structural violence has been the State’s recent attempt to usurp the meager resource base of the poor and marginalized, a resource base that was so far largely outside the ambit of the market. The neoliberal turn in the policy framework of the Indian state since the mid 1980s has, therefore, only further worsened the problems of economic vulnerability and social deprivation. Whatever little access the poor had to forests, land, rivers, common pastures, village tanks and other common property resources to cushion their inevitable slide into poverty and immiserization has come under increasing attack by the Indian state in the guise of so-called development projects: Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and other “development” projects related to mining, industrial development, Information Technology parks, etc. Despite numerous protests from people and warnings from academics, the Indian State has gone ahead with the establishment of 531 SEZs. The SEZs are areas of the country where labour and tax laws have been consciously weakened, if not totally abrogated by the State to “attract” foreign and domestic capital; SEZs, almost by definition, require a large and compact tract of land, and thus inevitably mean the loss of land, and thus livelihood, by the peasantry. To the best of our knowledge, there have been no serious, rigorous cost-benefit analysis of these projects to date; but this does not prevent the government from claiming that the benefits of these projects, in terms of employment generation and income growth, will far outweigh the costs of revenue loss from foregone taxes and lost livelihoods due to the assault on land.
The opposition to the acquisition of land for these SEZ and similar projects have another dimension to it. Dr. Walter Fernandes, who has studied the process of displacement in post-independence India in great detail, suggests that around 60 million people have faced displacement between 1947 and 2004; this process of displacement has involved about 25 million hectares of land, which includes 7 million hectares of forests and 6 million hectares of other common property resources. How many of these displaced people have been resettled? Only one in every three. Thus, there is every reason for people not tobelieve the government’s claims that those displaced from their land will be, in any meaningful sense, resettled. This is one of the most basic reasons for the opposition to displacement and dispossession.
But, how have the rich done during this period of unmitigated disaster for the poor? While the poor have seen their incomes and purchasing power tumble down precipitously in real terms, the rich have, by all accounts, prospered beyond their wildest dreams since the onset of the liberalization of the Indian economy. There is widespread evidence from recent research that the levels of income and wealth inequality in India has increased steadily and drastically since the mid 1980s. A rough overview of this growing inequality is found by juxtaposing two well known facts: (a) in 2004-05, 77 percent of the population spent less than Rs. 20 a day on consumption expenditure; and (b) according to the annual World Wealth Report released by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini in 2008, the millionaire population in India grew in 2007 by 22.6 per cent from the previous year, which is higher than in any other country in the world.
It is, thus, the development disaster of the Indian State, the widening levels of disparity and the continuing problems of social deprivation and structural violence when compounded by the all-out effort to restrict access to common property resources that, according to the Expert Group of the Planning Commission, give rise to social anger, desperation and unrest. In almost all cases the affected people try to ventilate their grievances using peaceful means of protest; they take our processions, they sit on demonstrations, they submit petitions. The response of the State is remarkably consistent in all these cases: it cracks down on the peaceful protestors, sends in armed goons to attack the people, slaps false charges against the leaders and arrests them and often also resorts to police firing and violence to terrorize the people. We only need to remember Singur, Nandigram, Kalinganagar and countless other instances where peaceful and democratic forms of protest were crushed by the state with ruthless force. It is, thus, the action of the State that blocks off all forms of democratic protest and forces the poor and dispossessed to take up arms to defend their rights, as has been pointed out by social activists like Arundhati Roy. The Indian government’s proposed military offensive will repeat that story all over again. Instead of addressing the source of the conflict, instead of addressing the genuine grievances of the marginalized people along the three dimensions that we have pointed to, the Indian state seems to have decided to opt for the extremely myopic option of launching a military offensive.
It is also worth remembering that the geographical terrain, where the government’s military offensive is planned, is very well-endowed with natural resources like minerals, forest wealth, biodiversity and water resources, and has of late been the target of systematic usurpation by several large, both Indian and foreign, corporations. So far, the resistance of the local indigenous people against their displacement and dispossession has prevented the government-backed corporates from exploiting the natural resources for their own profits and without regard to ecological and social concerns. We fear that the government’s offensive is also an attempt to crush such democratic and popular resistance against dispossession and impoverishment; the whole move seems to be geared towards facilitating the entry and operation of these large corporations and paving the way for unbridled exploitation of the natural resources and people of these regions.
An open letter to all print and electronic media in portraying Maoist revolutionaries as Terrorists and NAXAL’S India’s Taliban?
1.The Amousi Massacre — On or about Sept. 29, 2009, a criminal gang killed 16 people, including 5 children, in the village of Amousi (or Amausi, or Icharwa-Amousi) in Bihar’s Khagaria District. This massacre was immediately blamed on the “Maoists” by the government and media. The articles below include just a few of the barrage of false accusations, and then a few articles with grudging admissions that later appeared which showed that the whole attribution of the crime to the CPI(Maoist) was a complete fabrication. Of course these eventual admissions received far less publicity than the initial lies, and moreover they also include new unsupported or false accusations!
o “India Must Check Maoist Menace”, an editorial from the Gulf News, Oct. 2, 2009.
o “Maoist Rebels Kill 16 Villagers in Eastern India”, AFP, Oct. 2, 2009.
o “Land Row Sparks Maoist Carnage in Bihar”, Hindustan Times, Oct. 2, 2009.
o “Doesn’t Look Like Our Op, Says Top Maoist”, The Times of India, Oct. 4, 2009.
o Police Now Admit that Bihar Killers were Criminals, Not Maoists, Hindustan Times, Oct. 4, 2009.
o “Carnage is Work of Goons, says Naxalite”, The Times of India, Oct. 6, 2009.
2.General Articles on Disinformation About the Indian Revolution and the Maoists
“PC [P. Chidambaram] Becomes the Flaming Arrowhead [against the Maoists], The Telegraph Oct. 11, 2009. This article speaks openly about the orchestration of a “gathering storm” of propaganda and psychological warfare in preparation for the launching of the military war against the Maoists.
This blame game propaganda & psychological warfare tactics against the Maoists by the government and the police were there on earlier occasions too whenever a Maoist leader was arrested are killed in ‘encounters’ as claimed by the police. The arrest of Kobad Gandhy came to light only after three days on 21st September in print media. Then on it was the job of print & electronic media to drum-beat police version. After my arrest on 19th December 2007, Sessions court while dismissing my bail petition parroted the police version ….. if the confession of the petitioner as borne out by the case diary files was anything to go by, he was a life convict for having murdered his wife. This was drum-beated by the print & electronic media. The Hindu (India’s National newspaper) dated 8th January,2008. (My wife is very well alive in Hyderabad)
From the beginning of the first week of October 2009 this blame game propaganda & psychological warfare tactics against the Maoists by the government and the police were further intensified after the alleged beheading of a police officer Francis Induwar in the print & electronic media by portraying NAXAL’S India’s Taliban?
Dear pressmen & TV channel hoisters,
Aam aadhmi janthe hein ki “dho rupye ki moongpali bejkhar jeenewalon kho be ye khaki vardhiwale nahin chodthein, unse be dhus rupye lethein. Ye khakiardhiwale aam janata ke surakaksha ke liye nahin, balki hume thung karnewale hein”.
General public knows very well that these men in khaki never leave even the people who make their livelihood by selling two rupees worth ground nut, take Rs 10/= from them too. They are not for our security; their only job was to harass the people.
You must ask yourself; or else conduct a survey on how many were able to digest your news and how many Indians are fond of policemen? From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, every Indian deeply mistrusts the average policeman. The average cop is corrupt. He is obese. He is insane with power…. In the eyes of the tribals who are fighting for their livelihood the police are nothing but terrorist in khaki; if one of them gets beheaded, they think it’s no big deal. Such logic does not equate the Maoists with the Taliban as both their aims and ideologies differ. How can a Prime Minister of a ‘democratic’ country say while dealing with Maoists there may be human rights violation? By such saying does he want the peoples’ approval for the misdeeds of police? He knows very well that he won’t able to tame the lawlessness of the police. One won’t find a single Naxalite or a Maoist if the lawlessness of the Indian Police are tamed and made to serve the people honestly.
After the brutal torture and killing many a revolutionary leaders and cadres by capturing them from somewhere and killing them elsewhere in fake encounters and after a series of legal struggles by human rights activists the full bench of The AP High Court in its historic judgment made it mandatory for the police to file an FIR and register a case under Sec 302 of the IPC on every encounters by the police. It is for the police to prove in the court of law that they fired in self defense. Instead of the AP State government, The Police Officer’s Association filed an appeal and stayed the operation of the judgment. In May 2009 Patel Sudhakar Reddy CCM of CPI (Maoists) was picked up from Nashik brutally tortured and killed in Warangal 800 KMs away in fake encounter. Human Rights activists probing fake encounters and police excesses were branded as Maoists with human rights mask. Many a human rights activists to name a few Dr. Ramanatam, Dr. Narayan, Purushottam. Azam Ali, Kalra, Parag Kumar Dass were murdered by the mercenary gangs of the state. Belly Lalitha a cultural activist’s body was found in 17 pieces.
Justice AN Mulla has correctly said, “There is not a single lawless group in the whole of the country whose record of crimes comes anywhere near the record of that organized unit which is known as the Indian Police”.
CPI (Maoist) party is the only party in Indian history that owned the responsibility of any of its acts and if any mistakes are committed by the party it apologized to the public. Before getting the version of the party on the incident, print & electronic media started portraying NAXAL’S India’s Taliban?
In India more than 50% of the print and electronic media are owned either directly or indirectly by political parties. Another 40% are pressurized to toe the lines of the government in power. The remaining 10% who does a true and fair reporting faces the wrath of the government in power. Sakshi TV chaneel owned by YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s son continued to mislead public by saying YSR’s copter landed safely at Kurnool and the CM is safe till the evening. The other TV channels have no other option other than to follow. He owns a newspaper too in the name of Sakshi. Even Madhavan Nair’s satellite was unable to track the debris of the copter.
The CPI (Maoists) has abducted many a policemen on earlier occasions and set them free un-harmed. It was during the period of blame game, propaganda & psychological warfare tactics against the Maoists by the government and the police the news regarding the alleged beheading of the police officer Francis Induwar broke out. The Maoist party to the alleged beheading of the police officer has not come out with its official version of the incident. There were conflicting reports both in print and electronic media regarding the demands put forth by Maoists for the release of abducted police officer. Home Minister P.Chidambaram saying that no demands were put forth by the Maoists. Jharkhand government (President’s rule) rejecting the demands of the Maoists. Some media reported that the killing was done before putting forth the demands. Police officer Induwar’s wife has gone on record by saying the government did not care for her husband’s life for six days after the abduction. She further added that they searched AP Chief Minister’s body within 24 hours. There were no communication between the Maoists and the government. The Maoists too learnt lessons from the arrest of Chatradar Mahato being arrested by policemen posing as journalists. Unlike the government they don’t have prisons to hold the captives.
Like Francis Induwar many of those thousands of Sikhs burnt alive by Congress barbarians with tyres around their neck have wife and children. Many of those thousands of Muslims burnt alive by Modi’s goons have wife and children. There are many untold stories of police atrocities. People of this country are aware of the misdeeds of politicians and the police. People of this country can not and won’t digest your print & electronic media portraying Maoists as terrorists or NAXAL’S India’s Taliban? As more and more people are being pushed towards Maoist politics due to failed democratic process and police repression all these 62 years of so-called Independence the anger expressed by Francis Induwar’s son on the print and electronic media that he will join police and fight Maoists has no effect on general public. I too have three boys like Francis Induwar. If you approach my three children and reveal the story published in Mathrubhumi weekly dated 3rd February 2008 & Madhyamam weekly dated 10th March 2008 and if they come to know how their mother was brutally tortured in police custody they too like Francis Induwar’s son say, We will leave our lurative jobs and join Maoists and kill hundreds of police officers”. Will you air their anger and expressions in the print and against the politicians and the police.
The Maoists have not landed from some other planets or country to destroy India. They are part and parcel of Indian blood.
The arrest of comrade Kobad Ghandy is being touted as a big success of the Intelligence officials and media portraying him as terrorist. 3,000 years back Gautam Buddha left the kingly pleasures and said, Desire is the cause of all sufferings. Desire should be abolished”. 150 years back Karl Marx came out with his scientific theory, “Private property is the cause of all sufferings. Private property should be abolished”. For the people of this country Kobad Gandhy is a Buddha of modern age. He hails from a rich, elitist background. Interestingly was the class mate of Sanjay Gandhi at Doon school. Both the Gandhis went to London. One joined in Rolse Royse as apprentice. The other Gandhy at Oxford University. Both Gandhis returned to India. One Gandhy left his heavenly pleasures from a giant sea facing house in Worli, joined revolutionary politics and worked among the poorest of the poor (dalits & adivasis). The other Gandhi entered the daughters bedrooms of Army, Navy and Air Force Officers. This Gandhi entered the Doordarshan Kendra on 25th June 1975 with a video cassette of the film Bobby and asked the Director to broadcast Bobby canceling the scheduled programmes to prevent the people from attending JP’s meeting. This Gandhi ordered PS Bhinder Police Commisioner to bulldoze Turkman Gate residents. This Gandhi under his five point programme forcible sterilization targeting Muslim population. The other Gandhy (Kobad) married Anuradha (An M Phil Sociologist) both leaving their heavenly life and worked among the poorest of the poor, dalits and adivais for their up-liftment. People close to him know that Anuradha wanted a child. But it was Kobad who was against this saying having a child will be an hindrance to revolutionary work. It was this Gandhi being portrayed as a big terrorist.
People’s March thanks Shoma Chaudhury of ‘Tehelka’ for the cover story “Weapons of Mass Destruction” dated 3rd October, 2009 in giving a diplomatic bashing for the ‘Times Now’ TV anchor Arnab Goswami for his aggressive rhetoric against the Maoists and for the report.
People’s March thanks Aditya Sinha Editer-in-chief of ‘The New Indian Express’ for editorial “Cowboy and Red Indians” dated 10th October, 2009.
Dear journalists from print and electronic media,
“They can pluck and destroy all the flowers. They can’t hold back the spring”.
So carries my humble appeal to the print and electronic media not to succumb to pressures of the corrupt government and the police officers.
Editor, People’s March 18th October 2009
Posted by indianvanguard2010 on October 17, 2009
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, 125 districts spread over nine States in
The precursors of the present phase of Naxal activities first surfaced in Naxalbari of North Bengal; Gopiballabhpur and Nayagram Police Station areas close to the meeting points of West Bengal and Jharkhand; Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh; Malkangiri in Orissa; the adjoining areas of Bastar in Chhattisgarh and Gadchiroli in Maharashtra mainly among the tribal people. Currently though many areas and people in North India outside the predominantly tribal region have come under Naxal influence, it seems from the report of the Expert Group constituted by the Planning Commission to examine the development challenges in extremist affected areas that the epicentre of the upsurge “is the region in Central India with concentration of tribal population, hilly topography and undulating terrain”. This may not be fortuitous.
On August 18, 2009, addressing a meeting of the Chief Ministers the Home Minister of the Government of India, P. Chidambaram, stated that the Maoist challenge would be met by development activities and police action. This was an utterly unrealistic approach; he was silent about the most important issue, namely, the systematic dispossession of the tribal people from land resources, which they have been holding for generations.
Here it would be noted that the dispossession I am referring to is very much different from development related displacement. Conceptually at least, project related displacement is not dispossession. Displacement is the unwanted outcome of particular type of development, and the government accepts the right of the displaced persons to be compensated. It is a different matter that compensation may not be adequate, or only notional.
As against involuntary displacement, in many predominantly tribal areas the tribal people are deliberately dispossessed of their lands and resources thereon in a meticulously planned manner. This is a serious charge. But this is true. I shall now give the relevant information in support of what I have stated.
In November 1985, the Planning Commission had set up a Study Group on Land Holding Systems in Tribal Areas with myself as the Chairman and Dr Bhupinder Singh (at that time Adviser, Planning Commission with the rank of an Additional Secretary, Government of India) as Member-Secretary. The other members included one retired High Court Judge, one retired Chief Secretary who also had served as the Adviser to the Governor during President’s Rule in Nagaland, one former member of the Union Public Service Commission, the Agricultural Commissioner of the Government of Bihar, one Professor of History, Economics and Sociology each. I am a retired Professor of Anthropology. We made a field study in Orissa and found that during the land survey and settlement operation carried out in the late 1950s and continuing in the 1980s in some areas of Koraput district, hardly one per cent land in actual possession of the tribal communities was recorded in their favour. The Study Group could not visit other States because of the inability of the Planning Commission to provide logistic support.
In fulfilment of an assurance in respect of a Lok Sabha USQ No. 678 dated April 15, 1987, a statement was tabled in Parliament vide Planning Commission QM No. Pc/Bc/16—(67)/87 dated 1988. It inter alia mentioned:
As regards cadastral survey and settlement operations above 10 degree slope which have been declared forest, there may be some difficulty in carrying out these operations because this may come in conflict with the provisions of the
During our visit to Orissa, apart from interacting with the tribal people in their habitats, we had held discussions with leading citizens, the concerned Minister, Commissioner-cum-Revenue Secretary, Member, Board of Revenue, Land Reforms Commissioner, former Survey and Settlement Officer, Koraput district, District Collector, Keonjhar, and other officials. Nobody mentioned that cadastral survey could not take place on a slope beyond 10 per cent because most of these were declared forests. Perhaps some of these areas were declared village forests under the Village Forest Act 1972 after the survey-and-settlement started in the late 1950s. The time when some of the areas beyond 10 per cent slope might have been declared village forest should be checked.
However, the Planning Commission’s statement submitted to Parliament admits that even in those areas beyond 10 per cent slope that did not attract the provision of the Forest Conservation Act, the rights of the tribal people were not recorded as “the Government of Orissa seems to have avoided even a survey in order to prevent alienation of fragile hill slopes”. Here it should be noted that the statement of the Planning Commission is incomplete. On behalf of the Government of Orissa the Deputy Director, Land Records and Survey had submitted a note in which it had been mentioned that the land beyond 10 per cent slope was entered in ‘Government Khata’. The note has been attached to the report of the Study Group (Annexure V). Perhaps, the officer of the Planning Commission who drafted the statement failed to take cognisance of the note submitted by the Government of Orissa. Otherwise the statement submitted to Parliament would have clearly mentioned that the areas beyond 10 per cent slope were recorded as state land in a single entry.
Details of why lands beyond 10 per cent slope, which were under actual possession of the tribal people, were not recorded in their favour have been furnished in the annual report of the Commissioner of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for the year 1960-61. During its visit to Orissa in 1986, the Study Group found that the position had remained unchanged even after the lapse of a quarter-of-a-century and no remedial measure had been taken even though the Commissioner’s report was presented to Parliament.
The report of the Study Group had included extracts from the report of the Commissioner of Scheduled Castes and Tribes at para 8.4. The relevant portion from the same is reproduced here.
During the Second Plan period an amount of Rs 6.93 lakhs was provided for implementation of the Jhum control scheme on
As a result of perfunctory entry in the record-of-rights, in one village of Bisum Cuttack Block while out of 936.13 acres of land only 2.50 acres below 10 per cent slope was recorded in favour of the 44 households of Dongria Kondh [a community listed as primitive tribe in the State], around two thousand mango trees located above one to ten gradient slope which were owned by the Wadaka lineage, were recorded in favour of the State Government. The value of these trees was estimated to be around Rs 40 lakhs.
In Bondo Hills, less than one per cent land owned by the tribals belonging to the Bondo tribe who are also categorised as primitive, were recorded in their favour. In a recent communication Prof L.K. Mahapatra, a former Vice-Chancellor of Utkal University, informed me that in the Upper Bondo Hill only around 0.25 per cent land owned by the Bondo people was recorded in their favour.
In Keonjhar district, the data supplied by the Survey and Settlement Officer in respect of another officially listed primitive tribe, the Juang, show that 2.48 per cent to 23.50 per cent land owned by them in different villages were recorded in their favour.
Massive dispossession of the tribal peoples from their life support resource base had taken place because of the government policy of treating tribal possessions beyond 10 per cent slope in the hills since time immemorial, as encroachment.
It should not cause any surprise that today some of these areas are hotbeds of political extremism.
As regards the effect of these measures and attitude of the tribals, the Commissioner reported as follows:
No attempt has been made to obtain the consent of the population concerned for undertaking the scheme and for ensuring their active partici-pation. There has not also been any follow-up programme and maintenance of the contour bunds has posed a difficult problem.
Thus what the Commissioner revealed was that land structure and land use of about eight lakh acres of land under occupation of the tribal people were changed without obtaining their consent.
But the Commissioner did not end here. What he further revealed was unthinkable in any democratic polity. As mentioned by the Commissioner,
At present an attempt is being made to obtain the consent from the families concerned to the effect that these will be maintained and repaired by the Government and the cost will be realised from the families concerned.
As maintenance is a continuous affair the people were required to pay all through their life, for what the functionaries of the state had imposed on them without obtaining their consent.
But the story does not end there. There were more shocking things to come. As the human drama unfolds in the Commissioner’s report:
There are several other clauses in the bond. Some of the more important ones are (i) the assessment on land where contour bunding work has been executed shall not be reduced merely on the ground that the unprofitable area has increased as a result of any work; (ii) the “beneficiary” shall give up cultivation above 10 per cent slope; (iii) the beneficiary agrees that in view of the benefit accrued and accruing to him because of contour bunding, he shall transfer a portion of his land as may be decided by the Collector to the government free of consideration for giving the same to other persons who may be losing cultivation above 10 per cent slope.
While the Commissioner’s report gives the key to the mystery of non-recording the land rights of the tribal people beyond 10 per cent slope, they were expected to part with such quantum of land as the Collector might decide, because of the so-called benefit accrued to them through the action of the minions of the state, without their consent.
Naturally, as reported by the Commissioner,
the people concerned did not agree to sign the bond and the revenue personnel have now been entrusted with the task of getting the bonds signed by tribals concerned.
While the mix of cynicism and environmental fundamentalism in the actions of the Orissa Government, as revealed by the Commissioner of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as early as in 1960-61, and the continuation of which was confirmed by the Study Group on Land Holding Systems in Tribal Areas in 1986, is unfortunate, the presentation of a sanitised version of the same in the statement submitted on behalf of the Planning Commission in Parliament would certainly cause doubt about the nature of India’s democracy.
I visited Sundargarh district in 1991 at the invitation of an NGO. I learnt that the tribal people had successfully resisted the coercive measures unleashed by the state to sign a bond to relinquish their right in full on lands located above 10 per cent slope, and in part below 10 per cent slope. I was also told that their right above 10 per cent slope was not recorded as a confiscatory action on the part of the state. This is a serious charge, but as it targets the subjective attitude of the policy-makers, I would like to keep my judgment in suspense till I get more clinching evidence.
In 1989, I paid a short visit to Orissa as the Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Indigenous Systems of Conservation in the Tribal and Hill Areas, set up by the Committee on National Strategy of Conservation, Ministry of Environment and
The Secretary of the Harijan and Tribal Welfare Department gave me an interesting information. The Government of Orissa had approached the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for assistance to take remedial measures against drought in the Kalahandi district where it had become endemic for years. At the insistence of the IFAD, the Orissa Government had agreed to allow cultivation up to 30 per cent slope. It was good news and bad news. It was good news in that the right of the tribal people was at least partially restored; it was bad news as the government, which ignored the report of the Commissioner of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the report of a Study Group of which a retired judge of the High Court was a member, yielded readily to the pressure of an international funding agency. However, later I learnt that the government agreed to make relaxation only in the Kalahandi district, where the funds provided by the IFAD were used.
Official sources have tried to justify the government approach by telling me that the real intention of the government in derecognising the rights of the tribal people beyond 10 per cent slope was to discourage shifting cultivation. I enquired whether there were any scientific data in Orissa on the extent of soil erosion caused by shifting cultivation. I was told that no scientific data had been collected in Orissa. It is unfortunate that without scientific data non-stop campaigns against shifting cultivation had been carried on and are being carried on in the name of scientific land use. This is like a modern-day witch-hunt.
The ICAR Regional Research Complex in Shillong collects data from time to time by fixing a measurement gauge in the experimental field at a place called Barpani near Shillong. The data show that depending on the degree of slope of all farming technologies next to bamboo shifting cultivation, if carried on below 40 per cent slope, has the lowest soil erosion. But if carried out on 60 to 70 per cent slope it has the highest soil erosion. Unfortunately to persuade the people to give up shifting cultivation the National Committee on Development of Backward Areas in the report on the North-Eastern Region has published data on soil erosion in case of shifting cultivation carried out on 60 degree to 70 degree slope only. And for comparison it has included corresponding data in respect of the natural bamboo forest.
At a seminar held in the
Cashew nut plantation has been taken up by the Soil Conservation Organisation of the Orissa State Government on hillocks, some of which were used by the tribals for grazing their cattle or collecting dry shrubs for use as fuel. Some of the tribals even used to cultivate some of these highlands and had title deeds and paid rents for the lands utilised by them; but the Soil Conservation Department did not give them any share of the amount realised by the sale of cashew nut plant on eight hillocks.
During the visit of the Study Group, this matter was further examined. We were told that in great frustration the tribal people had burnt cashew nut land on one hillock in the early 1960s. Prof Mahapatra, the former Vice-Chancellor of Utkal University, provided us more information. In Koraput district, cashew nut plantation had been carried out on around one thousand acres of hill slope lands, out of which only 56 acres were passed on to the tribal people. He was not aware of any justification given by the government for appropriating more than 900 acres of land, which were under possession of the tribal people from time aeon. After it became clear that the government had no intention of giving them just share of the plants grown on their land, the tribal people uprooted the cashew nut plants on one hillock. Even then the government action of dispossessing the tribal people of their land by carrying on cashew nut plantation on hill slopes under the shifting cultivation control scheme was extended to other areas also. But the tribal people did not acquiesce passively. In 1984, they uprooted cashew nut plants on 95 acres on land at Jiljira at Kashipur Block. During a subsequent visit to Koraput district in mid-1990s I enquired from a senior official of the Orissa Government about the Kashipur episode. He confirmed the correctness of the information given by Prof Mahapatra and added that in addition to uprooting cashew nut plants, the tribal people had also burnt some plants. I was told by a social activist that most of the cashew nut plants grown over tribal land had been handed over to a corporate body, and that the tribal people were extremely sore about it. I, however, could not verify this information.
Already mention has been made of the concern of the tribal students of the
It was Gopinath Mohanty, the great humanist of Orissa, who pointed out that Kondh villages were sacred space to them. They occupied the villages after getting divine omens. The tribals considered that not only did they own the village, but also the village owned them.
This is a very significant observation. In this perspective the attempt made in some quarters to equate the World Bank-sponsored entity “common property resource”, community land and resources is denial of tribal heritage.
In my keynote address at a seminar on “Communal Land System”, organised by the Indian Social Institute on August 28-29, 2002, I had spelt out the differences between the communal land holding system and common property resources system as follows:
1. Communal Land Holding System (CLHS) versus Common Property Resources System (CPR)
A. Modality of delineation of territorial jurisdiction:
CLHS: Belief in supernatural bestowal or sanctification by long historical association with or without concurrence of any centre of power including State CPR—assigned/endorsed by the state or ancillary centre of power.
B. Sustenance of relationship with delineated territory:
CLHS: Conviviality orientation encompassing animate and non-animate phenomenal world.
CPR: Power orientation underpinned by the ego-centric need satisfaction as in village commons in rural
C. (a) Nature of right of community in CLHS
CLHS: (i) Jurisdictional right as well as undifferentiated economic right of the community as a whole. Individuals have the right to a fair share but not the right to a specific area or plot within the jurisdictional right of the community.
(ii) Within jurisdictional rights of the community economic rights of clans or lineage and of functionaries serving different needs of the community or enjoying special prerogatives derived from some events supposed to have taken place in the past.
(iii) Jurisdictional right of the community exercised by special functionaries belonging to particular clans or lineage in mundane aspects together or separately and individual rights of different types being conferred/recognised by the special functionaries as in modified Khuntkatti system of the Mundas, Bhuihari system of the Oraons.
(iv) Jurisdictional right of the community exercised by special functionaries belonging to a particular lineage who secures assistance of different lineage or clan elders and balances power equation among them according to his own prudence and assigns fair share to the members of the community with the assistance of the lineage or clan elders (Kuki-Mizo system).
(v) Access right of specific community to specific resource for sustaining a specific livelihood pattern within the territorial jurisdictional right of a larger community with primarily a different livelihood pattern (Birhor’s right to siyari plant for rope making within the territorial jurisdiction of the Santal, Kheria and other tribes).
(vi) Access right of different communities to the same territory in different hours of the day.
(a) Fishing right of the Keot in early morning and of the Kandra during other hours of the day in shallow water near the coast of
(b) Nature of right of community in CPR
Usufruct right according to rule framed by the authority/recognising the right.
2. Change in case of Non-traditional Use of Traditional Right
The Rongmei Naga people of Manipur have the traditional right of barter by individuals of the forest produce grown in nature in their respective shifting cultivation (Jhum) fields during the inter-Jhum period. When some of the Rongmei villages were connected by the national highway, some people in a village started to extract large quantity of forest produce and transport the same by trucks. This was a non-traditional use of resources. If large numbers of individuals transport forest products in this manner, there will be ecological degradation. The village council decided not to allow the individuals to make this non-traditional use of traditional resources. Instead it decided that truckloads of forest products from inter-Jhum fields would be marketed in a planned manner to ensure that environmental degradation did not take place. Further, the council decided that the money thus earned would be used to appoint an additional teacher in the local school. Thus it endorsed the view that a living traditional system itself has within its ambit the provision for change.
3. Viability of Communal Land System
A recent report from
With growing awareness unbridled consumerism of the West has created a condition that unless massive environmental retrieval is brought about within a short time, continuation of life on planet earth by the end of the century may become problematic; the whole of humanity is tending to become a moral community at the global level. At the same time there is a parallel development. Of late scientific resources’ appraisal at the surface and sub-surface levels has generated a realisation that there is a concentration of major resources of the earth in the ancestral domains and current habitats of the tribal and analogous peoples (known as indigenous peoples in the United Nations parlance). Though defined in a manner which is not wholly satisfactory, global networking of the indigenous peoples has already taken place. With the creation of a Permanent Forum under the aegis of the United Nations, the indigenous existence as a part of an emerging global connectivity is becoming politically and legally surcharged, though currently on a low key. The significance of the presence of communal land and resource management systems of the tribal people is to be understood with a mix of ethical-cum-politico-juristic matrix as the backdrop.
In a general way the Study Group on Land Holding System of the Tribals was sensitive to the foregoing emerging reality. Perhaps this has scared the policy-makers at the mid-level. It is a pity that we were not allowed to complete our task. In the report itself it was indicated that it was an exploratory one. The nation deserves a complete report.
Though our report was presented to Parliament in 1987, the then Commissioner, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes did not make any mention of it in his annual report. I personally handed over a copy of the report to him and drew his attention to the fact that to a large extent the core finding of our report was tied up with what one of his predecessors had reported a quarter century ago. I thought that he would like to inform the nation through his report that the serious malaise of the system that one of his predecessors had revealed a quarter century ago had remained to be redressed. Instead of referring to the concrete dereliction which had become public knowledge, he published a political manifesto-type write-up of a hypothetical problematic about tribal command over resources. It was an act of magnificent evasion and this was not the first and last act of such evasion.
We were, however, impressed by the sense of commitment of the local officers in general in Orissa. The note submitted by the Collector of Keonjhar categorically mentioned that traditionally the Juangs and Bhuriyans residing in the respective pirs (village clusters) considered that the lands of the village belonged to the village community and they were free to use the same in any manner they liked. The pirs were not subjected to any land survey and settlement operation till the operation was taken up in the year 1970 and completed recently. It was further mentioned in the note that shifting cultivation was indirectly recognised. The village headman had the power to distribute land for cultivation and to apportion the produce rent. Even then in the survey and settlement operation the land subjected to shifting cultivation had not been recognised, although the practice was still in vogue.
It was brought to the notice of the Study Group that in many tribal areas legal recognition of possession of individual and raiyati holdings did not cover all possessions. In fact the State Tribal Research Institute had already reported that among some tribes, individual rights were subsumed within community control, management and ownership. But no heed was paid to this. The survey and settlement rule was not adjusted to this contingency. It is obvious that as a sequel to non-recognition of communal rights, the embedded rights of the tribal individuals also failed to be recognised. The operation for preparation of record of rights turned out to be operation denial of tribal rights in respect of their land resources.
While formulating the recommendation the Survey Group observed that where individual rights are embedded in communal rights, removal of the community as the intermediary removes the necessary condition for the concerned individuals to enjoy their rights. The Study Group recommended that keeping the foregoing fact in view, the land reform policy and programme in the tribal areas should be subjected to most thorough re-examination.
The statement, placed in the Lok Sabha on behalf of the Planning Commission, mentioned that the Department of Rural Development agreed with our recommendation about the need for an intensive study of the communal land system, their persistence, change, decay and reinvigoration with a view to identifying measures which might lead to the formulation of policy guideline regarding the communal land system.
Two decades have lapsed since the commitment made to Parliament that intensive studies would be made based on which the land reforms policy focusing on communal land ownership, management and control among the tribal people, could be formulated. It is not known whether studies as promised have been done and whether any policy formulation in the near future is under consideration. In the meantime two developments are taking place.
First, there is more awareness about the importance of the communal land holding system among the tribal people. Second, in the absence of a clearly formulated policy, dispossession of the tribal people from their life support resource base is going on and there is reason to believe that this will further roll up in the future.
As regards the first, it is encouraging to note that the Expert Group on Prevention of Alienation of Tribal Land and its Restoration, set up by the Ministry of Rural Development, in its report (2004-06) has acknowledged that community ownership of land continues to be the dominant mode in the tribal societies and takes precedence over that of individual ownership. (p.iii) At page 157 of the report it has been recommended that in addition to individual land rights, the rights of the communities are also identified and recorded. On page 158 the recommendation is that the entire land traditionally used for shifting cultivation on rotational basis shall be recorded in the name of the tribal community and individuals who cultivate particular patches of land on rotational basis, rather than being recorded in the name of the government or any agency.
As regards the second, I would like to present here processes through which dispossession of the tribal people from the resources under their command is currently taking place.
Dispossession through Neo-feudalisation
The neo-feudalisation process was started by the colonial rulers. Faced with resistance against encroachment in tribal areas, in strategically located places they adopted a policy of co-opting local warlords as subsidiary allies by declaring them as owners of the lands under their political-military control. But due to underdevelopment of communication and administrative infra-structure this policy could be implemented only in some areas. In other areas these remained paper laws. In the post-independence period rather than renegotiating on the paper laws, these were treated as the framework of administration. In those areas the tribal people felt that they were being dispossessed of their rights in independent
The neo-feudalisation process is currently taking place in other forms also, frequently under the cover of the economic development programme. A case study relating to a Munda village in Khunti district of Jharkhand will highlight some aspects of the process.
Sutilong is a Khuntkatti village, which is in existence since the pre-colonial period. There are 84 households in the village (ST 40, SC seven and OBC 37). While 488.46 acres of land are held by the 84 households, there are 129.06 acres of gairmazurwa khas land (non-revenue paying wasteland) and gairmazurwa aam land (state owned common land).
Mundas of Kamal lineage are considered to be the original settlers of the village. Currently in Sutilong there are 15 Munda households belonging to Kamal lineage and as such traditionally they are considered to be joint owners of all land of the village. The post of the headman is hereditary in a family. The house-holds belonging to Kamal lineage individually do not make any payment to the government other than what the headman pays on behalf of the entire brotherhood. But the headman appropriates to himself the entire amount received from the non-Khuntkattidar households. While gairmazurwa aam is mostly used as grazing land and cannot be converted into korkar or land which can be leased out by the headman, gairmazurwa khas is exclusively at his disposal. He generally leases out portions of the khas land to non-tribals of a different village. When asked about the reason for doing like this, the headman and his lawyer explained that if a resident raiyat, particularly a tribal of the village, was allowed to carry on cultivation on any part of gairmazurwa khas land, he might later on claim occupancy right on it. Traditionally the headman did not enjoy this prerogative. The households other than those belonging to the Khuntkatti lineage were regarded as tenants of the entire Khuntkatti lineage. Since 1977 the Revisional Land Survey and Settlement Operation is being carried on in this region. It has been suspended several times because of strong opposition from the people. One of the reasons centres on the issue of the nature of entry in the record-of-rights. In the previous survey operation the name of the Raja of Chotanagpur was entered in Khewat No. 1. As since then zamindari has been abolished the Mundas demanded that instead of the Raja of Chotanagpur, the names Khuntkattidars should be entered in Khewat No. 1. But the government had decided that the ‘Government of Bihar’ should be entered in Khewat No. 1. As there was no agreement on this issue, the survey and settlement operation was suspended in some areas. However, the government could win over the headmen of some Khuntkatti villages by showing them separately from the other Khuntkattidar members, and conferring special prerogative on them. Sutilong was one such village the collaboration of whose headman could be obtained by conferring on him the special prerogative indicated. It was a development veering towards the neo-feudalisation process.
State-sponsored feudalisation came out very sharply in some parts of
It is significant that at the time of abolition of chiefship in the early 1950s, in Mizoram the Autonomous District Council decided to pay compensation to the chiefs for the number of households under them and not for the quantum of land within their jurisdiction. The chiefs had control over the labour of the persons, not over land. For instance, when a person hunted a game the chief had a share of it. Even if the animal ran away to the area in the jurisdiction of another chief and the hunter bagged it there, he gave to his own chief a part of the animal as his share.
In Manipur in Naga areas the village council as a whole controls and manages the resources of the village; the headman does not enjoy any special prerogative. In Kuki areas the chief has the political right of management of community resources. He has the right to determine which plot of land to be allotted to which person for cultivation. But he has to exercise this right in consultation with the clan elders. Ordinarily the chief-in-council cannot deny altogether the right to fair share of a resident member and cannot reduce the aggregate share of the members of the community. The Kuki chief is entitled to some payment from the members of the village community. This is considered as tribute for the responsibility he bears. Though in some quarters there is a tendency to project the payment as rent, on a holistic analysis it becomes clear that it is not so.
The Manipur State Assembly enacted the Manipur Land Reform Act 1960. It recognised only individual rights on land, not community right. Originally it was confined to the valley, but in the early 1970s the State Assembly decided to extend its operation in the hills. The tribal people offered resistance. The Governor informally sought my view in this matter. I suggested that appropriate sections should be inserted in the Act covering the systems prevailing in the hills and with such modifications as may be agreed to. Accordingly the Governor withheld his consent. But in the early 1980s the new Governor gave his consent. The Directorate of Land Survey and Settlement issued a circular that land survey would be carried out with the cooperation of the chiefs. It was interpreted to mean that the chiefs would be paid compensation as owners of land and with their collaboration survey and settlement would take place. This attempt to take over tribal land by arbitrarily abrogating the collective right of the village community and by vesting feudal right on the chiefs, did not, however, meet with much success.
It is to be noted that till the 1980s though there were inter-tribal conflicts and organised violence, there were not much violent anti-India activities in the hills, except for Ukhrul district to some extent. It is only since the early 1980s that the anti-India insurgent activities have gained momentum in the West and South districts. Some ascribe it to the attempt on the part of the government to usurp the collectively owned resources of the people by promoting the neo-feudalisation process in the hills and thereby dispossessing the hill dwelling tribals from their traditional land rights.
Dispossession through Primitivisation
Since the Fourth Five Year Plan within the category Scheduled Tribe, a sub-category, primitive tribe, is recognised for being provided special assistance for coming up at the same level as the rest of the population. Certainly among the Scheduled Tribes, the people categorised as primitive tribes constitute in general the most disadvantaged and vulnerable segment of the population. But some of us opposed the use of the term primitive, primarily for three reasons; (a) The term primitive is a pejorative term. Historically it means that they are having lower level of mental capacity. Researches have established the fact that the average intelligence quotient of different human groups does not differ much from one another. Their behaviour patterns differ from one another through adaptation to different ecological niche including human ecology and due to differences in historical experiences. (b) When some people are called primitive, the onus for not being able to take advantage of development inputs provided by the state and other agencies lies with them. (c) Categorising the people as primitive provides rationale for intervention in the affairs of the people thus categorised by the politico-administrative establishment of the state. As early as 1784 the German philosopher, Herder, observed that by stigmatising a people as primitive invasion and conquest of lands across the oceans were legitimised.
Apart from the primary objection, we had a secondary objection. One of the main criteria for identification of primitive tribes is that they are in the pre-agricultural stage of the economy. We hold that some of them may be non-agricultural, but it need not necessarily mean that they are in the pre-agricultural stage. In contemporary world there is no economy which is not in direct or indirect symbiotic relation with agricultural economy. Besides, there is no consensus about what is agricultural economy. There are many people, particularly among the policy-makers, who do not consider shifting cultivation as agriculture. They consider it as a rudimentary form of cultivation which has to be carried through to the level of agriculture “proper”.
Currently many of the so-called primitive tribal people are engaged in gathering forest products and trapping wild life for bartering the same with agricultural and village industrial products. Some of them process the forest products and dispose of them in local markets. Some of the goods collected by them have even an international market. Pulses, oil seeds, spice, cotton grown by the shifting cultivators are on record to have had demand in the regional and national markets even in the 19th century. Harvey Feit [Politics and History of Band Societies, (ed.) Eleanor Peacock and Richard Lee, Oxford University Press, 1982] suggests that the societies of this category should be helped to specialise in their respective fields by providing them appropriate technologies, linkages and networkings. But as the stereotype in respect of them is that they are pre-agricultural people, the action agenda for state intervention in respect of them is to transform them into agricultural people. The experience so far is that this has a disastrous effect.
One such so-called primitive tribe is the Toto in
Two decades after the episode of 1958, when the Totos were officially declared as a primitive tribe, prodded by the Centre, the State Government decided to implement a big programme in Totopara. For 74 Toto families a
Not only the Totos, it appears to me that as a rule the so-called primitive tribes are destined to be victims of welfare.
In 2004 accompanied by activists of an NGO, the Orissa Development Action Forum (ODAF), I visited a hamlet of Birhors—a traditional hunting and gathering tribe of Orissa, West Bengal and
Some farmers in the main village were having houses constructed under the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) scheme. I asked a Birhor elder why they could not have at least a few houses under the IAY. Without batting an eyelid the elder replied: “We cannot have it, because we are a primitive tribe.” One of the officers accompanying me, however, explained that they could not have the benefit of the scheme from the local panchayat or the integrated Tribal Development Agency, as there was a separate Primitive Tribes Development Officer and specially earmarked fund for the primitive tribes. As the Special Officer’s headquarters was located at a distance of around 30 km from the Birhor colony I visited, it was not possible for the Birhors to visit the Special Officer’s headquarters too often. They could, therefore, hardly derive any benefit from being categorised as a primitive tribe.
Prof N.K. Behura of Utkal University in a paper contributed to a seminar jointly organised by the Kolkata University and Indian Council of Social Science Research in 2004 has pointed out that though a good number of the tribal communities have been categorised as primitive tribes in Orissa and though a number of administrative establishments have been set up to take care of them, actually they have not derived commensurate benefit from being put in a special category. Further, he suggested that rather than being called primitive tribe, they should be called vulnerable tribe.
The vulnerability of this category of people came out sharply in case of the Sauria Paharias who were settled on the Rajmahal Hill in the Santal Parganas by the British as early as in 1778.
In 1990 along with several members of the Committee on Indigenous Systems of Environmental Management and accompanied by several officers of the undivided Bihar Government, I visited Dumka, the headquarters of the Santal Parganas district. We were told by the district officials that for protecting the environment and improving their quality of life the Sauria Paharias, who had been categorised as a primitive tribe, were being brought down from their habitats on the hills and settled in a colony constructed for them in the outskirts of Dumka itself.
The background of the Sauria Paharias is as follows:
In the third quarter of the 18th century, in the wake of colonial expansion, large scale influx of migrants took place in the areas of traditional jurisdiction of the Sauria Paharias. They considered this as encroachment. They did not fight the British in the open, but from time to time swooped down on the highway located close to the foothills and then retreated deep inside the helps. This disrupted trade. The British ultimately adopted a practice of pacifying the Pahariyas by making periodical stipendiary payments to the chiefs and headmen. This was initially started by Captain Robert Brook in 1772 and was successfully implemented by
In 1782 the Rajmahal Hill Tract was withdrawn from the jurisdiction of ordinary courts and the hereditary leaders (called sardars) constituted a sessions court, which used to meet twice a year and try offences. Besides, the lands under the occupation of the Paharias were pooled together to constitute a government estate. Legally the Paharias were dispossessed; but it seems that they were not aware of it. The government allowed them to continue where they were, free of rent. In lieu of this concession made to them, the Saurias accepted the overlordship of the British.
It seems that in and around 1990, the Bihar Government decided to end the façade of Saurias occupation of land, which the British manipulated to be government land under law two centuries ago. Environmental protection and concern for the welfare of primitive tribes provided a good alibi for bidding farewell of the Saurias from what they knew to be their ancestral home.
Some officers of the Bihar Government, who accompanied us, told us informally that Saurias were maintaining the environment at the hill-top quite well; the real purpose of the government was to get the hill slopes vacated, so that commercial forestry could be undertaken thereon. However, we could not visit the traditional Sauria habitat to check the correctness of the allegation.
We visited the colony established by the government. We were shocked to find that a barrack-like structure had been constructed to lodge a people who had been living in spacious, though kachcha, houses for centuries. Then we found that the government could not reclaim the barren land in the proximity of Dumka which was planned to be allotted to the Sauria Paharias, because of the opposition of the Santal villagers in whose jurisdiction the barren lands were located. In the alternative the government had given them hand-pulled rickshaws for eking out their livelihood. No wonder they fled back to the hills. We were told that thrice they went back to the hills and thrice they were brought back to the colony. During our visit we found that many of the apartments were unoccupied.
Years afterwards during a short visit to Dumka I learnt that in the long run the government had succeeded to dislodge the bulk of the Saurias from the hill-top and cover their erstwhile habitat with commercial plantation. I could not personally verify it, but there is no reason to think that the information was not correct.
Primitive development planning of a modern state snatched away from the so-called primitive people their home and whatever had been given was a caricature of dignified living. Nothing had been given to them so that they could at least dream about the future. Under the canopy of unpunctured emptiness they lost their capacity to dream.
By a time machine as it were they have been transported to the world of eternal nothing.
They have been primitivised.
Dispossession through Fractured Humanitarianism
At the core of humanitarianism is compassion. It is a subjective attitude of mind. It can be admired; but it cannot guide action. Humanitarianism with vision of expansion of human freedom—freedom from hunger, from threat to living and life, from submission to indignity, from being forced to action or inaction and so on—is humanism. Humanitarianism is a fractured approach to reality; humanism is an odyssey for a holistic approach to reality. In humanitarianism there is the illusion of knowing the final word; in humanism there is no final word. Humanitarian action in closed orbit may strengthen human bondage and intensify human misery. This is what happened in a specific situation in Orissa.
In the Koraput district of Orissa, the zamindar of Jeypore had a category of hereditary functionaries called mustajars. Though they were revenue collectors, they had developed feudal pretensions. In the pre-independence period they used to exact four days forced labour from all the households under their respective jurisdictions. Very rightly the mustajari system was abolished after India attained her freedom. But along with the mustajar the corporate character of the village was also abolished. Earlier through mustajar the households collectively used to make payment for the village land as a whole including the wasteland. After abolition of the mustajari system the villagers were required to pay revenue only for the lands recognised by the state to belong to respective individual households. The wasteland in the new dispensation became state land. During one of my visits to the interior of Koraput distict, the village elders told me:
When mustajari was abolished we celebrated it. But when we came to know that along with the mustajar our access right to our life support resources had also gone, we wailed in our heart both for the mustajar and for our right. We feel cheated.
But there is another side of the story. There is one more entry in the deficit column of the national account book of humanism.
Dispossession through Withholding Decision
In the hot summer of 1980, as the Chairman of the Forest and Tribal Committee, Government of India, I was in Chotanagpur. At about 11 pm there was a mild knock on my door. When I opened it, I found about half-a-dozen senior officers of the Bihar Government of the ranks of Joint Secretary, Director and so on, belonging to the Munda community, standing before me. They told me that they had arrived all the way from Patna to meet me for half-an-hour and then they will go back to Patna the same night. They requested me to keep to myself their meeting me in this manner. Now all of them must have retired. I, therefore, feel free to narrate the incident. They asked me whether I knew that next day I was scheduled to distribute pattas for 36 acres of social forestry land to six leading persons of a village. When I confirmed that I knew it, they made a request to me. They wanted me to ask the Forest Officers to show me the 300 acres of the Khuntkatti forest within the jurisdiction of the village, which the Forest Department had taken under its management control in 1948 for protection and scientific development. I wanted them to tell me some more about it. But they submitted that as they were senior government officials, they should be excused from telling me more. Within ten minutes of their arrival they left.
Next day, along with the Forest Commissioner-cum-Secretary and the Additional Chief Conservator of Forests, I reached the Forest Bungalow about 50 km away from Ranchi. As scheduled, I distributed the pattas. After that while taking tea, I casually asked in the presence of the villagers about the 300 acres of scientifically managed Khuntkatti forest. There was an embarrassed silence. Then an ill-clad tribal elder stood up. He begged tobe excused, as he did not know about scientific forestry. Then he showed me a barren land by the side of the Bungalow. It was having barbed wire fencing. He said:
This barren land was a dense forest when the Forest Department had taken it over. Now through scientific management, the forest has become invisible. But the Forest Department is there.
When I asked him what he meant by what he said, he replied:
If through breaches in barbed wire our goats stray into the barren land, they disappear. This is a clear proof of the presence of the Forest Department.
The Secretary of Forest was an IAS officer. It seems that he was not aware of all these. He asked the Additional Chief Conservator of Forests to explain what all these meant. The latter explained that on the eve of independence and immediately after independence the zamindars and other private forest owners, under apprehension that in independent India forests would be completely nationalised, started cutting down trees on a large scale and then selling the same to timber merchants. To protect the forests, the Bihar Private Forest Act was passed in 1946. The Khuntkatti forest was also treated as a private forest. Under the 1948 Act the Khuntkatti forest, along with other private forests, was taken over. For scientific management the forest in this village was clear felled around 15 years ago. The felled trees were auctioned and sold out. The sale proceeds were deposited in the treasury. As no rules had been framed as to how to disburse the money to the owners of the forests, no disbursal could be made. Similarly as no rules had been framed about how to invest money for afforestation of private land after clear felling, no afforestation was done and the erstwhile forestland was remaining barren all these years.
I wrote to the Chief Secretary narrating what I had learnt in the village. He did not send me any reply, but I understand that the Forest Secretary was transferred to another department and that the Forest Officers were unhappy for his inviting me to visit the area. Had I not visited the area the embarrassing facts would not have become public.
In November 1980 Dr K.S. Singh, who was for the some time the Commissioner of South Bihar, published more details about the State takeover of the Khuntkatti forest.
Under the Bihar Private Forest Act, the management and control of Mundari, Khuntkatti Forest vested in the Forest Department, but the Khuntkattidars remained legal owners and proprietors. In 253 villages 53,000 acres of forests have been demarcated. An unknown quantum of the Khuntkatti forest still remained to be demarcated. The Mundas were to be paid 10 paise per acre as rent but during the 30 years after the Khuntkatti forest was taken over, payment had been made only in seven cases. For many years no Forest Settlement Officer had been posted, and the Mundas also did not press their demand—of late, however, they were agitating on this issue. They were also angry that while clear felling of forests had been done in some areas, the owners had not been paid anything. Also they were angry that some forest land had been used for non-forest purpose.
During a later visit to Ranchi I enquired about the matter. I was told that feudal rights of the former zamindars and members of the erstwhile royal family had been raked up by vested interests to complicate the problem. I shall not be surprised if the bureaucratic-feudal nexus is still continuing to be able to deny the tribal people their rightful dues.
A senior Forest Officer, who himself belonged to a tribal community, confided to me that apart from the 53,000 acres of the Khuntkatti forests, there were several thousand more Khuntkatti forests, which the government could not take over due to lack of communication infrastructure. Later those forests were also connected by good roads and the government made a bid to takeover the forests. But the Mundas offered stiff resistance. They themselves took up the management of the forests and these were managed much better than even the reserved forests. But even then the convetous eyes of the Forest Department were there. He, however, felt that if necessary the people might go to the extreme to prevent any further takeover of their forests. Since then I have not heard anything about further development on this tricky issue. I presume that no news is good news.
Dispossession not through Amnesia
When formats for preparation of records-of-rights of Jharkhand and Orissa are compared, it is found that in Chotanagpur community rights are also recorded; in Orissa this is not done. It seems to be a deliberate omission. A comparison of the records-of-rights of all States will perhaps bring out many such cases, which are not the result of amnesia.
Dispossession through State-centric Command Law sidetracking Living Law of Life
In 1960, the Judicial Commissioner of Manipur, who had the status of a High Court Judge, in his judgement on a civil writ petition filed by Luitang Khullakpa and others decided that in the hills of the State the village communities were the ultimate owners of the land and land related resources. [AIR 1961 Manipur 31 (V48C10)] In making this judicial pronouncement the Judicial Commissioner took the following facts into consideration.
In the absence of other records the Judicial Commissioner had mainly depended on information available in T.C. Hodson’s book, The Naga Tribes of Manipur, published in 1911. As described by Hodson:
(a) Each village possesses a well-defined area within which the villages possess paramount rights of hunting or fishing and of development of cultivation.
(b) In the case of villages which possess terraced fields, there is customary stipulation of equitable distribution of water throughout the terraces.
(c) Whild land is held in several ownerships, no alienation outside the clan is permitted.
(d) The Manipur State Hill People Regulation, 1947 indicates that each village has a Khullakpa or Chief and other officers like the Luklakpa, who collect from each household or family house tax at a fixed rate.
There is no system of assessment of lands in separate ownership and possession of lands among villages. But there is a provision in sections 60 to 64 of the Regulation of 1947 for settlement of disputes regarding ownership of land or the right of cultivation of land, and also regarding village boundaries. This would show that while ownership of land and right to cultivation are recognised in the hill villages, the actual enjoyment of the same appears to be a matter of internal arrangement in the villages, and the government does not interfere.
After taking note of the facts on the ground, the Judicial Commissioner concluded:
It is too late in the day for the Government to say that the villagers are in possession only during the pleasure of the Government. The Hill villagers have been dealing the lands in their possession with heritable rights and with rights of alienation at least within their own clan and within their own villages.
Such rights amount to property within the meaning of Article 31 of the Constitution.
Mandarins of the Manipur Government never concealed their unhappiness about this judgment. In Manipur more than 90 per cent of the area constitutes the hills, only around nine per cent is the valley. On the other hand three-fourths of the population live in the valley. It is extremely difficult for any government to ignore the demographic imperative, but the hill people also cannot be expected to gift away their right based on the principle of lex loci rei sitae. Thus the polity in Manipur has always been marked by an undercurrent of tension centring on this conflict of interests.
Frequently the political and administrative establishment in Manipur would take the stand that the judgment in the Luitang case related to the specific area of Luitang only, it did not cover the whole State. But except for attempts here and there by the administration, there is no general attempt to sidetrack the operation of the judgment by administrative action.
In 1995, the Government of Manipur set up a Social Policy Advisory Committee with myself as the Chairman, one former Chief Minister, three Cabinet Ministers, Chairman, Hill Area Committee of the Assembly with Cabinet rank, one former Cabinet Minister, two educationists and one former MP as members. Along with other matters, we examined the issues of communal land system in the hills. We found that in some cases the concerned village communities had proportionately very large areas within their jurisdiction. We suggested that the State should not interfere with their ownership rights. But like the Maori incorporations of
I was hoping that after the other issue was resolved, this one will be taken up and a bridge of understanding will be built between the peoples of the hills and the plain. But then came the shattering blow from an unexpected quarter. While delivering the judgment on a case lodged by the people of a different hill village claiming compensation for appropriation of the community land by a public sector undertaking, the Supreme Court not only rejected the claim of that village, but passed an order setting aside the judgment of the Judicial Commissioner four decades ago.
In a single stroke of pen the hill tribal people of Manipur have been legally disposed of thousands of kilometres of community land. It is a different matter that politically it may not be possible for the State or any agency to physically take possession of all those lands. But the judicial time-bomb for a future explosion has been laid.
This raises the question about the source of law. With exceptions, by and large the judiciary in
An all-out discourse should be launched relating to the relative significance of
Like any other fundamentalism judicial fundamentalism also must be subjected to social x-ray, so that dispossession of the type mentioned above does not go unchallenged.
In the early part of this paper, I referred to the statement submitted to Parliament on behalf of the Planning Commission about the main thrusts of the report of the Study Group on ‘Land Holding Systems of the Tribals’ and the response of the State Government of Orissa. From the details of the Study Group’s report and of the State Government’s action I have presented in this paper it would be obvious that the statement given on behalf of the Planning Commission was an incomplete version of what the report revealed and what the state did.
If one has to conclude what has led a large section of the tribal people to political extremism, obviously it cannot be ascribed to any particular cause in isolation. But apart from the executive and the monitoring organisation, roles of institutions like the Planning Commission and judiciary will also have to be examined and anslysed in great depth.
Prof B.K. Roy Burman is the former Chairman, Study Group on Land Holding System of Tribals, Planning Commission, Government of India (1985-86), and former Chairman, Committee on