People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 14

April 01, 2012




Intensify Struggle for the

Rights of Adivasi People!


Smita Gupta


THE Mavalankar Hall in New Delhi was overflowing with delegates when  Bajuban Riyan, the chairperson of the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch (AARM) stood up amidst slogans and applause to inaugurate the National Sangharsh Sabha organised by AARM on March 21, 2012. Around 1200 adivasi delegates from 13 states, men and women from distant villages, came to the capital to make their voices heard on issues of urgent importance for the over nine crore adivasi community. The day long convention organised around three aspects of demands and struggles being waged was divided into three sessions. The first session of the convention was the discrimination against adivasis as citizens. The second was on the issue of land grab and displacement and the third was on the issue of implementation of Forest Rights. Eighteen speakers from different states spoke of their experiences on these related issues. The focused discussions, the inspiring experiences of struggle and energy and enthusiasm of the delegates certainly is a pointer to the possibilities for further development of struggles of adivasis and their organisations.


Bajuban Riyan in his inaugural address set the tone with his call for developing the struggles of adivasis in coordination and with the support of all democratic organisations. He said it was symbolic of the unity of the democratic movement to support the struggles of adivasis that the presidium of the convention should include president of the Kisan Sabha, S R Pillai, CITU leader K Hemalata, SFI leader Sivadasan apart from adivasi leaders Rajender Singh Munda, Dr Babu Rao (joint convenor) and Prema Bai. He welcomed leaders of AIDWA, DYFI and the AIAWU. He also welcomed Prakash Karat who had initiated the All India Convention of Adivasis in Ranchi in 2002. Riyan warmly thanked all the trade unions and organisations of employees who had extended their full support through generous donations to make the convention possible. The hall reverberated with applause when he read out the list of all the trade unions and employees organisations who had helped organise the convention. He described the convention as an opportunity to discuss policies and devise strategies to struggle for the rights of adivasis communities. He said adivasis are not asking for alms. They are demanding their rights as equal citizens of this country.



While moving the resolution, Brinda Karat (member, AARM) highlighted the impact of neo-liberal policies which further intensified the exploitation and expropriation of adivasis communities instead of correcting the historic injustices. She argued that the grossly discriminatory land, forest and socio-economic policies of the Indian State and central government, through paltry budgetary allocations, exclusion from BPL cards, the woefully inadequate quality and quantity of residential scholarships and schools, the absence of basic infrastructure like electricity, water, healthcare, etc has a disproportionately more adverse impact on adivasis communities and against their rights as equal citizens. The hall erupted with slogans and applause when she strongly condemned the fraudulent poverty estimates of the central government and demanded that all adivasis be recognised as BPL, even as she demanded universalisation of Public Distribution System. She drew attention to the plight of adivasis who are forced to migrate into construction, mining or domestic work around the country, where they have no social or legal protection as casual-contract workers. She highlighted the blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees for protection of adivasi land, especially in the annexation of minerals and power by big corporates through official “diversions” and leases without the consent of Gram Sabhas. She rejected the crumbs being offered by governments for so-called compensation for the mineral wealth being looted. She explained the import of the demand in the resolution to legally recognise adivasi rights on the minerals under their land.


Speaking on the non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act, she demanded that the fatal flaw requiring 75 years’ proof of residence for non-tribal forest dwellers should be scrapped.. She wanted the government to amend the draft Land Acquisition and Relief and Rehabilitation Act, 2011 which is before the Standing Committee of Parliament which gives legal sanction to grab land and mineral resources.


Upen Kisku, joint convenor of AARM, seconded the resolution providing details of some of the discriminatory practices such as denial of ST certificates, low pensions etc. .



The first session saw as many as eleven speakers speaking on different aspects of discrimination as citizens.. Speaking on food security, Prem Pargi (Rajasthan) said that even though malnutrition among adivasis is extremely high, as many as 61 per cent have no BPL cards due to the completely arbitrary and mindless criteria of land ownership that is used to exclude poor households. They are at the mercy of the market and their geographical location in remote areas means that by the time the essential commodities reach the tribal areas, the prices of the items not locally produced are higher than city prices. He was not very keen that STs in government service be excluded, since they were at the lowest level.


Delhi Babu, the CPI(M) MLA from Tamil Nadu, pointed out the irrationality and unfairness in the scheduling and certification system, brought out through several examples when different members of the same family were denied certificates, or when the same community was scheduled in one area and not in the other, or were scheduled as ST in one and SC in the other and non-tribals getting recognition through corrupt practices. V Tirupathi Rao (Andhra Pradesh) pointed to the huge backlog in government jobs for STs at the central, state level and in PSUs, with no statutory provisions to ensure implementation of the constitutional reservation quotas. He also described the bias and discrimination in promotions with adverse ACRs being the most commonly used tool to withhold top posts. The difficulties faced by students due to the wrong policies of the government were presented by Hemant (Rajasthan). He argued that the government was withdrawing from its responsibility towards education without increasing financial allocations. The Ashram schools are congested and infrastructure facilities are very poor for classroom, living and toilet needs of the students. There are many villages that do not have even primary schools. The dropout rate is very high among tribals, especially among girls and among Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs). There is an acute shortage of vocational education colleges for tribal youth, and the stipend given to tribal students for higher education in intermediate, graduate, postgraduate and vocational courses is very low and the disbursement delayed. Purno Bodo (Assam) demonstrated the very poor health outcomes and the abysmal condition of health facilities in tribal areas. Every year there are epidemics with huge loss of life and there are endemic diseases like malaria and TB. Lack of safe drinking water is an important cause for many of the health problems of the tribals. The PHCs in Scheduled Areas are too far-away, are insufficiently staffed with few qualified medical doctors and have little medical equipment and supplies. The ongoing rapid privatisation of the health sector will only worsen this situation. Manju Munda from Jharkhand spoke of her experience as a construction worker. She said that there are a large number of tribal migrants who do daily work without protection of labour laws. In some states, adivasis are caught between 'Maoist' violence and police repression and there have been cases of brutal torture against innocent adivasis by both sides. Dr Pulin Baskey, CPI(M) MP from Bengal, informed a shocked audience about the attacks on CPI(M) tribal cadres and other innocent tribals by the Trinamul Congress, 'Maoists' and police forces in Bengal.



This session ended with two presentations by economists. The first by Smita Gupta, economist, who gave details of the discrimination in budgetary allocations under Tribal Sub-Plan. Allocations at the union level have hovered between 2 and 5 per cent.  Tribal people were denied Rs 50,000 crores in the past 5 years, while twenty times this amount was gifted as revenue foregone to big corporates in the last two yeas alone. Of the 121 ministries and departments, 43 were exempt from spending on STs, and less than a third of the remaining earmarked funds. There has been poor utilisation of the allocated funds, varying between 30 to 40 per cent. Funds meant for TSP have been diverted to other sectors. States too have often not earmarked funds as per the percentage of ST population.


Dr Vikas Rawal, Professor at JNU, offered an analytical description of the multiple deprivations of surveyed adivasi households in a village in southern Rajasthan, Dungariya. Of the 110 households in the village, only two were landless, but the others held forest land without legal title. Health, education and basic household amenities are worse than any other village surveyed by them. There is no electricity in the village. Of all Scheduled Tribe people aged 7 years and above, only 18 per cent -- 26 per cent of men and 9 per cent of women – were literate. Every household but three in Dungariya is poor by any standard of income poverty, but 68 households out of 110 have been classified as being “above the poverty line” (“APL”) and five households have no ration cards at all.




The second session was on Land Displacement and Struggles.  Gopen Soren (Jharkhand), Chamru Soren (Odisha) and Budhsen Gond (Madhya Pradesh) highlighted the naked land grab for their rich mineral wealth through forcible land acquisition and consequent displacement of lakhs of adivasi families, including in Fifth Schedule areas. The central government has also facilitated the takeover of forest land by corporates though diversion to private companies. Near cities, real estate developers with political patronage have duped tribals and taken over their land for a pittance. The situation is made worse because large numbers of adivasis cannot prove ownership of their land as they have been for generations, denied titles. They spoke of the resistance against this forcible land grab in different places. Shankar Gopalkrishnan representing the Campaign for Survival and Dignity expressed solidarity with the convention and hoped for joint struggles in the future.


In the third and final session there was a discussion on the implementation of the Forest Rights Act. Dr Babu Rao (Andhra Pradesh) talked about the struggles waged against the exploitative pricing policies and the harassment faced by adivasis collectors of minor forest produce. He demonstrated how the prices given to tribals were consistently much lower than market prices and that they had succeeded in several places in setting up a bipartite process of price fixation, resulting in a 20 to 50 per cent hike. He demanded that remunerative prices should be given based on end use and minimum wages through a system of minimum support price. Several speakers, including Hansmukh Warli from Gujarat, reported that Forest Departments have been violating the law and directly intervening to sabotage the Forest Rights Act.  This Act was an outcome of the struggles of the adivasis people and was passed only because of the strength of the Left parties in UPA-I, but was not palatable to the ruling classes. This is in sharp contrast to the Left-led government in Tripura, which, as Salil Deb Barma reported, stands first in its recognition of tribal rights over forest land through grant of land pattas jointly in the name of husband and wife. In West Bengal too STs constitute double their population proportion in their share in land distribution. Vidya Dharan Kani (Kerala) said that the current UDF government was reversing many of the Left Front government’s pro-Adivasi policies, and announced the land occupation struggles by STs in many places. Ranjit Deb Barma, chief executive of the Autonomous District Council, Tripura, spoke of the many successful initiatives fo adivasis in the state.




Dhuli Chand from Rajasthan gave a clarion call for struggle, and reiterated the following demands of the convention:


Ø                 Increase the Tribal Sub Plan to at least 8.5 per cent in all ministries;

Ø                 Give all adivasis (except for those in regular government service) BPL cards;

Ø                 Raise the number of residential scholarships and stipends for adivasi students;

Ø                 Increase allocations for tribal student hostels and ensure establishment of residential ST schools;

Ø                 Give adivasi workers labour rights protection;

Ø                 Fill the backlog in adivasi jobs;

Ø                 Make ST scheduling and certification transparent, swift and simple;

Ø         Oppose the token provisions of compensation provided to the tribals in the Mines and Mineral (Development and Regulations) Bill 2011. Demand the legal recognition of the rights of adivasis over the mineral wealth in their areas;

Ø                 Redraft the LARR Bill to ensure protection of adivasi rights as proposed by the amendments of the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch;

Ø                 Implement fully and fast the FRA and amend the law to scrap the 75 year condition and recognise 1980 as the cut-off date for other traditional non-tribal forest dwellers;

Ø                 Give remunerative minimum support price for all minor forest produce;

Ø                 Condemn the violence against adivasis and call for release of innocent tribal people. 


After the resolution was formally passed and all suggestions by various speakers accepted, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Biman Basu delivered the valedictory address, and fully endorsed the resolution. He fully identified with the movement, detailing West Bengal’s own efforts and achievements on this front. He expressed deep dismay at the deprivation and exploitation faced by STs more than six decades after independence. The only way forward was a nationwide struggle for protection of adivasi rights against the assault of the neo-liberal policies being followed. He said the struggles should aim to prevent forcible land grab and for rights in forests, change in policies and reversal of the historical injustice to adivasis.


The convention ended amidst resounding slogans of unity and struggle!