INTERFACE OF CULTURAL
Taming Structural Transformation...
The Significance of Community Resolve of Mavalibhata...
B. D. Sharma
Mavalibhata Declaration of People's Right
We, the people of Mavalibhata*, Mardum and Nagarnar areas, and representatives of people's organisations all over the country have assembled this day, December 5, 1992, at Mavalibhata, Bastar, M.P. We reviewed the situation arising from the arbitrary decision of the State Government to permit and facilitate establishment of a big steel plant in private sector and, that too, with foreign collaboration at Mavalibhata. We have also deliberated in depth on its immediate and long term effects at different levels. The State Government, as also the local administration, showed no concern for the people's rights and their aspirations. That was not all. The Chief Minister went ahead and laid the foundation stone on October 6, 1992, without waiting for the completion of legal processes necessary for setting up such industrial projects.
The people of Mavalibhata area were up in arms against the project ever since they had heard the rumours about its possible establishment. This area falls within Dandami tribal territory. The community is almost totally free from outside influence. Land is their only source of livelihood. The level of fomal education is insignificant. The Dandamis are known for their valour, self-esteem and unrestrained emotional responses. This open attack in the form of a foundation stone on their basic right -- right to life with dignity -- could not be tolerated.
Their reaction was simple, sharp and swift. The foundation stone was broken. The approach roads to their villages were barricated. That foundation stone in their perception was a challenge to their very existence thrown by the entire
* Mavalibhata is located about 35kms from Jagdalpur on way to Bailadila in Bastar, M.P. Like countless other tribal habitations it was also lost on its small world. Education is almost nil notwithstanding the existence of a school for years. Neither they understand the farsi (the colloquial term for unintelligible tongue of tohers and a corrupt form of the term Persian) of others, nor others can understand their Koitur (Gondi)., A few, however, have smattering of Hindi. So even though they are living close to an important highway, they are leading a happy life behind the impregnable wall of language.
Dandami by nature is volatile, simple and joy-logging. They have no peer in social solidarity. After the harvest, bands of Dandami youth start moving out for shikar to distant hills and forests with pej (rice-liquid) in gourd and bow-and-arrow in their hands. No one can dare cross their route. It is Dandami youth who have the sacred duty of pulling the great-grand chariot of Goddess Danteshwari, the ruling deity of Bastar, during Dussera festival in Jagdalpur.
One evening of December 1991, everything appeared to have changed for this small village. Mavalibhata and five neighbouring villages (Burungpal, Durram, Patharli Uduwa and Katakanda) were caught in a whirl. The goovernment officials told them that a steel plant with an investment of rupees four thousand crores will be established there. About five thousand acres of land will be acquired for that purpose. All the five villages will have to move out. The people were shaken by the unanswered questions -- `Where will we go?' The Government's reply was dry -- `you will get compensation. You can go wherever you can find land'. Their silent reaction was `what will we do with money? Our deities, sacred places, gata-kalk (burial stones), all that we can call ours is here'. Why not establish the plant, where government wants us to go?' was their simple logic.
But no one listened to them. The government remained unmoved. On October 6, 1992 the Chief Minister laid the foundation stone under heavy police bandobast. The elite of the district and the state was jubilant. All political parties of `right' and `left' were overwhelimed by the grand procession of development in Bastar.
But in the deep dark shadow at the centre of that flurry of hope and joy, the approach roads to their villages were dug, stone walls were erected by Dandami Marias …Let's see who dares to come on our sacred land -- katenge par hatenge nahin (we will get killed but not move!)…..Ami Dandami (we are Dandamis).
The signal of Bhumkal (Revolt) is clear and categorical. It is not only a declaration of community's right over resources, but a resolve to die for the same.
The Mavalibhata Declaration of human rights is before you -- may be a precursor of an epochmaking BHUMKAL
Outside world. And the stone bqarriers were the wilent answer of the community with a counter-challenge "let us see, who dares to come and occupy our ancestral and sacred lands?". They also resolved `katenge par hatenge nahin' (we will get killed but we will not move out).
The government did not give due regard to the
spirit of this natural response of the people. No one cared to ponder over
its real meaning. It was simple affirmation of their right to life with
dignity. Instead, it was taken as an affront to the supreme authority of the
omnipotent state. The ruling party, in collusion with administration, made a
callous attempt to silence the dissident voice through
The Jagadalpur episode* was just the last ugly glimpse of that nefarious conspiracy.
* A large crowd of about a thousand people in thirteen motor-vehicles reached Patharli Uruwa in search of Dr. B.D. Sharma who dared to tell and also warn the outside world about the resolve of the people of Mavalibhata. On not finding him there, the returning convoy intercepted him on the high way as he was proceeding in the opposite direction back to the village from Jagdalpur alone on the pillion of a motor cycle. He was thrashed, but protected from the murderous assault of the excited crowd, and was rushed to Jagdalpur bundled in a jeep with cinema-style chase of others in vehicles not convinced about sparing him. In the safety of the town, he was stripped and paraded on the strets of that town, where he served as District Magistrate two decades back, in a bid to demonstrate to the world the fate which awaits for those daring to oppose development. The entire town witnessed that act of retribution benumbed with shocjk while the entire administration including police remained an amused silent spectator!
The people of Mavalibhata and Nagarnar had placed before the local administration their `Resolve' (Appendix 1 and Appendix 2) and also certain important questions (Appendix 3) about the State's Constitutional responsibility for safeguarding the rights and interests of the tribal people, on October 15, 1992. The government has maintained studied silence on these issues. Moreover, the state is unrelenting, unmindful of the severe and universal condemnation of Jagadalpur-episode. But Mavalibhata people's resolve remains unshaken, nay, it is assuming tidal dimension with spontaneous response all around. The people are standing firm like a rock. Thus, there is a state of uneasy peace in the area as the shadow of implicit confrontation is deepening. It may turn into a serious crisis if the State continues to ignore the voice of reason, insists on going ahead without taking the people in confidence and without following the well-established processes in consonance with the State's policy, laws and the Constitution.
This confrontation at Mavalibhata is not an unusual or unique event for the tribal areas. The process of encroachment on tribal resources in the name of development by the state and also others has been continuing for a long time. But so far there was some concern, some realisation of injustice as well. If nothing else, at least some paper provisions were made to counter its ill effects. But now perceptions are changing. The power-brokers are openly asserting that the grand procession of development cannot be stopped simply because a handful people may not agree to move out. The work in Bastar will continue even if lakhs, what to speak of thousands, are displaced', thus spake the District Magistrate. Thus the Mavalibhata crisis is just an advance signal of the new catastrophe. This confrontation is an inevitable consequence of the open entry of unbridled market forces in the so-called backward but resource-rich tribal areas.
A new alignment of national and international forces is now being forged. The most terrible form of this alignment is on the rise in tribal areas. Here, on the one side are the simple tribal people. Their numerical strength is small. But they are imbued with high sense of dignity, self-reliance and strong tradition of community life. On the other side is the new power-axis of neocolonial capitalist forces. The irony is that the all powerful state itself, which has the Constitutional responsibility of protecting the tribal people, has assumed the role of promoter and protector of that Axis. Thus the people, particularly the tribal people, are now facing a demonic challenge. Their very identity is at stake. And in this confusion, all values and traditions, that we as a nation can be proud of, have also got staked.
Thus, our country is passing through a very delicate phase in its history. Mavalibhata is the first victim of this International Combine. If it succeeds here, devastation of other areas will be a matter of time only. This horrendous situation in the tribal and also other areas calls for closing of ranks by all progressive forces. The sharp reaction and rustic reply of the people of Mavalibhata to the anti-people and fascist ways of the state have become the symbol of a people's struggle. Mobilisation of utmost support for this struggle is a must now. In the context of issues raised in Mavalibhata, we once again resolve that:
In contravention of the general and the specific Constitutional provisions against unlimited expansion and unregulated sovereignty by private and State entities over the resources of the community, whose aim was creation of an egalitarian order, the government has virtually reqritten the Constitution in the garb of a new economic policy. The new policy is giving rise to extreme concentration of economic and political powers and authoritarian fascist regimes. In fact, the government has abrogated its responsibility for equitable and sustainable development and to ensure judicious use of natural resources. It has thrown them open for rapacious exploitation by the new global Axis. It has shown no concern even for the fact that these resources after all are people's sacred trust.
We are not prepared to accept this position. We hereby resolve and declare that:
After Independence, on the one hand, traditional self-governing institutions of tribal people have been totally ignored. On the other hand, exotic laws and institutions have been indiscriminately superimposed. During this phase, the Governors did not discharge their Constitutional responsibility to adapt the formal system in accordance with the needs of tribal system for which full powers had been bestowed on them under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. Consequently, entire communities are deemed as law-breakers; traditional institutions have collapsed and ordinary tribals are facing worst forms of destitution. We therefore, resolve that---
Bastar and Mavalibhata
Dandakaranya is endowed with rich natural resources. Private capital and multinationals are making a concerted bid to enter these areas in utter disregard of the Constitutional safeguards and legal provisions. The state is allowing open entry, nay, is welcoming large industries with no concern for its own policies, guidelines and also human rights and people's welfare. We strongly condemn this open attack on the interests of the ordinary people, particularly the tribal people.
We also note that the tribal habitats are extensive and the life of the people depends on the natural resources of the entire habitat. The irony is that the de juro command of the tribal people has been generally circumscribed to a small part thereof. The remaining area (70% in Bastar) is formally termed as the so-called `forest', which may or may not have tree cover. Thus, the people have to make do with a limited area. It includes abadi, agriculture and nistar. In this situation, if land is assigned from the limited area used by the people for industry and other institutions, the condition of people depending on it is bound to deteriorate.
It may be further noted that the level of education is very low in tribal communities and the modern skills are almost non-existent. Thus the people are not prepared for participation with dignity in modern economic activities.
There is no justification for acquisition of tribal lands in this critical phase in the history of tribal communities. Similarly diversion of so-called government land, which is being used by the tribal people for a variety of other purposes, is not proper. In this situation all new activities in tribal areas should be taken up, wherever necessary, on the so-called `forest' land. But concurrently, action should also be taken for enriching the so-called forest with people's participation as partners.
In this situation we resolve and declare that----
Democratic Norms and Human Rights
We condemn the anti-people and fascist actions by the government and the administration to silence the voice of dissence and to evict the tribal people from their ancestral homes and habitat. Honest adherence to democratic norms and full regard for human rights in dealing with the people are essential. We expect that political leaders and officials will change their behavious and fulfil their responsibilities as public servants. So far as the issue of use of natural resources is concerned no family, as a rule, can be deprived of its right over the resources on which it may be depending on for its living (I) without prior willing consent of the family and the community; and (ii) without providing to the family in advance an honourable alternative means of livelihood acceptable to it.
All those laws which are not in consonance with these basic premises are unacceptable to us. So long as the State does not establish an equitable order, the people have full right to defend themselves their right to life with dignity. We accordingly resolve that ----
The Resolve of Mavalibhata People
The State Government has extended an invitation to industrialists for establishing larage industries based on local resources. It was in pursuance of this policy that S.M. Dichem has been offered thousands of acres of land in Mavalibhata region and the foundation stone of a steel plant was laid on October 6, 1982. The Chief Minister also declared that two more plants will be started very soon. There has been some talk of a steel plant in Nagarnar area for quite some time. There is no information about other industries and their likely location so far. Some smaller industrial units have come up in recent years on Jagdalpur-Dantewara highway.
We, the people of Mavalibhata, Nagarnar and surrounding areas, are extremely concerned about thej policy of utilisation of resources in our area adopted by the government and the governmental attitude and behavious towards the people. There is anger about the same. Thej public opinion had been treated with contempt while establishing industries on Jagdalpur-Dantewara Road. The people are destined to be ruined. The government had paid no attention to these aspects. Foundation stone has been laid in Mavalibhata without any prior intimation of significance. There was no dialogue with the peoploe about their future. A bolt from the blue has struck the people. It appears that some processes are on under the cover of secrecy about the other steel plant, in spite of the still opposition by thej people of Nagarnar. They may face a similar catastrophe any day all of a sudden.
We want to forewarn the government that the policy and the premises of the government about the use of natural resources are totally unacceptable to thej people here. All natural resources including land-water-forest, from which we have been making a living for ages, belong to us. We have the natural right to use the same. This right has also been enshrined in our Constitution. The government has no right-Constitutional or moral--to take away our resources. It is obligatory on the state to obtain willing consent of thej people depending on them for their living and also the community before putting those resources to any alternative use.
A vast majority of people living in this region belong to scheduled tribes. The levels of education even after 45 years of Independence is negligible. Our life is totally dependent on land and forest. All those lawas are unacceptable to us under which the government can acquire our land after payment of compensation and can remove us from our villages without even asking us. The Constitution has placed the responsibility of protecting us on the Central and State Governments, the Governor and the President. We are sorry that the State Government has not discharged this responsibility. On the contrary, it has no qualms in dispossessing us from our resources, even our homes and herths, that too using those laws that are unconstitutional and violative of human rights. We are pressurized through hidden threats that we may have to move out either in this simple way or through other methods. We reject this hidden threat. If such pressures continue, the people's reaction may become unrestrained. The responsibility for any consequences will be that of the government.
We people have decided that Mother-Earth is not a saleable commodity. Any talk of compensation is unacceptable to us. Service of the industrialist is slavery which is against our honour. It is clear to us that once we move out of our homes and herths, nothing but destitution will be our fate. Therefore we are not prepared to leave our land and our village at any cost `katenge par hatenge nahin' (we will get killed but not move out) is our resolve. We are prepared to sacrifice all that is ours, our life itself, for defending our basic human right, the right to life with dignity.
The question now facing us is of life-and-death. We are not prepared for any negotiations, or even a dialogue of any sort in this regard with the government or anyone else. No one is authorised on our behalf for any dialogue with government notwithstanding his office or status -- Patel or manjhi, sarpanch or M.L.A., M.P. or Minister. We will also expect that no official visiting our village will even broach the issue. Let no one dare to attempt misleading our simple people.
We also wish to forewarn all enterprises through you that they should not make any schemes on the strength of any promise or even formal orders of the government . Gram Swaraj has been promulgated in our villages in keeping with the spi9rit of our Constitution. Our resources canot be put to any alternative use without the consent of our village-community. If any work is done in disregard of people's will, the consequences may be drastic, whose responsibility will be theirs -- simple and unequivocal.
Tribal People's Resolve for people-Oriented Development
(Bharat jan Andolan)
Warning against Loot of Resources in Tribal Areas!
Call for People-oriented(Janwadi) Development!!
The Tribal Areas are developing but tribal communities are being pauperised !!!
We are being evicted overnight from those resources -- Water-forest-land-ages-in the name of development in some places, branding us an encroachers at others and in exchange of useless `pauper' elsewhere. Every attempt of ours for self-defence is deemed to be violation of law and may even be branded as REVOLT. It is crushed mercilessly.
Big `empires' are being established, but there is no place for us therein because--
In other words, our place is in the crowd of casual labourers, domestic servants. If we run away and seek shelter in our forest, what we find is dafedar (forest-guard) with a lathi. Now they are wielding even guns. The slums of towns -- old and new -- is our final destiny.
This destiny we reject outright. Those laws and governmental system are unacceptable to us, under whose aegies all that is ours is being snatched away and those who can claim nothing become masters. Our position is simple --
The government has paid no heed to these issues. Some twenty out of every hundred tribals in M.P. have already got displaced. But the government even does not know who they were, what are they doing and where they have gone? Before proceeding further full and satisfactory arrangement should be made for them all.
We are not prepared to accept this logic of developmentwalas that someone will have to bear the cost of development. It is a duty of the State that those who are expected to make sacrifice for development are assured of a reasonable share in the benefits.
Therefore we reject the current policy of development. We also hope that henceforth the state shall arrange its affairs in accordance with our resolve. All citizens should be co-partners in this development without any discrimination.
These basic principles can serve as the foundation of people-oriented development in tribal areas.
Some open Questions about New Industrial Policy and Steel Plants
Why no concrete action has been taken so far? Why the Constitutional and human rights of the tribal people are being still violated?
©1996 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi