Just as the NMDC mines are in Kirandul at Kuakonda block, a few kilometres away, the house of Bhima Mandavi in Badepalli was burnt down along with all of its produce in 2009 and 2006. Since the inception of the Salwa Judum in 2005, all healthcare services, schools and angaanbadi services were discontinued in his village.
‘I have always believed India is destined to emerge as an important industrial power. It is only through rapid industrialization that we can find meaningful solutions to the problems of mass unemployment and underdevelopment. Of course, considering that nearly 70% of our population lives in rural areas, we have to lay adequate emphasis on increasing agricultural output and agricultural productivity. Yet, since the per capita availability of land is less than 1.5 hectares, there are severe limitations to expanding employment opportunities in agriculture on a large scale. Therefore, we have to find ways and means to accelerate the process of industrialization and also to ensure that this process is sufficiently labour intensive.’ – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the 1st of May, International Labour day, 2007 in an inaugural speech for the Institute for Studies in Industrial Development.
‘Young’ labour at work on a road in Dantewada, 2009.
We, the forest people of the world – living in the woods, surviving on the fruits and crops, farming on the jhoom land, re-cultivating the forest land, roaming around with our herds – have occupied this land since ages. We announce loudly, in unity and solidarity, that let there be no doubt on the future: we are the forests, and the forests are us, and our existence is mutually dependent. The crisis faced by our forests and environment today will only intensify without us.– from theDehradun Declaration of June 2009, by the National Forum for Forest People’s and Forest Workers.
The villagers of Hiroli waiting outside Kirandul police station for the body of Channu Mandavi who was killed in an encounter on the 12th of April, 2009.
Lingaram Kodopi from the village of Sameli, of Kuakonda block of Dantewada district, as previously reported was locked up in the toilet in the police station for over forty days and forced to become an SPO. Through the help of activists and the court he was able to free himself, yet the harassment continued until it became impossible for him and his family to live in his village. A few months after he escaped, an encounter had taken place on the 23rd of January in his village of Sameli where four adivasis were killed. The violence never ends for his people yet this article is not about how his people die, but how they live.
He recently gave a testimony to a packed hall room in Delhi for an Independent People’s Tribunal on land acquisition, resource grab and Operation Green Hunt. He was asked by one of the jurors the billion dollar question – ‘What kind of development do you want? Where do you expect the government to get money for schools, education, etc. if they are not getting revenue from the mines? Do you want development, mines and all, or do you want to stay away from this whole process? How can you oppose the state’s developmental policies and still ask for schools, education, etc? Look at Delhi, don’t you think it is well developed, with superb streets and buildings? Don’t you want your adivasis to live like this, and become lawyers, doctors, etc?’
‘Who wouldn’t want that kind of education, sir?’ Lingaram responded, ‘But development around our state is poor, in fact it is pathetic. The NMDC mines have been there for years and they have not brought development. We don’t want that kind of development where the mines come and everything else is supposed to follow from that supposedly, when it hasn’t with NMDC.’
Lingaram Kodopi isn’t wrong. Taking the National Mineral Development Corporation in Bailadila in Chhattisgarh as an example, below are the details of an RTI query filed with the NMDC regarding one of the most direct so-called benefits of industrial development – employment generation:
Question: What is the percentage of tribals employed in executive positions of the PSU,NMDC? Answer: The total number of ST Executives in NMDC was 45 and the percentage is 4.82%, as on 31st Oct 2006.
Question: What is the percentage and number of Scheduled Tribes employed directly by the Bailadila projects (BIOP) of NMDC in non-executive positions? Answer: The percentage of the Tribals employed directly by the BIOP in non-executive positions is 31.41% and the total number of ST’s employed directly by BOIP is 935.
Contrast that number of 935 + 45 tribals to a conservative 40,000, or alleged 200,000 adivasis who hit the streets of Dantewada on the 14th of 2006, to protest against the Salwa Judum and the land acquisitions of Tata and Essar. If just less than a thousand tribals directly benefit from the mines that have existed in South Bastar for over 30 years, what are the estimated 475,975 adivasis (2001 census) supposed to do?
There is no secret for the adivasis that industrial development is a sham. Yet what about agricultural development?
This land is your land
Lakhmu, from the so-called ‘liberated-zone’ had once asked me what had happened in my village (Mumbai) on November, 2008. He heard a lot about it from the radio and the newspapers that came to his blacked-out, isolated village in the middle of Dantewada. I told him what I knew. I started with the VT station firing – Kasab and his partner gunning down commuters at will. I told him about the killing in the kitchens of the Taj. Lakhmu was appalled. He was horrified with every detail I offered him.
‘How could anyone do that?’ He asked me and I had no answer.
This exchange took place on the 20th of November 2009. Six days later, the country marked the first year after the Mumbai attacks. Just 9 days ago, Lakhmu’s village of Tatemargu was attacked, and security forces had allegedly killed four people, raped three and burnt down over 60 buildings with all of its produce. All in the name of development – ‘I will wipe out the Naxalites, and then I will bring development.’ Said Union Minister Chidambaram, a while ago.
And I asked Lakhmu, what he thought about development. He said, ‘We’re fine. Just give us a road so we can go to the market, and electricity. Everything else we can fend for ourselves.’
And I could see why. Tatemargu, was described as ‘the number one village in Konta block’ . And it was an agricultural success story. The ultimate irony for me was that I could only assess its success by sifting through its remains. There were homes that lost forty quintals or rice, there were homes that lost a hundred kilograms of corn, mahua and imli, and right there, all of it was ash. There were no noticeable signs of malnutrition amongst the infants, alcohol prohibition was in place, there were vast numbers of livestock, huge homes built with brick and cement, bought by the adivasis from Andhra Pradesh by the cash earned by selling rice.
‘How is there so much rice cultivated here?’ I had asked Lakhmu. And he replied that it is about water. And the village of Tatemargu has access to water – ponds were dug by all the villagers, by the instructions of none other than the Maoists themselves.
So now what about water?
The villages of Dhurli and Bhansi of Dantewada are famous villages by now. Essar Steel wants their land for a 3.2 million tonne steel plant: they want 200 hectares from Dhurli and 400 hectares from Bhansi.
All the meetings between the villagers and the company have taken place through the people from the Collector’s office, or the Sub-District Magistrate’s office. Mahendra Karma himself would drive down to the villages to convince the villagers to part with their land. Meanwhile, the Maoists have threatened to kill the villagers who accept Essar’s compensation packages and surrender their ancestral land. They have killed two people from Bhansi who had accepted their proposals in 2006, and allegedly acted as their agents. A majority of the villagers say no to compensation for land, aware that money runs out, while a few have asked for shares in the company, tacitly of course.
Now, let us consider the amount of water that the 3.2 tonne steel plant would need on a daily basis. The proposed Essar project would require around 80,000 meters cubed of water per day. This would also affect those living downstream from the plant. Now, consider that the average amount of water consumed per person in rural India is 100 litres per day. How much water is the steel plant going to be taking from the adivasis then?
‘The entire Sankani river is red,’ Says Mangal Kunjam of the village of Goomiyapal in Dantewada district. The river Sankani runs through Dantewada town, the Bailadila, the NMDC mines, and over thirty villages, ‘I’ve spoken to so many villagers and they all have the same complaints.’ Continues Mangal, ‘Those who depend on the river for fishing, say there are no fish. Those who depend on the river for cultivating their land, say their fields are suffering. This is not development for us.’
‘You’re an educated boy, you’re even going for training to work with the NMDC.’ I had asked Mangal, ‘I’ll still ask you, would you prefer industrial development or agriculture?’
Without hesitation, Mangal replies agriculture and the cruelest tragedy is that this choice is never left to the adivasis. Barring economic policies, MOUs and land acquisition decisions, ever since the Salwa Judum came into being, agriculture has more or less ceased to exist in a majority of villages. The idea of dragging and herding people from their villages into mismanaged state-run camps left the fields empty, left people without any alternative but to choose other professions, to become SPOs, landless labourers in other states, – the choice of agriculture, to till their own land, taken away from them.
‘We get enough from our land to feed us.’ Continued Lingaram Kodopi from Sameli, in Kuakonda. Kuakonda block didn’t suffer as much from the looting and arson of the Salwa Judum and only in 2009 has the violence really intensified in the block. ‘What is development? NMDC has operated in our area for 52 years but only caused destruction. Naxals don’t help us, but they don’t hurt us either. If having a company nearby could give us development, then considering that Bailadila (NMDC mines) is 20 kilometres from us and has been there long before the Naxals, then we should have had a lot of development. What is the reason that we still have no education and no hospital? Not one hospital in 52 years. When our people go to Bailadila for treatment, they humiliate us and don’t admit us to their hospitals.’
At the same time, near the Bailadila hills there are 14 extremely high grade iron ore deposits, worth billions yet there are again villages that have never even been surveyed by the government. This pattern shall now repeat itself as the Collector Reena Kangale has recommended 108 villages in Dantewada to be exempted from the census.
An activist once had a story about one of these villages where he met a young boy and asked him, ‘Has the government ever come to your village?’
The boy allegedly replied, ‘Yes, they came twice, once to burn it to the ground, and the other time they raped a woman.’
The story might be apocryphal yet for many villages it isn’t so farfetched. For these villages, it is easy to presume that there is absolutely no healthcare and no education. The same is reserved for villages beyond the Indravati, in Abhujmaad and the same is reserved for villages that once had access to both education and healthcare, but it was withdrawn by the government once the Salwa Judum went into full swing, on the grounds that these villages supported Maoists.
‘What happens in your village when someone falls really sick?’
‘We take them to the hospital in Badrachalam (Andhra Pradesh),’ Replied Lakhmu from Tatemargu, nonchalantly, ‘But sometimes, they just die.’
In 2006, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), a reputed humanitarian organization that won the Nobel peace prize in 1999, began to work in Bastar, to treat the adivasi victims of the civil war between the Salwa Judum and the Maoists. In 2007, they were accused by the government of Chhattisgarh of providing healthcare to injured Maoists. The government had asked them to restrict their activities to the Salwa Judum camps and not venture into the jungle.
And now as the state of Chhattisgarh has asked for 108 villages in Dantewada to be exempted from the census due to ‘inaccessible terrain’ and ‘prevention by the Maoists’, one wonders how the government can even send it a single paracetamol tablet.