As long as we have waters where the fish can swim,
As long as we have land where the reindeer can graze,
As long as we have woods where wild animals can hide,
We are safe on this earth
When our homes are gone and our land destroyed
– then where are we to be?
– Paulus Utsi
The poem reflects the anguish of the tribals facing a variety of threats all over the world. The 2012 report on State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples also states:
“One of the overriding threats facing minorities and indigenous peoples in every region of the world is the risk of being driven from their land and natural resources… Many communities have been closely tied to their territory for centuries. Yet once their land is targeted for development for mining, oil and gas, dams, agribusiness, tourism or conservation, they are deftly and often violently evicted with little or no compensation”.
India has the largest population of scheduled tribes (adivasis), estimated to be 84.33 million (Census in 2001), which is 8.2 per cent of the total population.
Constitutional and Legal Protection
The Constitution through Article 15(4), 46 and Schedule V and VI has ensured to safeguard the interests of tribals by directing the State to make special provisions for the advancement of socially and educationally backward classes, SCs and STs. It also ensures that the State shall promote the educational and economic interests of scheduled tribes and protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
Besides, the Central and State Governments’ laws like the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, etc protects the interests of tribals.
Problems faced by Tribals
The Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-2012) document has summarised the problems faced by tribals:
p Increasing tribal alienation due to slipping of economic resources like land, forest, common property resources;
p Displacement and dispossession of life-support systems;
p General apathy of official machinery;
p Escalating atrocities at times related to assertion of rights;
p Growing clout of market forces;
p Meagre advancement through planned development efforts.
The Plan document admits that these problems have ‘led to a situation in which 75 predominantly tribal districts are affected by violence’.
Maoist insurgency – Main features
The Maoist insurgency draws support from the poorest sections of society, including tribals, who, for a various reasons, feel aggrieved and have lost faith in the state apparatus. The Maoist insurgency has been recognised as the biggest internal security threat to the country.
A large geographical spread: The movement which started from Naxalbari, a small village in West Bengal in 1967 has spread to about 173 districts across India. Of these, 26 have been identified as highly affected, mostly in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha, and West Bengal.
Potential for violence: Their potential for violence has increased with the acquisition of sophisticated weapons and expertise in the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The armed wing of the Maoists – the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) is estimated to have about 8,600 cadres; besides 38,000 Jan militia armed with simple weapons provides logistical support to the PLGA.
Expansion in the north-East: The Maoists are not just expanding into the NE, but trying to forge links with the insurgents in the region. A Parliamentary panel recently noted, “The foray of Maoists into sensitive NE states is fraught with serious strategic implications, since it has potential trans-border possibilities of connection, activities or interaction. The presence of LWE in north-eastern parts of the country can derail the socio-economic developmental projects of the Central and State Governments…”.
Nexus with other extremist groups: This has added to the complexity of the problem. The PWG (People’s War Group) cadres received training in the handling of weapons and IEDs from ex-LTTE members. Besides, they have entente cordiale with the NSCN (IM). Some batches of Naxals received arms training from the ULFA. Besides, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) has relations with the Communist Party of Nepal. The ISI is also trying to reach out to the Maoists.
The Maoists killed 75 CRPF personnel in a single ambush at Dantewada in Chhattisgarh on April 6, 2010. In Maharashtra, only Gadchiroli district is badly affected, but Maoists are trying to spread their influence in the ‘Golden Corridor’, stretching from Pune to Ahmedabad. In West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has given a free-hand to the security forces after initial soft-corner for the Maoists.
The Maoists have recently suffered considerable attrition in their top leadership. Out of the 16-member politburo, two have been killed and seven are in custody. Out of the 39-member central committee, 18 have been neutralised, with five killed and thirteen in custody. The decline in the number of violent incidents shows a kind of tactical retreat of the Maoists. According to MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs), the number of incidents decreased from 1760 in 2011 to 1415 in 2012, and the casualties of the security forces fell from 142 in 2011 to 114 in 2012. The number of civilians killed in Maoist violence has gone down from 469 in 2011 to 301 in 2012.
These figures should not however generate any complacency because there is no clarity in government’s policies and a huge gap exists between Centre’s perceptions and States’ actions. Every Chief Minister has a different take on and response to the Maoist threat.
Meanwhile, the Maoists have been reorganising themselves by setting up a Buniyadi Communist Training School (BCTS) in the Dandakaranya region (Chhattisgarh) to transform tribal cadres into communist professionals with basic military skills, rocketry and knowledge of science, mathematics and social studies. The Minister of State for Home Affairs informed the Lok Sabha that the Maoists were ‘manufacturing improvised hand grenades and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) in units that have come up in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh’.
Recognising the problem, the Planning Commission has released grants for the development of the affected areas from time to time. Unfortunately, the benefits failed to reach the intended beneficiaries due to rampant corruption.
The Way Out
The problem requires a comprehensive approach. A Planning Commission’s expert group’s report— ‘Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas (2008)’, found fault with the economic development plans. It observed:
“The development paradigm pursued since independence has aggravated the prevailing discontent among marginalised sections of society… The benefits of development have been disproportionately cornered by the dominant sections at the expense of the poor, who have borne most of the costs… In the case of tribes in particular, it (development) has ended up in destroying their social organisation, cultural identity, and resource base and generated multiple conflicts…”
There has been massive displacement of tribals since Independence, due to development projects like steel plants, fertilizer factories, SEZ units, etc. There is no official figure of the affected people but unofficial studies peg it at around 60 million between 1947 and 2004. The tribals constitute 40 per cent of the total displaced persons in India.
The government needs to urgently initiate the following:
p The tribals should be protected against exploitation by money-lenders, businessmen, traders and middlemen.
p Amendments should be carried out in the Acts related to Land Acquisition (1894), Forest (1927), Forest (Conservation), Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) 1957, and National Mineral Policy (1993).
p Displacement should be avoided as far as possible but those displaced must be suitably rehabilitated.
p Stringent implementation of land reforms.
p The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights), Act, 2006 should be implemented by the states in letter and spirit.
p Strict implementation of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011.
The grievances of the tribals are genuine and the State has no option but to address them. It will not only be an act of socio-economic justice but will go a long way in removing their sense of alienation and, in taking the wind out of the sails of Maoists.
(The writer, a recipient of Padmashri, was Director General of BSF, DGP UP and DGP Assam)