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People's Tribunal demands a sustainable model for tribes

Apr 13, 2010

The Indian People’s Tribunal held last week in the capital discussed the issues of tribal displacement and deprivation of their rights to forest, land, and other resources. Though the Indian Constitution entitles communities with the right to use material resources for common good, yet recent events reflect the violations of the democratic spaces.

“Police saw me wearing a Golden color Maxima watch and alleged that I work for Naxalists. They (Police) say that this watch and good clothes were given to me by Naxalists. Nine of us were picked up from village and were taken to a police camp in Dantewada. Next day we were asked to carry a weight of about 1.5 quintals to a mountain peak. Tribal are being killed and heavily beaten by police on the name of Maoists”

This is one of the testimonies that was presented on the first day of Independent People’s Tribunal (IPT) on land acquisition, resource grab and operation Green hunt held here in New Delhi from April 9-11, 2010. The  tribunal was witnessed by a packed hall consisting of students, academics, activists and the media.

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Dr. Vandana Shiva, renowned environmental activist, in her inaugural address spoke about the “urgent need to develop democratic spaces” such as the IPT. She said “the complex issues related to land acquisition, mining and exploitation of the tribals as well as mechanisms of state suppression need to be discussed in an open manner by concerned individuals and intellectuals without the threat of arrest”.

Writer Arundhati Roy on the concluding day talked about her recent visit to Dantewada. She spoke on the role of media in dealing with the Naxal issue, and said that the language has been 'hollowed out'. She added that war cannot be the solution to the problem and it is all about 'creating good environment for investment'.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan questioned the logic of undertaking such activity ‘in public interest’ when 80% of the profits were pocketed by private companies, while people were left dispossessed and left to suffer health hazards.

"The general narratives were different in details but similar in the pattern-atrocities by the police and Sulwa Judum SPOs; torture, interrogation and illegal detention for being an alleged ‘Naxal’ supporter"

Dr. B D Sharma, retired civil servant and ex-chairman of the SC/ST Commission of Bastar (a district in Chhattisgarh) spoke about the continuous denial of rights of the tribals by the state-in the form of violations of the 5th Schedule of the Constitution, Panchayati (Extension) to Schedule Areas, Forests Rights Act.

Sudha Bhardwaj, lawyer and labour rights activist, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha deposed on the intricate nexus between the State and Corporations in expropriating the land for industrial and mining purpose. She deposed on the ground situation in Chhattisgarh where in gross violation of the PESA (Panchayat’s Extension to Scheduled Areas Act), Gram Sabhas were being manipulated to take decisions on land use and sale, against collective community decision-making process.

Goldy M George, rights activist in Chhattisgarh also spoke of the corporate land grab and pointed out to the number of secret MOUs that were being signed, without adequate public consultation. He added “that the politics of alienation of the tribal was part of a larger strategy to use the politics of genocide in the game of power”.

Harish Dhawan, human rights activist, Peoples Union for Democratic Rights spoke about the terror unleashed by the Sulwa Judum and its role in the current operations.

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The second part of the session focused on narratives by tribals, from the state of Chhattisgarh. The general narratives were different in details but similar in the pattern-atrocities by the police and Sulwa Judum SPOs; torture, interrogation and illegal detention for being an alleged ‘Naxal’ supporter.

Lingaram, a tribal from Dantewada, who was tortured and forced to join the Judum spoke about how the Gram Panchayats were mute to the cause of the tribals, and in fact, detrimental to their existence. He questioned the enormous amount of money spent since independence on the ‘welfare plans’ for the tribals and the lack of any progress in this regard. He also said “tribals needed development on their terms and not of the kind that was being enforced upon them from all quarters.”

Dr. Binayak Sen offered a different perspective on structural violence that is embedded in the treatment meted out to the tribals. According to him, statistics on malnutrition revealed a severe hunger crisis and are emblematic of the neglect that these regions had been subjected to for long. He said the malnutrition condition in “Naxal” affected areas has become like Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome and can now be termed as Nutritional Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome.

"Governments of India and Orissa should think about the concerns of people of Orissa"

Speaking on the concluding day of the Independent people’s Tribunal Bianca Jagger portrayed international perspective on Indigenous rights. Talking about of her recent visit to villages of Rengopali and Badhaguda of Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa where Vedanta group is setting up its aluminium plant, Jagger said “Governments of India and Orissa should think about the concerns of people of Orrisa.”

Putting a light on persecution of Civil Society and Human Rights Activist Kavita Srivastava showed her resentment and said government is terming human rights activists and organisations who are working for the welfare of tribals in Naxal affected areas as frontal organisations of Maoists. She said “Operation Green Hunt is only meant for grabbing land for the benefits of some groups of society and has nothing to do with Naxals and Tribals.”

Earlier the second day of Independent People’s tribunal took stock of condition persisting in the states of West Bengal and Orissa. A short film “Gaon Chodab Nahi” showing the demands and what kind of development tribals want was also shown on the second day.

Jury’s Recommendations

People’s Jury consisting Hon’ble (Retd) Justice P. B. Sawant, Justice (Retd) H. Suresh, Dr. V. Mohini Giri, Professor Yash Pal, Dr. P. M. Bhargava and retired IPS officer Dr. K. S. Subramanian heard the testimonies and expert witnesses for three days.

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After hearing the witnesses and experts for three days Jury recommended tribal communities represent a substantial and important proportion of Indian population and heritage. They observed that the development model adopted by the country promotes economic policies of liberalisation and privatisation and have led to transfer of resources to the private hand and to the industries most of which have been enormously destructive to the environment.

Jury said that “the consultation with the GramSabhas required by the PESA Act has been rendered a farce as has the process of Environment Impact Assessment of these industries. This has resulted in leaving the tribals in a state of acute malnutrition and hunger which has pushed them to the very brink of survival.”

Peaceful resistance movements of tribal communities against their forced displacement and the corporate grab of their resources is being sought to be violently crushed by the use of police and security forces and State and corporate funded and armed militias. Even peaceful activists opposing these violent actions of the State against the tribals are being targeted by the State and victimised. This has led to a total alienation of the people from the State as well as their loss of faith in the government and the security forces, as the panel observed from the cases.

The jury in its suggestions to the governments, both at central level and state levels made clear that Operation Greenhunt should be immediately stopped. It further suggested that the tribals displaced due to war and so called development should be rehabilitated back in their lands and forests then only the process of insurrection can be stopped.

[With editorial inputs from Anna Nath, OWSA]

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