Does Raising Questions on the Rights of Adivasis Make Me a ‘Deshdrohi’?

Over the last two decades, I have identified myself with the adivasi people and their struggle for a life of dignity and self respect. As a writer, I have tried to analyse the different issues they face. In this process, I have clearly expressed my dissent over several policies and laws enacted by the government in the light of the Indian constitution. I have questioned the validity, legality and justness of several steps taken by the government and the ruling class.

As for the Pathalgadi issue, I have asked the question, “Why are adivasis doing this?” I believe it is because they have been exploited and oppressed beyond tolerance. The rich minerals which are excavated in their land have enriched outsider industrialists and businessmen and impoverished the adivasi people to the extent that people have died of starvation. They have had no share in what is produced.

Some of the questions I have raised are:

1) I have questioned the non-implementation of the 5th Schedule of the constitution, Article 244 (1), which clearly stipulates that a ‘tribes advisory council’ (TAC), composed solely of members from the adivasi community, will advise the governor of the state about any and everything concerning the protection, well-being and development of the adivasi people in the state.

The governor is the constitutional custodian of the adivasi people and he/she can make laws on his/her own and can annul any other law enacted by the parliament or state assembly, always keeping in mind the welfare of the adivasi people. Whereas the reality is that in none of the states, during all these nearly seven decades, has any state governor ever used his/her constitutional discretionary power to reach out to the adivasi people proffering the excuse that they have to work in harmony with the elected government of the state.

2) I have questioned why the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, has been neatly ignored which for the first time recognised the fact the adivasi communities in India have a rich social and cultural tradition of self-governance through the gram sabha. Whereas the reality is this Act has deliberately been left unimplemented in all nine states. It means the capitalist ruling class does not want adivasi people to self-govern.

3) I have questioned the silence of the government on Samatha Judgment, 1997, of the Supreme Court which came as a huge relief to the adivasi communities in Scheduled Areas. It came at a time when consequent to the policy of globalisation, liberalisation, marketisation, privatisation, national and international corporate houses started to invade adivasi areas in central India to mine the mineral riches. The government machinery gave its full cooperation to these companies.

4) I have questioned the half-hearted action of government on the Forest Rights Act, 2006. “Jal, jungle, jameen,” as we know, are the basis of the economic life of the adivasi people. Their traditional rights in the forest have been infringed upon systematically over the decades. At long last, the government realised that a historic injustice has been done to the adivasis and other traditional forest-dwellers. To correct this anomaly, it enacted this Act.

The reality is far from desirable. From 2006 to 2011, about 30 lakh applications were made all over the country for title deeds.

5) I have questioned the inaction of the government to carry out the SC order that the ‘owner of the land is also the owner of sub-soil minerals.’ In the order, the court said, “We are of the opinion that there is nothing in the law which declares that all mineral wealth sub-soil rights vest in the State, on the other hand, the ownership of sub-soil/mineral wealth should normally follow the ownership of the land, unless the owner of the land is deprived of the same by some valid process.”

6) I have questioned the reasons why the SC observation is being ignored that “mere membership of a banned organisation will not make a person a criminal unless he resorts to violence or incites people to violence or creates public disorder by violence or incitement to violence.” The court rejected the doctrine of ‘guilt by association.’

7) I have questioned the recently enacted amendment to the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, by the Jharkhand government which sounds a death knell for the adivasi community. This does away with the requirement for “social impact assessment’ which was aimed at safeguarding the environment, social relations and cultural values of affected people. The most damaging factor is that the government can allow any agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. So any and every thing can be included.

8) I have questioned the ‘land bank’ which I see as the most recent plot to annihilate the adivasi people.

During ‘Momentum Jhar-khand’ in February 2017, the government announced that 21 lakh acres in the land bank, of which 10 lakh acres is ready for allotment to industrialists.

“Gair-majurwa” land (uncultivated land) can be ‘khas’ (private) or ‘aam’ (common). As per tradition, individual adivasi families or communities have been in possession and use this land (jamabandi). Now the government has shockingly cancelled all ‘jamabandi’ titles and claims that all ‘gair-majurwa’ land belongs to the government and it is free to allot it to any body (read industrial houses) to set up their small and big industries.

Fr Stan Swamy