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India’s Rush For Development That Is Making Tribals Sacrifice Their Lives And Livelihoods

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By Antara Mukherjee

Over the past few decades, the rate of development in India has increased steadily. The methods to encourage this development have become harsher, rougher and prudential in a way that has led to complications on a large scale. As the rate of development rises, Indian Adivasis and the rural population have been largely and purposefully left behind in the dust of the storm. And through this exclusion, millions of voices have been raised to challenge the new ideas of development, wrongful displacement of communities, uprooting of ancient and traditional livelihoods and mostly the snatching away of any authority on their own lives.

Young_Baiga_women,_India_tribal
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Development Induced Displacement and Resettlement (DIDR) is the root of most problems in this case. Large groups of adivasis and villages residing in and around forests, mountains and resource rich areas are being forced to move away for the creation of dams for hydroelectric power, area to set up mines, area to set up airports, military bases. With the use of force these communities are being pushed to give into the demands of the richer and the powerful. In return they are being left without jobs, no money to feed themselves and no homes. They are being pushed to migrate into newer environments where they aren’t able to cope up with new livelihoods.

Kashipur in Odisha is rich in bauxite. A joint international company called Utkal Aluminium decided to lay it’s foundation in the village of Maikanch in Kashipur. Over the past ten years, the villagers have protested to this intrusion and they have been met with violence. To reiterate the fact that this project of mining bauxite is in the name of development, state police and state administration have turned to hostile and uncivilised flow of violence on these peaceful villagers. One fine day, the police vans turned up with armed policemen and opened fire on a few men who were cultivating their land. After injuring a few and killing three men, they fled the scene, leaving behind the threat of further such violence. The kind of violence that has been met out to such geographically favourable areas is a trend. It’s always the state against the people, it’s always cold blooded violence against peaceful protests by the villagers and the affected sections. Not only were the people of Maikanch attacked, the company even tried to bribe some of the villagers and asked them to state how happy they really were about the mining project and how they were alright with the forced displacement.

This shows that the trust between a government and its people is no longer a reliable phenomenon. In each case the authorities have been the reason for more trouble to the people than the foreign companies that only want to sink their claws into profits.

A little further away in Nagarnar, Chhattisgarh another such conflict had arisen. The National Minerals Development Corporation with the help of Russian technology wanted to set up a steel plant. At the beginning, the villagers of Nagarnar didn’t raise any qualms about this project. It became a problem when the site of the plant was announced. The CM was adamant about using the fertile agricultural land of the villagers for the plant instead of the huge barren stretch of land that the villagers had proposed. Protesters were beaten up, wrongfully jailed and shot at. Villagers were lathi-charged, stoned and tear gassed. After four gram sabhas collectively refused to give up their land, they were cheated out of it by the authorities through forgery. Eventually hundreds of villagers were jailed so the plant could carry out the inauguration ceremony peacefully. They were even forced to accept compensations and beaten up for any refusals. Even after all this transpired the state authorities claimed that law and order was being rightfully maintained with cooperation by all.

The truth is that most resource and mineral rich areas have been a home historically and traditionally and may time even legally to tribals and villagers living there. They have resided in those regions for centuries with their own methods of survival and livelihood. And these regions in turn become the ground for conflict between them and the government that refuses to accept any protest against their forced development projects. These areas have been the site for terrible conflict that has led to the killing of innocents in hundreds and thousands. It is astonishing how deaf the state authorities can be when it comes to paying heed to their own “subjects“. It is also astonishing how state governments that claim to have no funds to carry out development of villages and such has enough money to order military battalions against peaceful and unarmed protests.

Development is a huge part of a developing nation, but at what cost? The tribals and poor villagers have nothing to gain from the mainstream idea of development. Their livelihoods cannot be sacrificed for others. And our governments have profusely refused to help and provide refuge to these resilient communities.

When it comes to reasons as to why these communities refuse to give up their lands and livelihoods they are plenty. Some being the fact that they only know their way of life and cannot cope with any displacement and change of lifestyle. They cannot survive without their ancient knowledge and forests as they need them for food and other such basic needs.

But this ancient history, their reservoir of hereditary knowledge of forests and of sustainable development has gone unnoticed by authorities that claim to be the harbingers of development.

In the recent past another conflict that has raised many debates along the lines of what development should mean is the tussle over the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha.

The Niyamgiri hill range is a beautiful landscape which is a fertile and thriving forest land. Within these hills live a tribe called the Dongria- Kondh who revere this hill range as their deity, as their God and the one who is responsible for their existence. But like many other regions in Odisha this hill range happens to be very rich in bauxite ore, a key requirement for mining aluminium. Vedanta Mining is a company that is based in the UK and it has mining operations going on in multiple countries. They currently have their eyes on the Niyamgiri hills and want to mine it for bauxite. The problem with this is that hill range is rich in flora and fauna, it is self-sustaining and is a home to many tribes including the Dongria-Kondh. Since the beginning of the project, the villages within the hill have come out with passionate refusals to the project proposal. The mining would result in their hill being blown apart and their livelihoods destroyed. The tribe lives in its own little world. They grow their own food and are highly skilled at gathering in the forest.

The villages have been able to hold back the proposal through collective refusals at over 14 gram sabhas. They have vetoed the entrance of the mining company and have refused to leave their land even if it means to die. The politicians who stand to profit if the proposal goes through are now proposing military help to diffuse the unanimity of the people by accusing them of maoist activities. Currently the company is yet to make a move due to the lack of a green signal, because a collective veto would influence the state authorities against them. But with the new government in place, gram sabhas may lose their authority to decide for themselves and their lives. This is a different kind of violence. The tribe lives in fear for their Niyam raja who has been their cover for centuries. They are ready for a war, if required, to save their home. The company’s advertisements for the Indian population has the tagline, “Mining Aluminium. Health and Happiness of Odisha.” However the intentions of the company are very two faced. They are only prepared to mine and prioritise their customers who can afford the products of aluminium. They have no intentions of social work, rehabilitation or employing the people of the villages they will be uprooting. With no regard for the people that are being forcibly displaced, our current government aims to take away the right to veto from these villages, making the gram sabhas null and void of their function. This could lead to great problems, one of coaxing these villages into a revolt which would cause both humanitarian and economic problem amongst many others.

What seems common in all these struggles over the country is that none of them, none of the affected people are ready to wait for their fate to be decided in a corporate boardroom. And the authorities, the government cannot take this reaction lightly or de-prioritise the call of the tribals over the greater good of the mainstream society. No one should be sacrificed or be made to sacrifice for other people, a sacrifice that will leave them begging for food and shelter for the rest of their lives and even generations.

The current track record of development that this country has seen has been devastating for those who cannot afford it. They have been systematically excluded from any of the 21st century privileges, even human rights. This tussle over land is only one of the many cases of developmental frauds that has and will result in more problems and complications in the future. Organisations like the World Bank have been equally at fault for pushing projects in such areas where a problem is bound to arise.

In conclusion, all these incidents echo the reality of the phenomenon we call development. It is critically important for us to recognise the sometimes devastating patterns of development and how they affect only a certain section of the society. It is important to recognise and be critical of developmental methods that require the displacement and the sacrifice of people who cannot afford either.

You must be to comment.
  1. Subhrangshu Purakayastha

    And why exactly can’t they afford displacement? I have never understood this.

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