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Adivasis leaving their homeland in waves – searching for a way out of economic poverty and social insecurity

By Stan Swamy

During the recent years three types of migration waves are taking place in the Adivasi dominant states of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Bengal.

The First Wave is the migration of young Adivasi women to metropolitan cities. The reason is that there is nothing in the house or village to occupy these women in a profitable meaningful way. After the mono-crop paddy is harvested in their tiny plots of land they find it will last only for a few months.

So instead of sitting at home idling and starving it is better to go to a town or city and work as house-keepers in urban middle-class families. They are not aware of the risks, dangers involved. They get in touch with some middle-men/women and take off often without even informing and getting the consent of their parents. They land up in metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai completely at the disposal of placement-agencies and have no choice of future employers, type of work, wages, living conditions etc. Their number is estimated to be around three-to-four lakhs.

The Second Wave is the seasonal migration of whole families to northern states. June to December is the monsoon-fed agricultural season. As the food produced is insufficient to feed the family for the whole year and there is no possibility of a second crop because of lack of irrigation hundreds of Jharkhandi families leave their hearths and homes temporarily during January to May. Only some elderly members are left to attend to the cattle. The govt neatly ignores this annual tragedy.

The Third Wave is the recent exodus of Adivasi youth to the Southern States as casual/contract labour. Thousands of them are in the states of Karnataka, Tamilnadu (mostly in construction work in cities) and Kerala (in cities as well as in farms and plantations). They go there either through contacts with persons who are already there or they are taken in batches by contractors/middle-men. In short it is a story of the poor making the rich to live more comfortably.

How explain this new phenomenon of thousands of Adivasis from central Indian States coming to south India? There are two main reasons:

(i) Deepening poverty : while the Indian economy is said to be growing at the fastest rate, poverty is deepening in the Adivasi belt of central India. Blessed by nature with rich mineral wealth has now become a curse to them. The Indian State, controlled and directed by the Corporate Sector, has decided to excavate the minerals at all costs. The protective constitutional provisions, laws, judicial verdicts meant to protect the Adivasi have been thrown to the winds. Meager cash compensation for their land is thrown at them and they are forced to vacate their hearths and homes. Hence the younger generation looks elsewhere to survive, and the sourthern States seem to offer limited chances in terms of casual/contract labour.

(ii) Increasing State repression: However, the Adivasi People are not taking this exploitative situation lying down. Resistance movements against the unjust, illegal, forcible acquisition of their jal, jangal, jamin have found an echo among people at large and some umbrella organizations vs displacement have played a significant role in turning away most companies empty handed. This includes industrial giants like Mittal, Vedanta, Posco. This people’s resistance has been enhanced by Maoist/Naxal presence and very many Adivasi youth have joined these forces. Therefore state repression is increasing to the extent that a small state like Jharkhand has about 6000 men & women in its prisons accused as Maoists/Naxals. Any young man/woman in naxal-affected areas can be labeled a maoist/naxal and can be thrown into jails. At the same time, the laws which are in favour of the Adivasi/ Moolvasi, such as The Panchayats (extension to Scheduled Areas) 1996, The Forest Rights of Scheduled Castes and other traditional forest dwellers Act, 2006, are not implemented. So the principle seems to be “starve them, shoot them and finish them”! This precarious situation makes lot of these young men to get away from this situation of insecurity at least for a while and try and earn something for the family. So they have come South like a wave.

In the words of our noted historian Ramachandra Guha “The Constitution of independent India advocates equality of opportunity, where no one would be neglected. These hopes were to be falsified. For it is the adivasis who have gained least and lost most from six decades of electoral democracy. In terms of access to education, healthcare and dignified employment, they are even worse off than the Dalits. Meanwhile, millions of adivasis have been thrown out of their homes and forests to make way for dams, factories and mining projects intended for the producers and consumers of urban India. Thus the “exploitation and dispossession” have continued, to be answered by a fresh round of “rebellions and disorder”. It is surely no accident that the greatest gains made by the Maoists in the past decade have been in the tribal districts of central and eastern India.”

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