By Harsing Jamre, Nasri Bai Ningwal, Prakash Bandod*
Augus t4, 2021
Over 2,500 Adivasis mobilized in response to Barwani district administration’s recent move to issue a show cause notice to Valsingh Saste, a prominent Adivasi activist of Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS), Madhya Pradesh. For two decades, Valsingh Saste as an activist of JADS has been continuously leading struggles for the constitutional and fundamental rights of Adivasis.
The move to hand show cause notice while accusing Valsingh of committing “heinous crimes” of organizing protests, rallies and demonstrations for their constitutional and fundamental rights has enraged Adivasis, who consider the notice an attempt to subdue the ongoing struggles of Adivasis for their constitutional rights.
Protesting Adivasis unanimously responded to this attack by raising slogans of – “Valsingh kon che? Aamu che, aamu che!” (Who is Valsingh? All of us!) – making it clear that this was not an issue of mere harassment of an Adivasi activist, but an affront to the entire Adivasi community who has continuously leading constitutional struggles for their rights.
Adivasi women and men were stopped on their way to the District Collector’s Office as the gates of the office were shut to prevent protestors from entering the premises – Adivasis led their protest right at the gate of the office, barring all entry and exit from the office until the district administration formally ‘received’ the showcause notice being submitted to them – seeking a response from the administration as to why shouldn’t Adivasis of the district pass externment orders on the administration instead, for their crimes of the constant violation and denial of the fundamental rights of Adivasis?
Adivasis were enraged at the district administration: “You get paid for one job- to know laws that serve people and to ensure that the constitutional rights of Adivasis are not violated – and yet, it is us who has to constantly come to you, to protest, to agitate and to educate you, leaving behind our homes, our fields, our work – thousands of illiterate Adivasis have to travel all the way to come to you, teach you the law regarding NREGA, regarding ration (National Food Security Act or NFSA), regarding our education (Right to Education), regarding our health! While you receive salaries from our money, it is us who have to do your work for you! Instead of taking out externment notices against us, you should be paying us!”
Throughout the protest, Adivasis publicly testified to these ‘crimes’ of the government and administration. Adivasi farmers remain bereft of their right to sell crops at minimum support price (MSP) and are forced to sell their crops at low prices, which do not even cover their costs of production, pushing them into debt while traders derive a hefty profit.
Instead of guaranteeing the MSP for all 24 crops at 1.5 times the total cost of production, the government is attempting to do away with all possibilities of Adivasi farmers receiving remunerative prices for their crops. The lack of employment opportunities, the deliberate mismanagement and corruption in the implementation of NREGA has led to the forced displacement and migration of thousands of Adivasis to Gujarat and Maharashtra, where women and men suffer harassment, violence and exploitation at the hands of their employers. Citing the Madhya Pradesh government’s order to close down more than half schools across 89 Adivasi blocks in 20 districts, contrary to the provisions of ensuring a school every 1-3 kilometers as per the Right to Education Act, 2009.
Already the futures of Adivasi students have suffered tremendously due to the imposition of online education – further, the government is actively trying to privatize education and deny Adivasis, Dalits and other children of the working masses their right to education! Hospitals remain perpetually understaffed, while health centres and hospitals in Adivasi blocks, lack basic tools and machines for investigation and diagnoses – protestors demanded that the District Collector, SP come out and respond to the notice publicly, however only the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) and the sub divisional police officer (SDOP) appeared to receive the show cause notice addressed to the district administration.
As the show cause notice was read out to the officials, protestors demanded that the officials answer for each of the ‘crimes’ listed in the notice. For over an hour, uncomfortable officials were forced to face a barrage of questions on aforementioned issues, to which the SDM and SDOP were unable to provide concrete answers.
Adivasi organisations across Barwani – Adivasi Chhatra Sangathan, Jay Adivasi Yuva Shakti, Adivasi Ekta Parishad, Adivasi Vikas Parishad, Adivasi Mukti Sangathan, Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Mahasabha and OBC, SC, ST Ekta Manch all participated in the protest and warned the administration that such attempts to harass and subdue constitutional Adivasi struggles would not be tolerated and would be responded by the entire Adivasi community, across the State.