Have you ever come across a very peculiar form of art where a bunch of black and white stick figures of humans, animals and nature depict social life? Typically one can find these in most government offices across Maharashtra and possibly in every art lover’s residence in Mumbai. If you have, then you and I both are on the same page and talking about Warli art.
Would you believe me if I told you this beautiful form of art was born in our very own city of Mumbai?
If the answer to that question is ‘no’, then you probably aren’t aware of Mumbai’s original and foremost inhabitants – The Warli adivasi tribe. There are currently over 10,000 Adivasis residing in 27 different Padas (villages) in Aarey Milk colony at this very moment. Having first settled in the Konkan forest areas of the Maharashtra, little did the Warli community predict that the land where they once took a peaceful exile would evolve into one of the most densely populated cities of the country. Yes, if you still don’t believe it, then get your hands on any art history books on the origins of Mumbai or Bombay as it used to be called.
Aarey Colony is still there; it hasn’t really gone anywhere… or has it?
The Warlis have gone about their peaceful existence for little over a century now. But ever since the Aarey Dairy was established in the ‘Forest Area’ (at least as it was called so back then) back in 1951, things have kind of gone south for these nature-worshipping inhabitants. With the introduction of Aarey dairy into the colony, it opened up the entire eco-sensitive zone to a series of exploitations. We started exploiting the whole region by tearing it apart one bit at a time. First, the Film City came along followed by structures of various agencies such as central government institutions, Maharashtra state government institutions and roads and private buildings. All this effectively reduced 3166 acres of seamless greenery to less than half its original size.
Okay, we may have distorted the Aarey ecosystem but we haven’t really harmed the Adivasi community in any way, right?
This is where this gets real ugly real quick. With the rapid expansion of urban projects in the Aarey colony area, not only is the green cover getting affected but also the Warli tribe. Sadly, they are losing out on their ancestral properties, which comprise of farms, flat grasslands, forest areas and the village or pada areas. This affects their existence in many ways so much so that they are almost on the brink of extinction now.
Even if the government hasn’t directly asked them to vacate the area, it has very cunningly made daily living a task for these people. Under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (2006), these tribals are entitled to a host of amenities and rights over the land they reside on. This is where it gets tricky. The state government has asked the Adivasis to provide documents that prove they have been residing on these lands for the past 50 years or more. It is literally like asking one’s great-grandfather to produce a PAN card or driver’s license. Back when the Warlis settled here, there was no system of documentation. Naturally, they don’t have any proof to prove they have been inhabitants of these lands. Even though history records speak otherwise, the government doesn’t consider those as valid proof.
Let me put things into perspective for you, if we do not act now, this could quite possibly be the end of Mumbai’s Adivasi tribe! How? Read on…
In a nutshell, the government is unwilling to consider these Adivasis as Adivasis. The only way to prove one is an Adivasi, is by acquiring a Tribe Certificate. The Warlis do not have these, as their forefathers didn’t think it to be important back then and now the present government is demanding documents to prove their residence in the forests.
Whilst this is an issue, the government plans to eradicate all inhabitants of Aarey Colony under the Slum Rehabilitation Program. If you aren’t an Adivasi then according to the government, you are a slum dweller and are squatting on the state government’s land. Imagine being asked to leave your pristine existence, which comprises of a beautiful house of an average 500sq. ft., with a small garden, a little livestock comprising of goats, chickens and cattle and a piece of land on which you seasonally farm.
Leave all that and be put into a 150sq. ft. room with 10 or more rooms on the same floor in a 20+ storey building in some corner of the ever so suffocating Mumbai city. If the Warli community is asked to move out of Aarey Colony, we will literally be the reason for the loss of an entire ethnic group and its culture.
There is more to where that came from. Things just go from bad to worse…
We have all heard about the Aarey Colony Metro car shed scenario. The state government plans to build a Metro car shed in the Aarey Colony and mess with the ecosystem further. But how does that affect the tribals?
Well, it does when the government plans on demarking the entire area under the C1-commercial zone. This will basically open up the entire area of Aarey to exploitation from every angle possible. Despite activists, experts and even government bodies themselves suggesting alternate car shed locations like Kalina, Kanjurmarg, Backbay, etc, the state government still turns a blind eye.
We can clearly see the ulterior motive behind destroying the Aarey Colony green cover. The state government will directly benefit from the contracts they sell on the Aarey land. Under the blanket of development the govt. feels it can do anything unquestioned. Yes, of course, development is great for us all but let me draw your attention to the simple yet powerful word, ALL! When one talks about development, it is usually presumed one is talking about inclusive development. Which literally means that whilst going about development we consider the well being of all parties involved.
The ironic part is, even Google maps does not show Aarey colony as a green zone. G-Maps usually show even the smallest of water bodies or a cluster of trees as a water body or a park. BUT NOT AAREY!
I guess hope you’re convinced by now because I can surely go on and on about this. So what can you do to help the Adivasis?
One simple thing, Sign the petition to stop the destruction of the ecology and Mumbai’s last green lung. This is a one stone two-bird scenario for you. By stopping the Metro Car shed work you are, hopefully, not only saving the poor trees from an ill fate but also the helpless Adivasis. Over to you my friend, be the Mumbaikar you were always meant to be.