Archive for the ‘Forest Rights Act’ Category

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The Non-Nation

April 16, 2011

The Non-Nation

And A Short Story Of Racism

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
-Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850), French economist

‘But are the tribals doing anything with that land?’

‘We need the steel, the adivasis need to be compensated for their land properly. And in my experience, I have seen the companies pay handsomely but the money is lost in the lower levels of governance.’

‘How much money would be enough for your land?’

‘The tribals are the ones responsible for destroying the forests.’

The above statements are some of the most common observations/insights made by non-tribals about tribals and the ‘largest land grab since Columbus.’ But before we get to them, I’d like to write about another story of murder in Dantewada.

On the 23rd of January, 2011, a Special Police Officer Ismael Khan was shot dead in Dantewada, as he watched a murgga fight at the market. It was not a gunfight, it was a targeted assassination by all accounts. And while it was nothing new to Kalluri’s Dantewada, there was something that troubled me about this one particular SPO’s demise. I knew his name, I knew something else about him.

There is a story untold: the story of Ismael Khan is the story of Kottacheru, and the story of Kovasi Dhoole, and the story of Dantewada and the adivasis of Bastar – the danger of a single narrative is the danger of the constant narrative – of violence,  and counter-violence. Yet the single narrative needs to be repeated as a vain elegy for every passing statistic that shall appear at the end of the year by the Home Ministry, about the Maoists killed, or those the Maoists have killed, or the Security forces killed in ambushes or assassinated, on the great canvas of the gaping divide between the rich and the poor, the fat and the dispossessed.

But what is the story of Kovasi Dhule and Kottacheru?

‘‘Nine of our people were killed in our village,’ Said Maala (name changed), another IDP from Kottacheru. But when I asked him for the names of the killed, he only gave me five names – the five people who were killed by the Salwa Judum. Then another woman, reservedly gave me the name of ‘Kovasi Dhoole,’ a young woman who was coming home to Kottacheru. And she wasn’t clear about how she died.

‘Did she die when the Salwa Judum raided the village?’ I had asked.

‘No.’

‘Did the Maoists kill her?’

She was quiet.

Eventually, over the course of six months, after interviewing over 14 villagers of Kottacheru in three different locations in Khammam district, including Kovasi Dhoole’s sister, I managed to piece together the story of Kovasi Dhoole and the story of Kottacheru.

In 2007, Kovasi Dhoole was a young woman on her way from Nagaras to her village of Kottacheru. She was stopped at Errabor police station and allegedly detained against her will. She only reappeared two months later, as a SPO, married to another SPO, a ‘turrka’ or Muslim, according to the rest of the villagers of Kottacheru. They also alleged that she was forced to become a SPO, and there was no ‘consent’ in the marriage.

A while later, on the 9th of July, 2007, a combing operation was ambushed near the village of Gaganpalli by the Maoists. 25 security personnel were killed via the use of IEDs placed in the trees and small arms fire. The security personnel retreated out of the jungle and it would take them three whole days to recover the bodies of their fallen comrades. Kovasi Dhoole was one of the injured who was abandoned to the Maoists who found her bullet-ridden body. She was still conscious and breathing. Yet there was no mercy killing. For some reason, the Maoists took her injured body and left it at the road, hoping someone would take her to the hospital.

No one did.

Kovasi Dhoole from the village of Kottacheru, bled to death.’

The SPO, or ‘turrka’ who had married her was Ismael Khan. Before Salwa Judum, he was a dukaandaar at Errabor.

Death comes a full circle.

Every story without heroes ends simply with the death of the antagonists.

Yet why do I write about just another story of a dead soldier and a dead adivasi in Dantewada and what does this have to do with racism?

The story of Ismael Khan, is a manifestation of a cultural hegemony when it is armed – ‘join us,’ at the point of the gun. That the Salwa Judum is populated by young men, tribal and non-tribal with a state-as-god-given right to power is not a myth.

War has now become a way of life for a group of men living together in society. And they have created for themselves, over the course of the last few years a legal system that doesn’t need to work, and a media without any moral code but empty nationalism that glorifies their actions.

And when everyone from the Collector to the dukaandaar is an amateur anthropologist who knows what the tribals need and how they should live, one needs to wonder when it is openly evident that Operation Green Hunt, in its many forms, was a long way coming.

And why? Let us go back a bit and put things into context.

The furthest, darkest heart of central India is not where civilization or development hasn’t completely trickled down, it’s the place where the post-colonialist face of India is still stark-naked, where the mass delirium of India’s token democracy has not brainwashed people who’ve been very conveniently erased from national consensus.

The administration, when it functions, can only acted as an anodyne for a superstructure that is almost entirely exploitative.

One of the most apologetic analysis of the situation in the jungle is that the people need ‘development’ or an administration that functions. Apparently if every village had electricity, a handpump, functioning ration shops and NREGA schemes devoid of corruption, there’d be no insurgency in the first place. Yet one thing that is missing in the entire narrative, is the explicit racism of the majority of the mainstream Indian population when dealing with the ‘other’ – a fascinating metanarrative of the mainstream believing that the adivasis don’t see democracy, or their rights, or their ‘development’ as ‘we’ do, just as the West believes about the East.

Firstly, both schemes, NREGA and the PDS, indirectly imply that the people cannot get work nor feed themselves. Yet why does that situation exist in the first place?

In the jungles, the state itself has been oppressive for decades. In many areas, the only face of the state visible to the tribal is the Forest Department that has routinely exploited, beaten, arrested and robbed the tribals of their land and forests not just for the last few years but for decades. The tribals would be happy as ever if such civilization never reached them. The Forest Department is a part of this same bureaucracy – IAS, IPS, IFS, all of the same crop of the most brilliant, brightest, minds or worst nightmares of the indigenous tribals of India – a  ‘collector’, a word that denotes a collector of taxes, a post-colonial colloquism, but more importantly, a part of that same super-structure that has kept the adivasis away from their forests.

Recently, a survey by the Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy put India’s bureaucracy as ‘the worst in Asia.’ What a surprise. But are our bureaucrats really such special beings or are they merely a manifestation of the culture and society that they are coming from?

This is what one of the members of the Constituent Assembly, Professor Shibban Lal Saksena had to say about the tribals in 1949, during the Constituent Assembly Debates,

‘That these brethren of ours are still in such a sub-human state of existence is something for which we should be ashamed…..I only want that these scheduled tribes and scheduled areas should be developed so quickly that they may become indistinguishable from the rest of the Indian population.’

That apparently, was a much common point of view during the debates of the Constituent Assembly that was elected to write the Constitution – the tribes were ‘sub-human’ and they had to be like everyone else. In other terms, that is called cultural genocide.

Even today the non-tribals will happily go to the Schedule Areas to cheat, manipulate and exploit tribals. I still remember a non-tribal contractor happily telling me that ‘you just come to Dantewada to make money in whatever way possible,’ and in the very next breath, he mentions how, ‘everything this Manish Kunjam is doing is all futile.’ Fighting for tribal rights, is apparently futile. And when half his party workers are in jail, and their hartals in jail are met with beatings, the state is doing its best to tell him it is futile.

A prominent journalist working in Dantewada who has often written about fake encounters and state atrocities had another interesting observation about industrial development: after spending his entire day with villagers from Lohandiguda, who spoke about false cases and state repression, who openly said they had no desire for the 35 or 50 lakhs of rupees for their fertile lands; he would turn to a foreign correspondent and tell him that this district needs Tata’s steel plant and development: so mining is okay if you don’t shoot the tribals?

‘What development?’ I had asked surprisingly, ‘how would Tata’s plant benefit the tribals here?’

‘That it won’t.’ He responded effortlessly.

Let’s not forget that Mr.Chidambaram had once accused a social activist fighting for tribal rights, for wanting to keep tribals as ‘hunters and gatherers.’ The intellectual bankruptcy in that statement alone is enough proof of Mr.Chidambaram’s utmost condescension of over 80-90 million people of the country. Adivasis are farmers, Mr.Chidambaram, and if they are hunting and gathering to survive, it’s because the Forest Department has kicked them out of the forests and built plantations over the land they cultivated.

But there is more, ‘Yes, we can allow the minerals to remain in the ground for another 10,000 years, but will that bring development to these people? We can respect the fact that they worship the Niyamgiri hill, but will that put shoes on their feet or their children in school?’ – Thus Spake Chidambaram.

‘Will that solve the fact that they are severely malnutritioned and have no access to health care?’

Apparently the massive exploitation and the dispossession of their forests doesn’t have anything to do with a tribal’s inability to feed his/her family. On the 22nd of March this year, over 64 tribals and Dalits from Bolangir, one of the hungry KBK districts (Koraput-Bolangir-Kalahandi) of Orissa, were rescued from virtual bonded labour at a brick kiln in Hyderabad. They had been working without pay for over five months and faced regular beatings by their contractors.

There are an estimated 600 brick kilns (2005 figures) populated with tribals and Dalits from Orissa in Andhra Pradesh, and there is an endemic debt-trap, brought on by advance payments by ‘sardars’ or middlemen – and the worker and his family has no choice but to work in the brick kiln until he can pay off the advance, and often faces abuse in an almost un-regulated industry thriving in the universe of unequal power.

On the 28th of March, 2011, 44 adivasis and Dalits from Bolangir and Nuapada had to be rescued from a brick kiln at Pattancheru Mandal after one of the contractor’s relatives tried to rape a tribal woman.

Apart from that, almost all the workers complained of meagre weekly wages, threats and beatings. The incident of attempted rape was merely the breaking point. The muslim husband-wife contractor-duo responded by calling it all lies, and that the adivasis were all just drunk.

The adivasis wanted go back home. The contractors wanted them to continue working.

After the perpetrator was taken away by the police, every conversation with the mistrys and contractors attempting to bring better working conditions for the people were met with responses like, ‘these people are all cheaters.’

‘they lie like this all the time.’

‘they don’t understand reason.’

Nearby contractors who also ran a brick kiln sat on the sidelines gave their wholehearted support to the Muslim contractor and his family. And class, the great equalizer plays its role.

One Matang couple who live in a village in Nandurbar in Maharastra without land of their own, and work in Brahmin fields for Rs.50 a day during the harvest season, had quite easily filled his shoes as a contractor-exploiter for the adivasis at brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh.

‘They were such nice people,’ She said, about the contractor-duo and their alleged rapist-relative, ‘these Orissa people had to ruin everything.’

Even their own workers caught up with me and told me that they weren’t treated well by them either. And while they went back to work, the 44 men, women and children from Bolangir and Nuapada were taken away by the government’s labour department and put on a train back to home – Bolangir, where droughts and hunger deaths had put the district in a spotlight, where all the recently-rescued said that they had no land, or if they did, there was no irrigation facility to help make it productive.

There are no figures on how many adivasis from the KBK districts migrate to work under adverse conditions at brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh. There are independent estimates in thousands while they’re almost invisible to the government.

And funny how the starvation deaths in Kalahandi, were used as arguments by Vedanta’s lawyers to justify the mining of Niyamgiri.

And yet ‘they’ – the ‘rulers of the country’, want an Adivasi battalion formed for the Dantewadas and Lalgarhs – like there hasn’t been enough fratricidal violence in the Red Corridor.

Instead of starving them, let them kill each other while we mine their mountains.

The state is not just oppressive, but the people have been for decades. The adivasis are seldom treated as equals by non-tribals and it’s not just ‘development’ or a corruption-free administration that the tribals need to rescue them (and themselves) from insurgencies.

There is more.

Insurgencies are symptomatic of the very idea of a nation-states. The fantasies of nationalism, these post-colonial hangovers, along with a bunch of elitist clowns with delusions of grandeur have drawn imaginary lines across communities where the majority literally drives minorities into the hole, and there will be identity-driven self-assertions of rights. A thousand times over, I’ve heard adivasis call themselves Muria, not Maoists, Kondhs, not Maoists, Muria, not ‘Indians’, Kondh, not ‘Indians.’ The Maoists from Andhra Pradesh in Dantewada had managed to build a base because they spoke Muria, they spoke Koya, they let the tribals remain tribals (to an extent) + (apart from entirely militarizing their society).

Now, has the Indian mainstream ever allowed minorities to be minorities? Have they allowed the tribals to at least decide their own fate?

Yes, we have. The Indian Constitution has one of the most progressive laws in the world – PESA or Panchayat (Extension to Schedule Areas) Act, where the tribals are allowed to govern themselves with their own Gram Sabhas. The Supreme Court would not have the right to veto a decision of the Gram Sabha if it said it didn’t want Tata or Jindal or Essar to build on their land. And yet, these Gram Sabha resolutions have been violated by the administration repeatedly across the Fifth Schedule, with complete impunity, often in the favour of big business, as well as the upper caste landlords, thekedaars and non-tribals.

So now as I brought it up, I must ask, why is our administration routinely flouting PESA resolutions?

This is what one of the Collectors of Bastar, J.P. Vyas had to say to Anthropologist Nandini Sundar, in 1992 about a proposed Steel Plant being set up in Bastar and the displacement it would cause.

‘If the people were consulted beforehand and asked for permission, inherent in this, is the possibility that they might refuse. And then where would the government be?’

He had gone on to tell her that the people were ignorant and once the experts decided where the project would be, there was nothing more to be said – (from her book on Bastar, Subalterns and Sovereigns).

Today, there are state-organized public hearings, where the representatives of big companies often tell the tribals, ‘there are other things here that are too technical to understand.’

Another brilliant expert, I had encountered, worked in the ITDA (Integrated Tribal Development Authority) Badrachalam, who didn’t know who the Murias were, and he requested that I tell the tribals to leave the jungles and come and live closer to the road so the government welfare programmes can reach them.

All of it pretty much summing up that the ‘tribals don’t know any better,’ that they ‘need to do something with their land’, or that land, life and livelihood can be equated with money.

I wonder where that idea comes from.

What becomes only too evident, is that we have a social apartheid, where we have an invisible, un-written set of value-judgements upon an entire class of people who live out of sight and out of mind, and we’re aping the West who’ve colonized, butchered, enslaved, and murdered indigenous societies for centuries, and we are too far from evolving into a democracy they have never been, and could possibly never be – one that is egalitarian, just and equal, impassioned yet restrained, and where the words ‘development’ would belong to the people, and not politicians and their wanker-overlords.

To be a nation that is simply accepting of diversity, not just by shallow pretence but by substance. But we are just another half-democracy, half-republic and half-nation that needs to cannibalize itself to survive.

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Narayanpatna: Movement On The Run

February 5, 2011

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 6th of February, 2011.

‘Nachika Linga’s owner’s house used to be this one,’ Says the Border Security Force commander, regarding the newest BSF camp set up at Podapadar village, one of the flashpoints of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh movement. The house in question belonged to Nila Kancha Parida who literally owned Nachika Linga – a bonded labourer on his own land who used to earn Rs.5 per month, eventually a leader of a tribal movement, and now, one of the most wanted people in Narayanpatna block. It is literally petty symbolism that the once-oppressor’s house is now used by the Border Security Force to track down members of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, who stood up for their land rights in 2009.

Today, their entire movement has gone underground, over 150 of their members and their supporters are in jail, including Gananath Patra, of the CPI (ML), who was arrested as a Maoist, as well as his associate Tapan Mishra, who has already clashed with officials in the prison after going on numerous hunger strikes. Yet the vast majority of the CMAS live in fear further within the jungles, often on the move, without food, in constant risk of being apprehended.

Nevertheless, six Kondh tribal women and four infants had gotten onto the Hirakhand Express at Koraput railway station on the 25th of January 2011 to travel to Bhubaneshwar. For many of them it was the first time on a train. There was never any need to go to Bhubaneshwar, or anywhere beyond their jungles in Narayanpatna or Laxmipur before. But secretly, and quietly, these six women travelled to Bhubaneshwar, and were told that they would have to testify at a public hearing, to the National Human Rights Commission.

All six women have lost their husbands to state violence.

Balsi Kendruka w/o Andru of the village of Baliaput, Narayanpatna lost her husband on the 20th of November firing/’camp attack’.

Sonai Kendruka w/o Singana of the village of Podapadar, Narayanpatna lost her husband on the 20th of November firing/’camp attack’.

Kamla Tadingi w/o Ganguli of the village of Bagam, Narayanpatna lost her husband when he was picked up by the police in Narayanpatna, and died in custody in Koraput Jail on the 12th of April 2010.

Kamla Sirika w/o Ratna of the village of Siriguda, Narayanpatna lost her husband when he went for treatment for an unspecified illness to Narayanpatna town, and was arrested by the police and died in a hospital in Berhampur on the 8th of June, 2010.

Saibo Honika w/o Jimme of the village of Jogipalur, Narayanpatna lost her husband when the security forces raided her village. He was allegedly drowned in Janjawali river.

Singaru Huika w/o Katru of the village of Talameting,  Laxmipur was shot dead by the security forces the day after the Maoists had raided the nearby NALCO plant where they killed ten CISF jawaans and lost four of their own on the 12th of April 2009. Katru Huika is suprisingly even mentioned as a ‘public witness’ in the FIR filed regarding the NALCO attack.

And the women barely spoke at the hearing.

The irony is that K G Balakrishnan, chairman of the NHRC returned to Delhi a day before the hearing. (The bigger irony was that he would have been sharing the dias with the senior advocate Prashant Bhusan who, along with his father, had indicted him as one of the ‘eight corrupt Chief Justices of India’),’ in a now-famous affidavit.

The hearing itself indicted the government of Orissa regarding ‘state repression on the rise in the state particularly on people’s movements against displacement and land grabbing.’ As for the recent spate of encounters in Bargarh, Keonjhar, Jajpur and Rayagada, it had called for ‘an independent and impartial investigation’.

The Way Of The Gun

Since the firing on the 20th of November, 2009, still widely considered to be a ‘camp attack’ by the police and the administration, all that the Kondh adivasis of Narayanpatna have seen is the slow militarization of their lives. Not only have three BSF camps been set-up in Narayanpatna block, but Maoist activity has also been on the rise. There had been one IED blast that claimed four civilian lives in January 2010, and since then there have been numerous IEDs recovered by the police in regular intervals. Just recently another IED exploded on the 11th of January, 2011 near Jogi Palur, injuring three government officials.

There have also been a series of killings by the Maoists in August of 2010, most infamously, of Anand Kirsani, the leader of the embryonic state-backed anti-CMAS group, the Shanti Committee, who was also a Zilla Parishad member and a Congress party leader. The Maoists also killed a member of the CPI (ML), Arjun Kendruka as an informant. Another villager, Ghasi Kendruka from Gotiguda village was killed on the 15th of August. The General Secretary of the CPI (Maoist) Ganapathy himself has stated in a recent interview about the gains made by his party in Narayanpatna block, and against the ‘revisionist’ tendencies of other members of communist parties working in both Narayanpatna and Bandhugaon block. And there has been no secret that the Bandugaon movement and the Narayanpatna movement have been at odds over the last two years.

And yet the core issue remains land.

While the Shanti committee has been ‘finished’ after the murder of their leader Anand Kirsani, there is still no gaurantee that the paddy that rightfully belongs to the tribals would not be illegally split 50-50 between the tribals and the non-tribal Sahukars and ‘landlords,’ as had happened last year, after the suppression of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh.

Cultivation is taking place in many of the strongholds of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh at Narayanpatna, and yet the BSF presence is ominous. On the 27h of January itself, reports emerged that 6 homes in Musalmanda village of Narayanpatna were allegedly burnt down by the security forces.

Images from a video capture of the burning of the homes of Narayanpatna.  Courtesy – Source.

A Soldier’s Crisis

‘You know what would solve this whole Maoist problem?’ Asks a BSF commander, ‘There should be mandatory military service in either the CRPF or BSF by all citizens of India. This way some politician’s son can also end up at Podapadar.’

The imaginary border is drawn across the jungles, cutting across mainstream India and that which belongs to the Kondh of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh at Podapadar. The Border Security Force is once again strategically isolated as most security camps within the jungles are. A school functions a few metres from the camp, and hillocks surround the camp.

‘If we’re attacked, we’re on our own,’ Said the commander, ‘And we had asked for another spot, but they gave us this one.’

And the risks don’t stop there.

‘You don’t even have to ask us about mosquitoes,’ Said a BSF soldier, laughing, who mentions there have already been a handful of malaria cases in the camp.

Yet what remains striking is that the BSF soldiers were aware of the existence of bonded labour at Narayanpatna block. ‘Five generations of Nachika Linga were slaves.’ Mentions the BSF commander, yet the manhunt against him continues.

No one in Narayanpatna ever forgot the ‘dead or alive’ posters of Nachika Linga that were posted across the town.

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Season Of Encounters: Part Two

January 25, 2011

Kaliamani Jhodia’s eleven year old daughter was arrested as an alleged Maoist on the 14th of December, 2010 at Dhobasil village of Rayagada District.

Widow Hasmani Jhodia’s twenty-two year old daughter Sabita was also arrested on the same day.

This article appears in the New Indian Express on the 30th of January,2011.

To understand what happened in Khurigan(Basangmali), Rayagada district where nine alleged Maoists were killed in an ‘encounter/ambush’ on the 8th of January, one has to look into an incident on the 14th of December 2010, where in the village of Dhobasil in Kashipur block, five alleged Maoists, including two minors were arrested in what is described in the police FIR as ‘a meeting’ with ‘weapons training.’

According to the police First Information Report, the police had ‘prior information’ that a meeting was taking place near ‘Singamui jungle,’ so they had embarked on an operation, where they would eventually discover a meeting of 25-30 Maoists cadres along with 10 to 15 other supporters engaged in ‘weapons training’. Along with the five arrested, the FIR even goes on to mention the following names in the FIR as the ‘Details of known/suspected/unknown/accused’ – Rabi, Lenju, Mamata, Kamala, who’d all be killed in the encounter, along with Sabyasachi Panda, the most-wanted Maoist leader of Orissa, and then, Lado Sikaka, one of the Dongria Kondh leaders of the Niyamgiri movement, already featured in a farcical photo-op session with Rahul Gandhi, and even Bhagaban Majhi, an activist of the Prakrutik Sampark Surakhya Parishad whose movement has long struggled against bauxite mining and the Utkal Alimuna International Limited – a struggle that led to innumerable false cases and arrests, regular protests of over 5000 people, road blockades and it all culminated in a police firing at Maikanch on the 16th of December, 2000, when the police fired and killed three men and wounded another seven.

In the FIR regarding the 14th of December ‘encounter’, the Inspector-In charge of Kalyansinghpur police station claims that, ‘Most of them had put on olive green dresses. From the dress code and the firearms with them, I became confirm that they are the members of the banned CPI (Maoist) organization.’ The OIC then claims to have repeatedly asked them to surrender, after which the Maoists fired back to ‘kill and demoralize the police party’, and the police would fire two rounds, and the Maoists then ‘took to their heels in the jungle.’

Eventually the police managed to apprehend five people including two young girls. One girl, Koni Jhodia is aged 11, as per the ration card prepared on the 1st of August, 2010, yet in the FIR she is mentioned to be 16 years old.

‘On taking search of the kit bag of Kani Bijaya Jhodia,’ Continues the FIR, ‘it was found that the kit bag was containing 03 numbers of gelatin sticks,’ Yet according to the villagers of Dhobasil, she had run into the house when she saw the police approaching, and was dragged out from there. Sabita Jhodia (22 years old), was also sleeping in her house when she was kicked and dragged out of the village.

According to the villagers of Dhobasil, around 20 members of the police in civilian clothes had come to their village with two other men, and started to ask for Sabita Jhodia, a young woman/alleged Maoist who returned to her village, after leaving her abusive husband.

‘They put a gun to my neck and asked me where was Sabita.’ Claims Koni Jhodia’s older brother, Beladhara. At this point, the other two men were being kept by the police in the middle of the hamlet, along with Sabita’s younger sister Lalita. They only let Lalita go, once they had Sabita, who was dragged out of her house. Finally, they had gone to the Kondh hamlet of Dhobasil, and taken away Jodi Jhodia d/o Shyam (wrongly identified as Anjali), who was also ten years old, claims her older pregnant sister, who adds, ‘it was all Sabita’s fault.’

‘After they took them away, we thought they’d be killed.’ Says Kaliapani Jhodia, mother of Koni.

Dhobasil is a small village of two hamlets, one belonging to the Kondhs, and another to the Jhodias. The Jhodia hamlet has nine homes, and it is a hamlet where the people have ration cards, but they don’t get ration, where they have NREGA cards, but they don’t get work, where they have electric poles and wiring, but they don’t get electricity, and the families live on the edge of hunger, surviving on a little semme (beans) and some imli. Add to that, the Jhodias are not even recognized as tribals by the government, meaning: they can starve and die like the tribals, but they can’t live like them.

They are tribals living on tribal lands who are not entitled to the laws to protect them from land alienation.

The Anti-mining Activists

Bulika Miniaka, of Barigaon village in Kashipur block has been fighting against land alienation for over 15 years now. He, himself, was one of the Kondh leaders who was in jail for over four months in 2004-2005, when the police had come to his village on the 9th of December 2004. Today, combing operations often disrupt life in his village of over 180 homes.

‘This land is ours, this jungle is ours, these rivers are ours, these trees are ours, and who are these police people to come here? What do they want? Why are they here?’ Says Bulika Minika.

Three unmarried girls from Barigaon, Sunita Miniaka d/o Massi, Seboh Miniaka d/o Sapora and Phulkoh Miniaka d/o of Uchaba, were killed in the encounter on the 8th of January. The people of Barigaon were not informed of their deaths, and only discovered it once they saw the newspapers.

‘Who are the police to kill these people?’ Continues Bulika, ‘And those you kill, you should at least, tell us, you killed.’

The people of Barigaon held a feast in their honour, as per Kondh tradition. The three people killed in Maikanch led to the stalling of the UTKAL project, albeit unsuccessfully, and a judicial enquiry offered no justice to the adivasis. The three killed as Maoists opens the newest chapter to the adivasis of Kashipur who have been fighting the companies since 1993.

Meanwhile, Bhagaban Majhi was completely unperturbed by his name being mentioned in an FIR involving Maoists. For one, there has always been a reason why Bhagawan Majhi would be targeted. There is a song he often sings before every gathering or meeting for thousands of adivasis who protest against the companies who not only displace but cause irreparable pollution.

Hawa, Hawa, Company Hawa,

Wind, wind, company wind

Blowing all over Odisha.

 

Let us stand together for justice.

We will save our mother earth

And redeem ourselves.

 

We will not hand over our land to these companies,

Let us all stand together,

Don’t just watch us and wait.

Don’t you see the danger?

 

What we are facing today,

You will face tomorrow.

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In Chhattisgarh, The Only Criminal Is Law

December 26, 2010

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 27th of December, 2010.

In the middle of the above photograph, is the Salwa Judum leader Soyam Mukka, a part of a state-sponsered mob, protesting against Medha Patkar, Sandeep Pandey and a contingent of human rights activists and social workers, in January 2010.

Soyam Mukka is a few feet away from the police and would be, for the duration of the protest on that faithful day in January. It is also a fact that there is a warrant for his arrest, for the kidnapping of a young tribal woman, who’d be eventually gangraped by Special Police Officers in the Konta police station in 2008.

In the above photographs by a local reporter (look at the extreme right and left), one can see the police of Chhattisgarh trying its utmost best to uphold the law.

Soyam Mukka has never been arrested as per 25th of December 2010.

Previously, they hadn’t even accepted the FIR of the girl who was raped. And when the girl was taken to the JMFC Court in Konta, by human rights activists, the police did their best to loiter around the area to harass the girl. Their crowning achievement was the harassment of her family. But the police could not uphold the law. It was difficult for them to fight the Maoists when they’re too busy trying to save their own skins from what is just ‘collateral’ or the ‘spoils of war’.

So they changed their tactics. We should uphold the Law (by making it ours, to do whatever we please), by harassing, beating up, arresting, and chasing away all of these pesky humanrightwallas, who talk about constitutional rights. Nobody has time to go and intimidate witnesses and victims of police atrocities all the time, and we all know that it’s the Maoists who’re using ‘human rights’ as a strategy.  So bugger with human rights.

We need to shoot the messenger, these people calling for the Law. Chase them away like common criminals, and everyone else is scot free.

Now that the good doctor and human rights activist Binayak Sen is sentenced to life for Section 124A Sedition, there is human rights activist, Kopa Kunjam who has been in jail for over a year now for the murder of a man who every witness has so far claimed – he had tried to save.  Then there are CPI cadres, many of whom are elected representatives – Lala Kunjam, Sukul Prasad Nag, Sudru Ram Kunjam, Bhima Kunjam and Kartam Joga, who’re all in jail.

Kartam Joga was even one of the first petitioners in the Supreme Court regarding the illegal killings of the Salwa Judum. Unlike the police, he believed in upholding the law. He believed in the courts.

And while the CPI had called for a rally on the 25th of November to protest against the police and the administration, on the night of 24th of November, numerous reports surfaced about the police beating up CPI protestors around Katekkalyan, Pondum and Jhirum villages on Dantewada road. The CPI even demanded that the Home Ministry should take action against the SSP Kalluri, who they claim is responsible for the attack on their party.

And on the 8th of December, 2010, the CPI along with other organizations under the banner of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, was part of a rally of over 10,000 people who submitted a petition of one lakh people to the Chhattisgarh State Assembly asking for better implementation of PESA, Forest Rights Act, the end of fake environment hearings, harassment of activists and displacement from land.

Almost everyone in Chhattisgarh seems to want the Law.

Yet let’s not forget the journalists. When the news about the burning of villages, fake encounters, rapes and illegal detentions started to get out, the state forgot that they need to chase the journalists away as well.

Just recently, the new Avatar of the Salwa Judum, the Maa Danteswari Adivasi Swabhimani Manch had made a statement calling for the deaths of three local journalists in the undivided Bastar region of Chhattisgarh.

Anil Mishra, the previous district head of New Delhi-based Hindi-Daily Nai Duniya, NRK Pillai, the vice president of the Working Journalists Union, and Yashwant Yadav of Deshbandu were mentioned in the press release that states, ‘journalists and NGOs who are befriending the Naxals, be it Himanshu Kumar or Arundhati, or even for that matter NRK Pillai, Anil Yadav or Yashwant Mishra, all of you will face consequences. Leaders of CPI, BJP or Congress, in jail or outside – who have been on your side will not be make any difference. Under the garb of human right activists you should know that you cannot last too long. If you do not leave Bastar you will die like a dog.’

This is not the first time the state apparatus or the state-backed counter insurgent group has attacked journalists in Bastar. Over the last four years, full timers and part-timers, Kamlesh Paikra, Maqbool of Sahara Samay, Afzal Khan, and this author have faced the lathis of the police or the Salwa Judum.

NRK Pillai had long made a statement to the journalists in Delhi about the persecution of the press in Dantewada. Yet there was nothing but silence from Delhi. Journalists were soft targets.

In October, 2009, right at the onset of major operations that would then be known-as Operation Green Hunt, the police had ‘requested’ all the local journalists not to go and work in the jungles. And almost no one did. When there were others who accompanied national and international journalists into the field, they were warned, ‘tere koh yah rahna hai, yeh log nikal jayenge.’ (you live here, these people (outsiders) will go away.)

Anil Mishra lost his job at Nai Duniya because he accompanied international and national journalists into the area. And he moved out of Dantewada. And there is no doubt that the recent Maa Danteshwari press release was a reaction to his recent visit to the Jagargonda area of Dantewada.

And the first report of the Maa Danteshwari death threat had come out on citizen’s news portal CGNet Swara. The young adivasi journalist Mangal Kunjam only had to call the CGNet Swara number (080) 4113 7280, to record his report that would be scrutinized by moderaters. Yet a few days after the recording was made available to the world, he would be called to Kirandul police station where he was dutifully threatened.

But why target the poor Binayak Sen? To silence dissent? To act as a deterrence, that no human rights group work in Dantewada? They had arrested him in 2007 and that didn’t deter anyone. There were hundreds of human rights workers and journalists who had visited Dantewada after 2007. There have been fewer visits in the last one year by any outsiders but a brave few who travel incognito, as the state has now attempted to destroy the contact base of the journalists and human rights workers.

Binayak Sen was definitely condemned for political reasons. No sensible court would sentence a man to life in prison, when the evidence the prosecutors present to court, are ‘links to ISI’, which they didn’t bother to realize, was the Indian Social Institute, a Delhi-based advocacy organization.

It seems that the police are using the same strategy that the Maoists use with human rights and the courts. The police often claim all the petitions filed against them in the Supreme Court or the High Court, are strategic tactics by the Maoists to use human rights organizations to keep the police busy dealing with Supreme Court queries of missing petitioners and witnesses, which in their unimaginative self-delusions, can be equated to, keeping the civil rights organizations, and journalists busy with Binayak Sen and not the ground realities of Dantewada and Chhattisgarh.

But for the adivasi in Dantewada facing brutal repression and for Binayak Sen, the Law had been abandoned a long time ago.

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Internally Displaced Hunger

November 14, 2010

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 14th of November, 2010.

On the 25th of October, 8 malnurioushed children were refused treatment by the Nutrition and Rehabilitation Center in Badrachalam, Khammam District in Andhra Pradesh. All eight were children of Internally Displaced Persons from Dantewada/Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh.

Apparently, the Project Officer of the Integrated Tribal Development Authority of Badrachalam, on the behest of the visiting Schedule Tribe Committee (consisting of MLAs from Congress, Telegu Desam Party and CPI-M), had passed a written order to stop treatment to ‘non-tribes’ and ‘non-BPL’ families. Strangely enough, the Gotti Koya, or the Muria from Dantewada/Bijapur District, who’ve had to flee the burning of their villages by the Salwa Judum and the police, and the threat of Maoist violence, fall into this criteria, simply as they have no documentation to prove that they are tribals or BPL families.

Let us also put this into context.

The children of the Internally Displaced Persons at a Nutrition and Rehabilitation Centre at Khammam District, Andhra Pradesh. (Photo credit: source)

On the 23rd of September, a young couple Madvi Nanda and his wife Chukki had approached a mobile health clinic of an NGO. Their ten day-old infant stopped taking his mother’s milk, and another son Budra looked severely anaemic (see photos).

The 10 day-old son of Madvi and Chukki Mandavi before being taken to the Nutrition and Rehabilitation Centre (Photo credit: source)

They were IDPs from Chhattisgarh, village Duled in Konta block. Madvi Nanda said to have come to Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh to escape the threats and violence of the Salwa Judum. Previously, they were landowners of around twenty acres, but in Khamman, they have had to subsist doing manual labour in the ‘mirrchi’ fields, tendu patta and cotton fields, for Rs.60 a day.

When Chukki got pregnant, it had become difficult for her to work, and thus the wages that came into a house without ration cards or any form of subsistence, reduced by half. Hunger and malnutrition soon followed.

The entire family was then taken to the hospital where, after four days of treatment they were referred to the Nutrition and Rehabilitation Centre, run by the ITDA at Badrachalam.

At the NRC, it was found that the youngest son, now 15 days old, wieghed only 1.5 kilograms, and the second son Budra, around three years old, weighed only 4.8 kilograms. They were both classified as Grade four malnourished, and treatment began immediately.

All four, the mother and her three sons were given three meals a day along with medicines till the 12th of October. They were then discharged when their condition normalized (see photos). The NRC then recommended a diet of milk, mutton, vegetables, green leaves, fruits, etc, for three months to help improve their health condition.

Chukki Mandavi with her sons at the time of discharge from the NRC. (Photo credit: source)

Madvi Chukki's youngest son after treatment by the Nutrition and Rehabilitation Centre. (Photo credit: source)

Then of course, at the behest of the Tribal Welfare Ministry, the ITDA passes a note that ensures the Muria/Gotti Koya from Chhattisgarh, can’t find a single meal at the Nutrition and Rehabilitation Centre of Badrachalam.

P Balaraju, the chairman of the Scheduled Tribe Committee, whose recommendations to the ITDA ensured that the Gotti Koya’s hungriest remain hungry, is also the Minister for Tribal Welfare, Andhra Pradesh.

Cause and Effect: A background

The Internally displaced persons from Chhattisgarh are in perpetual limbo. They’re occasionally pitted against the local adivasi tribes of Andhra Pradesh over minimal resources and no state government whether Andhra Pradesh, nor Chhattisgarh is willing to take responsibility for them. At the same time, no civil government department is capable of undermining the arm-twisting policies of the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department that wishes to send them back to Chhattisgarh, who would probably dump them in mismanaged Salwa Judum camps.

Previously in the scorching summer, the 203 IDP settlements, with over 16,000 IDPs had to survive under draught-like conditions that were more man-made, specifically, Forest Department-made, as the Forest Department ensured no handpumps could be installed in the settlements whose natural sources of water had dried up in the beginning of the summer.

In 2007, the late civil rights lawyer Balagopal had filed three Writ Petitions on behalf of numerous families of the Gotti Koya, and had managed to get a stay order on the demolition of their homes by the Forest Department. Yet the Forest Department continued to break down IDP settlements in other parts of Khammam, specifically in the summer season. They even argued in the High Court against the stay order, stating that the Gotti Koya should claim their rights to livelihood and to life in Chhattisgarh and not Andhra Pradesh; that they are a threat to the local population and that they do extensive damage to the forests.

Recently, Justice CV Ramulu dismissed the vacate stay petitions filed by the Forest Department and upheld the rights of the tribals to live in the reserved forests.

Yet let us take the Forest Department’s motive to protect the forests. They claim they need to protect the forests from slash-and-burn cultivation of the Gotti Koya, which has even been contested as an exaggerated claim. And yes, there is very little doubt that the Gotti Koya/Muria have done some damage to the forests in Khammam. And there is even lesser doubt that they’re not managing higher yields from the amount of land they ‘secretly’ cultivate.

The land they cultivate lacks irrigation facilities, and they don’t manage too much produce, in comparison to the irrigated land cultivated by the Reddys or the Koyas.

‘One acre and the Muria will have just about 2-3 bags, and I’ve seen Reddys manage 30 bags of rice out of one acre.’ says a local social worker in Khammam.

One wonders how the Muria would be, if he was allowed just a few acres of irrigated land, to support and feed his own family. Yet if he can’t even do that, why is the ‘Intergrated Tribal Development Authority’ ensuring that his malnutritioned children starve?

Yet there is no right to the Reserve Forest given to the Gotti Koya/Muria at all. Not even one acre. And even local Koya tribals and older Muria tribals, living on non-reserve forest are preyed on by ‘promises’ of the legal deed – the patta.In the village of Amdalpeta in Chintur Mandal of Khammam, two non-tribals had taken Rs.300 from every family and promised them pattas. And the exploited of Amdalpeta themselves spoke of another case, where a lawyer managed to take Rs.2,00,00 from the tribals for a patta.

There are countless cases of exploitation over legality, and right to land. How many times villagers are exploited with promises of pattas (deeds), one will never know.

‘You have to either save the tribal, or save the forest.’  I was told by a DFO dealing with extensive deforestation by the Gotti Koya in Khammam district.

‘But can I ask you, who are the first beneficiaries of a forest? Who are you protecting the forests for?’

The answer is obvious. The Adivasi – the Santhals, the Kondhs, the Murias, the Koyas, the Baiga themselves weren’t ever consulted when the British laid the foundations of a law that would divorce them from their forests. It is difficult to believe that the forests ‘need to being protected’ from the tribals whose livelihoods, cultures and homes depend upon, when mining companies and corporations run amok in the jungle.

Since 1980, the Ministry of Environment and Forests granted 34,527 hectares of the forest in 317 mining leases till 1997, and 60,476 hectares of the forest in 881 mining leases during 1997-2005.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh may try his best to protect the forests and the odds are against him, yet who is protecting the tribal from exploiters and the Forest Department? The Naxalites? The Home minister? Or the Tribal Welfare Minister’s team whose recommendations ensure that the Muria from Chhattigarh aren’t tribals nor poor because they can’t prove it?