People's Democracy

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


No. 23

June 10, 2012

AARM Resolves to Intensify Struggles

for Dignity and Equality

Vijoo Krishnan


IT was only as late as 1537 that the Pope “revealed” to the world that the “American Indians were human beings endowed with soul and reason”. The ruling classes in Europe and colonialists flagrantly violated this Papal Bull and many a laws against slavery and racism were rendered into paper laws by the powers that be. The saga of the Adivasis in India may not be very different. Upon delving into some of the issues raised at the central executive committee meeting of the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch (AARM), held at Coonoor, Tamilnadu, about the discrimination and atrocities against the tribal people in our country, one would be convinced how the ruling classes have converted the constitutional and legal provisions guaranteeing equality and a dignified life for the tribal people into paper laws. It would be relevant here to look at the most glaring instances that came to light during the deliberations of the AARM meeting held during May 25-27, 2012.




As the mineral wealth flows unceasingly from the mines almost invariably located in tribal areas, equally unceasing have been the Acts and legislations from the ruling classes granting paper protection to the environment, dignity and rights of the tribal communities. But on the ground, they promote the exploitation of the labour, land and mineral resources of the tribal people to sustain the primitive accumulation being carried on unceasingly by the corporates. Simultaneously, they concoct a fiction of legality in the name of protection of tribal rights, even as the reality of plunder and exploitation drains them of all their blood and resources, damages their environment irreparably and dispossesses them of their land and forest. The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2011 (MMDRA) is the latest such effort in this direction. It is designed to attract foreign investors into the mining sector based on the claim that FDI is required for exploration of mineral wealth. It deregulates the mining sector and allows the exploration agency to get mining lease provided they have an alliance with an Indian company. The claim is that the coal mining companies will be benevolent enough to give 26 per cent of profits to a District Mineral Foundation and for other major minerals an amount equivalent to the annual royalty will be given. The Foundation will be dominated by mine owners and bureaucrats with only token representation of tribal communities. Moreover, the royalty rates in India are absurdly low when compared to the vulgar profits made by the companies. The process of consultation under the Panchayat Act (PESA) will be removed. A share per member of tribal family is promised. This is pittance. The AARM meeting resolved that in consonance with the positions reinforced by the UN, ILO and other international organisations no mining without prior informed consent of tribals must be permitted, no development projects without tribal participation must be allowed and ownership rights over resources for tribals as well as formation of cooperatives of local people to claim mining rights must be explored. The right of tribals must not be restricted to just their land and forests, but also be extended to the mineral wealth beneath.




The forest department has created artificial elephant corridors in the Segur Plateau of the Nilgiri district in Tamilnadu which target the lands and livelihoods of the tribal people and small and marginal farmers in the region. The ruse for the elephant corridor was a Report called “Right of Passage-Elephant Corridors of India” compiled by Wildlife Trust of India in association with Project Elephant and the Ministry of Environment and Forests and endorsed by the state government in 2006. The Report had identified 88 elephant corridors. Four corridors were in the Segur Plateau and were originally meant to include 583.42 acres of private lands (515.22 acres in Segur and 68.20 acres in Kallar Jaccanari).


Even as questions were being raised whether the identification and demarcation of this area was based on logic and ground realities with scientific basis, the forest department in the state has proceeded to arbitrarily increase this area even further and earmark 7000 acres of land which have been inhabited from time immemorial by tribal people, small farmers and others as elephant corridor areas. In Masinagudi panchayat alone 18,000 people, nearly 50 per cent of whom are dalits and Adivasis and in Sholur panchayat around 1750 people, 70 per cent of whom are dalits and Adivasis, are going to be affected by this move. While none are in doubt that elephants need protection and such a corridor may help in reducing human-elephant conflict and provide relief to residents and peasants in the vicinity, the authentic corridors as originally identified must be considered for the same, rather than creating artificial corridors that target the lands and livelihoods of tribal people and small farmers. The necessity for detailed examination of all aspects including the need and desirability of ensuring retention of existing land rights of tribals and other traditional forest dwellers as well as vesting rights under Forest Rights Act in a manner conducive to wildlife conservation has been ignored. The tribal people are being denied their dignity in the name of elephant conservation.




Even as all legal and administrative efforts are being made to ensure right of passage and freedom of movement to elephants, the original inhabitants of these lands are being denied access to public as well as private roads through tea estates. The tribal people in Nilgiris are being denied access through public roads as well as private roads by plantation owners. Nilgiris are lined with numerous estates and tribal hamlets are in existence for generations in and around these estates. It has been identified that there are 122 gates that have been put up by estate managements restricting the free movement and right of passage to the tribal people living in the region. Restrictions were imposed on the vehicles plying through the road and it is allowed only after getting written permission of the estate management and after paying a fee as toll charges. It is seen that such collection of toll charges from the vehicles passing through the estates was taking place for the last one decade. The closure of gates during night is creating difficulties in case of travel for medical exigencies and there are instances where public transport services and emergency ambulance services are denied entry and access to the tribal hamlets, even through public roads. Notably 95 per cent of the employees in a majority of these estates are tribals and dalits. Security and other reasons like the possibility of theft are used as the pretext and the gates situated at both ends of the road are closed during the night. Significantly, these reasons are being cited and gates are being put up only in regions inhabited by tribal people and dalits. The move smacks of the discriminatory attitude of the estate owners.


The roads under reference were being used by the public at large from a very long time to reach their hamlets and are detailed as roads in the old and new survey records. The hamlets are in existence for decades and often the only passage by which they can have access to the outside world was taking the service road situated inside the estates. It is true that at times the service roads are situated within the estate limits and are patta lands, belonging to the estate owners. However, these roads have been the thoroughfare for tribal people for generations. As such any obstruction to the same by any person is unlawful obstruction. The public have the right to use the detailed road at any time. The interests of public, fair play and justice require that the estate managements are restrained from levying fees for entry of vehicles or issuing of passes and are restrained from obstructing the public from using the road either by foot or by vehicle at any time. 


The Tamilnadu Tribal Association intervened in the case of Craigmore Estate and Sultana Estate and forced entry through the government roads that were locked by the management of these estates. A survey will be undertaken to identify more such cases and the organisation will intervene to break open the illegal gate




A detailed survey of around 75 to 80 Ashram schools in Maharashtra, and a study in a few schools and hostels in Jharkhand threw up shocking details. There were no adequate teaching staff and subjects like Science and Mathematics were not being taught in many of these institutions. Although teachers are appointed as residential teachers, rarely do they stay in the schools. Far from being nutritious, the food provided often is unfit for human consumption. There are no separate class rooms and residences. Class rooms by day and hostels by night are the norm everywhere. Cooks also take up the role of wardens, including in girls schools. There are no separate bathrooms for girls and sanitation facilities are dismal in most schools. Often water has to be fetched from far off places and students are forced to take bath in ponds, lakes or streams. The scholarship amount is either very meagre or does not reach the intended beneficiary. In Assam, the scholarship for primary school students is not being given for the last 3 years and there are no separate hostels for tribal students.  Living conditions are miserable and not at all conducive to educational development of students coming from the most deprived sections of India.




The members from different states highlighted the lapses in implementation of the Forest Rights Act. In Tamilnadu out of the 23,000 applications received for land right, only 3200 have been given pattas. In Nilgiris the forest land held traditionally by the Toda tribe are being taken over. While pattas have not been given under FRA, the forest department is planting eucalyptus trees on the lands traditionally under their possession and evicting them by terming them illegal encroachers. In Assam out of 1,14,000 applications by traditional forest dwellers, around 38,000 have been given pattas. However, the tribal people are yet to get pattas as the distribution of claim forms were delayed and processing has not taken place. In Kerala there has been an indefinite struggle since May 2012 demanding freedom for tribals over their land. Although land pattas are given, they have no right to cut trees, collect rocks for building or even planting trees. Tripura has set an example by distributing pattas to 1.19 lakh of the 1.3 lakh applicants and even for the remaining, review is being made and genuine cases are being favourably settled.


In most parts of the country there are irregularities in payment of wages under MGNREGA. However, the inspiring account of Chunnibhai Bhurian from Madhya Pradesh, wherein she organised 300 workers and ensured that their wages increased from Rs 12 to Rs 52 is notable. She fought great odds, even against her own husband who was a contractor, to ensure wages are paid. In Jharkhand there was no payment of MGNREGA dues in Ramgarh for one year and even there was rampant corruption. The AARM intervened effectively and successfully ensured payment of wages and action is taken against the corrupt. The Left Front government in Tripura has done exceptionally well on this issue and achieved 86 man days in the state as a whole and 92 man days in tribal areas. However, the Congress-led central  government is discriminating and for 2012-13 no funds have been released till date to the state.




The case of Vittal Malekudiyaru, an M A Journalism student, who was arrested along with and his father by  the Anti Naxal Force in Mangalore on March 3, 2012, is a glaring instance of police harassment of tribal people. They were taken into  police  custody by falsely accusing both of them  as being  members of the banned CPI(Maoist) and also on the charge of helping Naxalites by providing them with food and logistical support. Vittal is the first college going student from his community and he has been an active member of the Student Federation of India, the tribal sub committee of Democratic Youth Federation of India and Karnataka Adivasi Hakkugalla Samanvaya Samithi (Karnataka Coordination Committee for Tribal Rights).


The Malekudiya tribals have been protesting against forcible eviction from their lands in the name of the declared Kudremukh National Park. The compensation declared was unacceptable to them as it was meagre and the eviction formalities were in flagrant violation of the provisions of the Forest Rights Act. The Anti Naxal Force has been using violence and repressive measures like third degree torture to coerce the innocent tribal people to accept the rehabilitation package. All those who are opposed to the rehabilitation package are being branded ‘Maoists’ and face harassment from the Anti Naxal Force. Signs of police brutalities were witnessed on many people from the community. Reports of police looting their belongings and money were also common.


These innocent tribal people have been falsely slapped with charges of waging war against the State. Ironically, they put forward as evidence the fact that Vittal was in possession of a Kannada translation of Kuldip Nayar’s book on Bhagat Singh. Meagre quantities of sugar and tea (less than 250gm) found in the house was alleged to be ‘supplies’ for the ‘Maoists’. In the meantime Vittal was not being allowed access to his books for preparation for his examinations. It was later allowed on the intervention of the court. To the utter shock and disbelief of all democratic minded individuals, Vittal was allowed to write the examination while being handcuffed. This incident was widely condemned and the media also highlighted the inhuman violation by the Anti Naxal Force. The AARM delegation met the Karnataka chief minister and sought his intervention in the matter. Cases of police harassment as well as harassment by forest officials have been reported from other states as well. In Tamilnadu, false cases have been filed against activists of the TNTA and charges of involvement in a conspiracy to commit dacoity have been foisted on them. In Bengal, attacks by Trinamool goons and ‘Maoists’ are continuing. Over 700 tribal peasants have been evicted from their lands and five tribal peasants in debt committed suicide. The AARM is building resistance against the Trinamool-‘Maoist’ goons and fighting against atrocities.




Across the country there are discrepancies in identifying tribals. Communities designated as tribals in one state are denied the same status in others. The cases of the Saara/Sabara community in Odisha, the Nagesiyas in Madhya Pradesh etc are a case in point. In Tamilnadu the Kuruman community was considered as Scheduled Tribe and initially more than a thousand of them were issued certificates. However, the process was later reversed arbitrarily. People of Korava, Kondareddy and Kattunayakan communities also face similar problems. It is very cumbersome and tedious to get certificates even when a community is recognised as ST. Tripura remains in sharp contrast in this matter wherein such problems are addressed and disposed off speedily. Officials visit panchayats for resolving such issues.


The CEC meeting began with the presentation of the Report by Bajuban Riyan, chairman, AARM. Upen Kisku, joint convenor, placed his views on the condition of tribals and government apathy to their plight. Brinda Karat, Polit Bureau member of CPI(M), placed in detail the status of Tribal Sub Plan, the Food Security Bill, the Parliamentary Standing Committee recommendations on the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill and features of the MMDRA Bill. The meeting deliberated on these and numerous other issues. Prominent among them were the issue of BPL cards for all tribals, safeguarding the rights of the tribal people to mineral resources and their land as well as forests, especially in the context of the MMDRA Bill, illegal land acquisition, attacks on democratic rights in Bengal etc.


On May 25, a public meeting was held at Coonoor town. Hundreds of tribal people attended the meeting which was addressed by Brinda Karat, Bajuban Riyan,  Jitendra Choudhary, minister, Tripura government, Delli Babu, CPI(M) MLA, Tamilnadu, P Shanmugham, secretary, Tamilnadu Kisan Sabha and leader of Tamilnadu Tribal Association addressed the gathering. Representatives of different tribal groups like Todas, Kurumans, Kattunayakans and others presented memorandums highlighting their problems and seeking redressal.


The CEC meeting decided to, in consultation and coordination with the Students’ Federation of India, intensify struggles to ensure problems of Ashram Schools and Tribal hostels as well as issues of scholarship are solved. Detailed survey on the condition in these schools and hostels will be compiled and submitted to the HRD ministry for appropriate action. It has been decided to join in large numbers in the dharna by Left parties from 30th July to 3rd August to ensure BPL ration to all tribals. In states with mineral reserves and mining, people will be educated about the harmful and pro-corporate nature of the MMDRA Bill and mobilise the tribal people for safeguarding their rights over the resources. State level struggles on local issues will be organised.