A Mask

Unknown to perhaps many of us in this part of the world, there is a significant population of aboriginal people living mainly in the central swathe of India for centuries. Their plight has been recently been brought to the forefront by the resistance of sections of their population against the attempts by large Indian and multinational corporations to displace them in consort with the state, from their hills, mountains and rivers. The key objective is to extract the nearly 15 trillion dollars worth of mineral resources of the country, like bauxite, gold, uranium, diamond, magnesium, zinc etc. While this was initiated since the “liberalization” of the Indian economy in the 1990s, matters have reached a peak now with over 200,000 Indian paramilitary foces deployed there and as well as very recently, the setting up of Indian Army jungle warfare training schools in the heart of this area. The article below appeared in www.sanhati.com.

December 09, 2010

The government has for quite some time been making a big noise that it is going to develop the naxal-affected districts (naxal refers to the Naxalite influenced peasant and youth rebellion that has been going in India since 1967)  in such a way that naxalism will fail to attract young Adivasis (aboriginal people or first nations of India)  to its fold in future. At last it has come out with this Special plan for Naxal-hit districts as per which each of the 35 naxal-affected districts would get Rs 25 crore ($5.6 million) every year for undertaking developmental work in healthcare, schooling, sanitation and drinking water sectors.

Actually, it is a special plan to provide infrastructure facilities to the 200,000 para-military & police forces occupying these districts where Op Green Hunt is in operation. Right now, these infra-structure facilities are mostly absent in the forest villages occupied by the govt. forces. The Home Minister has said that it will take five years for these forces to flush out the naxalites. Five years is a fairly long time and govt forces will need these facilities to keep them happy. During these five years, the torture of the young men will be such that they will be in jail or become SPOs (Special Police Officers) or be killed in fake encounters. The older men & women together with their children will be displaced and driven out of their lands and forests. This will prepare the ground for the corporates to set up their mining industries and loot the rich natural, mineral wealth.

It will then be ‘Mission Accomplished’ for the govt.

We all know that the naxal-hit areas are those areas where mostly the Indigenous Adivasi Peoples live. It is important to note that

* Ninety-nine percent of Naxals are Adivasis in the states of Jharkhand, Orissa, Chattisgarh

* But ninety- nine percent of Adivasis are not Naxals

* It is just one percent of Adivasi young men and some women have joined the Naxal forces. The reason why they have done so is obvious. Decades, indeed centuries, of injustice against Adivasi people — their brutal dispossession from their lands and forests — which was the true source of the insurgency in the jungles of the state.

Why this sudden surprise concern to meet the basic needs of people?

It is important to note that these four above mentioned sectors are merely the off-shoots of their brutal dispossession from their lands and forests. When the very base of their life (land, forests) is gone, how can they afford healthcare ? When they are hungry and starving, what use is sending their children to school? When their rivers have been polluted beyond repair and their forests have been denuded, what use are lectures on sanitation ? When their natural water sources have been bull dozed for mining, what safe drinking water can they think of having?

What ought to have been the focus:

If the govt really had any empathy towards the Indigenous Adivasi People and is serious in freeing them from the shackles of exploitation and oppression, it should first have approached the gram sabhas (village councils)  of these villages and asked them as to how they would like to be helped. If it had done so, people would have told the govt. first to end the infamous Op Green Hunt and leave them in peace; second to return the lands & forests that were stealth fully taken away from them; third, people would have told the govt to provide irrigation facilities for their fields so they can have at least two assured crops a year. This step alone will end the migration of their young women and men to far off cities & states; fourth, the Indigenous Adivasi People would have told the govt to respect and give formal recognition to their traditional system of self-governance which has helped them to live as a distinct, self-respecting people all through centuries. Fifth, people would have told the govt healthcare, schooling, sanitation and drinking water would automatically fall in place once the first four steps are taken.

Instead, the govt has listed people’s needs in an arbitrary fashion and in its usual top-to-bottom manner. This is completely unacceptable and condemnable.

Old wine in old bottle

Finally, who are the persons who will identify the needs of people and monitor the implementation of this special plan ?

Govt document says: “The development work would be identified by a committee comprising the District Collector, the Deputy Superintendent of Police and Forest Development Officer”.

It is common knowledge that after six decades of independence this very bureaucratic approach is responsible for 77% of our people living on less than Rs.20 a day. Besides, this govt bureaucracy is ridden with corruption and has least sympathy for the Indigenous Adivasi People. To again ask the top bureaucrats to identify people’s needs is the height of folly.

To conclude. . .

This Special plan for Naxal-hit districts is primarily meant to provide basic conveniences to the 200,000 para-military & police forces presently occupying the Adivasi villages in the central & eastern parts of the country. The village population may avail themselves with some of the left overs of these facilities if any of them are indeed left over. To call this ‘development of naxal-hit districts’ is utterly misleading and absolutely dishonest.

If, on the other hand, the govt is serious in providing the basic needs of the Indigenous Adivasi People, it should just hand over say Rs. one crore ($22,000) to each Panchayat (Village self government councils) . The people will list out their needs, set a priority to them and go about implementing them. The local administration should be made to supply technical assistance as and when approached by the panchayats / gram sabhas. Such a step alone will be in the real interest of people.

Stan Swamy, trained in Sociology and Social Analysis, has spent all his adult life for the defence of the Human and Civic Rights of the marginalised people. He is presently involved in taking up some of the serious issues such as displacement faced by the Indigenous Adivasi and Dalit people of Jharkhand.