Control of Resources and the Politics of Exclusion: Feminist Responses

Abstract: The timing of this collection coincides with a time when fundamentalist ideologies, neoliberal policies and the march of corporate capital dominate the landscape in many countries including ours. The neo liberal development paradigm has been studied, critiqued and has borne the scrutiny of many scholars, writers and activists. In the current political and economic scenario, there is a need to understand the impact of the policies of the control of resources and politics of exclusion with a feminist perspective as changes happening rapidly at the ground level demand the scrutiny and revisiting of many of our assumptions regarding feminist practice in addressing women’s subordination.

Keywords: control of resources, politics of exclusion, natural resources, state repression, development paradigm, women’s participation, resistance movement, feminist perspective, women’s subordination

Women’s relationship to land and other natural resources is complex. This complexity, and rare insights from the ground, are analysed in the essays that follow. The capitalist assault on natural resources like land, water and forests seriously affects the possibilities of survival of large sections of adivasis, dalits and the working class and within these broader categories, of women. The resistance of the poorest of the poor is multilayered. In many situations, they are giving a tough fight to the ‘law and order machinery’ that unleashes repression of an unprecedented nature on behalf of corporations and state governments. State repression in states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa often includes the sexual assault of adivasi women.

The articles in this collection represent a selection of papers presented in a Subtheme on ‘Control of Resources and the Politics of Exclusion’ held at the 12th National Conference of the Indian Association of Women’s Studies at Wardha from 21-24 January 2011. The overall conference theme was Resisting Marginalisations: Challenging hegemonies. It was one of the most engaging sessions in the context of increasing deprivations and miseries of people caused by assaults on livelihood, housing and natural resources. Although many of us are engaged in these issues in varying ways, there’s seldom scope or space to focus on what is happening to women in this process and to examine feminist assumptions and responses to the official development paradigm.

Plunder of Natural Resources

Both market and capital have defined development in a way that assumes a plunder of resources, apparently for the greater common good

– resources being natural resources such as land, forest, water, minerals etc – especially in the poorest states such as Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The marginalised people of these regions are resisting these processes, even while the forces of law and order seem ranges against them, with weak and feeble governments appearing to puppets in the neo-liberal regime playing to the tune of capitalist expansion. State repression and draconian laws suppressing the right to dissent become inevitable in this context.

The six papers by Nalini Nayak, Gabriele Dietrich, Saju T. S., Debleena and Nisha Biswas, Pritha Chatterjee, and Prakruthy U. M. are unique in their own ways. They draw upon the experience of resource rich and/or tribal dominated regions and highlight different aspects of the effects of global capital on hitherto undeveloped areas.

A critical look at the new mining policy of India as well as state encroachment into common land needs to be understood from women’s perspective. The new ‘Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 2010’ directly contradicts the basic principle of the Fifth and the Sixth Schedule and there is no acknowledgement of the rights of the adivasi women. The Adivasis resisting this plunder of land and natural resources are have been facing brutal repression, especially with the advent of the supposedly ‘anti insurgency’ Operation Greenhunt which has led to heavy militarisation of large parts of central India. The Wardha conference was taking place at a time when the reports of state repression were at a peak. There may have been a gradual wearing away of our sensitivities since this is no longer in the public discourse to the same extent, but in general such repression continues, even if it is often unreported.

Land is not the only resource to be under attack. The onset of privatisation of ocean resources is spelling out unimaginable hardships for people and the environment where oceans form 60% of the world’s ecosystem benefits. The near shore areas provide 80% livelihood for the coastal population. Earlier fishing livelihood depended on conservation but today conservation seems to be directed at the niche areas of tourism and recreation and implies doing away with people and livelihoods.

In the 1990’s, neoliberal agricultural policies focused on third world agricultural development preceded by the green revolution where the impact is felt acutely by local populations with the advent of cash crops like orchards which is accompanied directly by women’s loss of employment and access to natural resources. Class difference in perception of land use, unbalanced land tenure and enclosure of village follow with conflicting position on land use change on the basis of class and gender.

Even when development is ushered in as in Attapady, Kerala, the influx of people in 1990’s led to exploitation of women by non tribal men where there are more than 700 unwed mothers in Attapady due to exploitation. Culture and customs change with interaction with non tribe but in the end process this phenomenon more frequently than not reasserts the presence of patriarchy and caste oppression where these children are not able to avail benefits of adivasis as they are seen to be of the father’s caste and therefore nontribal. The marginalisation of the urban poor – those far down in the class and caste hierarchy – from public health resources is accentuated. Health service sector provides 80% in private sector and 20% in public sector, which accounts for 75% of the population. This is often addressed in being addressed by alternatives that seek to involve community intervention that strive to connect health provision with other social causes of ill health of women to combat the crude commoditisation of health services.

In the current development paradigm, the state and its institutions proactively protect the needs of capital by moulding and perpetually revising the labour laws, health policy, and mining policy or forest rights. Access to common natural resources is contentious and gradually declining with widespread land acquisition in many parts. Many structured inequalities are institutionalised through the continuing prevalence of customary laws where women continue to be excluded from equal rights to land and other property. This results in women becoming more marginalised in the intra household power sharing. The clear gender divide and the public-private dichotomy of the productive and domestic use of water is even further exacerbated with the privatisation and commercialisation of water. In forest management it is only the efficiency approach that comes in but the issues of equity and women‘s participation remain marginalised. The policies are conditioned by social, political factors and the participation of women continues to remain restricted.

There is no dearth of empirical evidence as some of these presentations show that for these vast sections, life chances of a future for themselves and their progeny seems remote and bleak just as some of us in the early 90s against the so called new Economic Policies (NEPS) had become cautious of. That brings us to the question of whether mere participation of women necessarily mean that the shackles of patriarchy too are being shaken enough.

Participation of women in people’s movements

The recurring theme of women’s participation in mass struggles and whether it helps lessen patriarchal control and assume greater autonomy of their lives was discussed. While participation of women in these struggles is high, women are seldom able to take their lives ahead as they continue to remain bereft of the means to do so. Often, political or feminist consciousness is there but there is sharp class divide that continues to make for uphill challenges. Women in such resistance movements are sometimes the eco-feminists who continue to be excluded from the mainstream feminist discourse as they are fighting for land and livelihood, resource and survival, for themselves and their land and environment. The issue of demarcation between violence perpetrated by the state and the strident resistance of the people in protecting their land is an unresolved one. A comprehensive critique of women’s participation in the struggles of Nandigram, Singur and Lalgarh discusses some of these questions, with reference to struggles that have become synonym of people’s resistance. Women in Singur and Nandigram fought valiantly against land acquisition as they intuitively understood that their livelihoods and survival were at stake but after the struggles they are disillusioned too. Women in any case were seldom part of the decision making body. The struggle at Lalgarh in contrast to Nandigram and Singur is not for land or livelihood but for the political right of self respect of which people have been systematically deprived. The formation of the Peoples’ Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) in Lalgarh seemed to show promise with at least 50% women as its constituent members.

In the context of the Dandakaranya region, adivasis have fought against the colonial subjugation of earlier years. The adivasi people of this region were influenced with the Gandhian tenets during the period of national movement. Their struggle took the democratic path to fight for their rights but recent aggressive plans of land acquisition for mining and corporate interests grew in the region raises many questions about the adequacy of the strategies hitherto adopted. The present movement of the adivasi people against the forceful eviction and also against the ruthless state violence is supported by many political currents including those supporting armed revolution. A moot question relates to our reaction if Maoist adivasi woman are killed – the dilemma of whether to treat this as justified, to keep silent or raise protest. If the former is our choice, the state has successfully divided us into two groups, we are divided on the issues of violence and non-violence, but the state is continuing to use brutal violence.

The question whether patriarchy is replicating itself in these resistance movements was discussed. Resistance movements need to reflect how women gain control of their own lives even as they add vibrancy and strength to people’s struggles. Some indicators could be wages in agricultural work, rights to common resources, participation in decision making in organisations in the process of anti mining and anti corporatisation fights. In this context, the ground experiences discussed in the papers are illuminating; the level of participation of women in many of these ground level struggles would not have been possible without their internal realisation of a democracy they had perhaps never known earlier. There are many indications that more and more women are not only entering struggles against the state and corporate capital but seem to be at the forefront and adopting resistance tactics that draws national and international attention. In this context, the examples of women resisting the rising Narmada waters in the many rounds of satyagrha at the submergence sites of adivasi dominated Madhya Pradesh, and the women of Idinthakarai and other affected villages where the Kudamkulam nuclear plant is scheduled to come up, come most readily to mind. These struggles were going on around the time of the Wardha conference and were central to the discussions there.

Questioning the Current Development Paradigm

Extraction of natural resources is related to the advent of capitalism, which has been necessarily violent. Capitalism has always required colonisation and warfare to sustain itself. We have seen this historically as well reflected in the events of the last 10-20 years too. In many resource rich tribal dominated areas, the situation today is akin to internal warfare now as we can see from the examples cited in the essays.

How do we as feminists link the violence inherent in such development to our own understanding – how do we link violence perpetrated on bodies to the violence on nature. In mainstreaming gender concerns, we tend to often to gloss over the violence inherent in the mainstream and energy intensive model of development. The nexus of the modern state and capitalism becomes more evident as we progress on the road to the free market economy with stress on public-private industry partnerships and the retreat of the welfare aspects of the state. The plunder of natural resources necessitates the active role of the military state where nature and the environment face the greatest attack posed by capitalist greed. Development based on the endless extraction of nonrenewable resources necessitates our active engagement in resisting them, to ensure that we nurture and protect these resources for future generations too. A feminist understanding has the richest possibilities of being able to weave in these contending realities, especially when it comes close to the realities of all marginalised groups that the presentations covered.

While opposing state violence and aggressive capitalist assault we need to simultaneously ensure that we assert democratic peace processes and women’s participation in decision making on governance issues. This would mean advocating a different kind of politics that will go beyond specific and defensive resistance only. This would also involve addressing the inherent patriarchy of the militarised state and strategising to prevent patriarchy from becoming further entrenched .

Working out these arguments is not going to be easy. Some concerns that remain unresolved relate to the adverse trends in women’s participation in the workforce, women’s combined role in contributing to both production and social reproduction, the conditions of displaced people whether rehabilitated or not, as well as lack of clarity on how precisely does a mass movement bring change in social relations within its membership.

The struggles of those already resisting the control of resources and politics of exclusion have important lessons for us in charting new ways of challenging hegemonies. To bring change therefore we need to question both feminist theory and praxis so that it is inclusive of the vast sections of women who are engaging with the manifestations of globalisation in so many specific contexts. To create something new – whether it is political campaign strategies or analytical tools – it is essential to tune in to this ground reality revealed in the accompanying papers.

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