Tag Archive for 'Tribals'

The panic train

What began as an isolated communal conflict here in the remote state of Assam, a vicious if obscure fight over land and power between Muslims and the indigenous Bodo tribe, has unexpectedly set off widespread panic among northeastern migrants who had moved to more prosperous cities for a piece of India’s rising affluence.

A swirl of unfounded rumors, spread by text messages and social media, had warned of attacks by Muslims against northeastern migrants, prompting the panic and the exodus.[In NYT]

The Indian Express sent a reporter and a photographer on the train from Chennai to Guwahati, packed with migrants fleeing migrants from the northeast. It’s a 3,000 km journey and takes 52 hours:

The passengers speak about the string of rumours about an imminent attack on Assamese people. “It started off in Bangalore over SMSes and rumours that spread fast, but now there are talks about possible attacks in Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu around Eid on Monday. We are confident about the situation in the state, but for our family members who live hundreds of kilometres away, any rumour causes great concern,” says Mohan Bohra, an Assamese who works as a security guard at an IT company in Chennai.

Nishant Gogoi says that when he heard that a fellow Assamese in Bangalore had been attacked, he decided to pack his bags. “The construction company I work for and all the people I know in Chennai have assured me that I won’t face any problem. But honestly, I feel no one can ensure my safety if something untoward were to break out in Chennai. It is better to return after the tensions have completely subsided,” he says. More:

The 50-paise terror campaign

Saritha Rai in The Indian Express: Ironically for India’s tech hub, technology came to bite it in the back. SMS threats circulated in great waves. On social networks, doctored photos of bleeding limbs, bloody faces and videos with hazy faces made the rounds. Local television stations endlessly aired footage of the panic.

It is like nothing that tech-savvy and global Bangalore, India’s IT hub, has ever seen. The government, the police and railway officials were taken completely by surprise as thousands of Bangalore residents of north-eastern origin started thronging the ticket counters and platforms at the city’s railway stations, bus stations and even the airport. They all were frantic to take the first available means to return home. It was nothing short of an exodus. More:

The ghost’s in the details, Ma’am

Aakar Patel on Arundhati Roy in Outlook:

Nirad C. Chaudhary wrote in The Continent of Circe that India’s tribals were mainly found in hill forests. This was because, he reasoned, they had been chased there by the invading Aryans, who displaced them from their river plains. In an essay published in this magazine (Capitalism: A Ghost Story, March 26), Arundhati Roy expressed anguish over the tribal having no peace even in the hill forests he inhabits. From her piece, let’s isolate two broad points: first, that capitalism is generally bad, but particularly rapacious in India; second, that this has manifested itself in the exploitation of tribals and their sacred lands. She also alleges that India’s economic growth is underpinned by this pillage of minerals. She doesn’t spare anyone (including herself) who lives out life while the companies roar along and tribals suffer. She attacks the media, feminists, NGOs, philanthropists and their foundations. All are guilty—save the tribals, the exploited.

Let us look at her argument. First, that corporations make vast sums from the minerals they have stolen from tribal lands. In Roy’s words: “The era of the Privatisation of Everything has made the Indian economy one of the fastest growing in the world. However, like any good old-fashioned colony, one of its main exports is its minerals. India’s new mega-corporations—the Tatas and Jindals, Essar, Reliance and Sterlite—are those who have managed to muscle their way to the head of the spigot spewing money extracted from deep inside the earth. It’s a dream come true for businessmen—to be able to sell what they don’t have to buy.” Now look at the facts. Neither ore nor minerals are India’s main exports. They comprise only 3.4 per cent of all exports, according to Crisil’s February 2010 report, India’s Export Sector: Resilience Amid Global Crisis. Ore and minerals haven’t made India’s big companies wealthy, for they contribute less than one per cent to India’s GDP. The export of minerals did not commence with privatisation. They began in 2004. Till then, only old firms like Tisco and sail managed captive mines. More:

Lost in the woods

In Hindustan Times, 65 years after independance, Ramachandra Guha remembers those who have gained the least and lost the most from India being a free and democratic country.

In August 2010 — that is, exactly a year ago — Rahul Gandhi told a group of tribals in Orissa that he would be their soldier in New Delhi. There is no record of his having acted on that promise. The Dongria Konds of Niyamgiri forgotten, his attention has more recently been focused on the Jats of Noida and other such groups that might help the Congress make a strong showing in the Uttar Pradesh elections.

Rahul Gandhi’s behaviour is characteristic of the political class as a whole, which — regardless of party or generation —  has treated tribals with condescension. The neglect goes back to Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi worked hard to abolish untouchability, and harder to bring about Hindu-Muslim harmony.

He inspired tens of thousands of women to enter public life. Somehow, however, the adivasis never figured seriously in the Mahatma’s programmes of social reform. This failure was reproduced by his colleagues and successors in the Congress party.

A nation consumed by the state

Ramachandra Guha in Outlook:

Let me begin with two epiphanies. A few years ago, I visited a book fair held on the seafront in Kochi. The local publishers were represented, as were Indian and foreign firms. In between the stall of Oxford University Press and a shop stocking Malayalam translations of the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin, I came across a man selling, of all things, pickles from Bikaner. His wares were contained in large open buckets, one containing aam ka murabba, another shalgam ka achar. I asked the young man how he had come from a far northern desert to participate in a book fair in this southern port. “Maine suna ki Keral mein mela lag raha tha,” he answered, “aur maine socha ki wahan ek dukan khol doon (I heard that there was some kind of fair on in Kerala, so I thought I would bid for a stall there).” Thus spoke a pickle-man in a salad bowl nation, adding his charmingly naive logic to an apparently illogical country.

Some months after this encounter, I was travelling by car from Patiala to Amritsar. It was a hot day, and the countryside was monotonous. I fell asleep, and woke when the car slowed down. We were now in the market town of Khanna. I scanned the buildings and their signs. One, particularly, caught my attention: it read, ‘Indian Bank, Khanna Branch, Head Office, Rajaji Salai, Chennai’. I was charmed and uplifted, sentiments that (especially for the young) perhaps need explaining. For ‘Rajaji’ was C. Rajagopalachari, the scholar-statesman who had been Governor-General of India, chief minister of Madras State, founder of the free-market Swatantra Party and author of best-selling versions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. In his person, he embodied all the Punjabi stereotypes about the Madrasi; he was slight, wore thick glasses, had never played a single sport or consumed an alcoholic beverage, and was vegetarian. Yet here was evidence of his enduring legacy in the Punjab, where—as that sign informed me—there were many whisky-guzzling, chicken-eating Sikh farmers banking their savings in an institution headquartered in Chennai on a road named after a dhoti-wearing, rasam-drinking, austere Tamil scholar.

The poet Wallace Stegner once remarked that “the tracing of ideas is a guessing game. We can’t tell who first had an idea—we can only tell who first had it influentially, who formulated it in some form, poem or equation or picture, that others could stumble upon with the shock of recognition”. So it is with the idea of India. Rabindranath Tagore used the phrase in a letter to a friend in 1921, writing that “the idea of India is against the intense consciousness of the separateness of one’s own people from others, which inevitably leads to ceaseless conflicts”. There may have been others who used the phrase before him. But it was only in 1997, when Sunil Khilnani used it as the title of his wonderful book, that his fellow citizens stumbled with a shock of recognition at what the idea of India represented. More:

India’s hidden war

How India’s economic rise turned an obscure communist revolt into a raging resource war. Jason Miklian and Scott Carney in Foreign Policy:

The richest iron mine in India was guarded by 16 men, armed with Army-issued, self-loading rifles and dressed in camouflage fatigues. Only eight survived the night of Feb. 9, 2006, when a crack team of Maoist insurgents cut the power to the Bailadila mining complex and slipped out of the jungle cover in the moonlight. The guerrillas opened fire on the guards with automatic weapons, overrunning them before they had time to take up defensive positions. They didn’t have a chance: The remote outpost was an hour’s drive from the nearest major city, and the firefight to defend it only lasted a few minutes.

The guards were protecting not only $80 billion-plus worth of mineral deposits, but also the mine’s explosives magazine, which held the ammonium nitrate the miners used to pulverize mountainsides and loosen the iron ore. When the fighting was over and the surviving guards rounded up and gagged, about 2,000 villagers who had been hiding behind the commando vanguard clambered over the fence into the compound and began emptying the magazine. Altogether they carried out 20 tons of explosives on their backs — enough firepower to fuel a covert insurgency for a decade.

Four and a half years after the attack in the remote Indian state of Chhattisgarh, the blasting materials have spread across the country, repackaged as 10-pound coffee-can bombs stuffed with ball bearings, screws, and chopped-up rebar. In May, one villager’s haul vaporized a bus filled with civilians and police. Another destroyed a section of railway later that month, sending a passenger train careening off the tracks into a ravine. Smaller ambushes of police forces on booby-trapped roads happen pretty much every week. Almost all of it, local police told us, can be traced back to that February night.

The Bailadila mine raid was one of India’s most profound strategic losses in the country’s protracted battle against its Maoist movement, a militant guerrilla force that has been fighting in one incarnation or another in India’s rural backwaters for more than 40 years. Over the course of the half-dozen visits we’ve made to the region during the past several years, we’ve come to consider the attack on the mine not just one defeat in the long-running war, but a symbolic shift in the conflict: For years, the Maoists had lived in the shadow of India’s breakneck modernization. Now they were thriving off it. More:

The battle for Niyamgiri

For generations, the Kondh of Orissa, in India, have lived on a fertile mountain which they revere as a god. But since the arrival in 2008 of a British aluminium refinery, their land has been poisoned and the villagers imprisoned. Now, the tribes people are making what could be their last stand. Bianca Jagger in The Observer:

Bianca Jagger / The Observer

Bianca Jagger is founder and chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation

When I arrive at Rangapoli, in the Indian state of Orissa, the villagers tell me how they used to grow millet, beans and peas. They harvested leaves, pineapple, jackfruit, mango, banana, chillies, ginger, turmeric, bamboo and roots from the forest. Fresh water was plentiful. But according to the villagers, the opening, in 2008, of an aluminium refinery in neighbouring Lanjigarh by Vedanta Aluminium Limited (VAL), a subsidiary of a British-based mining group, has brought misery, disease and impoverishment.

The refinery has created two red mud ponds the size of several football pitches near Rengopali into which bauxite ore is washed, along with chemicals, causing toxic fumes and polluted dust. Lutni Majhi, a woman living in the village, tells me, “Now, not only is it hot during the day, it is hot at night, as the refinery is functioning at night. Before, we had forest and trees around us, it was much cooler. We’ve never had this much heat, flies and mosquitoes.” The water sources are exposed to dangerous contamination.

Global health and Safety regulations stipulate that a refinery should be at least 10km from villages; this one is situated in the midst of these hill dwellers’ natural habitat. New diseases affecting people’s lungs and eyes are already widespread. In a report prepared for India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests, site inspectors were told that 13 people in the area have died from TB in the past two years and 200-250 cattle and goats have perished. I speak to a man who is dying from a respiratory illness resembling TB. His wife is distraught: she will be left alone to fend for herself and their children. More

Above, watch Mine: Story of a sacred mountain, narrated by Joanna Lumley.

“It tells the story of the remote Dongria Kondh tribe’s struggle to protect Niyamgiri, the mountain they worship as a God. London-based mining company Vedanta Resources plans a vast open-pit bauxite mine in India’s Niyamgiri hills, and the Dongria Kondh know that means the destruction of their forests, their way of life, and their mountain God.”

For more, visit http://www.survivalinternational.org/

Arundhati Roy: in defence of India’s Maoists

From Outlook:

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy

The low, flat-topped hills of south Orissa have been home to the Dongria Kondh long before there was a country called India or a state called Orissa. The hills watched over the Kondh. The Kondh watched over the hills and worshipped them as living deities. Now these hills have been sold for the bauxite they contain. For the Kondh it’s as though god has been sold. They ask how much god would go for if the god were Ram or Allah or Jesus Christ?

Perhaps the Kondh are supposed to be grateful that their Niyamgiri hill, home to their Niyam Raja, God of Universal Law, has been sold to a company with a name like Vedanta (the branch of Hindu philosophy that teaches the Ultimate Nature of Knowledge). It’s one of the biggest mining corporations in the world and is owned by Anil Aggarwal, the Indian billionaire who lives in London in a mansion that once belonged to the Shah of Iran. Vedanta is only one of the many multinational corporations closing in on Orissa.

If the flat-topped hills are destroyed, the forests that clothe them will be destroyed too. So will the rivers and streams that flow out of them and irrigate the plains below. So will the Dongria Kondh. So will the hundreds of thousands of tribal people who live in the forested heart of India, and whose homeland is similarly under attack. More:

How the Salwa Judum experiment went wrong

Salwa Judum (translated as ‘peace mission’ or ‘peace force’) is a state-backed militia formed three years ago to fight Maoists (or Naxalites) in India’s Chhattisgarh state. The ‘experiment’ has gone horribly wrong and conflict between the militia and the Naxalites has displaced thousands of tribals. In MInt, an in-depth report by Krishnamurthy Ramasubbu:

Dantewada, Chhattisgarh: It took five days for Gantala Baby and people from the 60 families in her small village in mineral-rich southern Chhattisgarh to cross the Dandakaranya forests and arrive at their destination, Khammam in Andhra Pradesh. Several people died during the 260km trek through unfriendly terrain, and Baby’s son Aadavi Ramudu was born en route.

That was in 2006. Baby, now all of 18, is still struggling to make ends meet at Charla in Khammam. She is among at least 150,000 tribals who have been forced to leave home in Chhattisgarh. Some have moved to Andhra Pradesh. Others live in camps run by the Salwa Judum, a state-backed militia formed around three years ago to fight Maoists (or Naxalites) in the region.

After criticism from several entities, including human rights organizations and India’s top court, the Chhattisgarh government, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) one, is disbanding Salwa Judum, which is translated as peace force by some people and cleansing water by others.

[Photo: Migrants who have fled the region enact how they were tortured by para-military forces.]


At Indian preserves, Tigers remain king as people are coaxed out

Efforts to convince people to leave forests earmarked for conservation and tigers in India raise the question of the price to pay to save the forests, and for whom – humans or animals? Somini Sengupta in The New York Times:

At sundown, as the air began to cool and the beasts came out of the shade, K. Ullas Karanth drove slowly through this sprawling park in southern India. Elephants nibbled on the grass. A sunbird dashed across the sky. Then, Mr. Karanth nearly froze in a start. “Tiger, tiger,” he whispered.

Just ahead, a large male lumbered across the path, stopping to turn and look at Mr. Karanth’s jeep and its passengers before continuing his languid march into the bush.

The research by Mr. Karanth, a wildlife biologist who runs the India program of the Wildlife Conservation Society, suggests that this and its neighboring nature reserve hold one of the largest concentrations of tigers in the world. But to make these wilds healthy for the fabled tiger is a success 20 years in the making, with crusading forest officials driving out hunters and loggers and ultimately trying to resettle hundreds of families who have lived in these woods for generations.