This piece was originally published in Bangla in the Ananda Bazar Patrika and has been translated into English by Arundhati Ghosh
“Freedom – you are a room in the garden, the song of the koel, the sun drenched leaves of the old banyan tree, the page of my book of poetry where I can write as I wish.” Poet Shamsur Rahman wrote this immortal poem Freedom You during the war of the independence of Bangladesh. It could be said that this poem that arose from deep within Bangladesh’s struggle for liberation is a universal manifesto of freedom. Bangladesh has crossed its 50th year of independence. And in India we are standing at the threshold of our 75th. But where is that song of the koel, that book of poetry where one can write anything one wants? The rally of death that we are witnessing during this Covid-19 era has left the koel woeful, the leaves of the banyan devoid of its sparkle and the pages of our book of poems imprisoned under the UAPA or sedition laws or subjected to the surveillance of the snooping Pegasus vision of conspirators passing for ministers.
Guest Post by CONCERNED STUDENTS OF TATA INSTITUTE OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, MUMBAI
We, the concerned students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai condemn the continuing state repression of adivasis and recent attack on human rights activist Bela Bhatia in Bastar, Chhattisgarh.
On the 23rd of January, 2017, a group of 30-odd men attacked Bela where they barged into her house in Parpa, near Jagdalpur violently and threatened to burn the building down if she did not leave immediately. The mob also attacked her landlords and their children, threatening them with dire consequences if Bela was not evicted immediately. Despite Bela’s assurances that she would leave, the mob continued to be belligerent, in the presence of the police, and the Sarpanch. The mob has been identified with the right-wing vigilante group Action Group for National Integrity (AGNI). Continue reading In Solidarity with Adivasis in Bastar, Human Rights Defenders and Bela Bhatia in Bastar: Concerned Students in TISS, Mumbai→
The aim of this essay is to make connections between things that are usually studied separately – environmental history, political economy, conservation practice and adivasi politics – and I apologize in advance for the demands it makes upon the reader’s attention. The belief that this potential convergence could do with wider discussion is my sole justification for putting it up here.
Environmental history in India is not a very old discipline – the first mongraphs began appearing in the 1980s, and more and more books and papers have been added to the historiography since 2000. Let us examine certain themes as outlined in a cross-section of recent scholarship.
One key debate centers upon whether the colonial period can be regarded as an ecological watershed. An influential book by Ramchandra Guha and Madhav Gadgil argued that, before the advent of colonialism, there existed a harmonizing tendency between human beings and the environment, a balance between resource use and preservation mediated largely through the caste system: colonialism shattered this equilibrium and the values associated with it. This idealizing view, eliding different time periods and state structures, was bound to come under attack and much subsequent scholarship has been devoted to unpicking its conclusions.
Sumit Guha shows how at least one natural resource, namely wild grass for fodder, had become scarce in the Deccan by the Maratha period thanks to the demands of armies, nobles and zamindars, who engrossed it by enclosing tracts of common land. This fierce arbitrariness fostered a system of free grazing and discouraged sustainable management through collective protection of the commons. Meanwhile the argument that sacred groves are strands of untouched forest – repositories of biodiversity – is refuted by Claude Garcia and J-P Pascal in their study of Kodagu. Far from being untouched, groves there are heavily used and managed, and show clear signs of degradation associated with use. Continue reading Staking the Terrain – Political Economy, Environmental History and Nature Conservation: Shashank Kela→
Election manifestos of political parties have a distinct and vital role in the parliamentary elections. Parties present their policies on crucial issues of the country and their programmes to address the problems of the country. These elections, however, have seen minimal discussions on the contents of the manifestos of different parties because perhaps these elections are less policy centric and more individual centric. That is why the principal opposition party in the Parliament, BJP had not released its manifesto till the first day of polling. Election manifestos of all parties explain their policy and programme for the each and every section of society. It would be useful to consider that what kind of policies and programmes are promised for adivasis in the manifestos of prominent political parties. This is also necessary because these people have paid the price of the ‘development’ based on the extraction of natural resources and the use of corporate capital for this purpose. (Here I want to clarify that I will not focus on the issue of adivasis of North East India, because their problems are very different from the adivasis of the rest of India and one cannot do full justice by analyzing them as one unit).
In last twenty years this expropriation of resources has increased in the forest areas of the country. In each tribal dominated state, State Governments have signed hundreds of Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with many national, international and multinational companies. These are the areas where Maoists have strong influence as the ‘biggest internal security threat’ of the country. So, it is important to ask what the policies of various political parties for adivasis are and is there any continuation in their policies and their actual performance as the ruling party in the Centre or in the States? Can adivasis expect, on the basis of these policies and programmes, that next government would follow more sensitive approach towards their problems? Continue reading Unbroken History of Broken Promises – Adivasis and Election Manifestos: Kamal Nayan Choubey→
The Andhra Pradesh ministers are fighting like the hooligans they show in Telugu films (one is reminded, in particular, of an old Telugu film aptly named Assembly Rowdy). The fight is all over, and about, investments in Hyderabad and elsewhere. As it is about money. The Parliament fight is with pepper sprays and knives. Back there, on the ground, in tribal villages in AP (yet to be declared as either Seemandhra or Telangana), absolutely unarmed Koyas, Kondareddis, and a few other tribal communities are opposing the construction of the Polavaram dam. And have been marking their protests with dharnas, rasta rooks and burning of effigies of leaders of all political parties. The former have some plum real estate and business interests to protect; the latter have their everything to fight for – homes, land and histories. Not for a while, in the entire debate and fighting over the state of either unification or creation of Telangana have any of these picketers in the Parliament have sought the opinions of the tribal people whose land is today a battleground for investment. One has no qualms of using the peculiar Sanskritic terminology, in the Vedic sense of sacrificial rituals, conducted by the wealthy and upper castes for their benefits, in the name of the ‘common good’. A Former Chief Minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh, YSR, too, used the same Sanskritic term (in spite of his being a Christian) for the irrigation projects (or contractor businesses) he initiated (86 nos.) under jalayagam. Today the sacrificial ritual continues, and it is a human sacrifice, of more than three hundred thousand tribal people (as it is the sacrifice of animals and birds and every visible or invisible organism), in return for the illusory real-estate-driven world called ‘Greater’ Hyderabad; what if it is going to be a “joint capital for ten years” (and who has seen what the world will look like after ten years, any way? Or what shape it will assume? But these are matters of philosophy and metaphysics, I guess, talking of who knows where we will be, what will be…). Continue reading Adivasi-yagna, The Great Sacrifice – Tribal Communities for ‘Greater’ Hyderabad? R Uma Maheshwari→
Away from the obscenity of a parade of tanks, nuclear missiles, and military might, the citizens of Delhi, once again (yesterday, the 26th of January, Republic Day) demonstrated that their re-definition of citizenship and the idea of a republic does not necessarily need an army, the AFSPA, restrictive laws like section 377, moral policing, censorship and assaults on workers, gay, lesbian and transgender people, women, the young, pensioners, minorities, Africans and other non-Indian inhabitants of Delhi, disabled people, or discrimination against people from the North East and Kashmir. Since last year, in the wake of the anti-rape protests, the 26th of January, which is nominally observed as the day when the Indian state performs its show of strength on New Delhi’s Rajpath has now been liberated by many of Delhi’s citizens groups as an occasion for us to turn away from the spectacle of the state and walk towards a liberated future. This is how the Republic gets Reclaimed on 26th January in Delhi.
“We won’t beat you at your house, we will beat you in the bazaar, in front of everyone!” A common caveat, often hurled at a dalit by an upper caste. But in this case, they were dalit men who spat this warning at a tribal family. A group of dalits in Alampur village, Sagar district, Madhya Pradesh are forcefully asserting their rights (since 2003) over a belt of forest land belonging to Balram, a tribal resident and his family. The family have farmed the five acres of land for 40 years and were finally awarded forest rights over it by the state government of Madhya Pradesh in 2009. Continue reading A Case of Dalit Assertion Over Adivasi Land: Agrima Bhasin→
This press release was put out by theSC/ST BUDGET ADHIKAR ANDOLANafter a large protest in Delhi on 24 April
Massive uproar and agitation by over a thousand SC/ST’s marked the initiation of the campaign “Sau Mein Pachees Haq Hamara” at Jantar Mantar on 24 April, 2012. The protesters flooded the roads of Jantar Mantar as they marched along the high pitch drum beats, adding to the rhythm of the march. Even the scorching heat did not deter those who joined the protest march from several other states. They hooted in unison, “Hamara Haq Idhar Rakho!” Continue reading ‘Sau Mein Pachees Haq Hamara’: Caste of a Scam→
If we cut the entire forest down, where will we live?’- Muria adivasi, Warangal, Andhra Pradesh
I don’t even know how to begin addressing a story as blindly biased in its premise as this one in the Wall Street Journal, which draws an obtuse line between loss of forest cover and land usage by adivasis, when it is land grab by industrialization that is endangering all we have left.
So I’m going to do this paragraph by paragraph.
India’s forest cover decreased by 367 square kilometers between 2007 and 2009, and it was primarily tribal and hilly regions that were to blame.
Years ago, after the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of communism, a faux philosopher announced the end of history. What he meant was the permanent victory of capitalism and its correlate, liberal democracy. Unfortunately history has an unkind habit of rolling right along, throwing a sucker punch at intervals – remember Gordon (No Boom and Bust) Brown? The triumph of laissez faire capitalism has been celebrated since the ’80s (when the term Reaganomics was coined for redistributive policies that blithely transferred wealth to the rich). Until the crash of 2008-09 set the cat amongst the pigeons; and sent the semi-converted scurrying back to Keynes – and Marx (especially in Germany where the sales of his books suddenly soared). However after a state bailout of unprecedented proportions, that had the satisfactory effect of restoring the position of the wealthy, especially the bankers and financial whiz kids who had caused the crash, the dust settled down. In the industrialized west, discontent seethes beneath the surface, but the dictum that the experts – the bankers, the CEOs, the policymakers (who swap roles seamlessly) – are right still holds. The majority must accept a decline in their standard of living and the prospects, such as they were, of job security so that growth can continue and the minority prosper even more opulently. This, of course, has long been the received wisdom in India, where, ever since the ’80s, full consensus was reached on the fact that the middle-class is the only class that matters – the rest can go hang. Continue reading Counting the Cost: Industrialism, Capitalism, Socialism→
I was going to write out a reply to the comments on Shuddha’s post, Kashmir’s Abu Gharaiab, but thought I would expand it into a larger post.
I’d like to make clear that I have been to Kashmir only once – and that too for a few hours in the aftermath of the earthquake, so if anyone writes back saying, “I should see the ground reality in Kashmir”; I concede that point straight off the bat. I should see the ground reality in Kashmir; we all should.
However, over the last eight months, I have had the opportunity to interact very closely with central paramilitary forces like the BSF and CRPF in the course of their deployment in Chhattisgarh, where I work. Many of the men conducting anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh have served in Kashmir and the North-East theatres.
I have been following the Gompad case for the past month and a half, and have been surprised at every turn. The issue is centred on the deaths of 12 villagers on October 1 2009 in Chhattisgarh. The matter is currently sub judice – so I would prefer not to comment on what I think happened, but this is my most comprehensive piece on the issue till date.
GOMPAD: A charred wooden stake and three graves are all that remain of the Madavi family in this remote village in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district.
“Madavi Kanni was lying face down in front of the burnt house,” said an eyewitness. “She had been slashed with a sword and shot in the chest.” The bodies of her father, Madavi Bajar, her mother Madavi Subbhi and her 12-year-old sister Madavi Mutti, were found under a tree, 50 metres away.
Testimonies collected by The Hindu from Gompad allege that a composite force of Adivasi special police officers and security force regulars appeared on the outskirts of the village in the early hours of October 1, 2009. “We ran away when we saw the force,” said the witness, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We found the bodies when we returned.” Continue reading “Police killed them” say the villagers→
Satya Sagar is a writer, journalist and videomaker based in New Delhi. sagarnama at gmail dot com
Is Maoism in India really the only response to poverty and lack of development? Is an armed rebellion the only way to change the way the Indian State operates? Will such a movement lead to a better future for underprivileged people in this country? Are other forms of mass democratic struggles an alternative option at all? These are the questions that haunted me as I sat through a public hearing on drought at Daltonganj in Jharkhand’s Palamu district late October this year. Questions that are not new and have been debated repeatedly within the various strands of the Indian left movement for several decades now, with no clear answers as yet.
While I mused, there was this young woman standing on the stage, slowly edging towards the mike, patiently waiting for her turn to speak. She need not have said anything at all. Her emaciated, frail frame, the harassed look on her face and the tears silently welling up in her sunken eyes had already conveyed to us this was another tale of unmitigated tragedy. Barely in her early twenties, she had been diagnosed with tuberculosis a few months ago. Her husband was already on his deathbed due to the same affliction as there was no public health center near her village. Treatment in town was obviously unaffordable. The drought raging in the district, reported to be the worst in over half a century, would end up wiping out her entire family she explained in a quiet, matter of fact tone.
As we sat there, the small ‘jury’ of three or four of us who had come from Delhi and Ranchi to listen to the woes of Palamu’s villagers felt much, much smaller. For her horror story was only one out of some 3000 similar ones of neglect, deprivation and outright desperation that tensely waited to be recalled that early winter afternoon. Continue reading Maoist Martyrdom vs. State Barbarism: Satya Sagar→
As Maoists confirm that they were behind the murder of Laxmananda Saraswati and give their reasons, two notes below from Madhu Chandra of the All India Christian Council.
Hindutva forces – Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bajrang Dal knew very well that the Maoists have killed their Swami Lakshmanananda on August 23 but intentionally denied it and alleged Christians so that they could do what they have done to Dalit Christians of Orissa.
National Commission for Women
4, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg,
Subject: Torture and Rape of Women and Other Incidents in the Land Struggle at Chengara, Kerala
We urge your attention to the following incidents in Chengara, Kerala as they require your urgent intervention.
In the ongoing struggle for land in Chengara, there is escalating violence against the peaceful and democratic protest of the people. Here women are the most affected as they are the targets of brutal attacks by the workers of trade unions affiliated to leading political parties and also other hired henchmen of Harrison Malayalam Ltd. Many women have testified that the attacks happened right in the presence of the police. All these events seem to indicate a total breakdown of the state’s administrative machinery to redress the situation, which makes the intervention of external bodies like yours crucial.