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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 32 New Delhi July 28, 2018

Adivasis of Jharkhand on War Path to Protect their Identity

Sunday 29 July 2018


by Arun Srivastava

The BJP Government of Raghuvar Das in Jharkhand has been on the mission to grab tribal land and forests of the State to hand over to the corporate sector. Ever since he entered into the chamber of the Chief Minister, he has been busy evolving the strategy to help the big business houses. It is worth recalling that Das was installed as the Chief Minister overruling the claims of the tribal leaders who nurse the welfare of the community people. The alacrity shown by him in amending the CNT-SPT Act, implementation of the faulty domicile policy, and using the excuse of “wrong land records” to snatch away raiyot land given to the poor under ‘bandobasti’ (settlement of village revenue records) and registered in Register 2 are testimony to his dubious intentions.

In the past too, some of the governments in their quest to help the industries had to adopt such tactics. But they could not move beyond a certain limit. They were forced by their tribal brethren to soft pedal. But Das is hell-bent to fulfil their desires. During his rule, the State witnessed a spate of protest agitations. Forced acquisition of Adivasi land is common in Jharkhand. On July 25, 2017 the entire State came to a standstill in response to a bandh called by the CPI(ML) against land grab. At least 21 organisations including the Adivasi Jan Parishad, the Moolnivasi Chhatra-Yuva Sanghatan, the Sarna Prarthana Sabha, Nagdi-Chaura Zameen Bachao Morcha, and Ulgulan Mahila Manch actively participated in the bandh.

Just after a year on July 5, 2018 the advasis of the State hit the streets protesting land acquisition amendments. Thousands of protesters were detained at different places across the State on Thursday (July 5) during the one-day Jharkhand bandh call given by the Joint Opposition against the amendments to the Land Acquisition Bill which provides for waiving-off a social impact assessment for specific projects of public interest. The Opposition has criticised the amendments saying those could lead to corporates easily acquiring land.

Markets, schools and even government offices in most of the district headquarters remained closed. Public transport was also hit as taxi and autorickshaw unions supported the bandh. Long distance bus services, too, were affected.The State BJP had earlier called the bandh “a gimmick” and “unconstitutional”. The bandh is being observed by the Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) and Left Parties.

Besides deploying shrewd method to loot the land, the government has been resorting to secretive arrest of the tribal and political activists. On August 17, 2012, Tahir Ansari, a leader of the CPI(ML) in Garhwa district, was arrested by the police in Chana village of Nager block. He had played a key role in mobilising the rural poor in large numbers to capture thousands of acres of land that was illegally occupied by the upper-caste feudal forces in Garhwa district. Initially the police denied of his arrest but sustained agitation made them to confess the illegal detention. The way the arrest was executed it implied that it was a part of the conspiracy hatched by the government to eliminate the radical Left leaders.

The government and administration have been subverting the rule of governance. In Garwa, the hot bed of the movement, a new method for land loot is being employed. A land survey conducted in undivided Bihar in 1980, which is 95 per cent faulty and not recognised by the present Bihar Government, is now being enforced online by the Ranka and Nagar Uttari blocks in Garwa. This survey is controversial even as per the 1932 khatiyan. There is a provision for Section 87 to settle land disputes and Section 90 giving raiyots the right to appeal, but the survey has been put online without using these sections. The farmers’ land has been made ‘disputed’ to the maximum, facilitating the handing over of these lands to the corporate companies.

The bandh was called in the wake of the struggle of adivasis of Nagdi village near the capital Ranchi, against the attempt to grab 228 acres of fertile land. The Jharkhand Government plans to grab land of 35 villages for campuses of the IIM, Law College and Triple IIT, and Nagdi was a test case. This land interestingly was acquired on paper way back in 1957. But in view of the fierce tribal struggle refusing compensation, the government failed to grab the land. Since then the land has been cultivated every year by the adivasis, who have even proof of having paid land revenue till very recently. What is interesting is that the tribal women have been leading the movement under the command of Dayamani Barla.

The CPI(ML) General Secretary, Dipankar Bhattacharya, said that earlier the government was instrumental in directly grabbing land to hand over to the corporates. Faced with the political consequences of people’s resentment against land grab, however, now the governments are seeking to take a back seat and allow corporations to acquire land directly. There are changed political circumstances too. Today, Jharkhand is a separate State, several of its Chief Ministers are adivasis, and under their patronage, the Jindals and Mittals are blatantly defying laws like CNT and PESA to grab and loot forests and land. Political forces bearing the ‘Jharkhand’ name, once the new State was established, have emerged as agents of the corporates rather than as champions of the true spirit of a separate Jharkhand.

The bandh was the political State-wide strike on the issue of land grab, corporate plunder, and eviction. Its success reflects the political assertion of the adivasis against corporate machination. Das is keen to push his agenda notwithstanding the people turning hostile and taking to protests throughout the State. What is indeed interesting to watch is that the State BJP is sharply divided over Das’ decision to make changes in two land legislations through ordinance. True enough, a major section of the BJP legislators along with State BJP President Tala Marandi have raised their voice of protest.

The Das Government has proposed changes in two land acts—Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT) and Santhal Paragana Tenancy (SPT) Act. Both Acts—the CNT of 1908 and the SPT of 1949—are meant to protect the land rights of the tribal people and local residents.

Tala Marandi said: “The ordinance was brought in a hurry. There is no need to amend the land Acts. If proposed changes are made, then the identity of the tribals and Moolvasis will come under threat. I do not think that development work is hampered by either of the land Acts.” Marandi’s statement has put the State Government in an embarrassing position. Legislators allege: “We were kept in the dark during the Tribal Advisory Council meetings.” However Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s Executive President and former Chief Minister Hemant Soren said: “The land will be acquired for malls, cinema halls and other purposes. We cannot be mute spectators as this is a question of identity of the people of the State.”

A BJP tribal legislator told IANS: “Raghubar Das is playing with the sentiments of the Advasis and Moolvasi. He doesn’t belong to either communities. His move will hurt the party as the Opposition parties have united on both issues. The central leaders should intervene. The Chief Minister should focus on the governance.” The BJP alliance partner All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) have stepped up their agitation and has launched ‘Jan ki Baat’.

Historically, the tribals had always lived as masters of their lives and their system of communal holding of agricultural land continued uninterrupted. It was one of the best egalitarian and democratic systems of land holding known to the best civilized region. But once the colonial British arrived they also brought with them corrupt practices and the exploitative system of governance.

A senior economist observed at a time when the government was unable to handle the land issue and solve the agrarian question, there was no justification for distorting and ruining the tribal land system. Over the years they have been practising their own independent way of managing the land issue. But the Das Government in its quest to benefit the business houses have been making all efforts to destroy and shatter their economy.

He pointed out land has been close to the hearts of the tribals. The local chiefs received no rent, rather only assistance in war and “salami” at festivals. In Oraon areas, community ownership of land was known as “bhuinhari” held by the original settlers; it was also rent-free. The Raja of local chiefs had separate land known as “Majhas”. The rajas gave the land to the tribals, who cultivated and paid a share to the Rajas (kings). There was a similar system among the Cheros and Kharwars of Palamau.

An attempt was made during the Mughal rule to finish the control of tribunals on the lands. But it was eventually foiled. It might sound strange to many but the native tribes—considered illiterate, naïve, and backward by rest of the people from the so-called modern society—are among the first torch-bearers of protest against invasion of forests by the outsiders. The subjugation and colonisation of the Jharkhand region by the British East India Company resulted in spontaneous resistance from the local people. Almost hundred years before India’s First War of Independence (1857), the tribes of Jharkhand were already engaged in a series of armed struggle to liberate their land from the British colonial rule.

The Adivasis were alienated from their resources, exploited and subjected to injustices in the name of development, civilisation and nationalism. Advasis, who constituted 65 per cent of the total population, are now reduced to 26.3 per cent of the population. Denied of livelihood and forced to flee their villages, they have migrated to other States or industrial hubs.. They were evicted from their land and displaced tactfully. The government, the industrialists and the media are putting hard efforts to convince the people by propagating the messages that industrialisation is the only way to develop young Jharkhand and therefore the villagers must surrender their land for the development projects, which would provide them jobs and boost the economy of the State. But the Adivasis are not convinced of the idea. Even today around 91.7 per cent of them still rely on agriculture, forest produces and livestock for their survival. They are resisting against displacement, attacking the company’s officials and not allowing them to enter into the villages.

While the adivasis are determined to foil the attempts of the government and the corporate people to grab their lands, the latter have not lost their hopes and still attempting to take other ways and means to enter into the areas. In 2005 the Arcelor Mittal Company had tried to enter into the State by signing an MoU with the Jharkhand Government for setting up a steel plant at an estimated investment of Rs 40,000 crores. The company requires 25,000 acres of land and 20,000 units of water per hour for the steel plant and a township in Khunti and Gumla district.

But their move failed. The people under the banner of “Adivasi Moolvasi Astitava Raksha Manch” launched on agitation against industrialization in the region. They made it known publically that “they need grains not iron for feeding their stomach”. The corporate house intended to confuse and win over the trust of the tribal people by playing up the idea of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The company offered to set up an ITI (Industrial Training Institute) in Khunti. Half of the seats were reserved for Adivasi students and 50 scholarships were to beawarded on merit to deserving local students of the region. The ITI was projected as a catalyst of change for the Adivasi community. To lure the youths it also proposed to start sponsoring hockey tournaments for girls and boys of Khunti and Gumla districts. The training for boys and girls started with the support of the district and State hockey federations. The next step was to lure the NGOs with huge funds. Finally, the company declared $300 million CSR programme, which would be spent for Rehabilitation and Resettlement package for the State. But that also didn’t work.

The company made a new holy business strategy to join hands with the church-based social services institutions as the region is highly dominated by the Christians Adivasis. It used the services of Christian officials. But this too failed. The Adivasi “Jharkhand Indigenous People’s Forum” wrote letters to the Superior of the Don Bosco Society and the Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo asking them to make their stance clear on the issue of supporting the Arcelor Mittal Company.

The Adivasis’ struggle against displacement spread across the State. “Loha Nahi Anaj Chahiye” (We want grains not iron), “Jal, Jungle aur Jamin Hamara Hai” (Land, forest and water belong to us) and “Jan denge, Jamin Nahi Denge” (We will surrender our lives but not land) were the slogans raised from villages to the State capital.

Dayamani Barla, the convener of the Adivasi Moolvasi Astitva, Raksha Manch, the organisation fighting against the Arcelor Mittal at Torpa-Kamdara says: “We will not allow the Arcelor Mittal Company to enter into the villages because one cannot be rehabilitated if once displaced. The land which we cultivate belong to our ancestors; therefore we will not leave it.” According to the General Secretary of Jan Mukti Andolan, Jerom Jerold Kujur, “It is more important to boost up agriculture than setting up industries in Jharkhand, as agriculture production in Jharkhand is marginal.” If the government provides “irrigation and other facilities to the local farmers, they could reap three crops in a year”.

The fundamental question is: why do the Adivasis not want to give their land for the development projects? The reply is very simple. The adivasis have to bear the brunt of displacement. In every project approximately 80 to 90 per cent Adivasis and local people were displaced but merely 15 per cent of them were halfway rehabilitated and no one has any idea about the remaining 85 per cent people.

While tribals have been on the war path against the grabbing of the land, some people especially the government officials have been busy engineering illegal land transfer by subverting the Act. Around 2608 such cases were registered in 2003-2004, 2657 cases in 2004-2005, 3230 cases in 2005-2006, 3789 cases in 2006-2007 and 5382 cases in 2007-2008. These clearly indicate that the cases of illegal land alienation are increasing rapidly. According to the Annual Report 2004-2005 of the Ministry of Rural Development of the Government of India, Jharkhand topped the list of Adivasi land alienation in India with 86,291 cases involving 10,48,93 acres of land.

It is an irony that even after 70 years of independence, the Government of India was unable to bring a law for the rehabilitation of the affected people. Adivasis were displaced from one place to another in the name of development but they were not rehabilitated. Obviously they are scared of any such move and feel betrayed by the welfare state. The rulers and bureaucrats must realise that displacement is not just shifting people from one place to another but it is destruction of their livelihood resources, culture and identity.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52[at]

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