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How India’s Developmental Model Continues To Displace Adivasis

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Written by Karan Singhania

We owe our freedom to thousands of people who chose the nation over themselves. However, if a sacrifice is the highest form of expression for patriotism, must we forget the people who have sacrificed the most for the nation?

If there ever was a people who gave the most for a nation’s development and yet, their sacrifices were unthanked for, it is the Adivasis. Since the first resistance to the British, Adivasis have made ongoing sacrifices in terms of their land, homes, lives, and livelihoods for the progress and development of this great nation. Our electricity comes from the Adivasis’ land, our gold and jewellery come from their land, our forests are their land, the wildlife we cherish, is conserved by them. Our cities are built on their land, dams that give us water and electricity are built on their homes, our nuclear security is thanks to the Adivasi lands that have been taken for mining.

This Independence Day, we salute, bow down and humbly acknowledge these continuous sacrifices, mostly forced, that the Adivasis have been making for the progress of India. Here are 5 instances of how India’s developmental model has led to massive displacement of Adivasis-

Sardar Sarovar Dam

One of the most prominent and controversial Government projects ever, Sardar Sarovar Dam is one of the largest dams of India subsequently resulting in the large-scale displacement of Adivasis. This dam is located on the Narmada River in the Kevadia village of Gujarat and is a 1,210 long concrete gravity dam occupying an area of 37000 ha. This dam is expected to supply water for irrigation to 1.84 million ha of land across 15 districts and a state-wide drinking water grid which is expected to supply drinking water to 75% of the state of Gujarat.

NEW DELHI, INDIA – JUNE 24: Activists of Narmada Bachao Andolan staging Dharna at Jantar Mantar on June 24,2014 in New Delhi, India. The activists were protesting the recent government decision to raise the height of the controversial Sardar Sarovar dam in Gujarat state from 122 mts to 138.68 mts, which according to them affects more than 40,000 families across three states. (Photo by Khyati Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Since the area of land and the number of people who would be affected were very large, it led to one of the biggest resistance movements called the “Narmada Bachao Andolan”, which started in 1985. This protest was against the construction of the dam on the Narmada River and was started after the involvement of Medha Patkar along with 30 other women. The proposed project would use up about 40,000 ha of fertile land and displace about 250 villages in that area. The movement has been successful so far in delaying the project, but after years of struggle and protests, the dam has nevertheless been inaugurated, and the Government plans on completing the proposed extensions.

Medha Patkar- Narmada Bachao Andolan | Image courtesy- Getty Images

In 1993, the World Bank (who majorly funded the project) withdrew from financing the project due to the various implications on the communities. The Supreme Court had also halted the construction of the project in the late 90s, only to allow the construction to resume in 2000. Today, the project is funded by state Governments and is expected to be completed by 2025.

Courtesy- Robert Hewlett

Iron Ore Mining in Goa

Goa has been one of the largest exporters of iron ore. Plenty of firms have been established to extract iron ores. However, due to the various problems surrounding people and environment, the Supreme Court banned all iron ore activities in the state in October 2012. However, the ban has been lifted, and the mining has resumed, creating massive problems for the Adivasi communities residing in the area.

Iron Ore Mining in Goa. Image courtesy-

The Gowda community of Sonshi village is one such community. Excessive air pollution has led to dust clouds and water bodies being polluted or dried up. Due to this, the community members protested on 11 April 2017 and also obstructed trucks, which resulted in the arrest of 45 people. Bail had been granted but a fee of ₹10,000 has been imposed per villager, something very few can afford to pay.

Along with deprivation of clean water and air, the livelihood of the people is also being affected. People here are dependent on cashew and paddy cultivation. The rigorous mining of iron ore has destroyed the cultivation there. After a month of tussle, Goa State Pollution Control Board declared that they would not renew sanctions of 12 out of 13 mines around the village. Having said that, the struggle of the Adivasis there still continues in silence.

Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train Project

The newly signed bullet-train project from Mumbai to Ahmedabad is a warning sign for the Adivasis of the ills to come in the process of bringing “advancement” to the nation. The bullet train project was agreed upon by Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe in 2017. The proposed project will cover around 500 kilometres in an estimated time of 7 hours. It is slated to be completed by 2022.

Ahmedabad: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe waves at the crowd at the foundation laying ceremony of India’s first bullet train project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, in Ahmedabad on Thursday. The Governor of Gujarat, O.P. Kohli, the Union Minister for Railways and Coal, Piyush Goyal, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Vijay Rupani and the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis are also seen.PTI Photo/pib(PTI9_14_2017_000036B)

To make way for the project, the National High-Speed Rail Corporation will acquire 850 hectares of land affecting 192 villages in Gujarat and 120 villages in Maharashtra. The people practising farming will be the biggest victims. In April 2018, officials went to Dahanu village to conduct a survey regarding the route of the bullet train. The locals say they were not provided with any notice regarding the survey and to add to that, farmers are being threatened to give their land, being told that will have to face serious consequences otherwise.

This has led to widespread protests against the project. On May 3, 2018, farmers came out in large numbers conducting a massive rally under the banner of different organizations. Media estimated the total number of protestors at 40,000-50,000. Among the many issues raised in the rally, water struggles faced by the Adivasis and land rights violations are other sensitive issues which were raised.

Protest Against the Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet Train Project. Image courtesy-

Achanakmar Tiger Reserve

The Achanakmar Tiger Reserve is a scenic 914 sq. Km reserve in Chhattisgarh comprising of tropical moist deciduous and tropical dry deciduous forests. Wild fauna found here include the tiger, leopard, bison, flying squirrel, Indian giant squirrel, chinkara, wild dog, hyena, sambar, chital and over 150 species of birds. It also has a few tigers and is a famous tourist destination.

Image Source-

The Kanha-Achanakmar tiger reserve corridor is proposed to pass through the Bhoramdeo wildlife sanctuary in Kawardha district of Chhattisgarh and connect the Kanha and Achanakmar tiger reserves which will affect more than 200 villages. These areas are home to the Baiga Adivasis who are native to the place. To protest against the project, the Adivasis carried out a march on March 17, 2018. A villager also mentioned that they practice farming on small patches of land in the hilly areas rather than farming on flatlands. This would not only displace them from their homes, but they will not have any place to work and earn a livelihood.

Image courtesy-

However, there have been assurances from officials saying that there is no such proposed tiger reserve. An interesting fact is that these Baiga Adivasis have already been displaced from the region once, and now fear to face the same fate once again. Back in 2013 when these Adivasis were displaced, it was reported that they claimed the displacement solved neither their livelihood crisis nor did it protect the tigers.

Aarey Milk Colony

The Aarey Milk Colony in Mumbai is a relevant example of the atrocities Adivasis have to face due to rapid urbanization. There are different developmental projects that are being undertaken in the area under the Development Plan 2034. To oppose them, around 1000 Adivasis staying in 27 hamlets of the colony conducted a march in June 2017 to put forth their demands.

One of the things they were protesting against was the construction of a zoo that would cover an area of 150-200 acres. This is in addition to the fact that they had been deprived of basic amenities like water and electricity. They also opposed an ongoing survey to resettle the displaced Adivasis. Within the same report, an Adivasi claimed that they have lived in this very land for the past hundred years and do not want to resettle leaving behind their home. Certainly, how would we feel if we were thrown out of a place that has been our home for decades?

Adivasis from Aarey protesting the extension of the zoo. Image source-

The other specific construction that was opposed was the Metro Car Shed Park. According to the Development Plan 2034, 33 hectares of Aarey Colony has been earmarked for the car shed. The march started at a point close to the Metro Car Shed and ended at the Aarey Milk Colony’s CEO office. This is an ongoing struggle for the Adivasis living in the financial hub of the world’s largest democracy.

Image Source- Midday

Development is essential for the progress of a country. Every citizen of the country wants and should be provided with better facilities. Strong infrastructure is a necessity to cater to these developments. However, development doesn’t need to happen and must not happen at the cost of the human lives. The Adivasis in India have already been struggling for their rights and better opportunities for a long time. Driving them out of their ancestral homes to fulfil profit-making agendas is not in the direction of development, it is against it. It is us who has to decide whether we want to develop a nation at the cost of what makes it a nation- its people.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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