The Schedule fifth and sixth of the Indian constitution recognises the rights of tribal communities over the forest land, and mandates the Centre and state governments to consult the community before allotting the land for ‘development projects’. Forests Rights Act stems out of this constitutional provision that has never been implemented in true spirit. As a result, over 100 million tribal populations in the country have paid the cost of development and are now the most marginalised section of the country.
Renowned filmmaker and human rights activist Ajay TG spoke to Youth Ki Awaaz about his upcoming short film, Koi Chand Bhi Nahi, that highlights vulnerabilities of Chhattisgarh’s tribal communities and impact of ‘exclusive development’. The movie is scheduled to be screened during the ongoing Public Service Broadcasting Trust’s (PSBT) annual documentary film festival at New Delhi’s India International Centre.
Here are the excerpts of the conversation:
Q1. Tell us something about the movie and how was the entire experience?
TG: I am an activist and have been working for tribal rights. Koi Chand Bhi Nahi (There is no moon) is an attempt to provide much-needed space to the voices and concerns of tribal groups in Chhattisgarh. The movie is a story of thousands of people who have been marginalised and exploited by both public and private sector institutions and authorities. The public sector is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring inclusive development and progress of the country. Problems arise when public sector interacts with the private sector. The movie aims to explore the dynamics of this public and private sector relationship and how it affects people who are already at the lowest rung of the society.
Q2. What inspired you to take up a topic that is lesser or seldom talked about? What are the challenges in making a film on a subject that is critical of people at power?
TG: In 2012, when I went to Kaspur, Gedra, and other villages I realised how state authorities have displaced so many people. Their lands were taken, electricity connections were disconnected, schools were shut down, and health services were stalled. People complained that their lands were taken and they weren’t even compensated. Many families were left without the roof and weren’t even given chance to collect their belongings and make other arrangements. After listening to many such stories, I decided to conceptualise a short film that brings out these realities.
Coming to challenges, there are several challenges involved when you are working on a topic that is critical of many powerful forces of the society. In 2008, I was sent to jail for my movie titled Anjaam, which showed how in the name of development rights of the tribal community are subverted. I was slapped with sedition charges after that. I was wrongly arrested in 2008 under the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act even went to jail. The case is still continuing.
Also, there’s fear of public officials among the people. The tribal people are so scared of them that getting them to speak and share their stories is another challenge. For this movie, it was very difficult to get people on camera to speak. People refused to even come out of their houses and talk to us. I had to visit so many times just to convince them and later had to take help of local social workers and activists.
Q3. The movie deals with the cost of development on vulnerable sections of the society. Do you think our ‘idea of development’ is inclusive, especially in the context of tribal people’s rights? If not, why?
TG: When we talk about development in the context of so-called ‘national interest’, some people have to pay the cost of this development. Who are these people who pay this cost and how are they defined and recognised? These are the indigenous tribal population of Bastar, Odhisa, Jharkhand and several other tribal belts
. For the prosperity of a few people, they are displaced, killed, and exploited. Villages have been cleaned overnight for many development projects such as coal mines. And, when they resist the authorities target them.
For instance, why this entire narrative of ‘Naxalism in Bastar’ popped up in 2005. Chhattisgarh never had Naxalism problem before that. But, because major mining projects were to be commissioned from 2006 onwards, huge lands had to be cleared, and when there was resistance it was painted as ‘national threat’. Since then the state has grossly violated rights of these people. The troops killed children. Were these children Naxals? In fact, even after the intervention of judiciary, journalists, and human rights watchdogs, the state continues to oppress these people. We cannot justify these atrocities under any definition of development.
Q4. What kind of constitutional and human rights violation happen in tribal belts and what is the status of institutional provisions to address their grievances?
TG: The Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 is not implemented. Had it been applied, the government wouldn’t have been able to give tribal lands to corporate with such ease. Secondly, the FRA is also not implemented. And, in a few areas where it is existent, authorities are brazenly violating it to pass of the lands to private companies without adequately compensating the people.
Apart from constitutional infringements, there are stark human rights violations as well. People have to take permission to leave or enter the villages. They even need permissions to go to their lands for cultivation. Women need to prove their motherhood if they leave the farmlands to feed their newborn. The situation is such that none of the democratic institutions like the judiciary, media, police, and even elected legislatures are also not on their sides. All these institutions have failed them. We never hear elected MLAs voicing these issues in parliament. Even the media hasn’t included these issues in the national narrative, and those who do try report these instances they are censored and pressurised. People know that none of these institutions will stand with them.
Q5. The movie shows the changing paradigms in development models. Based on your research for the movie, what kind of development model do you think would take care of the community demands?
TG: We started with really good development model under Jawaharlal Nehru. The Nehruvian approach towards development was all inclusive. But, somewhere down the line we diverted from those ideals. We cosied up with big corporations and the entire definition of development changed. Suddenly, everything was about profit. Inequality is so gross that 1% of Indians hold 99% of country’s wealth. We need to change our outlook towards development and go back to socialist and Nehruvian ideals of inclusive development. The real development is when every citizen gets food, shelter, and social and economic justice. There’s nothing wrong with development and everyone’s wants progress. But, development needs to involve the people, especially who are at the receiving end of the development.
Catch “Koi Chand Bhi Nahi” on September 16, at the India International Centre, on Max Müller Marg, New Delhi.