Archive for the ‘Starvation’ Category

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Obituary Of An Abiku: Or How Hunger And Preventable Disease Claimed Another Child In A Metropolis

July 22, 2013

IMG_9554Meghala (2006-2013)

This piece appears in another form along with a photo essay on Yahoo News on the 22nd of July, 2013.

* Abiku: The word is derived from Yoruba: (abiku) “predestined to death”, which is from (abi) “that which possesses” and (iku) “death”. Abiku refers to the spirits of children who die before reaching puberty; a child who dies before twelve years of age being called an Abiku, and the spirit, or spirits, who caused the death being also called Abiku.

‘Dekho meri beti kaise soh rahi hai,’ Said Muragama, a visually impaired single mother of two, whose second child now lay covered in ceremonial shrouds, as she and her eldest daughter, prepare to bury her at Dodamma Burial Grounds near DJ Halli in Bangalore on the 17th of July, 2013, just as news and the political-mudslinging of the mid-day meal tragedy, 23 deaths and counting at Bihar’s Chhappra district begin to enter into mainstream and international news.

The tragedy of the everyday, simplest lives of others, the tiniest statistics, the numbers of the diminishing laughter of children, seem to belong on the same planet as the UNICEF report that claimed one in three of the malnourished children of the world, live and die in India.

Meghala was born on the 17th of November, 2006, to a Christian Dalit mother, who lived at Bangalore’s DJ Halli, in a small decrepit corner of the slum next to a garbage heap, which leaked and seeped miasma into their lives. It would be the same world, where her mother would mostly spend time sitting on her neighbour’s porch, often abused and sent away, literally left to her own means. A family of hijras, would at times help feed Meghala, her sister and her mother, within their own limited means, but it would be Meghala’s older sister Ruth, who would spend her day at a factory making incense sticks, that earned her Rs.15 a day but she would leave her job once it started to afflict her hands. Her sister used to return home with callused and sooted palms and help to cook, clean, collect water, and help her mother move around. Her sister is just thirteen years old.

And Ruth’s toys would be Meghala’s toys, her silent demeanour would match her mother’s calmness, and  her sense of curiosity compensated for her mother’s blindness. She loved her cake, whenever she could get some, and she would spend her time watching Chutti TV, and unlike her elder sister, she had a few friends, often joking with her neighbours, ‘when are you getting your mother married?’

She would spend her entire life in DJ Halli, a place with more temples, churches and mosques than anganwadis, and at her home at Modi-Road itself, her own anganwadi of Indirapura, one can clearly see the temple encroaching over the anganwadi building, or the anganwaadi encroaching into the temple. It has neither a toilet, or a storage space, or like her home, no supply of drinking water.

Her mother Murugama, who lived without a BPL card, who deserved both a widow’s pension and a disability pension, didn’t receive it till date, and lived in a cynicism, of unemployment, of listlessness, of a history of pain, from losing her eyesight to a life without a husband, to her helplessness of not being able to bring up her two girls. Murugama lost her eyesight when she herself was just nine years old, to an inexplicable fever, and was brought up by her own mother Pushpama, who worked and toiled as a construction labourer, who passed on in July 2008, leaving her alone to look after her two girls.

Yet there was a sense of strange pride in her, ‘I have to beg, what can I do?’ she would say, taking her children to the Church or the nearby Durga for food, an unsteady supply of nutrition, like the anganwadi that could only deliver ration to her home once in a while, and would relegate responsibility to Meghala, as she just turned six, an age above the mandate of the ICDS programme.

Disability, blindness, did not fit into the scheme of things of the community-based program, and the first government official from the Women and Child Welfare Department to visit Murugama, would mention, ‘we need community support as well.’ And Meghala was suffering from malnutrition, which was evident in the fact that she couldn’t use her legs, or that she looked a mere 2 year old when she was turning six, and her recent weight was a mere 11 kilograms, which is far from the standard weight of a six year old, 16 kilograms.

It was finally after Sunday Mass, when Meghala’s mother began to notice that she was developing a fever and would be diagnosed with pneumonia. And they would take her to BR Ambedkar Medical Hospital at Tannery Road, who refused to admit her. She was only admitted in Baptist Hospital across town, after a social worker threatened to expose them with legal threats and media coverage. But within two days, Meghala would lose the use of a third of her lungs, now filled with mucus and blood, would be vomiting and coughing blood, and would be left on a ventilator.

Meghala, would finally leave this realm of hunger, at 4:31pm, and would be taken to Dodamma Burial Grounds, and watch a Christian Dalit ceremony, while her older sister, would quietly say goodbye to the one who was more than a sister, but also a daughter. A short ceremony in Tamil, interspersed with silence, songs, and the quiet tears of broken people, ended with a pastor asking the visually-impaired Murugama, if she would like to see her daughter one last time. She would touch her, and move back, and as the sounds of shovels covering her small coffin with the earth filled the quiet landscape lit by an ambulance’s headlights that began to retreat, Murugama and Ruth leave the cemetery and simply sit down on the side of the road, watching members of the Church and others leave.

Her neighbours were visibly absent. Poverty is loneliness.

The last Global Hunger Index (GHI) by the International Food Policy Research Institute, had rated 120 countries and India has ranked 65th with the level of hunger being the same as it was in 1996. Malnutrition in India remains the constant, the saint of deprivation, the anti-posterboys and girls of a growing economy’s mythical rise, the moonfaces of an invisible shame of a middle class.

2689 died between 2009-2011 in Raichur, Karnataka. The death toll at Attapadi in Tamil Nadu, has now reached 54, as per the 18th of July, 2013. Dates. Numbers. Statistics. Dates. Histories. Public Policies. Hunger. Hunger. Hunger. They tend to remain the same. In Maharashtra, the issue was raised in December 2011 in the state assembly where it was revealed that 65 infants die daily in the Maharashtra, with 13,683 deaths having occurred between January to September 2011 alone. Yet the State Woman and Child Development Minister claimed that these were not related to malnutrition. As for pneumonia, more dreaded statistics from the grim reaper statisticians of the UNICEF again, state that 3.97 lakh children under the age of five died of pneumonia in 2010.

Meghala, turned this year six. While the age of St.Complacency of the government, seems to grow older, staking its claim to divinity and immortality. The Woman And Child Welfare Department says it has no responsibility about pneumonia, which comes under the watch of the Health Department. The wreckage of a house that housed this family, the heaps of garbage, the seepage of miasmic rainwater, doesn’t come under either department, as infrastructure comes under the gambit of the Bruhat Bangalore Municipal Corporation.

‘Why did no one from your community ever help you Murugama?’ I had to ask her, and she spoke to me in broken Hindi, Unko dil nahi lagta hai, woh bhi garib log hai.’

She would eventually joke, and say it, ‘Meri beti abhi hamari ammi ban gayi.’

And it was Ruth, who took pride in looking after her.

‘Do you think I should go to school? Everyone keeps telling me to go to school. But I wonder what is the point of going now, I have already missed so many lessons and what will I be able to learn now? Plus my mother is blind. Who will look after my mother? If I go to school, I can only come back by four, and she will be alone, how will she manage?’

One wonders how the Food Security Bill will answer the her question.

In Karnataka itself, it was the 22nd of May, 2011 when a Kannada news channel had put out the news of starving and dying in Raichur, the only place where there is a a gold mine in India, arsenic in the groundwater around it, and the Thermal Power plant that supplies electricity to half the state. A letter concerning the matter written by Vimochana Sangha led to a Public Interest Litigation and the creation of a Core Committee.

What is clearly stated in the Core Committee’s reports in Karnataka is that every government body, from the Panchayat Raj, to the ICDS, to the Municipal Corporations, to the Horticulture Department, to the Women and Child Development department has a roll to play, yet to everyone’s dismay they often just blame each other when swollen bellies start showing up on television screens. If there is no space for Angaanwadis in Bangalore, the Karnataka Slum Development Board, has to help to ensure there is. If the supply of food to Angaanwadi centres is broken, the supervisors have to ensure that Angaanwadi workers don’t have to buy eggs and milk out of their own pay. ASHA workers must work with pregnant mothers to ensure the mother’s themselves don’t suffer from anaema and give birth to the most fragile littlest of a human beings. Once severely malnutritioned children are sent to NHCs, the government has to ensure that there is a provision for the mother or guardian to stay with the child, and is provided minimum wage under the MNREGA, as the mother or guardian would be losing work-time during her/his stay in the hospital. The Department of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj should conduct Gram Sabhas for the purpose of empowering communities in dealing with malnutrition. The Department of Horticulture, Government of Karnataka should plant fruit bearing saplings i.e., guava, chikku (sapota), papaya, pomegranate and local seasonal fruit bearing saplings i.e., nerale (blackbeny) anjur (fig), sitaphal (custard apple) etc., in the backyard of the Anganawadi Centres.

Yet these are only a few recommendations from an 89-page report that covered every crumb and corner of the state’s embrace of malnutrition and its salvation. The case, a symbol of anything that can claim human decency, has as many lessons as the 12 year long Right To Food case.

Meanwhile the Food Security Bill has no grievance redress system, no provisions like old age pensions for the support of senior citizens, the homeless, destitute, and only provides for cereals and not basic food necessities, it provides upto 5kgs per person per month, thus ensuring only 166 gms of cereal per person per day, which is barely enough for two rotis a day, according to the Right To Food Campaign. Yet in Murugama’s case, it clearly fails as the new Food Security Bill, again opts for a targeted Public Distribution System. Murugama, had no BPL card, how is the state going to find her? It already lost Meghala, and the government is promising her a BPL card after news reports of her death even got the Chief Minister to deem the matter serious.

Apparently, it takes a death of a child to get the government to consider you poor enough to get a BPL card.

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The Bricks Of A Right To A Home

February 4, 2013

There are no homogenous slums and there is no homogenous people’s movement. And there probably isn’t a bigger illustration of it is Mumbai’s Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan that was born after 80,000 homes were demolished in 2004-2005. Young women leaders with MBa degrees and others who are housewives. Young boys who are science students, school dropouts and ‘taporis’ or even those who top their exams studying during demolition drives. There are ragpickers, small businessmen, autorickshaw drivers, government clerks, railway employees, physical trainers, full time activists, teachers, tailors, fisherfolk, students, informal labourers, artists, aspiring filmmakers, mechanics, plumbers and the unemployed.

Here are seven short profiles on few of the organizers working in Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, printed in Fountain Ink Magazine in their February Issue. You can read it here.

Uday Mohite

Uday Mohite – Bheem Chhayya, Vikhroli

A 16 year old Uday Mohite had come to Bombay in 1992 but returned to his village due to the fear and violence of the riots. A Matang/Mang dalit, he hailed from Dahivali-Budruk village in Ratnagiri district, where his parents lived as daily wage labourers, and he remembers growing up eating mango skins with chilli powder. ‘The Hindu people used to throw rotis on us after we worked for them.’

‘Humne wada liya ki hum izzat ki roti hi khayenge.’

He returned to Mumbai in 1994, where he worked as a daily wage labourer for Rs.25 per day, where he worked in a small factory earning 650 rupees a month, and lived as a manual scavenger in private buildings across Ghatkopar area.

‘I used to throw up doing that work, in the gutters, with all that shit.’

In 1997, he started to ride an autorickshaw. And he continues to do so today, now owning his own vehicle.

On the 19th of November, 2011, a demolition drive in his settlement of Bheem Chhaya claimed the life of his 14 month old son Jayesh who fell and drowned in a ditch on the 12th of December, 2011. He would go on a hunger strike for 19 days demanding justice against the officers of both the BMC and the police for negligible homicide.

A year later, on the first death anniversary of his son, while plans were being made by the Ghar Bachao movement to march to the Mantralaya on the 1st of January, 2013, Uday would quietly sit in corners, alone, anxious, as his wife was in the hospital expecting a child.

A 3.4 kg baby would be born on the 4th of January, 2013, on the fourth day of the protest. On the fifth of January, as residents from over 18 slums were on relay hunger strike on the poduim, an extremely happy Uday Mohite was secretly distributing sweets to friends and supporters of the movement, while the crowd and other organizers thought that that people were cheating on the hunger strike.

In Bheem Chhaya, where residents have been living on the marshes, the battle for Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana is also an internal battle, when Uday was confronted with people who lived in MHADA flats who started to move into the slum to get another home of their own, in case of any victory from the Ghar Bachao movement.

These confrontations between him and the ‘dalaals’ have been taking place for years now, with one of the ‘zameen-dalaals’ even putting a case on him for attempt to murder.

‘After the death of my son,’ He said, ‘We formed women’s committees to deal with all the problems in the area.’

‘We’re only standing for those who have no house of their own.’

‘I am tired though sometimes,’ He says, ‘I want to just get into mantralaya even if they martyr us. We have worked really hard for the movement now, for respect, and this poverty is no life for any of us.’

‘Annabhau Sathe used to say, ‘Yeh azaadi jhooti, desh ki janta bhooki hai.’’

Nothing has changed. ’

‘My daughter, my eldest six year old says I have time for people, for other people’s children, but none for her.’

Anwari Sheikh – Mandala, Mankhurd

Anwari Sheikh

Anwari Sheikh, originally from Assam, a mother of 11, lost her house in Mandala the 2004-2005 demolitions. On the 30th of May of 2012, Anwari Sheikh walked into a neighbouring 20-home settlement called Mahatma Phule Nagar 2 esconced between a highway and a railway, that was being demolished by the BMC.

She was helping to prevent the demolition drive, and to help the residents organize, and join the movement that was born in her settlement of Mandala in 2005.

As the residents kept asking if their would be any hope for them in the story that I was writing about the demolition, Anwari was quick to assert that the media has never stopped demolitions and the only thing that has done anything, is the ‘andolan.’

Yet Anwari herself, since 2004, when she held her baby in her arms and had gone to Delhi to confront the central government with the demolition of 80,000 homes, has come a long way between hope and desperation. She remembers vividly the day she met Sonia Gandhi. This was in 2004, right after the Lok Sabha elections and the victory of the Congress.

Hum gariblog ne aapko kursi par bhitaya, Hum garib log ne aapko vote diya, aur aap humko bhul gaye?’ Anwari spoke boldly and an ashamed Sonia Gandhi apparently had no response.

‘Hum thak bhi jaate hai,’ Anwari would tell me in 2010, yet on the day of the march on the 1st of January 2013, with the euphoria of thousands marching down Shivaji Park Road in Dadar, she remembers the days in 2004 when the movement was in it’s strongest phase.

With a sense of nostalgia she marched silently, yet like many of the marchers who had been marching since 2004, there was a sense of foreboding as well.

Her sons have at times chastised her for being so involved with the movement, and she has defended her position knowing that someone has to fight for a roof over their heads.

When her MLA Abu Azmi had come to Azad Maidan on the eight day of the protest, a small framed woman walked onto the stage and picked up the microphone, and stood over Abu Azmi, and spoke, with passion and with growing anger:

‘In 2004 when our homes were broken, when bulldozers dragged my home and pushed it into a ditch, into the filth, when my children, when my sister, when my brother were sitting in a line, Abu Azmi had come, seen everything, and at the same time, met and sat with the dalaals and put kichdi in their hands.’

‘Our biggest enemies, the dalaals. And we don’t need no builders, no dalaals. And we don’t need anyone.’

‘Our women would sit, in the water, in the cold, all night, and nobody would help us.’

‘I want to tell Mr.Azmi this, that our women have been on the streets till the first of january, with those brothers who work all day, those sisters who work at home all day, those labourer who builds the buildings, those who pick the thrash, why are we, why are we sitting here?’ She screams in anger.

‘Our fight is for a home for a home, and no matter what, we will earn from anywhere and we will put rotis on the table for our childen!’ She would say to loud cheers.

‘Your people come and take our votes, then after you win, where are you? So how do you come here? And what are we to you? Hum neta log ko, chil ke, ghuma ke, ghuma ke, gira bhi sakte hai, aur ghar ke liye roti bhi la sakte hai!’

‘This is our power!’

‘I wont say anymore or tai will get angry.’ She said to loud laughter, and the requests to carry on from the organizers around her.

Santosh Thorat – Annabhau Sathe Nagar, Mankhurd

Santosh Thorat 2

In 2004, Santosh Thorat was just a few weeks from being a regular in the police force. Then the demolition drives had come. Santosh was a part of the police party that was sent with the bulldozers to demolish his own settlement of Annabhau Sathe Nagar.

Santosh belonged to the same caste as Annabhau Sathe, a Matang/Mang Dalit, a social reformer, communist, who wrote over 35 novels in Marathi who literally died in the destitution that -Santosh was born into.

Through the anxieties of the demolition drives in 2004-2005, Santosh Thorat met the Senior Inspector and begged him to leave his house alone.

The Inspector told Santosh not to worry.

They sent him to another part of the slum, and when Santosh Thorat returned, he found that not only was his house demolished, but that the police had also leveled the house of a family whose two children were still in their home, hiding in fear of the police.

They had survived by running under their beds, but Santosh Thorat would make a decision that day itself, that would lead him to be a leader of his people in Annabhau Sathe Nagar, and the first man to scream, ‘Inquilab Zindabad’,  and sing songs of social transformation, at every protest that followed in the next nine years.

Bahut gaaliya diya woh din,’ (I abused a lot that day), he said, ‘And I knew there was no turning back.’

In 2007, Santosh led his people to block the highways at Mankhurd to ensure  his people had access to clean water. For years, people used to dig wells into grounds that were very close to the dumping grounds of Deonar and sicknesses were rampant during the monsoons.

A pipeline used to run parallel to the basti, and while there was a pipeline that led to Annabhau Sathe Nagar, it wasn’t connected by the Municipality.

‘Rasta rokne ke baad, policewalle sab aa gaye the,’ (after we blocked off the road, all the policemen showed up), Said Santosh, ‘ACP aur inspector ne chehre se dekha hoga, yeh sab andolanwalle log hai. Aur agar woh hame aaj bhaga denge, hum kal bhi aayenge.’ (The inspector and the ACP had probably just taken one look at us and realized that we were andolan people, and if they drove us away today, we would have come again tomorrow.)

The Municipality assured them that they would connect the two pipes for water within eight days –  they did that in just six.

Yet again, on the 14th of May 2010, the bulldozers come and demolished an estimated 500 homes in Annabhau Sathe Nagar.

Krishna Nair – Golibar, Jawahar Nagar, Khar

Krishna Nair 2

Krishna Nair, son of a trade unionist, a chartered accountant by profession, a teetoraller and a Shiv Sena party worker is overtly aghast with the current situation in the country. ‘Gothala hi ghotala hi ghotala.’ (scam after scam after scam.) ‘My brother Ashok was a bank robber. He was caught by the police in Yawatmal district, and brought dead to Mumbai.’ Said Krishna, in the middle of a rally held against builders in Golibar, Khar, Mumbai during the fifth demolition drive two years ago, ‘I wanted to ask the police this. That my brother may have stolen some five or six crores and they gave him such a swift justice, but the powerful who steal three thousand crores or one lakh crore really just get away with it?’

Krishna lives in Jawahar Nagar and has a front row seat of the agitation against builders Shivalik Ventures and Unitech Group in Golibar. Like many people in Golibar, he watches how scam after scam follows and is reported dutifully in the media, but the fraud that is destroying the homes of his friends doesn’t seem to find much indignation in the mainstream press, and the government’s response does not really surprise him.

Krishna knows the middle class. He works with them. He knows how the politics of profit would not work in Golibar. ‘There’s an old lady, a very rich old lady, a client of mine, who lives all alone. One day she was telling me about how her whole family hates her and just wants her money. But I asked her, when you only taught your children the love of money, then what would you expect will happen?’

Krishna often speaks about ghettoization in Mumbai. In rallies he repeatedly mentions how people from the working class will eventually have to move out of the city, owing to rising costs of maintaining a building apartment. He knows this is a political move. It is an attempt to turn what was once a working class city whose political actions can challenge the financial edifice, into a city for the upper classes.

‘Javed bhai,’ He once turned to me in Nirmal Nagar police station, across a police officer sitting between us, on a day the supporters of the builder and protesters had a violent confrontation.

‘You went to all these Naxalite areas to report, right?’ He asked.

‘With all these corrupt people and builders getting away with it, you think you can find us some Naxalites?’ He asked, right across the face of the police officer.

The policeman between us was shocked. I erupted into laughter.

‘Krishna bhau, if Naxalites come to Golibar, the first person they will kill is you, as they don’t like competition.’ I said.

The  police officer agreed and started to chastise Krishna. Krishna loves to provoke people.

Kiran Keny – Sion Koliwada

Kiran Keny

‘All that land in Bombay is ours,’ Said Kiran Keny, ‘Just beyond Wadala Bridge, Bombay Port Trust,  Road, that land belonged to my great grandfather and the great grandfathers of most of the people here.’

Kiran Keny from Sion Koliwada is a 23 year old student third-year commerce student in South Indian’s Welfare Society College, who is a Koli adivasi, the original fisherfolk inhabitants of Mumbai, who’re now fighting against the builder Sahana Developers. His father who worked in the pharmaceutical industry, died in 2000 of cirrhosis of the liver, leaving Kiran under the care of his working mother and his older brother.

He is often seen carrying huge bundles of papers and documents, walking into the lawyer’s office, with a patience to sit and watch them prepare affidavits, strategies, complaints, and letters to the police and the administration. He would eventually notice the lawyers office were over-burdened by cases from slums across Mumbai, each facing a builder lobby, or demolition threats, or false cases put on by the police.

‘I was a little educated, and little by little the lawyers used to send me to listen into different matters and other people’s issues.’ He said, ‘The lawyers think I should take up law after this.’

‘And nowadays I don’t have time to study commerce.’

Sion Koliwada and a massive number of those who’re against the demolition and the builder are a younger generation, some still in school, some in college, some in their first jobs, and now with their first experience of state oppression, injustice and the long walk through the corridors of power – the corporators, the mantralaya, the courts. Their ideas of a nation, their ideas of democracy are changing, their illusions of rights, are being confronted with the arrogance of police power.

‘I know now, we never have been a democracy, and I don’t think we ever will be.’ Said Kiran Keny.

Kiran is the same age group as Prathamesh who documents the struggle of his people on video camera, who filed a complaint against the police when they tried to snatch his camera, and who would call up and yell at the officer who abused his mother during a demolition drive. He is the same age as Dhiren, who’d go on hunger strike during the recent protest. He is a little older than Frank who would be beaten by the police and pushed into the police van when he tried to stop the police from beating his father. He is the same age as Mahesh, who would remind history against forgetting, that Bal Thackeray was no hero to the Kolis, when he betrayed them 20 years ago, when the name of Sion Koliwada railway station was changed to Guru Tegh Bahadur Nagar.

‘My father told me how all the Kolis had gone to meet Thackeray to stop the changing of the station, and Thackeray told the delegation it was all sorted. A few days later, the name was changed.’

In the month of December, 2012, there was a meeting held in Sion Koliwada where residents had gone to Sena Bhavan and found that the Shiv Sena and Udhay Thackeray might be able ‘to straighten the builder out.’

For a few hours, the residents held a meeting and discussed the strategy to utilize their contacts in the Shiv Sena. Kiran spoke about the pros and cons of such a strategy, the practicalities about such a move. Eventually, the residents refused to involve the Sena.

‘We don’t want to be indebted to such a party.’ Said Kiran.

Madhuri Shivkar – Sion Koliwada

Madhur Shivkar

Madhuri Shivkar, 28 years old, is one of the leaders in Sion Koliwada. A graduate of zoology from  Ruia College, she worked in a consultancy firm from 2006 till 2009 as an assistant in the revenue accounting department, and also claimed a degree from one of the most controversial management colleges in India. She had lost both her father and mother by the time she reached nine, and was brought up by her grandmother and her older sister in Sion Koliwada.

In 2010 in the month of September, when the first eviction notices started to appear in Koliwada, the residents and Madhuri turned their attention towards Golibar, after TV9 reported how a demolition drive was defeated by protesting residents and the intervention of the Chief Minister.

Madhuri and the residents then visited Golibar and met both the leaders in Golibar as well as the leaders of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan. She would soon find herself first at the forefront of the agitation in Golibar against Shivalik Ventures and a few weeks later, when the demolition crews came to their village as well. ‘It was really being with them, that taught us how valuable documents were.’ She said, ‘And they trained us in a way no education institution can.’

She would have her first stint in jail on the 25th of January, 2011 for a week from charges ranging to attempt to murder and rioting and then again on the 30th of May, 2012, she would be dragged away by a laughing police as they protested against a demolition drive. She would be in jail for the next 14 days charged under Section 143, 147, 149, 152, 332, 353, 504, 506, along with Section 447 and Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code. Most charges concerned rioting, unlawful assembly and ‘causing hurt to a public servant’ when Madhuri Shivkar was merely lying down with her hands locked with the women of Sion Koliwada under a bulldozer and an approaching police contingent.

‘The builder’s lawyer had asked our lawyer what we wanted,’ She says a few months later, ‘Our lawyer told them, our clients went to jail, now yours have to go too.’

Madhuri ensured the formation of a 15-member core team in Sion Koliwada where the oldest person is 38-year old Rajesh Koli. ‘Senior log thode thakele hote hai.’ She laughs, ‘They are pessimistic at times and keep thinking and talking about compromises and I know our young people, we’re stronger, we won’t just give up like this.’

‘I am working fulltime in the movement now. I may be new to it, but I know we have a long way to go. There is too much injustice in the city.’

‘There are people who come to support us, who are so much more vulnerable than us, who suffer so much, and there is a strong bond that has formed between us all, and it’s stronger than family ties.’

For the 10 day protest, 5000 people who stayed at Azad Maidan were being fed by the efforts of two settlements – Sion Koliwada and Mandala.

‘We all took turns.’ Said Madhuri.

Devasandhan Nair – Golibar, Khar

Deva Nair 1

Devasandhan Nair not only lived in Golibar’s Ganesh Krupa Society, but he was someone who was closely linked to the movement. In a meeting a few days after a demolition drive in February of 2011, he quietly and nervously tried to exhort his neighbours to put aside their differences and fight the builder and for their right to a home. ‘We are all leaders, it’s not like this one is a leader or that one is a leader,’ he’d say, to applause from his friends and neighbours.

A few months later in 2011, without telling anyone, he secretly accepted the cheque from the builder and left, leaving his home to be demolished in the next demolition drive.

What was first a rumour, next become the bitter truth. People called one another, to confirm whether he really did do it. When he was packing, people requested he reconsider his decision, but it was too late. He had already taken the cheque and was adamant on leaving. He would soon be alienated by all of his friends, he’d be unwelcome to all future meetings, and he’d be persona non grata.

A few days later he sent me a message, ‘I only did what I did, out of anger towards one person. I still cannot forget the insult that I have been given. I am not trying to justify my doings. I always had respect for you and the others. I will never be able to make up for this. I am still angered and this might be my weakness.’

But there was a pattern to this.

Devasandhan was an educated, professional storyboader artist for films and advertisements. He would even use his talents to come out with cartoons about the corruption in the state. He spoke fluent english and would often take on the responsibility of preparing press notes to cross that massive bridge between Hindi and english, the local organizers and the english press.

Devasandhan actually wanted to leave six months before he did. In his home six months earlier, he would quietly exert his frustrations, and his humiliation for being in a small room in the corner of Ganesh Krupa. He would often be embarassed with his home, and would reveal it when he borrowed a friend’s car to go and pick up his brother-in-law, who often disgraced him and his financial situation, and that he lived in a ‘slum’. Yet he refrained, he knew he had a responsibility to his immediate neighbours, who were a very poor family from Karnataka who had difficulty to make ends meet. He knew he was responsible for them, and had helped them with money and work in the past. If he left, what would happen to them?

Yet when he left, his other responsibilities were his schizophrenic wife, which is what those who could still be magnanimous towards him, felt was the real reason he left. His own reason was the insult he received from the local leader of the movement, Ajit, who had abused him in public. But most thought it was just money, no one felt that he didn’t take a lot of money to leave – probably more than what other’s were getting to give away their homes, as Devasandhan was a very visible member of the resistance.

There are still others who proudly proclaim how much they had refused, while some wait to be asked.

A few months later, a group of residents who wished to compromise had a secretive meeting with the builder. They had asked for a registered agreement and a promise of a home, and the builder had asked for them to withdraw their criminal case against him. Nobody got what they wanted and when the residents had returned, they were chastised by the rest of their neighbours.

‘Even if he gives a registered agreement, what makes you think he won’t break it?

‘He’s already cheated us once.’

‘Now we know how afraid he is of the criminal case against him.’

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‘Even if they don’t let us settle here..’

May 4, 2012

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 4th of May, 2012.

Conflict and displacement in Bastar leads to deprivation and forest loss in neighbouring Khammam.

Around 43 families from the villages of Millampalli, Simalpenta, Raygudem, Darba and Singaram in Dantewada District, lost their makeshift homes for the second time in three months in the Mothe Reserve Forest of Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh on the 26th of March, 2012, when the Forest Department, mandated to protect the forests, would evict them using force.

A large number of families are Internally Displaced Persons who’ve escaped the Salwa Judum-Maoist conflict of Dantewada and have lived in Khammam as informal labour.

Most originated from Millampalli, that was burnt down by the Salwa Judum in 2006 and Maoists have killed at least three people – Sodi Dola, Komaram Muthaiya and Madkam Jogaiya in the past ten years. Another resident of Millampalli, Dusaru Sodi, used to be a member of the Maoist Sangam but would eventually become a Special Police Officer who witnesses from Tadmentla and Morpalli alleged was present during the burnings of the villages or Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram in March of 2011 by security forces. His name again re-appeared in testimonies by victims of rape, submitted to the National Commission of Women and the Supreme Court by Anthropologist Nandini Sundar.

Madvi Samaiya and Madvi Muthaiya from the village of Raygudem were also killed by the Maoists.

In Simalpenta, the Sarpanch’s brother Kurra Anda was killed by the Maoists in 2006.

In Singaram, an alleged encounter that took place on the 9th of January of 2009, where 19 adivasis were killed by security forces as alleged Maoists.

In Khammam, most of the IDPs/migrants have worked as informal labour during the mircchi cutting season, earning around Rs.100 per day and live off their savings in the summer season when there is no work, and little access to water to a majority of the settlements. The Muria from Chhattisgarh, or the Gotti Koya as they are known in Andhra along with Koyas from Chhattisgarh, have been in a struggle to appropriate the Reserve Forest land of Khammam for podu cultivation, often leading the Forest Department to evict them, aware that the entire forest cover is turning into a ‘honeycomb,’ as described by the DFO Shafiullah, who pointed out to satellite imagery of a pockmarked forest in Khammam, in 2010 itself.

The influx of migrants and Displaced persons has even led to conflicts with local adivasi Koya tribes over land and resources, sometimes leading to deadly clashes, such as an incident in Mamallivaye in Aswapuram Mandal where the local Koya burned down the homes of the Gotti Koya, or in Kamantome settlement in 2009 where one man would be killed as a Maoist by the police after an erroneous tip-off from the neighbouring village of migrants who had settled before the civil war.

Recently the Forest Survey of India, Ministry of Forest and Environment, published a controversial report that almost exonerates mining and land acquisition yet claimed that over 367 square kilometres of forest has been lost since 2009, pushing Khammam district to one of the worst affected districts where 182 square kilometres of forest cover have been lost.

In a recorded conversation between an activist and Home Minister P.Chidambaram during the first months of Operation Green Hunt in late 2009, when repeated combing operations in Dantewada/Bijapur led to further influx’s of IDPs into Andhra Pradesh, the activist Himanshu Kumar had urged P.Chidambaram to look into the plight of the IDPs and the migrants yet his claims were refuted by the Home Minister as an exaggeration.

Yet there have been many recent reports of IDPs from the previously independently estimated 203 settlements who have returned back to their villages owing to a decline in the frequency of combing operations and violent actions in their villages in Chhattisgarh and further difficulty to settle in Andhra Pradesh. After the villages of Nendra, Lingagiri and Basaguda block were rehabilitated with the help of NGOs and activists using Supreme Court orders, many others have simply moved back to their villages on their own accord, including those of Kistaram, Uskowaya, Kanaiguda, Mullempanda, Gompad and Gaganpalli, to mention a few. Both Gompad, and Gaganpalli have faced a large number of killings – nine people were killed in Gompad on the 1st of October, 2009 by security forces, and in the village of Gaganpalli, from where one of the leaders of the Salwa Judum originates, ten people were killed in 2006 during the burning of the village by the Salwa Judum.

While the Forest Survey of India Report 2011 has put the blame on leftwing extremists for massive deforestation in Khammam, the villages of Millampalli repeatedly exhorted and listed all the violent actions by the Maoists in their villages in Chhattisgarh. In fact, one of the most educated villagers of the settlement, Komaram Rajesh, is the brother of a Special Police Officer and has repeatedly claimed that the Salwa Judum didn’t oppress his people, often denying that his village was burnt down by the Salwa Judum, when the rest of his neighbours said it was indeed the Salwa Judum.

Beyond conflict with the Forest Department, other tribes, the Salwa Judum and the Maoists, another conflict takes place within settlements themselves where a growing tendency to cut down a large number of the forests for podu cultivation, has brought individuals in conflict with their own villagers who feel there should be more moderate felling of trees. Certain settlments cultivate rice without cutting larger trees while others have destroyed acres of forests.

‘If we cut the entire forest down, where will we live?’ A man from Kamantome once exhorted during a summer season when there was little access to food, or water for the settlement.

Ironically, in Millampalli, one of the men killed by the Maoists, Kumaram Muthaiya, was killed in 2002 because he refused to share his 70 acres of land with other villagers.

A Shrinking Space

Land alienation for the all the adivasi tribes of Khammam isn’t a new phenomena, and was adequately studied by late civil servant J. M. Girglani, who had commented in his report that, ‘The most atrocious violation of the LTR (Land Transfer Regulation) and regulation 1 of 70 is that all the lands in Bhadrachalam Municipal town and the peripheral urbanized and urbanizable area is occupied by non-tribals with commercial buildings, hotels, residential buildings, colleges including an engineering college. The market value of this land on an average is Rs.4,000/- per square yard. This was confirmed to me not only by local enquiry but also by responsible District officers. This would work out to about 5,000 crores worth of land, which should have been the property of the tribals. It is now the property of the non-tribals and is commercially used by them.’

Just two kilometres away from land that was meant to belong to the adivasis, is the latest Koya settlement that was destroyed by the Forest Department.

‘They (the Forest Department) destroyed our homes in January, and in February, and they came in March and even took away all the wood we used to make our homes. Now, we will rebuild our homes and if they come again and destroy them, we will rebuild them again.’ Said Komaram Rajesh of the village of Millampalli.

Villagers alleged that Forest Guards held them down and beat them on the soles of their feet, asking them why they had settled in the forest, and who had pointed them out to this patch of the forest. One man embarassing recollected in humour as his neighbours laughed, that one of the Gaurds threathened him saying, ‘ghaand mein mirrchi ghussa doonga.’

Officials would arrive a day later to convince all the Koyas, to leave the Reserve Forest but the residents protested. When the tractor arrived to carry away all the timber that was being used to make their homes, the adivasis willingly piled the timber onto the seat of the tractor, threathening to burn it down but refrained.

‘Even if they don’t let us settle here, we will manage somehow.’ Continued Komaram Rajesh.

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Invisible Cities: Part Eight: Breaking The Homes Of Hungry People

June 5, 2011

Shabnam Zafar Sheikh with her eight month old baby Aisha. Shabnam hasn’t worked after the BMC demolished her home on the Deonar dumping grounds on the 25th of May.

If you destroy the homes of hungry people, the Planning Commission would say they aren’t poor even if they are hungry, and die of malnutrition.

Welcome to the republic of India, brought to you by the folks who worked with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank who want to set the new Poverty line to Rs.20 per day for the urban poor and Rs.15 per day for the rural poor.

On the 25th of May, 2011, the Brihanmumbai Corporation demolised over a hundred homes of Rafiq Nagar 2, on the periphery of the dumping grounds of Deonar, where there have been over 25 malnutrition and malnutrioned-related deaths in the last two years.

Seventeen-month old Gulnaaz died of measles on the 24th of March, 2011. And her neighbours homes were demolished the next day. Her father earns around Rs.70-Rs80 at the dumping ground. According to the Planning Commission, he would be above the poverty line. He is not poor. But even if he is below the poverty line, the government of Maharashtra is yet to provide him with a ration card, or recognize his home as a slum.

Shabnam Zafar Sheikh has an eight month old baby Aisha, and a three year old boy Farid who suffers from Grade 3 Malnutrition. Her home was broken down on the day of the demolition and she hasn’t worked since. She works as a ragpicker on the dumping grounds, and because she has to look after her children alone, she only manages around Rs.30 a day. Thus she is not poor, according to the Planning Commission.

The only people who are earning less than Rs.20 a day, or Rs.600 a month at Rafiq Nagar 2, are the people who’ve lost their homes and haven’t been able to work since the demolitions started.

Katija Asif’s husband has gone fifteen days without work. And when her husband gets work at the dumping ground he can earn around a daily sum of Rs.300 for collecting scrap. So he is not below the poverty line, provided the government doesn’t break his home.

Meanwhile, in Writ Petition (CIVIL) NO. 196 OF 2001, by the People’s Union For Civil Liberties, v/s the Union of India & ORS, regarding the Universal Public Distribution system, the Supreme Court ordered that, ‘We have no objection to Government of India providing universal food security. However, they must first ensure food security for more vulnerable sections of the society.’

‘Mr.Parasaran, learned Additional Solicitor General submits that as on 1st April, 2011 there are 44 million tonnes of stocks. Perhaps never before have food grains stocks been so high.’

‘Millions of tonnes of food grains are lying in open for years because of inadequate storage capacity. Admittedly, about fifty five thousand of tonnes of food grains rotted in Punjab and Haryana. A very large chunk of food grains were destroyed in recent Punjab fire because the food grains were lying in open.’

But not only do people lack ration cards at Rafiq Nagar, but the Maharashtra government has not given any commitment to the people, regarding a stay on demolitions or the Right To Housing.

Hum ne virodh kiya,’ (we protested), Said Hamida, regarding the day of the demolition. ‘But the BMC fellows said they’d only break 50 homes to build a canal around the dumping ground. So we let them.’

‘But once they got inside the basti, they broke some 100 homes.’

Earlier in February, the BMC had also broken down the homes bordering the dumping ground, some 400 metres away in Chikalwadi. ‘Why did the government let us stay here in the first place for so long?’ Asked an old man.

The plight of the people of Rafiq Nagar, like that of Chikalwadi is not a new one. There have been three demolitions in the last 10 years at Rafiq Nagar 2 and the government does not recognize the settlements as slums as per the Maharashtra Slum Act, 1971. Therefore, not only does the settlement have to deal with regular demolition drives, but the settlement is not eligible to basic amenities such as water or electricity. Water, that is universally regarded as a human right, is not one in Rafiq Nagar where, the people have to pay for it.

‘We have to buy water now for Rs.40 a drum,’ Said Katija, ‘What will we eat?’

Rafiq Nagar 2 in Mankhurd, comes under Ward M of Mumbai, where according to the Mumbai Human Development Report published in 2009 by the Ministry of Housing And Urban Poverty Alleviation, over 77% of the population as per the 2001 census lives in slums and it has the high child mortality rate of 66 per 1000 births.

Medha Patkar’s hunger strike at Golibar also concerned the fate of numerous slums at Mankhurd including Rafiq Nagar 2, Mandala and Annabhau Sathe Nagar who also lost their homes in the infamous demolition drive of 2005 where over 80,000 homes were broken down by the government. One of the demands of the hunger strike regarded that slums like Rafiq Nagar 2 would be declared as slums under Section 4 of the Maharashtra Slum Area Act and to be undertaken for improvement as per Section 5. At the same time, the government agreed for discussions on the implementation of Rajiv Awas Yojana in Mumbai.

Yet the fate of Rafiq Nagar is closely linked to that of United Phosphorus Limited who has a tender to privatize and close the Deonar dumping ground ensuring a loss of livelihood of every home at Rafiq Nagar, where either one or two family members work as ragpickers, sifting through the garbage of the city.

‘They said they will close the dumping ground,’ said Asif of Rafiq Nagar 2, regarding United Phosphorus, ‘And then give us work….’  ‘Will you live at his mercy?’ Interrupted his neighbour, Alamgir, ‘Do you trust them?’

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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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Dantewada: Days of Rage

April 8, 2011

No, Minister

On the 2nd of April, the chief minister, Raman Singh, the governor Shekar Datt and the DGP Vishwaranjan had visited Tadmetla village which was burned down on the 16th of March, 2011. They did not visit Morpalli village which was burnt down on the 11th of March, and where Madvi Sulla was killed in cold blood and two women were sexually assaulted, or Timmapuram which was burnt down on the 13th of March, where Barse Bhima from Phulanpad was killed with an axe.

‘Six or seven helicopters had flown down,’ Said Madvi Mukka of Tadmetla who met the delegation. Eventually, the security forces started to find whoever they could as many had simply run away on sight of the security forces.

The government also distributed relief to the villagers of Tadmetla, while they had given nothing to the villages of Morpalli and Timmapuram. Yet even the people of Tadmetla aren’t impressed.

‘They gave us 17 quintals of rice,’ Said the former sarpanch Gondse Deva, ‘and that’s not going to last even a week.’

‘Every other house that they burnt down had that much rice.’

There are 185 families in Tadmetla and 207 buildings were burnt down and the government had given 105 sheets of tarpaulin. They had given 200 saris for the women, and nothing for the men. They had also given about 10 quintals of potatoes and 7 quintals of onions, 5.5 quintals of pulses, along with spices.

‘They gave us tea but no sugar.’ Joked a villager.

And it doesn’t end there. The chief minister’s delegation had also distributed volleyballs to the adivasis of Tadmetla, which no one seems to be very thrilled about.

And the villagers of Tadmetla allege, that while the chief minister was taking their testimonies and distributing ration, a group of SPOs who were part of their escort were stealing food at the periphery of the village.

Gondse Deva, the former sarpanch was told by Raman Singh that he’d be made a permanent teacher, while another SPO would threaten him later.

‘They said, they’d re-open the markets, but we told them to shut down the Salwa Judum first.’ Said Bhima Madvi (65), whose home was burnt down, along with all of his grain, his clothes, his vessels and even his patta (deed).

‘Yeh kiska sarkar hai joh ration le ke aata hai?’ aur yeh kiska sarkar hai joh gaon jalata hai?’ (whose government is it that gives us ration and whose is it that burns our villages?) said Madvi Mukka in his broken hindi – Madvi Mukka’s house was burnt down with over 15 quintals of rice. The above question was directed to Raman Singh, chief minister of Chhattisgarh, who apparently had no answer.

Other villagers also brought up the matter of the two men – Madvi Handa s/o Kosa, and Madvi Aita, who were taken away by the police.

‘Handa was sleeping on the cot,’ says his mother Pojje, ‘when the forces came and beat him up and took him away.’

‘They took us all away from our homes, and behind us, some other forces came and burnt our homes down.’

The families of the people who were taken away by the police had eventually gone to the police station to help release their loved ones. ‘It was holi, many of them were drunk,’ Said Hidme, Handa’s wife, ‘And they said they’d release them tomorrow, but the next day they sent them to Dornapal, and then later, to Dantewada jail.’

The chief minister apparently promised that they would be released in a few days. But four days after the visit, none of them have been released.  And the people are not surprised. Pojje’s husband, and Handa’s father Madvi Kosa had been taken away by the forces in similar circumstances five years ago, and had only come back after four years.

Hunger but no starvation

Madkam Nande w/o Bandi or Morpalli gave birth to a baby boy on the 3rd of April in a house without a roof. Her home was burnt down with all of her produce and her husband is in Andhra Pradesh working as a day labourer.

The Chief Minister has denied all allegations that there have been starvation deaths in Tadmetla even though local news reports and those from BBC Hindi had claimed that those reports had come from the village of Morpalli. The chief minister is half-right. There were no starvation deaths due to arson and the widespread burning of a self-sustaining communities food supply. But three people over the age of 65, Nupe Rajalu, Madavi Joga and Madkam Bhime  from the village of Morpalli had died of hunger/starvation/dehydration after they got lost in the jungle trying to escape the approaching security forces.

Their bodies were found on the 14th, 15th and 16th of March by villagers who buried them at the outskirts of the village.

The people of Morpalli have had to share whatever food they had managed to save from the burning of their homes and are aware that their supply might run out.

And this is not even the first time their village was burnt down by the security forces. The security forces had even burnt their village down along with all of their produce in April 2007.

It took them around fifty-sixty days to rebuild their homes.

The Perpetrators

Madkam Nande of Morpalli village with her children before the remnants of her home.

The state of Chhattisgarh has repeatedly told the Supreme Court that the Salwa Judum had been shut down and that they aren’t allowed on combing operations anymore.

Yet Bodke Mara s/o Lacha from the village of Morpalli had only become a SPO two or three months ago. The villagers of Morpalli, alleged that he only became an SPO after the Maoists threatened him with dire consequences.

‘He used to misbehave with girls in our village, and he even stole rice from some adivasis in Lachapur in Andhra,’ Said his ex-neighbours.

He would eventually lead the police to the village of Morpalli where one man would be killed and two women would be raped.

The villagers were also able to identify other SPOs who were leading the attack on their villages, including Madkam Bhima of Junagoda village in Penta Panchayat, who used to be known as Comrade Ramesh when he was with the Maoists. There was also Vanjam Deva from Sirpanguda, near Timmapuram who also used to be a Maoist.

Two more SPOs came from Timmapuram which was burnt down – Madvi Chona s/o Mandgroo and a female SPO Payke Barse who allegedly acted as the guide for the security forces.

The people of Tadmetla also identified the above mentioned SPOs along with the following – Ramlal Barse from Budgill village, Telam Nanda s/o Konda from Lakhapal, Telam Kosab, Aimla Mukesh s/o Deva from Nagaram, Aimla Manu s/o Deva, Karti Singha, Dasaru Sodi from Milampalli, Oyam Kapil from Gaganpalli who used to be a teacher, and Kiche Nanda from Dornapal, Surya from Misma – both who have warrants for their arrests, and have been declared as ‘absconding’, for what is known to be the Samsetti rape case.

A few weeks ago, Surya also allegedly led a group of SPOs who stopped trucks taking relief to the affected villages, even though the relief was sent by the collector of Dantewada.

Post-Script: A Case Against Forgetfulness

One year after 76 security personnel were killed in the Chintalnar area, with allegations of rape being used as a weapon of war soon after by the state, the latest attack on the adivasis of Bastar during a five-day long carnage has led to break the silence on atrocities that have been committed for over six years now, across the undivided Bastar region.

Last year in November, the security forces had burnt down Tatemargu and Pallodi village. Pallodi which was on route to Tadmetla has now rebuilt itself. There was no relief given to the people, there was no suo moto case filed by the National Human Rights Commission and there was no visit by the chief minister. There are at least 644 villages that lie empty and at least 300 of them had been burnt down at least once.

And for three of the villages that were attacked recently, this was not the first time.

Sodi Nanda s/o Adma  of Tadmetla was killed by the security forces in 2007. Two houses were burnt down that day.

Barse Lakma s/o Bhima of Morpalli was going for ration at Chintalnar market when he was picked up by the security forces last year.

Madkam Nanga s/o Aita was going to the sell his produce in Chintalnar when he was also picked up by the police and sent to jail over three years ago. None of them have been released.

From Phulanpad village where Barse Bhima and Manu Yadav were killed in the recent operation, around three years ago, Aimla Sukka (20) s/o Chola and Aimla Joga (20) s/o Choma were killed when their village was raided by security forces.

There are many people from Phulanpad who live in Andhra Pradesh as Internally Displaced Persons, as a part of the estimated 16,000 to 40,000 adivasis who have been completely forgotten by the state of Chhattisgarh.