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-
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.