Ask no questions

But can democracy survive without dissent?

Written by Gladson Dungdung | Updated: May 16, 2016 1:31 am
jharkhand, chhattisgarh, adivasi, tribal, jharkhand trival movement, jharkhand adivasi protests, indian forest act, human rights, tribal rights activist, environment activist, india news, latest news Adivasi of Nagari Mauja of Kanke block gathered to protest against land acquisition by the Jharkhand Government for premier education institutes, IIM and IIT near Kanke in Ranchi. (Source: Express archive photo)

Since 2013, I have been travelling abroad to speak on Adivasi issues in different forums. I talk about our rights and the need to conserve natural resources. In October 2013, my passport was impounded on the basis of an “adverse police report”. My involvement in people’s movements against forceful land acquisition and disclosure of human rights violations in the so-called red corridor had attracted the attention of the police. After I requested top police officers in Jharkhand to verify my credentials, my passport was restored in July 2014. Thereafter I attended a couple of conferences in Denmark and the UK. Last November, I travelled to London following the release of my book, Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India.

This May, I was scheduled to attend a workshop on the environmental politics of South Asia at the University of Sussex, UK. On May 9, after receiving the boarding pass, I was stopped at the immigration counter at the Delhi international airport. The immigration officer said my passport has been impounded and, therefore, I can’t travel to London. Later, the regional passport officer of Ranchi clarified that my passport was impounded in 2013 but had been restored after proper police verification and clearance. The ministry of external affairs also confirmed that I had a valid passport. So under whose order did the immigration officer stop me?

The fact is many Indians seem to think that human rights is a western idea and like many other things western — dress, food and culture — a threat to “Indian culture”. In their definition, Indian culture is about submission to the Brahminical social order. Human rights activists are those who seek to protect Naxals and terrorists and, thereby, work against the interests of the country. We are seen as anti-state and our travels abroad are construed as trips meant to defame the country. We are even accused of being on the payroll of foreign agencies to undermine India’s progress. Whoever raises uncomfortable questions is seen as an enemy of the state. There is no willingness to engage with dissenting voices. But can democracy survive without dissent? Can India claim to be a true democracy if the state itself curtails the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution?

In the beginning I was accused of being a “Maoist sympathiser”. The fact is I have severely criticised the Maoist movement for its nexus with corporates. To me, the Maoist movement in Jharkhand today is almost synonymous with private security agencies, which guard anyone who pays. The CPI-Maoist does the same in the Saranda forests of Jharkhand, the eastern headquarters of the party for a decade. The state doesn’t dare to run a school here for the fear of Maoists, but more than 12 mining companies conduct their operations smoothly.

The Adivasis are perceived by the state as anti-development. We are seen as a sub-human crowd that sympathises with Maoists by both state and non-state actors. But what is truth? At least 1000 innocent Adivasis have been killed in fake encounters and more than 500 women raped or molested. Over 25,000 Adivasis are lodged in different prisons facing charges of association with Maoists. Over three lakh Adivasis were forced to vacate 644 villages in Chhattisgarh.

Land acquisition is the big issue and Adivasi land is a target. The Nagri movement near Ranchi was against the acquisition of prime agriculture land for a proposed education hub. We were not against the education hub; our argument was it could even be built on non-cultivable land. Instead of hearing us out, we were branded as people who were against IIM and IIIT.

The dream projects of Nehru, including the Heavy Engineering Corporation at Ranchi, Bhilai steel plant, Hirakud dam, Mayurakshi and Tenughat projects, were all built on Adivasi land. Over 80 per cent of the people displaced by these projects were Adivasis, who were not rehabilitated. How could people who did not have to surrender even one inch of land for such projects lecture us on national interest?

In Jharkhand, the state is taking away resources that belong to the poor and handing them over to the rich. The annual revenue from mines in Jharkhand is over Rs 150 billion, but 46 per cent of the people live below the poverty line. When so much money is coming from mining, why are people still living in poverty?

After much struggle, the Indian state accepted the historical injustice meted out  to the Adivasis and promised to right historical wrongs through the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in 2006. However, the implementation of the act is poor. For instance, five lakh claims for titles were rejected in Chhattisgarh. The state government has repealed entitlement given under the FRA in Sarguja district to favour coal mines. Similarly, in Saranda in Jharkhand, 22 new iron ore mining leases were issues to private firms whereas 3,000 Adivasis of 30 villages have not yet been given identity cards so that they could be declared encroachers during forest clearance.

Should the state not be bothered about the ecological crisis its pursuit of unregulated growth has unleashed? The forest cover of India is only 12 per cent when the requirement is at least 33 per cent of the total land mass. However, the Union minister entrusted with the protection of environment, forest and climate change is busy issuing environment and forest clearances to private entities. From April 2014 to March 2016, the ministry diverted 34,620 hectares of forest land for industrial purposes and final clearances are expected for another 40,000 plus hectares. Who is to tell them that the economy cannot be expanded at the cost of ecology?

The writer, a Ranchi-based human rights activist, was prevented from travelling to London

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  1. H
    Hemant Kumar
    May 16, 2016 at 5:04 am
    This writer is an enemy of India. On the one hand, India has to provide jobs to its teeming millions of young unemplo. On the other, he wants India to follow his dictates/ policy prescriptions about what is feasible and what is not on the basis of his half baked knowledge. He wants India to maintain status quo ante, to be primitive, backward and subservient to developed countries. China has a good policy of kicking in the of these type of writers/activists.
    1. K
      K SHESHU
      May 16, 2016 at 11:25 am
      If the just causes of adivasis are supported by any one, civil rights activists or muoyoists, what is wrong? The fact that more and more battalions are being rushed indicates govts. Have failed..
      1. A
        ak dev
        May 16, 2016 at 6:07 am
        This guy is defaming India in outside world. He uses right words to hide his anti-India motives. Such people must be thrown in Thar desert.
        1. A
          Akshar B
          May 16, 2016 at 8:01 am
          People like you are the reason India is still perceived as backward...
          1. A
            Amit Singh
            May 16, 2016 at 10:01 am
            Dude, u go any where in India and u will find schools hospitals roads are build on fertile land.. India is a fertile country u cant have development if u don't acquire land fertile or;br/gt;Making it an issue as if India. State is out to get adivasis is a misconception and such falsehood should not be spread. I do not agree with the author but nevertheless will defend her right to say what ever rubbish she wants to say
            1. A
              Anil Gupta
              May 18, 2016 at 7:23 am
              India is a land of dissenting voices, so much that we discuss dissent more than development and policies in every forum including this newspaper and this article. Still there are articles that dissenting voices are suppressed. We have become a crusader nation for dissent and opposing government policies and seldom there are intellectuals promoting any government policy except extreme ones like poverty eradication, MNREGA, RTI. How are we going to become a developed country? China has marched way ahead and we are still discussing dissents.
              1. A
                May 19, 2016 at 8:12 pm
                Yes China did manage to grow fast by killing about 2.95 million people who dissented. Check wikipedia on cultural revolution. We can also do that in India. Just kill all SC/ST and all minorities and any sect that does not adhere to the Brahmanism order
                1. J
                  May 17, 2016 at 1:13 am
                  India is considered backward because the society is fragmented. The Varna Jati system (wrongly called the Caste system) is blamed, while the blame should be put on the successive Congress governments who brought very little in the name of development to rural India and tribal belts. I believe the political parties, especially the Congress, deliberately encouraged "caste" divisions for electoral purposes. Show me a country that has done more in terms of reservations, etc for its lower and marginalized cles than India. Unfortunately the results are mixed and that is mostly because we have not grown the pie. Every socialist economic model has not delivered the kind of growth that would provide real opportunities to the poor and the downtrodden.
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