The water, forest and land rights of the Adivasis and a permanent solution to the continuing violence in the region are the major issues behind the 300-kilometer foot march

Anil MishraMore by the author >, Tehelka

March 13, 2013

Public meeting of the Adivasi Mahasabha

In the afternoon heat, thousands of Adivasis holding red flags are leading a foot march in the naxal dominated areas of Bastar. It is alleged that the constitutional system has collapsed, the government is not ready to accept the Supreme Court’s orders, there is violation of the Fifth Schedule and the PESA Act, the government along with private companies wants to rob the natural resources of this region and that the very existence of the Adivasis is in danger. To tackle this situation, it is important to notify Bastar as an autonomous district under the Sixth Schedule of the constitution. Intellectuals from around the world are supporting this demand of the Adivasis. A glimpse of this support was seen on 9th March in Dantewada, when Professor Nandini Sunder, High Court lawyer Sudha Bharapdwaj, Smiti Sharma, Neelabh Dubey, six research scholars from Azim Premji University, Shahana Mangesh from National Law University Bengaluru, members of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, SKMS general secretary Rajesh Sandhu and Professor Justin Podar from York University in Canada, members of Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch and around two dozen representatives from various organisations from around the world reached there.

The foot march which started under the banner of the CPI and the Adivasi Mahasabha, started in Konta on 1st March and will end on 15th March in Jagdalpur. Adivasis from remote areas are coming to take part in the march organised under the leadership of Manish Kunjum, former MLA of the CPI and National President of the Adivasi Mahasabha. The water, forest and land rights of the Adivasis and a permanent solution to the continuing violence in the region are the major issues behind this 300-kilometer foot march, although the list of demands is quite long. These include demands for cancellation of all the MOUs signed with the mining and power companies in Bastar, to immediately stop the work on the Polavaram, Bodhghat and Telavarti power projects, removal of the Central Security Forces from Bastar and removal of the Army training centre, judicial enquiry into the cases of massacre including the one at Sarkeguda and the filing of FIR’s against the accused. There is also an emphasis on demands to bring NDMC headquarters to Bastar, to stop non – Adivasis from occupying Adivasi land, to stop forced acquisition of village land for police line and helipad and to enable the committee, formed after the release of the Sukma Collector, for the release of thousands of innocent Adivasis from jail.

On 9th March, sociologist Nandini Sunder, speaking before thousands of Adivasis, accused the state government of violating the orders of the Supreme Court. She said that on Salwa Judum the Supreme Court had ordered that the recruitment of the SPO’s be cancelled and their guns taken back but the government acted in an opposite manner. The SPO’s were made a part of the auxiliary force, their salaries were increased and they were given more advanced weapons. The Supreme Court had also ordered for FIR’s to be registered in cases of violence during Salwa Judum, rehabilitation of the villagers, and compensation for Adivasis affected by the violence but the government has not followed any of its orders. The forces were not removed from the schools and the government continued to lie before the Supreme Court in this case. Now we have filed a case of contempt of court but the state government has been successful in delaying the matter on some pretext or the other. She said that according to the census figures it is clear that the population of the Adivasis is decreasing in Dantewada, Bijapur and Sarguja. Adivasis are being killed, people are being forced to migrate and those who stayed back in the villages are so petrified that they scared to even raise a family. The women have fought bravely in Bastar but the government is with the rapists. Only recently three girls who were raped during the Salwa Judum were forced to take back the case under the pressure of the police. The constitutional system has collapsed here. The Sixth Schedule is the only alternative.

Former Central Minister Arvind Netam and general secretary of the CPI, Atul Anjaan, also supported the demands of the Adivasis in the gathering.

In a conversation with TEHELKA, Manish Kunjam, President of the Adivasi Mahasabha and leader of the foot march, said that this is a fight for the rights of the Adivasis and they would achieve it. Given below are some excerpts from the conversation.

What would you achieve from this foot march?

We are fighting for the water, forest and land rights of the Adivasis. We stopped Tata from coming to Bastar, fought against ESSAR. We put a stop to Salwa Judum by leading a struggle against them. The question is, how long would we have to fight? Now we need permanent solutions to the problems. To have a rule of law we need the Sixth Schedule in Bastar.

But the Fifth Schedule is already there, so why do we need the Sixth Schedule?

The Fifth Schedule is not being implemented. In scheduled areas notified under the Fifth Schedule (where the tribals are entitled to special rights to the land as well as forests and mineral resources) the land of the Adivasis are being acquired for private companies, without the Gram Sabha’s permission. The national as well as international companies are interested in the natural resources of Bastar and the government is not even ready to accept the orders of the Supreme Court. The constitutional system has collapsed over here; therefore autonomy is the only solution.

What is the guarantee of the Sixth Schedule’s compliance?

For years, the Adivasi’s have tolerated exploitation and cruelty. Now we want autonomy. If there is autonomy, the Adivasis will be able to take their own decisions. The PESA Act would be implemented and the Adivasis would have rights over their water, forests and land. This is also necessary to tackle the violence and armed revolution in Bastar.

But the non-Adivasis of Bastar remain apprehensive about the Sixth Schedule.

All these years the Adivasis have not demanded anything, now they want autonomy to save their land, art, culture and their very existence. What is wrong in this? This would not harm the non – Adivasis of Bastar. The educated people should be better informed about the Sixth Schedule.

It is alleged that the state government is not following the orders of the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court orders on Salwa Judum are not being implemented. The Judum movement was started by the Center and the state government, therefore who would implement the orders that came against it. Both the national as well as international companies are coming to rob Bastar. All this is a conspiracy to give them the Adivasi land.