Archive for the ‘Nehru’ Category

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Land Nor Freedom

August 23, 2010

Nahi denge zameen!’ (we won’t give our land) – said one villager of Lohandiguda, as over 150 villagers – Sarpanches and ward members with their families, stood up, and walked out of the meeting with government officials on the 12th of May of this year. In 2005, the villagers in Lohandiguda didn’t even know their land was up for acquisition by Tata Steel – they learnt about it after they read the newspapers.

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 22nd of August, 2010.

Villagers from Lohandiguda walk out of a meeting held with government officials on the 12th of May, 2010.

It is a known fact that the Adivasis have existed long before there was any idea of India. And there are estimates that there has been more displacement by development projects in India than by the Partition, and a majority of the displaced have been Adivasis.

It’s therefore not surprising that the Maoists don’t believe that India has attained independence. In a school in the liberated-zones of Dantewada, a lone poster of Chandrashekar Azad remains, there’s no sign of Gandhi or Nehru. In the Red Corridor, the Maoist squads go to schools in the middle of their Independence Day celebrations, remove the tricolour, holster up a black flag, distribute sweets or biscuits to the children and leave.

63 years after independence, the history of the tribals in Independent India has been wrought by promises never kept.

In 1955, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had addressed an All India Conference of Tribes in Jagdalpur, Bastar District of Chhattisgarh (Then Madhya Pradesh) and had said: ‘Wherever you live, you should live in your own way. This is what I want you to decide yourselves. How would you like to live? Your old customs and habits are good. We want that they should survive but at the same time we want that you should be educated and should do your part in the welfare of the country.’

Today, Rights guaranteed to the tribals by the constitution, embodied in the PESA are floundered routinely all across the Fifth Schedule areas. The PESA enables the adivasis to govern themselves through Gram Sabhas, and the state has no right to acquire lands, nor dish out mining leases without the permission of the Gram Sabhas. Yet the State of Chhattisgarh, is using a ‘Colonial-era law’, the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, to acquire lands.

‘They asked us to hold a Gram Sabhas and there was police everywhere.’ Said one of the village-leaders of Sirisguda, in a meeting with the Express a few days ago, ‘And yet we said no to Tata!’

Nevertheless, the next day, all the local newspapers were reporting that the villagers of Lohandiguda had accepted Tata’s plan for acquisition. This pattern would repeat itself regularly throughout the years. A public hearing would be held, the villagers would say no, and the local press would print their assent.

‘We always say no! And you write yes!’ they screamed at the press at Lohandiguda.

Today, the discrepancies in numerous Gram Sabha resolutions and public hearings held in Chhattisgarh rarely find any report in the Chhattisgarh press, nor the national press, but only in a citizen-run initiative called CGNet Swara.

CGnet Swara is an innovative audio-based news service. One simply has to call 08041137280 from their mobile phones, and can either press 1 to record news, or 2 to listen to the news. After some cross-checking, the moderators release the recordings, which include reports on public rallies, discrepancies in the PDS, water issues, medical issues, arrests of activists, fake encounters, child labour issues, anti-liquor campaign issues, and every issue governing adivasi and village life.

Yet they have been particularly useful in bypassing a compromised local press and giving grass-root reports about public hearings. For instance, a public hearing held on the 5th of May, this year in Dantewada district, regarding the NMDC in Kirandul, was considered fraudulent as many of the villages who’d be directly affected by the project weren’t even present during the hearing.

‘The public hearing was held 50 kilometres away from the affected villages, and the people at the hearing were contractors and other lackeys of the NMDC.’ Said a news report from CGNet Swara, in Hindi.

Similarly, another public hearing was held in Raigarh district in Chhattisgarh on the 3rd of July organized by Hind Multiservices for a 15,000 TPA Ferro Alloy Plant, where the affected villagers weren’t even informed of the hearing.

‘Only 32 people showed up, mostly activists, and it is safe to say, there are no affected villagers here because they were not informed. This whole hearing was a farce.’ Said another news report from CGnet Swara.

Each report from CGnet Swara explicitly begins to highlight the muted voice of the adivasis in their own fate, whether it is the public hearing or the Gram Sabha. And this brings us to an interesting Censored Chapter.

The Censored Chapter

A recent study by the Institute of Rural Management, commissioned by the Panchayat Raj Ministry, on the functioning of Panchayat Raj highlighted the violations in the Panchayat (Extension to Schedule Areas) act, or PESA. To quote:

‘The central Land Acquisition Act of 1894 has till date not been amended to bring it in line with the provisions of PESA and to recognize the Gram Sabha, while a newer bill meant to replace it is yet to be tabled in parliament. At the moment, this colonial-era law is being widely misused on the ground to forcibly acquire individual and community land for private industry.’

‘In several cases, the practice of the state government is to sign high profile MOUs with corporate houses (Government of Jharkhand 2008 and IANS, 2010), and then proceed to deploy the Acquisition Act to ostensibly acquire the land for the state industrial corporation. This body then simply leases the land to the private corporation – a complete travesty of the term ‘acquisition for a public purpose’, as sanctioned by the act.’

‘In some cases, administrations run through the motions of a PESA consultation, but in no instance has the opposition expressed by tribal communities to acquisition of their land resulted in a plan for industry being halted, suggesting the disempowerment of the Gram Sabha.’

There was no surprise that the chapter, aptly titled, ‘PESA, Left-Wing Extremism and Governance: Concerns and Challenges in India’s Tribal Districts’ was entirely taken out of the final report released by the government, for it is a damning indictment of the state’s pro-industrial policies. The report even goes on to mention, that the growing strength of the Maoist movement in central India is inextricably linked to the government’s ‘exclusionary’ policies:

‘Some analysts read the resurgence and spread of left-wing extremism as a phenomenon of tribal self-assertion. They point to the co-incidence in the rise of economic reforms and the deepening of the Maoist movement in India’s polity, the latter being a retort to the exclusionary nature of these policies. According to one senior politician, ‘If the state is neglectful and oppressive, as it  has been, it provides the water in which the guerilla fish swim.’ Another senior politician seconded, ‘PESA has not yet been honestly implemented in a single district yet. If it is, we will solve the Naxal problem.’

Lohandiguda also finds mention in the censored chapter of the PESA report.

‘Resident Mahangu Madiya has Rs 55 lakh in his account, but does not even own a mobile phone. He has no use for most such material possessions. Or even this significant sum of money, which he has not touched since it landed in a bank account this January as ‘compensation’ given by the state, in return for acquiring his 35-acre farm for a proposed steel plant. “I am concerned with farming. My land is important to me. What will I do with this money?” asked the middle-aged farmer’.

Eventually, resistance to the land grab began to accentuate. The Communist Party of India had no influence in Lohandiguda before Tata showed up. They only found footing as they’re openly anti-displacement and anti-corporate land grab.  Both the BJP and Congress have supported Tata’s project, but today only CPI party workers, or those explicitly anti-displacement work in Lohandiguda.

‘I remember telling people, that we need to protest first, we need to organize ourselves first, and then only will people come and support us.’ Said Advocate Girju Kashyap, who at some point, was also detained by the police and prevented to appear in court.

Most of his clients are villagers from Lohandiguda with cases slapped against them.

Yet even the CPI has not been able to hold off Tata’s project, and there is a severe sense of frustration with the villagers of Lohandiguda.

The Meeting

Lohandiguda is far from the theatre of war at first sight. Yet there’s a permeable tension that everything shall burn. On the 11th of May, the Naib Tehsildar of Lohandiguda PR Marghya had began a ‘bhoomi puja’ (inauguration ceremony) near the proposed project site for Tata’s steel plant, at Dhuragaon village. A few villagers of Lohandiguda would then beat him up, mistakenly believing, he was commencing with Tata’s project on their land.

The next day the administration decided to talk to ward members and Sarpanches of all the villages of Lohandiguda.

They had asked them to come at three in the afternoon.

On that afternoon, the villagers at Tarkeguda weren’t interesting in attending the meeting. They were busy with a family dispute. A forty-year old lady was being screamed at by her husband and her 20 year old son, as some twenty other villagers sat around them.

Hidmo Ram Mandavi, one of the leaders of Tarkaguda, was almost dismissive of the meeting with the government.

Meanwhile, the story of the family dispute would come to light. The Mother-Wife had apparently gotten drunk and slept with a man half her age.

At some point, her son charged at her in a fit of rage. His mother would scream back at him, asserting her rights. Eventually, she would leave with her young toy boy. Her family screaming at her to never come back.

That’s two more tribals out of Lohandiguda.

Yet eventually the meeting (that the villagers of Tarkeguda didn’t care for) commenced at five in the evening. The Superintendent of Police, the Collectorate and members of the local press arrived to meet villagers who had been waiting for two hours.

Machinegunned policemen spread across the area, surrounding the villagers.

The meeting commenced as the Upper-Collector Fulsingh Netaam stands up and speaks politely to the villagers. He started by speaking about everything the administration has done for the people and how much more they will be doing. The reaction is lukewarm. No one is interested.

‘We will give you land for land,’ he finally said.

‘Where is that land?’ Asked one villager loudly, ‘Show us the land.’

‘It’s there. Don’t worry.’

The meeting only lasted some two minutes after that. One man screams ‘nahi denge zameen’ (we won’t give our land) and the villagers got up raising their fists, screaming at the Collector, the Superintendent of Police and every other official.  An old lady with a baby tied to her chest, stood before all the officials, screamed vociferously, gestured violently and then only walked away.

The police videographed every loud protestor, every violent gesture, and eventually they all drove away.

Meanwhile, the local administration claims that out of the 1707 affected families, 1163 families have already accepted compensation. When asked about alternative land, the Upper-Collector responded, ‘we are ready to give land, but they don’t come to us.’

Many villagers still allege deceit and corruption, and the intimidation and arrests of village leaders who opposed Tata, some of whom were all forced to sign blank sheets of paper.

The most effective tactic employed was however, distrust – turning family members against family members, villagers against villagers.

‘Whoever took Tata’s money should be thrown out of the villages.’ Said an elder from Sirisguda.

Yet many people in Lohandiguda, have refused to withdraw the money that was put into their bank accounts. And no one knows who withdrew their money, and who didn’t. Everyone suspects the other village of accepting compensation, and the other home of taking money.

‘Some people went and took Tata’s money, and spent it, and now they’re back.’ Said the village elder, ‘It’s because of them, things are like this. Some people had to get greedy.’

Photography Post-Script

The meeting on the 12th of May, 2010.



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Forgotten Country: The Cut-Off Area Of Malkangiri

March 14, 2010

Villagers attempting to board the only functioning motor-launch into the cut-off area of Malkangiri. This was the same motor-launch that was attacked by the Maoists on the 29th of June, 2008 when 38 Greyhounds and a driver were killed.

They have no access to a road – they live water-locked across hilly terrain – Over 20,000 people of six gram panchayats were cut-off by the reservoir waters created first by the Machkund hydroelectric dam in the 1940s, and then by the Balimela hydro-electric dam in the 1960s. The cruelest irony is that they are yet to receive electricity themselves.

This article appeared in The New Indian Express on the 14th of March,2010.

Samsundar Anjal (65), with his younger brother Podu Anjal (50).

65 year-old, Samsundar Anjal clearly remembers working on the Balimela dam as a labourer when he was young. He even remembers that his village of Jolaput was submerged in the waters of the Kolab dam, rendering him landless. The government paid him Rs.6,000 as compensation and he was one of the lucky ones.

‘They paid us one rupee for labour when I worked on the dam, and it was enough.’ He says, now in the village of Badapada in the Cut-Off area of Malkangiri, as one of the 20,000 erased human beings in the people’s history of India’s development.

The Balimela reservoir waters now cover over 41, 782 acres, it has a catchment area of 4,910 sq kilometers and it drowned 69 villages and cut-off 151 villages. Travelling to the cut-off area is an act indicative of many of its problems. There are irregular, infrequent ‘launches’ or boats that take the whole day to travel the 67 kilometre stretch from the Balimela Spillway to the villages on the banks of the reservoir. These boats with a capacity of 60 often carry a hundred or more people. They break down frequently, and people spend days on the mainland, waiting to get home.

Between 1974 and 2007, six motor-launches were introduced by the Water Resources department. Only two work now, and for the last few months, there was only one. The rusted 1978 boat lies at the spillway, engineers working to get it running again. The others are mostly scrap metal in various stages of decay. A contractor claims it would take him months to repair some of them. Others require imported parts and will never be repaired.

In the far-off distance, the Cut-off is a vast stranded landscape of misty hills.

There is another route though. Villagers sometimes take an over-packed Commander jeep from Chitrakonda town towards Janbai where one finds smaller boats capable of crossing into the area, and then they’d walk for a day or two, depending on how far inside their villages are.

A forty-foot high Maoist memorial stands at the hill across Janbai, looking down the reservoir and the cut-off area. From the memorial, one of the largest in Malkangiri, one can see the OSAP (Orissa State Armed Police) security camp at Janbai, that has solar power and generators. The memorial is dedicated to Maoist Central Committee member Patel Sudhakar Reddy and State Committee member Venkatiah who were killed in an alleged fake encounter on the 24th of May, 2009 in Warangal District.

A view of the cut-off area from a Maoist memorial commemorating Central Committee leader Patel Sudharkar Reddy and Comrade Venkatiah.

Into the Cut-off, in the village of Podapadar, the police roam unarmed and freely, and the Collector of Malkangiri R Vineel Krishna claimed to have made three trips without any security into the area. He says he had not encountered a single Maoist but could conjecture that they come and go.

The Alampakka incident of June 29th, 2008 when 38 Greyhounds were killed also took place in the Cut-off area. After a three-day combing operation from Andhra to the Cut-off, the Greyhounds were attacked as they made their way back on one of the infamous Balimela launches to the mainland. The attack also killed the driver Iswar Rao.

Then on January 20th, 2009, in the village of Kotipalli, it was alleged that Greyhounds killed Golluri Sambu (40), Golluri Budra (45) and Paangi Sadayi, a 20 year old woman who was three months pregnant. The bodies were taken to their jurisdiction in Andhra Pradesh where then claimed that they had killed three Maoists in the forested area of Pedabayalu in Visakhapatnam district.

The same was confirmed by Tehsildar of Chitrakonda D. Gopalakrishna, who was on revenue work in the neighbouring village of Paparmetla on the 25th of January, and was asked to visit Kotipalli. He had walked approximately 8 kms to Kotipalli where he was told that three villagers were beaten, tortured and taken away by the Greyhounds. He also confirmed that Paangi Sadayi was three months pregnant.

‘None of them were Maoists,’ he added, ‘I collected testimonies from 18 families of the village and they all said that they had no links with the Maoists. They were innocent tribals.’

The Strikes

One of the four damaged motor-launches at Balimela Spillway. One of the first demands of the Cut-Off Area Tribal Union was the resumption of all six launches from Balimela to the Cut-off area.

On the 15th of February, 2010, the Cut-Off Area Tribal Union along with approximately 5,000 people held a dharana at the Balimela Spillway. They demanded 1) that six motor launches resume service, 2) that BPL cards must be issued, 3) that all the residents of the Cut-off receive houses as per the Indira Awaas Yojana, 4) that Public Health Centres be opened in every Gram Panchayat, 5) that high schools be opened in the Gram Panchayats, 6) that a block Office be set up in Chitrakonda and lastly, 7) that the abduction of tribals by the Greyhounds in the name of fighting Maoists must cease, and nobody will be arrested without the knowledge of the local police.

On the 19th of February, to intensify their agitation, Sarpanches of the six gram panchayats resigned. The collector R Vineel Krishna convinced the agitators via phone that their demands would be met, and that they should call off their bandh. At the same time, FIRs were lodged against the leaders of the agitation by the Chitrakonda police.

The FIR lodged by the police states, in exact words, “they congregated with their traditional weapons like arrow, bow, axe.” Thus they were ‘traditionally’ booked for Section 25 of the Arms Act, amongst other acts pertaining to Unlawful Assembly. Considering Section 25 of the Arms Act is a non-bailable offence, the FIR functions like an arrest warrant.

Komalu Luchan Anakum, whose grandfather worked as a labourer on the Balimela Dam, is the president of the Cut-Off Area Tribal Union. He and two other leaders of the agitation have now gone into hiding. ‘The state thinks we’re doing this in support of the Maoists,’ He adds, ‘But after 62 years of independence we don’t have any basic facilities in these villages.’

Chakru Khilol is/was the Sarpanch of Bodapadar. He resigned en masse with a majority of Sarpanches of the Cut-off to protest the neglect of the administration. He recalls that during the last monsoon season, from the 15th to the 25th of July, a similar agitation led to similar promises being made by the then-collector who had even given it in writing.

‘Now the new collector said that by the end of march, we’d have electricity and thus it wasn’t a part of our demands.’ Says Chakru Khilol,  ‘But how will they put electricity in 151 villages by the end of march, when they haven’t even entered the cut-off area?’

In Chakru Khilol’s village of Bodapadar, Sohita Golel (50) says that in her lifetime there must’ve been six or seven agitations. She goes on to say how that they are entirely dependant on the rain for the harvest. Since there is no electricity in the cut-off, there is no way to pump the reservoir waters into the fields.

‘No contractors are ever willing to go into the area to work,’ Says Collector R Vineel Krishna, ‘There are big logistic problems.’ At the same time, Maoist tax or extortion rumours are also widespread. There are allegations that the plans for building a bridge to the Cut-off were cancelled as no agreements could be made between contractors and the Maoists.

Outside, in the mainland, an overcrowded jeep passes a small team working to put-up electrical poles a few kilometres away from the Cut-off area. The new poles stand upright in contrast to the limp remnants of older electrical poles that never fulfilled their promises. A boy cracks a joke at the team, the whole jeep shares a cackle, it’s about time.

It’s the story of their lives. They wait. They wait for the boats that sometimes take a week to come. They wait hours for jeeps where over fifty people try to squeeze into, get onto, clamber for a foothold. They wait for the buses that don’t even run. They wait to meet the collector, they wait for his promises to come to something. They wait for the electrical poles to come to their villages. They wait for the Public Health Centres to open closer to their villages so their children don’t have to die of preventable diseases. They wait.

‘Two infants died due to diarrhea in February. One the 12th, another one the 13th.’ Said, aanganbaadi instructor Surmila Mohanty of Panasput village. At Mutaam village, Domoru Jaala (25) died of tuberculosis on the 7th of March, 2010, as a repeated defaulter in an area where there are no Dot-providers. Guruwari Sahi died of ‘fever’ on the 18th of February, as did young Lalitha Jaala of malaria a few months earlier.

Dr.Suresh Chandra Mishra is the only doctor for 80 villages at the PHC at Janbai. ‘For serious cases, it is very difficult.’ He also admits, ‘There are no facilities here.’

They, the tribals of the Cut-off area of Malkangiri, have been waiting sixty-two years for development. Within the Cut-off areas, there are other cut-off villages, again inaccessible by land. One can only access them by small wooden boats or ‘dongaas.’ The further inland one travels, the less development has ‘trickled down’. For instance, the village of Karlamal lacks all the basic amenities like clean water, electricity, healthcare and roads, but interestingly, they were issued voter cards in 2004. All of them voted for the first time in their lives in 2004, even though they didn’t know who they voted for, and no one told them that they couldn’t vote.

According to the villagers of Karlamal, the only thing that works, is the primary school. At one such school, the Educational Complex for ST Girls, Badapada, there are more than 250 girls who study in the light of one solar-battery powered lamp and two kerosene lamps at night. Seven teachers and one clerk haven’t been paid for more than 3 months and have been taking ration on credit from Chitrakonda. ‘The collector visited on the 25th of February and said that the funds hadn’t been allotted yet’, they said.

All of the teachers were born in the Cut-off area, and now a whole new generation is growing up, unaware of the history of their grandparents.

Ichibuti Matem (70) of the village of Karlamal.

Ichibuti Matem (70) of the village of Karlamal holds her grandson in her arms. Her grandson suffers from mild fever and she recounts how her village of Majiput in Jolaput was submerged in the 1960s. She says she didn’t receive any compensation from the government. There are many children around her as she talks, many young men and women.

‘The new generation doesn’t know where it has come from.’

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Lest We Forget: Nehru’s Panchsheel

January 2, 2010

Into the Heart of Light: Beyond the Indravati.

Nehru’s Panchsheel for Tribal Development is well-known yet it risks falling down the abyss of the Orwellian memory hole. There isn’t anything ambiguous about it, and it stands in complete contrast to Mr. Chidambaram’s idea of industrial development – Vedanta and its desire to eat the bauxite from the Dongria Kondh’s Sacred Mountain.

‘We can respect the fact that they worship the Niyamgirhi hill, but will that put shoes on their feet or their children in school?’ He told  Tehelka a while back, yet I wonder if he ever asked the adivasis if they wanted shoes, and am I wrong or isn’t education meant to be free?

I am reminded of a man I met in just-another-village-that-was-burnt down, who told me what he wanted from the government:

‘We’re fine, we need nothing, just give us a road so we can travel to the market and electricity. The rest we can get by ourselves.’

And a long time ago, in 1955, Nehru had addressed an All India Conference of Tribes in Jagdalpur, Bastar District of Chhattisgarh (Then Madhya Pradesh) and had said: ‘Wherever you live, you should live in your own way. This is what I want you to decide yourselves. How would you like to live? Your old customs and habits are good. We want that they should survive but at the same time we want that you should be educated and should do your part in the welfare of the country.’

And now, here are his five fundamental principles for tribal development –

  1. People should develop along the line of their own genius and we should avoid imposing anything on them. We should try to encourage in every way their own traditional arts and culture.
  2. Tribal rights to land and forest should be respected.
  3. We should try to train and build up a team of their own people to do the work of administration and development. Some technical personnel from outside will no doubt, be needed, especially in the beginning. But we should avoid introducing too many outsiders into tribal territory.
  4. We should not over administer these areas or overwhelm them with a multiplicity of schemes. We should rather works through, and not in rivalry to, their own social and cultural institutions.
  5. We should judge results, not by statistics or the amount of money spent, but by the quality of human character that is evolved.

I’d like to especially stress on the last part, ‘but by the quality of human character that is evolved.’  I’d like to simply avoid unnecessary rhetoric and say, sorry, there’s not much human character in the ‘consumer’ class and its lust for unbridled greed.

The Muria, on the other hand, who I have spent my time with, possess qualities of a long lost humanity that didn’t drown in the nihilistic dirge of mass-produced pop-crap-cultural bankruptcy. The other day I read the old reports that were written by administrators such as B.D Sharma and Noronha and on some of the work that was done by anthropologist Verrier Elwin. They had noted that the Muria who were isolated from the mainstream were far more independent and free-spirited than the ones who were in regular contact with the mainstream populace. It is easy to understand why.

We’re corrupting them with our own weaknesses.

The Muria have survived centuries of violence – they had rebelled against them in 1842, all the way to 1863. They had rebelled in 1876. And of course, there was the Bhumkal Rebellion in 1910, a culmination of all oppression, a desire to reassert their rights over their jungle.

Operation Tribal Hunt, like all counter-insurgencies aim to destroy the spirit and the will of the people.

These, are not people who can be broken so easily. And that, is human character.