Guest Post by AR VASAVI
January, 26th, 2016, the 66th year of celebrating the declaration of India as a ‘Republic’ and the passage of the Indian Constitution, witnessed an unusual gathering at an auditorium at Challakere town (Chitradurga District, Karnataka). Local residents, farmers, shepherds and a number of environmentalists, academics, reporters, and students from various towns and cities of Karnataka participated at a public hearing on the appropriation by the governments of India and Karnataka of more than ten thousand acres of a common grazing land called the Amrut Mahal Kaval which had been allocated to various public and private sectors for the construction of a futuristic ‘science city’. Organised by Amrit Mahal Kaval Hitarakshana Haagu Horata Samithi [Amrit Mahal Kaval Conservation and Struggle Committee] the public hearing was to assess the pros and cons of such land allocation. Local shepherds and farmers from the surrounding villages highlighted the impact of the loss of their grasslands (kavals). In their eloquent and well-thought-out statements, the local residents sought to retain their rights to the grassland (a collectively maintained resource) and to the livelihoods and life that it enabled. They questioned the undemocratic process by which their land had been appropriated and commented on the nature of the nation’s institutions. Although they had all been invited, none of the representatives of the government departments and the organisations which had received land deemed it worthy to attend this public hearing. This meet and the visit to the Kavals (now cordoned off with a double boundary; an outer wire fence and an inner stone, concrete and steel meshed 15 feet high fence, reminiscent of high-security prisons) were testimony to the unusual trajectory of the Indian Republic where the voices of common people are increasingly silenced and the state, and its institutions of the military, the science establishment, and some private players have gained ascendency.