The Adivasi/ Tribal and Dalit people of India are now leading a march towards Delhi staking their claim to a basic resource of their livelihood. This is land. Initially it started off as an Adivasi march but now Dalits have joined hands in this march. The timing of this march is significant as governments in different states of India and at the Centre are robbing the farmers and people of their land in the name of development and are establishing a different paradigm of development.
While indigenous peoples say that the earth is their mother, which is a cultural paradigm, governments are saying that land is only a resource to be exploited to the hilt. They thus subvert the cultural paradigm of the people into an economic paradigm that in turn subverts development contrary to the way indigenous people see it. Common people develop their holistic paradigm of development that is cultural, social, economic and political simultaneously. If a government does not understand this holism of the tribal and Dalit worldview they are bound to indulge in all sorts of mis-governance. Then the easy excuse is that money does not grow on trees. Why should it, may we ask?
The problem is not a question of understanding or misunderstanding. The constitution, for example has Schedule V and VI for Tribal land rights. The Supreme Court has clearly said that Naxalism is an offshoot of the neglect of these Schedules V and VI. Tribal land rights in many states of India have been blatantly violated by the ruling class. In doing so they have manifested their scant respect for the Constitution of India. Fence eating the crop, eh? The Dalit Panchayat Movement in Karnataka has recovered 10025 acres of Dalit land taken away from them after the government granted the land to them. How many hundreds of thousands of hectares are still for recovery is anybody’s guess. Karnataka has the Prohibition of Transfer of Certain Land Act, (PTCL, 1978). This Act was enacted precisely to prevent the purchase of land from Dalits.
Is it ignorance or a calculated strategy that is behind such gross exploitation of the resources of Adivasi/ Tribal and Dalit people? Jairam Ramesh throws some light. He was one of the invitees to the gala meeting of the Adivasi/ Tribal and Dalit farmers who assembled in Gwalior on October 2 for assertion of their land rights. Over 70,000 of them! Jairam Ramesh is not new to their struggle.
However, this time he decided to reveal the viciousness behind the ruling class. He said that land is a subject that the State has to deal with and that the Centre will talk to the States about it. Then came the rubbing salt into a deep wound. He asked the people to go around Gwalior now that they had come from far off places. The farmers assembled from different States of India did not assemble on a picnic as Jairam imagined. They have determination and a strong leader in Rajagopal and many other similar leaders who provide the necessary inspiration. They have decided to march together to the citadel of political power, to Delhi and press their demands. The march is on braving heat and cold alike.
Why are the elected leaders and government so callously indifferent to the Constitutional provisions of India? Let us brush aside the fact that people like Jairam Ramesh are not even elected by the people and yet they hoodwink the system to occupy high positions. It is not going to be difficult for them to hoodwink the people. The answer to the question lies in two major realities.
One: Indian freedom struggle was fundamentally a caste struggle. It was a struggle of caste oligarchy in India to usurp power from the British in order to set up their own economic empire. They saw clearly the way British were exploiting the resources of India and were aggregating their economic wealth in Britain.
Through access to industrialization they saw a great opportunity of making swift profit if only they could replace the British at the helm of power in India. At the bottom they saw an illiterate mass of people who would care a damn about their future exploitation and additionally would also provide necessary support to their ‘Indian’ exploiters in order to drive out ‘British’ imperialists. Caste and class merged in India in the name of independence struggle wearing a halo of ‘patriotism’.
Two: Constitution of India has been converted into a mega screen that keeps two sides of the same caste/ class combination on either side of governance. If Congress manages to be on the side of ruling government it will be the same caste/ class oligarchy. If BJP manages to grab power they will only go to the other side of the screen. But they are all the same players, same actors, same script-writers, same musicians, same dancers, etc. Arun Shourie used to call Antulay’s government of Maharashtra as a Natak Mandali during emergency days. It is ironical that later he himself became part of the BJP Natak Mandali at the centre. That is what I mean by the mega screen effect. Our substantiated fear is that even the Indian communists, singing the song of class revolution cannot be very different in this cacophony of caste orchestra.
Adivasis/ Tribals and Dalits will always be at the receiving end in this type of a situation if they place their hopes on ruling oligarchies. To bring in quality education among them that will gear them up well towards a revolution will be a long drawn out struggle. The Adivasi/ Tribal and Dalit leaders are themselves churned out of a dominant system entrenched deeply in caste/ class mindset.
However, the level of determination among the people is high, as one witnesses in Gwalior to Delhi, in Kudankulam, in Narmada and at numerous other places. If the leadership manages to imaginatively bring together all anti-caste communities such as the Adivasis/ Tribals, the Dalits, the minorities and women into a national coalition, India may begin to see light at the end of the tunnel.
No doubt, this is going to be one of the Himalayan tasks in India given the type of caste entrenchment that has already taken place for millennia together. In order to do this there are two possibilities.
Possibility one: It is the Supreme Court that has highlighted the fact that Naxalism is an offshoot of the gross neglect of Schedule V and VI. There is an indication of hope still in the courts of India. It will be good not to undermine this honesty in judiciary though some judges may be corrupt and casteist. Make the best use of the constitutional provision, enhance judicial activism and hit back at the caste/ class oligarchy relentlessly.
Possibility two: Give up all hope on existing political parties. They are all operating under an electoral system that is hugely advantageous to the oligarchy that we have spoken of. Therefore, the primary responsibility of the seekers of genuine alternative will be to change the present electoral system and usher in proportional representation system in India. That will be a way of not only electing representatives but also sharing in power. On the way of bringing about this change the proposed national coalition of Dalits, Tribals/ Adivasis, minorities and women will be a force to reckon with. Thus this coalition will pave way for change in the electoral system as well as will take over power when PR system comes to India. This will in effect reverse millennia-old oligarchic governance in India. There is still much room for hope.