TRIBAL DIGNITY, RIGHTS AND VALUES VIOLATED IN JHARKHAND
TARUN KANTI BOSE
harkhand, a homeland of the Adivasi peoples and its birth as a separate state within the Indian union in 2000 was a major victory after a five-decade-long, militant struggle. It was hoped that a separate state would protect the Adivasi Peoples' rights to their own land and natural resources, conserve their distinct culture, and allow them to regain their dignity. But this milestone achievement came after generations of power struggle between the indigenous population and several different outside forces that have colonised the land.
In Jharkhand, as in most indigenous peoples' homelands around the world, mining and logging have together formed the backbone of the economy. But these activities have impacted tribal populations acutely, pushing them off the land and away from their traditional subsistence farming livelihoods, leaving them in abject poverty, landless and jobless.
The growing domestic and global demand for cheap primary products, fuelled by free market economics and Asia's rapid industrialisation, has driven India's government and commercial enterprises to develop the natural resource sector, plundering the land at an unprecedented rate. One adivasi victim of the government's policy of unregulated resource extraction explains, "The government justifies its action by telling us we have to make this sacrifice in the name, and for the greater glory, of National Development. Ironically, this spectacular progress – given the sugar-coated label of National Development – has seen 50 million people uprooted from self-sustaining livelihoods and thrown into the gutters of industrial townships. Sixty percent of them are Adivasis and Dalits and most have not received any compensation in spite of losing their jobs and their land. The government has made the empty gesture of providing a small number of dispossessed adivasis with token employment on development projects, but generally the work is tedious, poorly paid and offers little security. Also, the government can cynically exploit this vast pool of new 'wage earners', paying them meagre wages to do backbreaking work, and casting them aside when they're unneeded. Not surprisingly, women and children are usually the ones who suffer the most. For generations Adivasi women have shared the same status as men in these traditional, subsistence communities. Now things are completely different. They're confined to dirty male-dominated mining towns and shanty settlements, where they're treated as second-class citizens, and face toxic and hazardous pollutants in their water, air and food.
TRIBAL WOMEN WOES HAVE INCREASED
The displacement has brought adivasis, especially women face-to-face with economic and social paradoxes of life in Jharkhand. Women face trafficking, migration, unemployment, deforestation etc. The transformation of agrarian economy to mining economy degrades women's economic, social and cultural status. Hence non-existent social evils like wife battering, alcoholism, indebtedness, physical and sexual abuse, prostitution, polygamy and desertion are common in the mining region. The patriarchy gets reinforced when mining industry downplays this brutal transformation wreaking havoc on women. Women marketed as vulnerable, entertaining and sexy objects by the media. Trafficking of women in mining and other industries are rampant in districts of Jharkhand. In Ranchi there 1500 placement agencies running the trafficking racket. Tribal adolescents or women fall to the lure of the agents and are employed as domestic maids in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai. Post to the killings of adivasis putting up resistance against Tatas in Kalinga Nagar (Orissa) newspapers maintains a 'conspiracy of silence' on the mining stories affecting the lives of Adivasis. Formation of Jharkhand in November 2000 added to the influx and emergence of a new class of exploiters, the contractors, politicians and bureaucrats. The major outflow of resources to the urban market-industrial complex has further uprooted millions of Adivasis and major inflow of non-Adivasis with the skills of expropriation, increased pressure on the land.
The Adivasis have been forced into labour market at the lowest rung. The land, their only hope for sustenance with dignity is robbed from them. In Ranchi, you could see at Lalpur Chowk or near the Kutcherry, those uprooted Adivasi men and women sitting on the road to sell their labour. But the contractors prefer adolescent girls, as they are vulnerable and pliable. However, the root cause of all sorts of exploitation, which girls are subjected to and from adolescence onwards, is illiteracy. Disparity between the genders, particularly in rural areas, is a reflection of the social attitude of discrimination towards the girl child. While the solution to the problem does not entirely in the education system, education can certainly play a positive role of social engineering in the improvement of her status. Poor adivasi families cannot afford the direct opportunity cost of girls' schooling (the opportunities being help in running the household and care of younger siblings) Social and cultural traditions perpetuate the disadvantages deriving low status early marriage, poor health and poor nutrition. Girls don't go to school because of distances, inflexible timings, irrelevant and gender-insensitive curricula. First, solving these problems and implementation of compulsory education for girl has to be sorted out. Technical education can be an effective entry point to women's economic and overall empowerment. The level of mother's education is a vital factor in determining infant and child mortality. Education leads to direct economic benefits in the form of higher lifetime earnings for women while the society and community also benefit from higher productivity of its labour force. Female education also leads to greater ability on part of females to communicate with their spouses on birth control.
Even after dream of abua deshum (our country) became a reality for the tribals of the state, the tribals face brutal detachment from Jal, Jangal and Zameen (Water, forest and land). Women bear the brunt of social and ecological paradoxes as a result of displacement. The practice of witchcraft pushes women to the condition of servitude. When women from villages and moffusil come to the cities in search of job, then either falls in the trap of the trafficking racket. Traffickers have carved out specific territories for themselves. Many mine owners procure adolescent girls and women by using women traffickers for liaison. Women or men dalaals (agents) go deeper into impoverished villages and pick up adolescent girls or women. They go into 'labour catchment' villages during festival time and contact village pradhan, panch or influential men or any women who liaises for them with the parents of adolescent girls for procuring them for road construction, stone crushing mines or brick kiln units. They induce the parents to send their wards to work in the city assuring them a sizeable wage. But it happen the opposite.
Women employed in mining range between the age of 25 and 35 years, walk 10 to 20 kilometres from their villages to gather at the main square of Dumka and Pakur districts of Santhal Pargana region, to earn their day's meal. Slowly potential employers come to the square, walk around talking to the labour and decide whom to employ. Then they pick up women and men, for working in the stone crushing mines. Most of the employers are crafty and clever who try to extract more work from the labourer by pushing back their clocks. If women stop work to drink water or relieve themselves, their employers even taunt them. They rebuke them, while simultaneously entices women labourers to provide the employers some personal services. Sexual abuse is a constant fear gnawing at the women labour. If women refuse the employer then they scold them for not working well and pay them less that what were agreed upon as a wage. As it is, a woman's wage is less than that of a male labourer. Apart from Santhali women, Muslim and Pahariya and Birhor women also work in the stone crushing mines. Barharwa in Sahebganj, bordering West Bengal and Bangladesh adolescent girls and women are trafficked. Dalaals of the trafficking racket operate in collusion with the local police and there is illegal infiltration from Bangladesh, too. Dumka and Pakur, predominantly Santhali districts where women tend lose from all sides. Deprived from inheriting land and quite victims of polygamy, thrown out of the house without maintenance, a large number of Santhali women are forced to lead unimaginably hard lives, with hardly any resource support. Hapless, battered and dejected Santhali women have no other option left but to fall in the trap of the traffickers deployed by stone crushing mines or other mines. There is miserable plight of adolescent girls or women selling coal at a Coal Market in Girdih. Many of buyers ask about the price of the girl along with the coal loaded in a basket. Pushed to impoverished condition, they keep mum by stomaching all the humiliations. Females selling coal in the
market have to bribe the police, if they refuse then they would be intimidated, terrorised or put behind the bars. Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) deployed for security of the coal mines help in the theft of coal from the mines. CISF jawans demand money for allowing men or women for lifting the coal from the mines. Tribal girls have to shoulder the burden of the family and face physical and sexual abuse in her workplace, home and outside. Physical and sexual assault at the mining areas is high because most of them work without their husbands and families. Women and girls are picked up by single men or by groups and dumped after being used. Such incidents are becoming common in brick kilns and mining areas. With the influx of outsiders, destruction of forests and erosion of primary economic activities- agriculture and collection of forest produce- gender equilibrium has gone for a toss in Dumka and Pakur districts. As women form the bulk of the active workforce in the tribal society, they have been sucked into underbelly of progress. Crime rates are escalating, with many cases going unreported.
OPERATION GREENHUNT & TRIBALS OF JHARKHAND
Operation Greenhunt in Jharkhand has directly affected the adivasi population in the state. It has driven them to unprecedented levels of desperation where their very survival is being threatened.
In the last 64 years, more than 20 lakh acres of land has been acquired directly by the State in the name of various "development" projects displacing more than 15 lakh Adivasis from their homelands. This drive for acquisition of their land has become particularly acute during the last decade when 102 Memorandum Of Understandings (MOUs) have been signed with a number of large private corporations, some of which are thousands of acres of land involving the displacement of thousands of adivasis in each case. Most of these MOUs are for mining or for setting up other polluting industries. These have however met with enormous resistance from the adivasis who have organized themselves and have so far successfully resisted the accusations of their land as a result of which virtually none of these MOUs have so far been operationalised.
All this land acquisition of Adivasi land has however been done without the consent or even consultation with the Adivasis. The MOUs were in fact signed in great haste and secrecy with no information at all to the people who were to be affected. All this is in complete violation of the PESA Act which provides that all development in the Scheduled areas would be in consultation (which should mean consent) of the Gram Sabhas. This has led to a widespread feeling among the Adivasis that not only is their right of self-rule being flagrantly violated, but their very identity and existence is being threatened. Many of them consequently taken up the Gun and joined the Maoists who have organised them to fight the state.
The government's response to this has been Operation Greenhunt which uses large sections of Paramilitary forces what they perceive as the single security threat to the State. Interestingly, Operation Greenhunt is largely concentrated in the areas where the MOUs have been signed. The Operation has led to and is causing enormous violations of Human Rights of the Adivasis in terms of all kinds of excesses by the security forces. Arbitrary picking up of Adivasis and their torture; Arbitrary arrests of Adivasis as well as of those who to highlight the abuses by the security forces on false and trumped up charges; people even being killed in fake encounters or in custody. These abuses are only serving drive more Adivasis to pick up Guns and join the Maoists.
The security forces involved in the abuses are hardly ever brought to justice and enjoy almost complete impunity. Unfortunately Jharkhand has not set up a State Human Rights Commissions or even Police Complaints Authority as directed by the Supreme Court in their judgment on Police Reforms. The Courts too which are supposed to examine allegations of torture, fake encounters and malafide arrests on false charges, have abdicated their responsibility with the result that innocents continue to rot in jails for years altogether and the guilty police officers are not punished, even when it is found that they have tortured people, killed them in fake encounters or arrested them on fabricated evidence. The Supreme Court's judgement on arrests, torture and the NHRC's guidelines on encounter killings are being wantonly flouted and no one is being held accountable.
However, Human Rights Watch in its scathing 118 page report "Broken System: Dysfunction, Abuse and Impunity in the Indian Police", pointed out "a range of human rights violations committed by police, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and extrajudicial killings." It notes, "Several police officers admitted to Human Rights Watch that they routinely committed abuses. One officer said that he had been ordered to commit an "encounter killing," as the practice of taking into custody and extra-judicially executing an individual commonly known. "I am looking for my target," the officer said. "I will eliminate him…I fear being put in jail, but if I don't do it, I'll lose my position.""
The report also documents "the particular vulnerability to police abuse of traditionally marginalised groups in India. They include the poor, women, adivasis, dalits and religious and sexual minorities. Police often fail to investigate crimes against them because of discrimination, the victims' inability to pay bribes, or their lack of social status or political connections. Members of these groups are also more vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and torture, especially meted out by police as punishment for alleged crimes."
Thus, the state has not only ignored to address basic concerns of tribal people, but also tried to destroy the voice and language of their victims by aligning with the exploiters. E.A.S. Sarma, former Commissioner of Tribal Welfare and former secretary, Expenditure and Economic Affairs, says, "Left extremism is a secondary issue. How many adivasis even know there is a government? Their only experience of the State is the police, contractors, and real estate goons. Besides, the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution grants adivasis complete rights over their traditional land and forests and prohibits private companies from mining on their land. This constitutional schedule was upheld by the Samatha judgement of the Supreme Court (1997). If successive governments lived by the spirit of the Constitution and this judgment, tribal discontent would automatically recede.
By violating their human dignity, value and rights, the state has committed violence against the Tribals. The tribal dissent is a dissent out of desperation for human dignity, value and rights. Among these poor, disempowered, and oppressed and exploited Tribals Naxals have wide support due to latter's struggle for their cause. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged that "Left wing extremism requires a nuanced strategy, a holistic approach – it cannot be treated simply as a law and order problem. Despite its sanguinary nature, the movement manages to retain the support of a section of the tribal communities and the poorest of the poor in many affected areas. It has influence among certain sections of civil society, the intelligentsia and the youth.