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Jharkhand – Tribals being armed to fight Tribals #WTFnews

                                             “Tribals to be trained in guerrilla warfare to fight Maoists in state”     

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Stan Swamy

The newspaper report goes on to spell out govt’s plan. Two special battalions comprising of youths from the primitive tribal groups in the state will be recruited and trained in advanced guerrilla warfare to fight the Maoists in the forests.

They will help the security forces in anti-insurgency operations.  The reason for choosing these e tribal  youths is that they  are born and brought up in forest areas and are well aware of the surroundings and have the capability to survive in odd situations.


Following  important questions arise: (1) who are the ‘Maoists’ in Jharkhand? (2) who are the Adivasis? (3) who are the Primitive Tribal groups in Jharkhand and what is their present socio- economic condition? (4) what does the Supreme Court say?


(1) who are the ‘Maoists’ in Jharkhand?

It is common knowledge that most so-called ‘maoists’ in Jharkhand are local Adivasis. Some of the top leadership may have come from outside the state but the cadres are mostly Adivasis and some Moolvasis. This can be proven by the fact that from 1st January to 30th June 2014, a span of six months, 243 persons were arrested in Jharkhand under the charge of being Maoists or helpers of Maoists. Of them, 186 (77%) are local Adivasis.

In so- called  ‘encounters’,  more than 10 persons were killed of whom 7 (70%) are Adivasis.

It is proof enough to conclude that for the government Adivasi is automatically Maoist.So repression of the Adivasi community goes in the name of ‘action against maoists’.

(2) Who are the Adivasis?   

The answer is given by no less a body than the Supreme Court of India. In a ground breaking judgment [Criminal Appeal No: 11/2011] the court observed that “the original inhabitants of India were not the Dravidians but the pre-Dravidians Munda aborigines whose descendants presently live in parts of Chotanagpur (Jharkhand), Chattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal, etc., the Todas of the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu, the tribals in the Andaman Islands, the Adivasis in various parts of India (especially in the forests and hills) e.g. Gonds, Santhals, Bhils, etc. … The injustice done to the tribal people of India is a shameful chapter in our country’s history.

The tribals were called `rakshas’ (demons), `asuras’, and what not. They were slaughtered in large numbers, and the survivors and their descendants were degraded, humiliated, and all kinds of atrocities inflicted on them for centuries. They were deprived of their lands, and pushed into forests and hills where they eke out a miserable existence of poverty, illiteracy, disease, etc. And now efforts are being made by some people to deprive them even of their forest and hill land where they are living, and the forest produce on which they survive.” [thus far the exact words of Supreme Court. Emphasis added].                                                          Is it any wonder then that the Adivasis are no more prepared to go on suffering the exploitation and oppression by the ruling capitalist class which is using the govt as a convenient tool to usurp the mineral-and-forest-rich land to reap immense profit.

When the corporates, the business class, the urban middle class, the govt bureaucracy from top to bottom, the police & para-military forces, most of the print & electronic media, most political parties all have become his enemy, where else can the poor Adivasi turn to except the ‘comrades’ (jangal-bhai) who offer at least some protection from being completely exterminated.

(3) Who are the ‘Primitive Tribals’?     

The Primitive Tribal Groups are the most neglected section of the population in independent India. In Jharkhand they are the Asur, the Birhor, the Birjia, the Korwa, the Hill Pahariya, the Paharia, the Savar and the Sauriya Pahariya. The total population of the primitive tribes in Jharkhand is 1,94,8351 .

These tribal groups are nomadic and still in the food gathering stage. They roam about in the forests for their livelihood. Because of their nomadic nature, literacy, healthcare and settled agriculture have been delayed to them. If these groups are not taken care of, they may entirely be wiped out. Practically all the primitive tribal groups have shown a negative population growth.

This is due to low birth rate and high mortality, high infant mortality, susceptibility to diseases, low health status and threat from endemic diseases like sickle cell, anemia and infertility to mention a few.

The literacy rate is less than 10% and among women it is as low as 2% to 3%. [Alex Ekka A Status of Adivasis/Indigenous Peoples Land Series – 4 JHARKHAND, AAKAR BOOKS & The Other Media, 2011, pp.21-23]

First of all, the very labelling is wrong. Whether they come under general Adivasi or Primitive Adivasi, they all are Adivasis. The ST & SC Order (Amendment) Act, 1976 declares 30 tribes to be scheduled for the state of Jharkhand, including 9 primitive tribal groups. The languages spoken by some of the general as well as primitive tribes  are closely related. They also live in close geographical proximity to each other, mingle with each other in weekly bazaars etc.

So they are one people. It is a cruel injustice to not only segregate them from one another but also place them against each other to serve the political convenience of the ruling class. Seeing the present plight of the primitive tribes, the govt should be forthcoming with meaningful and effective efforts to lift them out of their dire  economic poverty  and social weaknesses. A speedy implementation of Forest Rights Act, 2006 whereby each family will have at least 2 hectares (5 acres) of patta land will go a long way towards a self-sustaining economy.

 (4) What does the Supreme Court say?     

In the context of delivering its verdict on Special Police Officers (SPOs) in Chattisgarh, the court observed that “the fight against Maoist/Naxalite violence cannot be conducted purely as a mere law and order problem… The primordial problem lies deep within the socioeconomic policies pursued by the State on a society that was already endemically, and horrifically, suffering from gross inequalities… This necessarily implies undertaking all those necessary socially, economically and politically remedial policies that lessen social disaffection giving rise to  such extremist violence…” [SC – WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO(s). 250 OF 2007]  On this basis, the court ordered the disbanding of the SPOs in Chattisgarh and stoppage of all funds by Central govt as honorarium.

To conclude, shall we say that Instead of abiding by what common human sense would dictate and SC’s directive, the govt’s proposal to handpick some youngsters from the primitive tribal adivasis and train them in guerrilla warfare to fight, and shall we say kill, other adivasis in the pretence of fighting Maoists will be the  unkindest cut of all. It should be resisted tooth and nail.


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#India – Tribal communities mobilise to save ancient forests

Tribal communities fight development plans that threaten survival of celebrated Mahan forests in Madhya Pradesh state.

Last updated: 15 Jun 2014

Locals allege that environmental clearance was granted on the basis of a forged resolution [Shuriah Niazi/Al Jazeera]

Singrauli, India – Tribal people living in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh are in the vanguard of last ditch efforts to save the famous Mahan forests from being wiped out.

They say that construction of a power plant under a joint venture between two private companies – Essar and Hindalco – would lead to the destruction of the oldest and the largest salwood forests in Asia.

Campaigners are now resisting the plans in Singrauli district – India’s energy capital, supplying 10 percent of the country’s coal – and asserting rights to the forests that provide sustenance to more than 60 villages.

“We know that justice has not been done with these people”, Priya Pillai, a senior campaigner with Greenpeace India, told Al Jazeera. “The government has given clearance for mining without even thinking about thousands of people who depend on these forests.”

Coal venture

The London-listed multinational conglomerate Essar and the Indian aluminium group Hindalco came together in 2006 to form a $8bn joint venture, Mahan Coal Limited, to exploit coal seams in the area granted to them by the government to supply two large power plants.

We know that justice has not been done with these people; the government has given clearance for mining without even thinking about thousands of people who depend on these forests

Priya Pillai, senior campaigner with Greenpeace India,

However, the coal mining will displace residents of at least 14 villages dependent on the Mahan forests for natural produce, including mahua, tendu leaves and karanj that are crucial to their livelihoods.

“We collect mahua and tendu from forest as non-timber forest produce and then sell them in the market. This way we are fully dependent on the forest round-the-year”, said Kanti Prasad, a local resident from Amelia village.

“How can we leave it? We will ultimately die without these forests”.

The mining is also expected to result in the felling of about 400,000 trees crucial to the area’s ecological balance and to destroy an important corridor between wildlife habitats. According to the Global Register of Migratory Species, over 102 migratory species are present in the area.

Residents have formed the group Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS) to resist the multinationals’ plans and to assert their rights to the forest in a campaign that has now extended to the state capital Bhopal and New Delhi.

“The mining in the area will render us homeless and make basic amenities like water scarce” said Ujiraj Singh Khairwar, a resident of Amelia, the village that will be worst affected by the mining.

“We have been dependent on the forest for generations. How can we leave it at once and move to other places?”

Earlier this month supporters of MSS and Greenpeace activists were arrested after moving into the forest area to prevent trees being marked for felling by company officials.

Harish Singh, a local resident, told Al Jazeera: “We are ready to give our lives for these forests. Ultimately we will die if these forests are destroyed for mining. We cannot go anywhere else.”

“We wanted the government to be sympathetic towards our demands and not to behave the way they have been doing. We still believe that our fight will continue and bear fruitful results.”

Rejection overturned

In 2011 former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh initially rejected the plans, stating: “The coal block is undoubtedly in a biodiversity-rich area. It will destroy good natural forest cover and interfere with wildlife habitats.”

The coal mining will displace residents of at least 14 villages [Shuriah Niazi/Al Jazeera]

However, the application was later granted in principle on the condition that studies were carried out, before gaining final approval in February this year from the then Environment Minister Veerappa Moily.

Locals allege that clearance was granted on the basis of a forged resolution by a special village council meeting in Amelia on March 6 last year attended by only 184 people. The copy of the resolution shows 1,125 signatures – which villagers claim may have been forged.

In February MSS filed a petition with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) – which resolves disputes over environmental protection and forest conservation – challenging the forest clearance granted for the Mahan coal block.

This week, the Madhya Pradesh state government gave an undertaking to the NGT that there will be no felling of trees in Mahan until October.

Ramakant Tiwari, the chief executive of Mahan Coal Limited, told Al Jazeera that the company had obtained all the necessary permissions for forest clearance from the environment ministry, approvals for mining from the coal ministry, and the backing of the local state administration.

“We intend to make the project operational soon and from now onwards we expect the project to progress” he said.

However, the company could face another hurdle if the Singrauli district administration seeks another round of consent from villagers.

The village council could be asked to vote on the project a second time in the wake of the allegation that the earlier consent was forged.

Singrauli Collector M Selvendran, the district’s chief administrative and revenue officer, said: “The law will take its own course. We respect the law and hope that all the parties would also do the same.”


Al Jazeera


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Dantewada tribals say no to polluting mine

NMDC’s plan for a new iron ore mine gets clearance from the Centre but runs into protesting locals in the Maoist-hit region. Priyanka Kaushal reports

2014-06-07 , Issue 23 Volume 11l

Stop mining 2,500 tribals protested outside the NMDC’s Kirandul office, Photo: Vinay SharmaStop mining 2,500 tribals protested outside the NMDC’s Kirandul office, Photo: Vinay Sharma

On 18 may, 2,500 tribals gathered outside the Kirandul project office of the State-owned National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) in the Maoist-hit Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. Holding placards, the tribals from 55 villages, including women, were protesting against the iron ore mining projects in the region, which, they allege, are endangering their lives by causing rampant pollution.

In the eye of the storm are the NMDC’s iron ore mines near Kirandul and Bacheli villages. According to the tribals, the mines have led to the contamination of their water sources, so much so that “the water has turned red”. Not only is the polluted water killing livestock, many villagers have also contracted serious ailments because of drinking it.

“We will not tolerate this anymore,” says Ramesh Samu, who led the protest. “The mining corporation has fooled us by promising jobs. Our children are dying because of the polluted water. Our fields are becoming barren and the cattle are dying, too. The mining must stop.”

Besides demanding safe water supply and compensation for the damage they have suffered, the villagers are also asking for employment opportunities, healthcare and education. Moreover, they are opposing a double-track railway line being laid from Koraput in neighbouring Odisha to Bailadila in Dantewada district. The protesters claim that the railway line would add to their woes by facilitating more mining projects.

Though the tribals have been opposing mining projects in the region for a long time, things came to a head when the NMDC was given the forest clearance to start iron ore mining in Bailadila Deposit 13. This decision was taken in a meeting of the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Union environment ministry on 29-30 April. Earlier, the NMDC had permission for mining in four (two near Kirandul, and two near Bacheli) of the total 14 iron ore mines in the area. According to an NMDC official, Deposit 13 has 300 million tonnes of iron ore.

Chief Minister Raman Singh had written to the FAC, requesting clearance for the new mine as it would provide ore to the sponge iron and steel industries in the state. He had argued that it would boost steel production and provide employment opportunities in the Maoist-hit region. Currently, the NMDC mines provide only half of the ore required by these industries.

On the flip side, however, is the impact of mining on the tribal population. Despite the check dams constructed by the NMDC to reduce water pollution, the Shankini and Dankini rivers, which flow through the area and are the villagers’ main source of water, have turned into reddish marshes. Nearly 35,000 hectares surrounding the mines have been adversely affected and the forest cover has been lost.

VK Satpathi, NMDC’s director of production, told TEHELKA, “We are doing everything that we can. It’s the government’s job to provide employment, health and education, not ours. Yet we are providing facilities to the local community as part of our corporate social responsibility activities.”

According to official figures, Chhattisgarh accounts for a fifth of India’s coal and iron ore reserves. The Bailadila hills in Dantewada are considered to have the best iron ore deposits in the country. Together, the 14 mines in the hills are reported to have 1.2 billion tonnes of iron ore deposits. The NMDC extracts around 60,000 tonnes of iron ore every year from its mines in Dantewada and has been operating in the region since 1960.

With the tribals living in the region seeing the NMDC’s mining projects near Bacheli and Kirandul villages as a nuisance, attempts to extend the mining activities are bound to face stiff opposition. The government has a tough task ahead: to address the tribals’ concerns while removing the roadblocks to the state’s industrialisation, without letting the Maoists take advantage of the situation.

Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman

[email protected]

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A parallel conversation: Martyrs, rebels, and peasants


A performance during the shahaadat diwas in Chotanagpur region, Jharkhand, to honour Bakhtar Say and Mundal Singh.

Anumeha YadavA performance during the shahaadat diwas in Chotanagpur region, Jharkhand, to honour Bakhtar Say and Mundal Singh.

Anumeha Yadav

Anumeha Yadav

Anumeha Yadav

The amicable relationship some villagers have with the Maoists, panchayat institutions, as well as large NGOs operating in the vicinity of the villages seems an unusual co-existence in Jharkhand.

It was a weekday when I got a call from Manohar* (name changed), an invite to attend ashahaadat diwas in Chotanagpur region the next day. Two months back, Manohar had helped us get in touch with the CPI(Maoist) for an interview. As he said, shahadat diwas was a day to commemorate martyrdom. I was unsure if it was the rebels’ leaders’ lives the ceremony was meant to recount, but had little opportunity to ask till I was on the road with him the next day.

A few hours out of Ranchi as we reached the forest, the road gave way to a dirt track winding through rocky outcrops. Mahua trees were in bloom, its yellow seeds scattered on the ground. Sal was sprouting fresh green leaves.

Vote ke jariye sarkaar ke rang badalta hai, shoshan-shaashan bandh nahin hota hai – Bhakpa (Maowadi)” (“Voting will change shades of governance, not repression”), the banned CPI(Maoist)’s message for boycotting elections scrawled in large brown letters on the wall of a hut painted white. The hut’s inhabitants went about their routine.

The path soon gave way to a large clearing. Here, at the base of a hill, the villagers – men dressed in white shirts and dhoti, women in sarees, musicians with drums, dancers with plastic flowers in their hair – were under one tent, and in front of them were two six feet-high statues under a bright blue and yellow canopy.

It was only then that it became clear the farmers from several villages around the hills had gathered to celebrate the lives of two of their ancestors, whom they described as the first from Jharkhand to fight the British. They recounted that Bakhtar Say and Mundal Singh had been executed, defeated by the British in April 1812 – nearly 45 years before what I had learned in textbooks to remember as the first year of Indians’ rebellion against the British, the Mutiny of 1857. “Bakhtar Say and Mundal Singh of Navagarh and Panari Pargana amar rahein,” began Govardhan Singh of the village path pradarshak samiti that has been organizing the function every April.

Who were the two? What had they done? Was their any direct link between the Maoists’ presence in the area and this public ceremony? And how did this affect the politics, voting of these interior villages? I wondered as I watched ceremony those gathered had organized to honour their first freedom fighters.

The story I never knew

This is how the organizers described the story of Bakhtar Say and Mundal Singh’s lives.

Bakhtar Say and Mundal Singh, two landowners, fought against the British in Chottanagpur region 1812 onwards. When the British government ordered Govind Nath Shahdeo, the king of Chotanagpur, to pay Rs.12,000 as tax to the East India Company, Bakthar Say refused on behalf of the peasants of the Navagarh Raidih area. This provoked a fight in which Bakhtar Say killed Hira Ram, the Ratu courtier sent to collect this tax.

The magistrate of Ramgarh then sent an army from Hazaribagh under Lieutenant H. Odonel, while reaching out to the kings of Jashpur and Sarguja (in present-day Chhattisgarh) to surround Say from all sides. At this time, Mundal Singh reached Navagarh to help Bakhtar Say. The battle lasted two days. Say’s army made up of farmers of the area held off the British, something the kings and rulers of Navagarh, Panari and Gumla had failed to do.

But a month later, E. Rafreez of Ramgarh Battalion planned a second charge against both, leading a large army. This battle lasted three days. Say and Singh were forced to seek shelter with Jashpur ruler Ranjeet Singh. The latter betrayed their confidence and they were arrested and taken to Calcutta where they were executed on 4 April, 1812.

A Google search for the two’s names to read or corroborate for oneself yields nothing.

A carnival

The sun climbed higher but the people kept coming in hundreds. By late afternoon, the numbers had increased to thousands. Those who took turns to speak paid homage, and compared Say and Singh’s revolt to the struggle of tribal villagers who spent several years in jail in Latehar and Chaibasa prisons charged by forest officials for collecting firewood from forests. Others compared the struggle of Say and Singh against the British in the 19th century to the displacement of lakhs of Jharkhand’s tribals in the last hundred years, reflecting the feeling many describe as Jharkhand’s “repeated colonisation” – first by the Biritish, then the ruling governments, and now by large mining firms.

“Political leaders visit and try as they may to talk sweet, they will have to answer about our displacement,” Munna Kisan, the village shahadat diwas committee convenor, a frail old man wearing a white shirt over dhoti and canvas shoes, spoke animatedly.

Manohar, who has spent some time in jail on charges of being a Maoist, asked questions that have been absent from the political and TV debates preceding elections: Why do a majority of women in the country still have khoon ki kami (anaemia)? If even a single school or wells had been built in the village every year since Independence, would things not be different? Why were gram sabha resolutions on use of land and trees flouted despite Constitutional provisions? Were leaders living in Delhi capable of ever understanding the lives and priorities of Jharkhand’s villagers?

As the villagers watched, several young men dressed in shirts and trousers came and watched from afar. The organizing committee members identified the men as from the local squad of the CPI(Maoist). The carnival grew bigger. The karam dances grew more vibrant. The festivities would go on all night. Nagpuri artists were expected to perform at night. The villagers said they had collected over Rs.1 lakh to organize the meeting. The “party” (Maoists) had contributed additional funds. To celebrate two martyrs the villagers associated with the Indian freedom movement, I wondered…

A peculiar relationship

“The maoists are samaaj sewi (social workers), except they carry guns,” offered the panchayat’s young woman mukhiya when I asked her about the presence of armed squads in the hills surrounding the village as we shared a big lunch of dal, rice, tomato chutney, and washed it down with sattu (gram flour and water). When I asked if the rebels had tried to constitute committees within the village as is common in pockets of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, she said the krantikari kisaan samiti had existed since several years but had made no active effort to carry out public works in the village.

The perfectly amicable relationship the villagers seemed to have with the Maoists, panchayat institutions, as well as large NGOs operating in the vicinity of the villages seemed an unusual co-existence, peculiar to Jharkhand. Would the alliances of those with similar aims though different strategies here survive and evolve to question future rulers and governments?


Read more here —

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In Gujarat, tribal people get a raw deal #NOMOre_2014



Sandeep Joshi, The Hindu


Map Location - Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary.

Map Location – Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The BJP has been touting Gujarat as a development model that the party’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, can take credit for. But the State lags behind in safeguarding the rights of its 15-lakh tribal people, who make up almost 15 per cent of its population.

Mr. Modi has been Chief Minister of the State for over a decade, and it is six years since the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, was enacted to recognise and record the rights of forest dwellers, mainly tribal people. The Act replaced the old colonial-era forest laws to ensure livelihood security of the poor tribal people who have been dependent on forest produce for ages.

But Gujarat has been the worst performer in settling claims and distributing title deeds to tribal people and other forest dwellers, show the latest data put out by the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry. Till 2013, the State settled only 32 per cent of the claims, the lowest rate in the country.

The State government received 1.91 lakh claim cases — 1.82 lakh from individuals and 8,723 from the community —, but disposed of just 61,146 (32 per cent). Just 42,752 titles — 40,994 to individuals and 1,758 to community — were issued during this period.

The Hindu sent an e-mail seeking a reply from the Gujarat government about the dismal performance, but no response was forthcoming.

The best performance in settlement of claims — 97 per cent — was of Maharashtra and Rajasthan, followed by Chhattisgarh (96), Madhya Pradesh (93), Odisha (86), Jharkhand (77) and Assam (56).

The Act gives the tribal people the right to hold, and live in, forestland, besides giving them the right to “ownership, access to collect, use and dispose of minor forest produce which has been traditionally collected within or outside village boundaries.”

The idea behind the Act was to empower tribal people and their community institutions as statutory authorities with the power to protect and manage forests.


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Telangana betrays its tribals

Author(s): M Suchitra
Mar 15, 2014 | 

Compromises on Polavaram; agrees to exclude villages facing submergence from new state

imagePeople protest against the Polavaram project in V R Puram block in Khammam district. All 42 revenue villages in this block will be totally submerged ( Photo: RAMESH)THE passage of the bill to carve out Telangana state from Andhra Pradesh has come as a blow to about 200 villages in the tribal areas of Khammam district. These villages, which are part of the Telangana region and are threatened to be submerged by the Polavaram dam, will be transferred to Seemandhra when Andhra Pradesh is bifurcated. For many years they have been part of the agitation for creation of Telangana and protests against the Polavaram multi-purpose irrigation project.

The Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill proposes national status for the Polavaram project and merging of Khammam villages with East Godavari district in Seemandhra. The bill has been passed by both the houses of Parliament and awaits the President’s nod. The adivasis in Khammam are disappointed that the leaders of the Telangana movement compromised their interests while fighting for the larger cause of Telangana. “They should have resolutely pressured the Central government to withdraw national status to the Polavaram project and to keep the tribal areas of Telangana in Telangana itself,” says Vattam Narayana Dora, convener of Polavaram Project Vyathireka Ikya Poratta Vedika, an umbrella organisation of adivasi groups protesting against the project.

The people also fear that becoming part of Seemandhra will jeopardise their resettlement in Khammam itself.

Particularly vulnerable tribals

The Rs 16,010 crore project is under way in West Godavari in Seemandhra. However, most of the villages that will be affected are in Khammam. After bifurcation, at least 193 villages from two revenue divisions, Bhadrachalam and Palvancha, of Khammam will be transferred to Seemandhra. This tribal-dominated region enjoys special protection under the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. The project, which will also submerge some tribal villages in East and West Godavari and neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Odisha, besides submerging 3,500 hectares of forests, is expected to displace about 200,000 people, the highest ever by any dam in the country.

“The Central government is adamant on constructing the Polavaram project unmindful of its disastrous consequences on the lives of adivasis. This will undermine the rights guaranteed to them under the Fifth Schedule,” says Punem Ramachander, state general secretary of Adivasi Samkshepa Parishad, a tribal organisation leading the agitations.

Adivasi communities in the submergence zone include Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG), such as the Konda Reddy. PVTG is aGovernment of India classification to identify and improve the living conditions of certain communities with particularly low development indices. Most of them are agriculture labourers or marginal farmers. They, along with non-tribals in the area, have been demanding scrapping of the Polavaram project ever since it was taken up by the state government in 2005. The project does not benefit Khammam or any other part of Telangana. It is expected to irrigate 300,000 hectares in East and West Godavari, Krishna and Visakhapatnam districts, all in Seemandhra.

Agitated people

“Many of the submergence villages have passed resolutions against the project, which will rob adivasis of their land, water, forest and livelihood,” says Dora. The Central government gave national status to Polavaram to please Seemandhra’s leaders and people, he adds.

When the amendment to the bill for transferring the tribal villages to Seemandhra was proposed on February 7 this year, people in Bhadrachalam and Palvancha strengthened their agitation. They took to the streets with bows and arrows, blocking national highways, picketing government offices, besieging ministers and their houses. “We submitted petitions to the president, prime minister, governor, chief minister and tribal ministers against the move. But they ignored all our appeals,” says Podium Narendra Kumar, a tribal activist.

All the villagers Down To Earth spoke said they wanted to remain in Telangana where they have been living for generations. “The project is imposed on us. If the government goes ahead with it, we want to be rehabilitated in Khammam itself,” says Krishna Reddy, a farmer.

Resettlement uncertain

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, provides for “land for land” in the same region for people affected by irrigation projects. The Act has provisions to ensure that all benefits to the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes in the affected area continue in the resettlement area.

“The plan was to rehabilitate the affected people in tribal areas of Khammam itself,” points out Adityanath Das, principal secretary, State Irrigation Department. For this, the government had identified some villages in Bhadrachalam and Palvancha revenue divisions. As per the present proposal, the villages identified for resettlement will remain in Telangana, while most of the submergence villages will be transferred to Seemandhra. This will complicate things, he says.

To compensate for the land that will be submerged, the law requires the government to make available 12,800 hectares in the same region. But the government could not find adequate land in Khammam, point out tribal leaders. “How can it be assured that the Seemandhra government will find land to rehabilitate people? And even if it does, can people be rehabilitated in such a way that they can continue to pursue their livelihoods? If the adivasis from Schedule Five areas of Khammam are resettled in non-scheduled areas, they will lose their privileges,” explains M Babu Rao, former member of Parliament from Bhadrachalam.

imageAn adivasi woman dries red chillies in a village in Kunavaram block, Khammam, where all 50 villages will be submerged ( Photo: M SUCHITRA / CSE)The tribal people who will be affected by the partition have raised doubts over getting a fair deal in resettlement and rehabilitation. “We do not believe any government will be able to rehabilitate about 200,000 people, who will be displaced by the Polavaram project, with houses, land and an alternative livelihood,” says Dora. He points out that some families displaced by the Nagarjuna Sagar Dam 50 years ago have still not been rehabilitated.

Many tribals do not possess title deeds. People in a majority of tribal settlements have not received individual or community title deeds under the Forests Rights Act, 2006. “We had filed claims, but were not given title deeds on the pretext that the area will be submerged,” says Venkateswara Reddy, chief of Pochavaram village.

The tribal leaders are now demanding that the Centre shelve the Polavaram project, drop the move of “merger” and create a state of Gondwana comprising the Fifth Schedule tribal areas spread in Andhra Pradesh as well as in Chhattisgarh and Odisha.

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#India – Dont rob tribals, dalits of access to natural resources

Saturday, 08 February 2014 | MANAS JENA | in Bhubaneswar

Land, water, forest, mineral and air are natural gifts and every human being has natural right over these resources for a dignified life and livelihood but there are communities who have very limited access to these resources due to their economic status and many of them also face discrimination in access because of their social identity.

In Odisha, a large chunk of communities like fisher folk, forest produce collectors, forest workers, tribals, primitive tribal groups and Dalits still depend on natural resources for livelihood in spite of mining, industrialisation and social sector development. The land, forest and water have been their sources of livelihood. It is estimated that they constitute about 60 per cent of State’s total workforce and contribute about one fifth of the State’s GSDP. Mostly, these communities are enlisted as SCs and STs who are more dependent on natural resources.

The SCs and STs constitute 85 per cent of poor population of the south and north Odisha. Both the Central and the State Governments have been trying to strengthen the livelihood of the SCs and STs through programmes like KBK, Biju KBK, Biju Kandhamal O Gajapati Yojana, Gopabandhu Gramina Yojana, BGRF, SCSP and TSP, but how far these programmes are integrating the communities with resources in terms of ensuring their access to land for housing and agriculture, forest, water and other resource utilisation for livelihood?

The recent trend in the State shows that there has been growing tendency in inviting private capital to extract the resources through inequitable lease system. The capital intensive private enterprises have increasing access with capacity to invest, use technology and credit to unlimited exploitation of resources. On the other hand, the State has been making very less effort in terms of State investment for utilisation of natural resources by local people who depend on it for their livelihood. The communities depending on natural resource base are slowly sifting to occupations of wage labour. It is affecting local production and food security. The trend leads to distress migration to metropolis, urban slums and upcoming industrials corridors etc. The marginalised communities of coasts, forest and rural areas are landed in a sub-human condition in unhealthy locations even without basic minimum facilities. Their open access to common property resources has come to an end. Post 90s experienced a growing international concern for vulnerable groups, in the context of poverty, climate change and ecosystem. The State economic policy does not reflect its concern for marginalised communities losing their resource base livelihood in spite of sporadic movements by communities against the resource marginalisation.  Much of the private investment, armed with technology and international capital, in the State have played a process of resource alienation of local communities. The State Government has been providing a number of welfare schemes to poor but not making any attempt to ensure access of marginalised groups to land, water, forest and other forms resources by making legal provisions to ensure ownership rights over its utilisation and management.

Historically it has been identity based discrimination which denied owning resources and the post-Independence phase witnessed a large State apathy in formulating policy on democratising resources along with lack of political and administrative will in implementation  of constitutional mandate and now it is burdened with resource privatisation in an economic globalization phase.

Water is a free gift of nature. This is so important for human life that it cannot be compromised. But it is unfortunate that still there are communities who face discrimination while accessing drinking water in village. They have to invest to access water for domestic and agriculture based livelihood. The drinking water sources created out of State treasury are under the hegemonic control of dominant castes in the villages even today. In a majority of villages in rural area, access to safe drinking water is a struggle for Dalit women at tube wells, ponds, wells and water bodies. 89 per cent of the rural household depend on tube wells and wells for safe drinking water, whereas 8 per cent of total household have no access to safe drinking water and rest 3per cent have access to tap water in spite of schemes like Accelerated Rural Water Supply (ARWSS) and Swajaladhara schemes for providing safe drinking water in rural areas. There are areas where ground water is getting polluted due to arsenic, fluoride, iron, salinity and pollutant contents. These areas need very special attention of the Government to ensure safe drinking water to the people.

As per Government sources, about 10.84 lakh people depend upon fisheries for their livelihood.  The State has a coast line of 480km where 3.33 lakh families are depending on marine fisheries and mangrove forest. The export value of marine products to foreign countries was worth Rs 428 crore in 2009. The blackish water lagoon Chilika is spreading over an area of 79,000 hectares. But it is unfortunate that there are communities inhabiting in Chilika who are not being allowed to do fishing. It  is  told by the people there that  40 Dalit families of village Mahisaberhampur in Krushnaprasad block of Puri district in Chilika lake have no fishing right over there. In many parts of the State, the old issues of hegemonic control over resources based on identity and denying of sharing of resources with others in the same locality still continues unabated. Now the new challenges of huge private investment are coming in. The identity politics in these areas, in the absence of democratic political process and inclusive resource policy are being used by vested interest groups to divide the people. The poor and politically unorganised communities in many places are fighting among themselves to get access to the deployable resources but not unitedly fighting for people’s access to resources. The water bodies in rural villages given on lease for fishing where Dalit communities always struggle to have a fair share over it.  The most important challenge faced by the fishing communities now is the process of privatization of water and the fishing job.

The mining and industries are not only extracting huge water and minerals but also polluting water sources, land and air by emission. In the mining and industrial areas of the State like Talcher, Jharsuguda, Koida, Sukinda, Joda and Badbil, water scarcity is a major issue.  The ground water level has gone down along with surface water pollution affecting domestic consumption and agriculture.

The State policy is more industry tilted in providing water to industries while at the same time, the State invests very less to provide irrigation facilities to farmers struggling with drought. The irrigation intensity in the State was only 31per cent which is very less than the national average of 44 per cent. The canal systems, minor irrigation and lift irrigation has almost become defunct. The sponge iron factories requiring huge water are being mindlessly encouraged by the State in the name of industrialization. All the major rivers Mahanadi, Brahmani, Baitarani, Rusikulya and Budhabalang are being linked to major mineral based industries of the State. The reservoirs, Hirakud, Rengali, upper Indrabati and upper Colab are being used for industries.  Not only thousands of fishing community but also farmers and other communities living on the river bank and delta are in danger.

The 58,136 sqkm forest resources have been a major source of livelihood for Adivasi, especially PTG and other forest dwellers. The minor forest produce collection, its processing and marketing has not been improved in the State. The plight of Kendu leaf collectors and bamboo workers need a very special attention as Odisha is the third largest producer of Kendu leaf next to MP and Chhattisgarh. The destruction of forest for mining, industry, dams and infrastructure project has seriously affected the people with decreasing forest coverage in the State.

Considering the reality of large presence of workers in unorganised sector and their dependency on natural resource base livelihood, the State economic policy should put the people in centre focusing their livelihood.

The production process should be labour intensive. The resource utilisation should involve more people. There should be value addition through upgrading the skill of rural workers engaged in forest, fishing, livestock and allied activities. There should be capital investment to upgrade skill of workers, utilization and marketing but not at the cost of employment of local people and its environment and eco-system.

(The writer is rights activist who can be reached at email —[email protected])

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Gang Rape as ‘punishment’ is unheard of among Santhals #Vaw

TNN | Jan 25, 2014,

KOLKATA: The news of the gang rape as a punishment in Birbhum district was the most horrific piece of news about atrocities of tribals against themselves. We’ve heard of inter-tribal conflicts but here was one of a Santhal woman being ‘punished’ by Santhal men, reportedly in the name of morality and justice.What constitutes a crime? What is a punishment? At last count, the Indian Penal Code had 23 chapters and 511 sections dedicated to it. The severest punishment regardless of the ‘crime’ in question on consensus is death penalty.

For the Santhals on the other hand, India’s largest homogenous Scheduled Tribe, the severest punishment is bitlaha or excommunication awarded to offences of a marriage union within one’s own sept, sib and close relatives and with someone outside the community. This punishment is decided upon by the village council, the More Horko (the five people) headed by the Manjhi (the village headman), and his four assistants. Nevertheless, when such a relationship is found out, a warning is given before the pronouncement of the bitlaha.

And then, too, excommunication is not the finality of decisions, there is always an opportunity open for coming back to the community for the guilty, which is done through Jom Jati. If the excommunicated persons show repentance and willingness to regularize their membership, it can be done through a ritual celebration, through which they are readmitted, re-initiated into the community as new members, forgetting the past.

Where then does the heinous punishment by the village council in West Bengal of gang rape in public view of a Santhal girl in an alleged relationship with a married, Muslim man from another village fit?

No one should be punished for choosing their partner in life. It’s an individual decision and should be respected. And gang rape as a punishment brings out the worst of us as human beings: Violating a woman is the most humiliating action not only because her dignity and spirit is destroyed but she is deprived of her own will over her body.

That a woman having an affair with a man (married or not) of another community is considered an offence by the Santhals within the scope of their unwritten customary laws is not deniable. But the punishment awarded in Birbhum is unheard of. Santhals, all over the country, like everyone else, are seething in rage, and embarrassment over this judgment and its execution. What went so wrong?

Since I grew up in Kolkata, I spoke to relatives (mostly aunts) and friends in Santhal villages about their thoughts on this. They said this punishment was the first of its kind and were appalled by it. They said ‘rape’ within the community has grown in the last few years.

The Santhal’s administrative organization has been lauded as “an exemplary institution of a direct democracy. It was a poor man’s rostrum, where delegated power was all at discount and where for one night the final authority was the people themselves,” according to J P Singh in his ‘Changing Patterns of Tribal Government’.

In present days, the higher councils of the Pargana and the Hunt council have become antiquated and defunct, but the village council survives, though much of its powers in legal matters have been taken away as the Panchayati Raj has been imposed on our villages.

Following up on the news, there are terms alien to the traditional Santhal administration used; the village head is referred to as the ‘morol’ and not the Manjhi and the village council meeting is ‘salishi sabha’. I don’t know if this is a newly developed village council particular to this region.

Traditionally, punishment for an inter-caste union was seen as a way to maintain the purity of the community intact. What villagers fear the most now is that outsiders want to marry Santhal women to take over tribal land as the Tenancy Acts in tribal areas disallow non-tribals from owning or buying tribal lands. Despite uncountable cases proving such alliances as a way of acquiring tribal property and where the woman once married is not given the place of a ‘wife’ is no justification to execute this judgment.

As a Santhal woman, I am disturbed by what has happened as the village and the women there are reportedly defending the men and their actions. The perpetrators need to be punished. The incident is still being investigated and as we wait to get more clarity on the truth, I stand in solidarity with my Santhal sister. As she battles for her life in hospital, our traditional ways that upheld the dignity of life flicker in the darkness.

(Ruby Hembrom, who studied in La Martiniere for Girls and graduated in law from Kolkata, is an independent publisher of adivasi literature and folklore. She was learning and development trainer with IBM)

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Giving Dalits their due

Social Welfare

V.V. Krishnan Dalits and Adivasis protest for, among other things, full allocation of funds for the SCSP and the TSP, in New Delhi in 2012.

Two draft Bills on the Tribal Sub-Plan and the Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan raise hopes of granting these decades-old schemes statutory status and ensuring allocation of funds in the Central and State budgets for their implementation. By AJOY ASHIRWAD MAHAPRASHASTA

IN a significant legislative move, the Union government’s Ministry of Tribal Affairs released a draft Bill for the implementation of the long-neglected Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP), a special programme mandated by the Planning Commission to benefit the Scheduled Tribes. The Bill, which was released in the end of November 2013, will complement the Bill on the Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan (SCSP) released in June 2013. Both Bills recommend statutory status for these programmes and are an important step forward in making them stronger. They also recommend institutionalisation of accountability mechanisms in case of non-implementation of these programmes.

The SCSP, drafted by former Indian Administrative Service officer and prominent civil rights activist P.S. Krishnan in 1978, requires the Central and State governments to allocate budget funds for Dalits in proportion to their number in the population so as to enhance the flow of development benefits to them. It would entail earmarking 16.2 per cent of the total Plan outlay in the Union Budget for the Scheduled Castes, whose population was pegged around that figure in Census 2001. Similarly, the TSP mandates governments to earmark for the Scheduled Tribes 8.2 per cent of the total Plan outlay.

The Union and State governments have shown little interest in the implementation of these programmes. However, advocacy demanding proper implementation of the two sub-plans has gathered steam in the last 15 years. Leaders of some advocacy groups allege that governments have colluded with the dominant castes to prevent the implementation of these programmes. The activists, therefore, see the Bills as a shot in the arm for their cause.

As many as 151 Dalit and Adivasi groups from 22 States gathered in New Delhi in December and during the month met all-party delegations and political leaders separately. Land rights for Dalits and Adivasis, under the SCSP and the TSP, have been the main demand of these groups. On December 10, International Human Rights Day, thousands of Dalits and Adivasis protested in New Delhi to claim land rights for poor, landless Dalit and tribal families through land distribution for housing and agriculture. Addressing the rally, many Dalit leaders demanded that the provision should be included in the SCSP and the TSP. Following this, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh assured the activists that the Bills would be presented to the Union Cabinet so that they could be introduced in Parliament in subsequent sessions.

The SCSP (earlier known as Special Component Plan, or SCP) was introduced by the Planning Commission in 1979 and the TSP in 1974 as special programmes with the stated objective of bridging the development gap between the general population and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. They were intended to deliver direct benefits to Dalits and Adivasis because the universal social and economic welfare programmes of the Planning Commission remained inadequate for these populations.

Objectives of the plansThe plans were conceptualised with three objectives. One, funds under the SCSP and the TSP in various Ministries should directly benefit Dalit and Adivasi individuals; individual scholarships for education, housing facilities, employment opportunities, and so on, should be made available. Two, funds should be utilised to improve the conditions of Dalit and Adivasi families so that their access to the mainstream economy and social welfare programmes increases. This would include providing houses and cheap loans, creating employment opportunities and encouraging entrepreneurship. Three, funds under these programmes should be channelled towards special developmental work involving the building of schools and infrastructure required for the supply of drinking water and the extension of the public distribution scheme to bastis (hamlets) where Dalits and Adivasis constitute more than 40 per cent of the population. The overall vision was to create an enabling environment for greater participation of Dalits and Adivasis in the mainstream economy and society.

The Sixth Five Year Plan (1980-85) was the first Plan that gave due emphasis to the development of the S.Cs in terms of the Special Component Plan. Among the strategies adopted in this Plan were special Central assistance to the Special Component Plan and Scheduled Castes development corporations in the States. All the subsequent Five Year Plans emphasised these programmes. However, despite their existence for the last 30-odd years, governments have either chosen not to allocate funds under the SCSP and the TSP or diverted the funds towards other generic development work.

Nature of non-implementationThere are four different ways in which governments have been evasive in allocating funds under the SCSP and the TSP. In the preparation of the Union Budget, the Department of Economic Affairs under the Finance Ministry asks the Planning Commission to chart out expenditure for the financial year on the basis of the taxes collected. The Planning Commission, in turn, asks various Ministries to send proposals of their budget expenditure. The Ministries should, ideally, list out separate expenditure under the SCSP and the TSP, along with their general plan of expenditure. However, over the years the Ministries have not included SCSP and TSP funds in their proposals. Therefore, the Planning Commission has had to allocate funds under these schemes only after the Budget is approved. Government documents revealed that many Ministries never allocated funds under the SCSP and the TSP. This is the first and the most blatant violation of the schemes.

Secondly, most Ministries have flouted the norms of the schemes even while they have set aside funds for the S.Cs and the S.Ts. They have under-allocated SCSP and TSP funds. Said Paul Divakar of the Delhi-based Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan (DAAA):

“The analysis of the last five years’ Budget indicates that the SCSP has never received allocation beyond 8.1 per cent [of the total], which ideally should be 16 per cent. Similarly, of the total budget, 8 per cent should be allocated for the TSP, but the allocation is only around 4.5 per cent.

“For example, in the last five years the Ministry for Human Resource Development has received Rs.18,896.41 crore under the SCSP/TSP, which is comparatively more than what other Ministries have got. However, only 5 per cent of this is spent on scholarships for Dalit-Adivasi students. The rest of the money is spent under the head of ‘general allocation and asset building’. For instance, in 2011-12, the UGC [University Grants Commission] spent only Rs.63.36 crore on educational schemes for Dalit students out of Rs.780 crore allocated from the SCP.”

Thirdly, the actual expenditure is much less than even the under-allocated amounts for these sub-plans. Ministries declare a particular amount to be spent for the S.Cs and the S.Ts. However, the actual expenditure, which is declared only after two years of such an announcement, shows that the money was not spent at all or spent only partially. Again, most of the funds under the SCSP and the TSP are spent on general programmes. For example, the Department of Agriculture spends a substantial sum on the National Food Security Mission, but a substantial chunk of that amount is shown to be spent under the SCSP and the TSP, conveniently forgetting the point that the two sub-plans were introduced only because universal programmes could not adequately improve the social and economic stigma attached to the S.Cs and the S.Ts. For instance, Rs.400 crore from the National Food Security Mission’s total budget in 2013-14 was shown as money spent on the SCSP. Similarly, substantial amounts spent under health and rural development programmes, the Sarva Sikhsha Abhiyaan and other such programmes were shown under the SCSP and the TSP.

Fourthly, the amounts declared under the sub-plans are also used for purposes that have no direct impact on Dalits and Adivasis. This, DAAA activists say, is a gross diversion of SCSP and TSP funds. For example, the money is spent on building flyovers and highways. The Delhi government, they alleged, diverted Rs.744 crore towards the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. In Odisha, in 2011-12, around Rs.30 crore was spent on the construction of jails, shelters for paramilitary forces, and courts.

Said Paul Divakar: “Out of the Rs.26,328 crore and Rs.9,765 crore declared for the SCSP and the TSP in the Union Budget of 2013-14, 71.59 per cent has been allocated either notionally or to general schemes. Of the money allocated for the TSP, Rs.500 crore was set apart for the construction of highways. From the allocation for the SCSP in 2011-12 and 2012-13, Rs. 64.50 crore was used for animal injections.”

The maximum allocation under the SCSP and the TSP, over the last 30 years, has come from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. This does not serve the actual purpose of the SCSP and the TSP. These schemes were meant to help the S.Cs and the S.Ts to come out of their traditional occupations, mostly considered lowly and meant to serve the upper castes. Most of these funds were given in the leather industry, for weavers, and for improvement of scavenging conditions. “Does the spending mean that Dalits and Adivasis continue to be good cobblers and good butlers?” asked Divakar.

Most of the other Ministries say it is difficult to set aside funds for the S.Cs and the S.Ts for schemes that will directly impact them. However, the DAAA wants Ministries to come up with innovative ideas to empower Dalit and Adivasi individuals. To look into gross violations in the use of sub-plan funds, the Planning Commission set up the Narendra Jadhav task force in 2010. It pointed out that all Ministries in the Union and State governments fell far short in the implementation of the SCSP and the TSP and reminded them that earmarking of funds for the sub-plans was mandatory.

The Planning Commission has asked all Ministries to set aside SCSP and TSP funds in the proposal stage itself before the Budget. It has categorised Ministries into four groups. The first category has no obligation to earmark funds because of difficulty in quantifying the benefit to the S.Cs and the S.Ts. The other three categories have to allocate funds to the SCSP and the TSP on the basis of their roles in the development, survival, participation and protection of Dalits and Adivasis.

Even after these recommendations, most of the allocations have been oriented towards the survival aspect of Dalits and Adivasis and a minuscule percentage has been channelled towards their development, upward mobility and participation.

Dalit and Adivasi groups had, therefore, demanded legislation that would have these provisions. In January 2013, Andhra Pradesh promulgated the “Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan and Tribal Sub-Plan (Planning, Allocation and Utilisation of Financial resources) Act. The State government incorporated in it most of the recommendations made by the task force it set up for the purpose in 2012.

The lack of accountability is seen as the main reason why governments could bypass the sub-plans all these years. “A nodal authority with independent functioning would mandate Ministries to send detailed proposals to spend on the SCSP and the TSP before every budget. It would also facilitate it with innovative ideas to spend the funds based on the needs and demands of the S.C. and S.T. populations. Overall, it would ensure accountability and participation and help Dalits and Adivasis to claim these entitlements as rights,” said Mallepalli Lakshmaiah, a member of Hyderabad-based Centre for Dalit Studies.

If the two draft Bills see the light of day in Parliament, it would meet four important demands of Dalit activists. First, the constitution of a development council comprising ex-officio and nominated members for the purpose of planning, allocation and utilisation of budgets; second, the creation of a nodal agency at the appropriate level to make governments accountable; third, the earmarking of funds under the SCSP at least six months before the financial year and only towards schemes which have “direct and quantifiable” benefits to S.C. individuals, households or habitations; and fourth, consultation with the “primary stakeholders” before deciding the expenditure under these programmes.

While the Bills address most of the concerns, they still do not make the SCSP and TSP funds “non-lapsable and non-divertible”. A long-time demand of a prescribed penalty in case of non-implementation also does not figure in the Bills. Activists fear that government agencies could exploit these loopholes to prevent the proper implementation of the SCSP and the TSP. Considering the poor history of implementation, these concerns are justified. Despite such doubts, the two Bills are undoubtedly a significant step forward in ensuring social justice and equality


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Nannygate: Humiliation versus Exploitation

By Anand Teltumbde

It has been over a week after Devyani Khobragade, Deputy Consul General (DCG) for Political, Economic, Commercial and Women’s Affairs was arrested and humiliated in New York on 12 December but the uproar in media is refusing to die. It is surely not the first time that the US authorities humiliated Indian note-worthies that included even our ex-president APJ Abdul Kalam, but the amount of public outrage and the angry reaction from the government over this episode has been unprecedented. As any sensible person could guess, the only factor that explains its exceptionality is the times in which it took place. Yes, these are the election times! The results of the recent elections in four states has bolstered the confidence of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and has caused grave anxieties to the ruling Congress Party. The opportunities for playing the great post-election coalition game during the regime change activated all other parties too to maximize their prospects. This episode served them all to exhibit their jingoistic nationalism. There has been another aside to the episode. Devyani happens to be a dalit, a daughter of ex-IAS officer, and in that perfectly represents the vocal dalit middle class. Right or wrong, taking cudgel for her exceptionally serves two important electioneering objectives, viz., appealing to larger masses by invoking patriotic sentiments and appealing to dalits in particular by showing concern for their honour.

Devyani is a daughter of my long standing friend and personally I would sympathize with her. But the episode threw up too many important issues in public to be blinded by personal feeling. The main thrust of the argument in her favour is that she was humiliated by being handcuffed, allegedly strip-searched, and made to stay with ordinary criminals for nearly four hours before she was released on bail against the bond of $ 250,000. In the ‘socialist democratic republic’ called India, we are conditioned to see institutions treating people differentially and hence we cannot stomach the idea of equality of all before law. It is not to say that US has completely shunned racial profiling. But by far its law enforcement machinery treats people equally and operates uninfluenced by any pressure. US is also the biggest imperialist bully right since the World War II, exploiting people world over and even killing those whom she does not like with impunity. But the Indian ruling class parties and the government displaying their defiance in this episode have never raised even a whisper against its exploitative role. On the contrary, they have always bent backwards to curry her favour. This episode embeds many such duplicities and doublespeak behind the jingoistic noises for Devyani.

Messy Affair

As it happens with any media exposition, the facts become first victim of interpretations and worst, opinions. The case relates with the employment of one Sangeeta Richard, a Keralite Christian lady from Delhi by Devyani as a nanny cum domestic servant in November 2012. She got her A-3 US visa on the basis of false declaration of her salary of $ 4500 per month so as to meet the visa requirement. While Devyani’s side accuses Sangeeta of falsification, it could not be without her knowledge as the A-3 visa itself is based on diplomat’s proposal of taking a domestic servant. It has come into the public domain moreover that the Indian diplomats have followed this ‘standard template’ for securing A-3 visas for their domestic servants. Sangeeta was actually paid $ 537 per month by Devyani, which works out to $ 3.31 per hour as against the stipulated minimum wage of $ 9.75 per hour. Sangeeta happily works for Devyani but on 23 June suddenly goes missing. Devyani gets a call from Sangeeta’s lawyer on 1 July making certain unreasonable demands on behalf of Sangeeta. A complaint of cheating gets filed with Delhi Police against Sangeeta on behalf of Devyani the next day. During the next six months Sangeeta’s passport is revoked, she is restrained by the Delhi High Court from taking legal action against Devyani outside India, an arrest warrant is issued against her by the Metropolitan magistrate, Devyani and Indian authorities follow up with the US authorities but receive no response. Mysteriously, Sangeeta’s husband and children fly to US just two days prior to Devyani’s arrest. Whatever may be the crime of Sangeeta, the core charges of lying in visa form and paying less than the minimum wage against Devyani may not be disputed.

What is disputed is the ill treatment meted out to Devyani by the US Marshals. She was arrested by the state department’s diplomatic security bureau and handed over to US Marshals Service. The US marshals had handcuffed and strip-searched her according to their “standard arrestee intake procedures”. The entire complaint about ill treatment ignores this fact and imagines that Devyani was entitled for a better deal than what she received. The tacit assumption behind it is her stature as DCG. But the facts reveal that DCG did not have any diplomatic immunity; she did have consular immunity but it was confined to her consular duties only. Another argument raised against the alleged maltreatment is that the crime was not serious so as to deserve handcuffing or strip searches. True, it may not be so in India but we are speaking about the US law which, apart from the normal procedure to handcuff and search, considers it serious enough to provide for a sentence of 15 years (10 years for visa fraud and five years for making a false declaration). Lastly, it is also insinuated that what Devyani followed was a standard template used by the Indian diplomatic staff. It might point to the necessity of change in government policy but how can it be the argument for condoning the crime once caught?

Defiance Drama

The Indian government’s reaction to the episode has been amusing. While the Indian embassy had been warned in September that there were suspicions the diplomat has been underpaying minimum wage and that action could be imminent (As U.S. assistant secretary of state Nisha Desai Biswal disclosed to a paper), it failed to take corrective steps. It persisted with the mistaken assumption that Devyani had diplomatic immunity. Under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, consular officials could be arrested for acts committed outside on official job functions. The government woke up only after the things precipitated and transferred Devyani to the country’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, ensuring her complete immunity from US prosecution. But obviously, this would be short-lived protection as procedurally she would have to apply for a fresh diplomatic card through the UN Secretariat – a process that must ultimately go for clearance to the US State Department. In an unprecedented show of defiance, the government has taken a slew of measures withdrawing special privileges extended to the US Embassy in New Delhi. They included removal of barricades erected as a safety measure outside the U.S. Embassy, asking back the passes issued to Embassy staff to access airport lounges, withdrawing their import permits for liquors, and asking for the details of their employees, etc. It might assuage the sentiments of gullible masses overcharged with patriotism but does not explain why it had extended them unilaterally in the first place. Where was the honour or sovereignty of the country all these years when it succumbed to every other pressure from the US?

The least said about the politicians, better it would be! The rightist BJP, during its own NDA reign from 1999-2004 had pleaded to include India into a Triad Against Terrorism comprising US-Israel-India, overturning decades of Indian foreign policy that had favoured the Palestinian cause. Its Yashwant Sinha wanted India to arrest the embassy staff with same sex partners under Article 377. Mayawati did not forget her patented caste card accusing the government of delay because Devyani was a dalit. Many of them, including Meira Kumar, Sushilkumar Shinde, Rahul Gandhi, and not to exclude Narendra Modi refused to meet the US Congressional delegation that was visiting India at that time. Samajwadi party went overboard making a comic offer of Lok Sabha seat to Devyani in the forthcoming elections. Did they not know that the US presided over the post-War imperialist system for subjugation of nations and their people? Did they not know that the US maintains 1,000 military bases overseas for the purpose? But never before did they utter a word against the US. They rather picked up every of its signals subserviently and bent themselves backward in carrying them through against their own people. The show of defiance in this case is just meant for the electoral gallery!

The Class Matters

The entire drama is focused on humiliation. It is a curious term that tends to undermine objective exploitation of masses and tends to valorize subjective feeling of ignominy by an individual of stature. With the rise of dalit middle class it is becoming quite popular, some academics theorizing it as a key issue. It is amusing to note that the perceived humiliation of a Foreign Service official provokes nationwide outrage and creates a foreign relation crisis for the country in which a vast majority of people live ignominious lives. Many examples crowd in my mind but a single case of Soni Sori, a tribal school teacher in Chhattisgarh should be enough to bring home the point. This lady, on mere suspicion of Maoist link was arrested, stripped naked, raped and her vagina was filled with stones; not allowed to visit funeral of her husband who died of police torture and make arrangements for her children in teens who were rendered parentless. Was that not humiliation? How many of those demonstrators who shouted for Devyani had felt even a cringe of consciousness for Sori? I bet all those dalits actively protesting against humiliation of Devyani through e-mail and social media campaigns would not know even her name. Does she not belong to them?

Sangeeta Richard may well be a rogue but she will surely be in jail, her family devastated by this episode and nothing will happen to our dear Devyani! After all, she is not the class of ordinary mortals. Her humiliation therefore is more important than exploitation of millions of Soris around!

Dr Anand Teltumbde is a writer, columnist, civil rights activist and a professor of management at IIT, Kharagpur

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