Friday, April 09, 2010

Stop structural violence against adivasis Stop destructive development and restore the faith of the adivasis in the Indian Constitution

New Delhi,

The Independent People’s Tribunal on Land Acquisition, Resource Grab and Operation Green Hunt, organized by Citizen’s against Forced Displacement and War on People, kicked-off today to a packed hall, consisting of students, academics, activists and the media. The Independent People’s Tribunal is being held in New Delhi, Constitution Club.

Dr. Vandana Shiva, well-renowned environmental activist presented the inaugural address and spoke about the “urgent need to develop democratic spaces”, such as the IPT. She said “the complex issues related land acquisition, mining and exploitation of the tribals as well as mechanisms of state suppression need to be discussed in a open manner by concerned individuals and intellectuals without the threat of arrest”. Advocate Prashant Bhushan, continuing in a similar vein, referred to the mining mafia that was bleeding the nation of its resources. According to him “rampant mining is displacing adivasis from their lands and leading to the ecological ruin of India’s forest land”. He 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. Mr. Bhushan then introduce the People’s Jury comprising of 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. (Jury Bios are attached at the end of the press note). The first session was also addressed by Mr. S P Shukla who spoke about the deep injustice being met out to the tribals and the unfair polarisation of the debate in the media and the state. He said that violence by the Maoists was representative of years of injustice suffered by the poor in these lands and that use of excessive force, clamping down on democratic spaces by arrests and detention of activists like Binayak Sen would only exacerbate the situation. He strongly recommended that the State should engage in widening the discussion on the issue if it wanted to solve it. Dr. B D Sharma, a retired civil servant and ex-chairman of the SC/ST Commission, Bastar spoke about the continuous denial of rights of the tribals by the state – in the form of violations of the Vth Schedule of the Constitution, Panchayati (Extension) to Schedule Areas, Forests Rights Act.

Day 1 of the Independent People’s Tribunal focussed on the current situation in Chhattisgarh. Sudha Bhardwaj, lawyer and labour rights activist, Chattisgarh 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 Act, gram sabhas were being manipulated to take decisions on land use and sale, against collective community decision-making process. According to Sudha the scale of corruption was enormous. The district officials were facilitating the transfer of tribal land, flouting all legal and procedural conduct. She recommended that there should be strict enforcement of the Forest Rights Act and procedures of granting environmental clearances. In all cases, corporate acquisition of tribal land was to be stopped to restore the faith of the tribals in the State. Goldy M George, rights activist in Chhattisgarh also reiterated the corporate land grab and pointed out to the number of secret MOUs that were being signed, without adequate public consultation. Activists in these areas were being targeted by insidious campaigns by the State and corporates. The politics of alienation of the tribals 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 unleshed by the Salwa Judum and its role in the current operations.

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 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. Lamenting on the lack of education and health services, he said that tribals needed development on their terms and not of the kind that was being enforced upon them from all quarters. Himanshu Kumar, Gandhian activist, spoke about the advisory, legal and rehabilitation support provided by the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram to the tribals and the consequent attempts by the state to squash the same by terrorizing villagers. 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 derided the state for using the development rhetoric when masses were dying of hunger and malaria.

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