Abstract: Bina Agarwal in A Field of One’s Own (1994) offers a pithy observation regarding the historical and contemporary importance of a specific form of group right in land, namely, usufruct right in village common lands and in forests and its crucial relationship with the economic security of poor village women. Communal lands have always contributed in important ways to the livelihoods of rural households and where women’s access to the cash economy is limited, access to communal land serves as a means of some independent income and economic support. But in India during both colonial and post- independence era, with the ever-expanding process of statisation and privatisation, the availability of communal land has been declining rapidly. Particularly, with the state monopoly over forests and mineral resources by the British Government, the customary rights of local people were severely curtailed. After independence, the Indian state continued this policy.
The monopoly of state over forests and mineral resources has a serious impact on the local people, particularly on the tribals because they have been enjoying their customary rights over these lands for centuries, the forest resources configuring their economic pattern. Forest is an inexhaustible repository of subsistence items and it is mainly the Adivasi women who collect these items.
The state control over land, forest and mineral resources for the ‘development’ project catering to the interest of the new imperial/global policies exerts a politics of exclusion in areas and on people already with a history of marginalisation- social, cultural, economic & political. Women are doubly marginalised because of this hegemonic control; their right to access to these resources is denied but this denial is not even recognised. State power over resources is working as instrumental behind the corporate loot; this direct onslaught of capital on nature includes new squares in the domain of resistance struggle. The role and participation of women is crucial as women are often doing away with the conceptual stereotypes in this conflict. The state mining policy encapsulated in ‘The Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 2010’ has not only directly contradicted the natural and constitutional rights of the tribals, acknowledged in the Fifth Schedule, but also excluded women and the question of their rights. In the resettlement policy, as described in this act, women are not even recognised as a separate category whose economic security and very existence is as much dependent on these lands as the men folk of their community.
This paper offers a discourse founded on Agarwal’s argument regarding the significance of women’s right to access to communal resources and its direct contradiction with the state control over resources with special reference to the Mining Policy of India. I will try and analyse the class and gender implications of this policy and point out the paradigm shift in the very conceptualisation of ‘rights’ in the recently passed ‘The Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 2010’ and its inherent politics of exclusion. The question of state sponsored violence is also crucial in this regard.
Keywords: communal land, mineral resources, politics of exclusion, operations green hunt, mining policy, development projects, adivasi, resettlement policy, indigenous people, rural households, minerals development regulation, poor village women
Bina Agarwal in A Field of One’s Own (1994) emphasises the historical and contemporary importance of a specific form of group right in land, namely, usufruct right in village common lands and in forests and its crucial relationship with the economic security of poor village women. Communal lands have always contributed in important ways to the livelihoods of rural households serving as pastures and sources of a wide range of subsistence items: fuel, fodder, fibre, food products, medicinal herbs, materials for house construction and so on. Much of the gathering of the needed items is done by women and children. Where women’s access to the cash economy is limited, access to communal land serves as a means of some independent income and economic support. But in India during both colonial and post-independence era, with the ever-expanding Process of statisation and privatisation, the availability of communal land has been declining rapidly. Particularly, with the establishment of state monopoly over forests and mineral resources by the British Government, the customary rights of local people were severely curtailed. After independence, the Indian state continued this policy with forest land being increasingly absorbed for commercial exploitation, urban/ industrial expansion, mining projects, large scale irrigation and other ‘development’ schemes.
The state control over communal land, forest and mineral resources for the ‘development’ projects catering to the interest of the new imperial/ global policies exerts a politics of exclusion in areas and on people already with a history of marginalisation-social, cultural, economic & political, because in most of the cases these are areas which are generally inhabited by the tribals. Women are doubly marginalised because of this hegemonic control; their right to access to these resources is denied but this denial is not even recognised. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, in his famous speech at the inauguration of the Hirakund Dam said, “Whenever we take up a big task some people are bound to suffer some losses. The poor farmers of the region were displaced. They have all been resettled elsewhere but it is not a nice thing to be evicted out of your house. I understand that.” The statement signifies the exclusive character of such ‘big tasks’, their class and gender implications. According to the Action Aid report – Resource Rich Tribal Poor: Displacing people, destroying identity in India’s indigenous heartland (2008), “Of population and communities affected by the development projects, tribals have been the worst affected. A little over 21 million is estimated to have been displaced by development projects in India during 1951- 90. Of the total displaced population, over 16 million have been displaced by dams, about 2.6 and 1.3 million by mines and industries respectively. A little over 1 million have been displaced by other projects
. . . . Of the total displaced, as large a number as 8.54 million have been enumerated as tribal. Tribals have thus come to constitute 40 percent of the displaced population though they comprise only about 8.2 percent of the total population” (2). This is the fall out of the Neheruvian vision of national reconstruction, of making India a modernised society which aims at a global identity and development. Displacement is not a mere consequence but the ineluctable exigency of this development model.
Virginius Xaxa in the Foreword to the Action Aid report rightly observes, “Even after six decades of national reconstruction process by way of agricultural, industrial mineral, infrastructural and other related developments, India still suffer from low level of development and poor quality of life of its population. Incidence of poverty, malnutrition, morbidity and mortality, and non- literacy are still high among them. Much of these are attributed to slow and low pace of development and rapid and accelerated pace is seen as a way out. It is however, doubtful if development as has been pursued in the last sixty years of independent India, offers the solution. If it did tribal India would have been much better placed today than it had been in the past. After all, much of the development projects that India has witnessed in post- independent era have taken place in tribal regions . . .” (Xaxa iii).
The monopoly of state over forests and mineral resources has a serious impact on the local people, particularly on the tribals because they have been enjoying their customary rights over these lands for centuries, the forest resources configuring their economic pattern. Even when they are not straightway evicted, their power of controlling resources is nullified. Forest is an inexhaustible repository of subsistence items and it is mainly the Adivasi women who collect these items. For example, the collection of Kendu leaves is a primal occupation of the indigenous people of Chhotnagpur region and the collection is done mainly by the women. As their life and livelihood is inextricably linked with the forest they intuitively know the importance and necessity of its preservation. But their traditional right in and control on it are countered with the legal rights of the government officials who, in most of the cases, neither know much about the forest nor have any symbiotic relationship with it.
Now, according to Bina Agarwal, in most south Asian village communities in the pre- British period and even up to the mid 19th century a significant percentage of land was available for communal use. These included forests, woodlands, pastures and other multiple use lands. During the time of the British accession to power, in villages of India where individual peasant proprietorship prevailed, cultivated land was separately held by each peasant household. But all uncultivated land could be used by the villagers for grasing, for gathering multiple forest produces etc. Whereas in villages where group proprietorship prevailed a founding family or clan claimed proprietorship of both the cultivated and uncultivated land but the women still had significant rights of grasing and gathering. Now we must remember that in tribal communities group proprietorship still prevails and even during the colonial regime, these remote areas covered with dense forest and infested with the socially, culturally, and politically alienated tribals, were actually ‘excluded areas’ outside the domain of colonial law. But after 1947, these areas were automatically included in the purview of constitutional laws, the sovereignty of the Indian state being enforced upon these areas regardless of the knowledge, let alone the consent, of these people. The commonlands, forests are statised directly contradicting the tribal custom of regarding the communal lands as the property of the society and not that of the state. Before the modern, industrial era, when the state economy banked upon agriculture only, these remote areas were marginal, occupied by marginal people. However, the crux of the problem is that after the initiation of national reconstruction programme, industrial and mining projects and more importantly developmental schemes in the model of globalisation, these areas with rich mineral resources became central but still continued to be occupied by the same marginal people. So the only way to ‘develop’ is to eradicate them. It means to suggest that, if we want to discuss the mining policy of India or try and understand the implications of the very recently passed The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 2010 all these aspects should be brought under consideration and the apparent class and gender neutrality of such schemas must be interrogated.
Keeping in mind the objective to preserve the tribal rights, the Fifth Schedule was incorporated in the constitution and it is considered as a historic guarantee to indigenous people on the right over the land they live in. The Fifth Schedule covers the tribal areas of 9 states – Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Maharastra, Gujrat, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. One wonders why the tribal areas of Karnataka, Tamilnadu and West Bengal are excluded from the chart. The violation of the constitutional rights of tribal people in the scheduled areas of Andhra Pradesh led to a famous court case and a historic judgment. Samata, an NGO working in the scheduled areas of AP, filed a case against the government of AP for leasing tribal lands to private mining companies in the scheduled areas. The SLP filed in the Supreme Court led to a historic judgment in July 1997 by a three judge bench which declared that the Government is also a ‘person’ and that all lands leased to private mining companies in the scheduled areas are null and void. Some salient features of this judgment are as follows:
- As per the 73rd Amendment Act, 1992 . . . “Every Gram Sabha shall be competent to safeguard . . . under clause (m) (ii) the power to prevent alienation of land in Scheduled Areas and to take appropriate action to restore any unlawful alienation of land of a scheduled tribe.”
- Transfer of land in Scheduled Area by way of lease to non- tribals, corporation aggregate etc. stands prohibited.
- Transfer of mining lease to non- tribals, company, corporation aggregate or partnership farm, etc. is unconstitutional, void and inoperative. (www.minesandcommunities.org)
But the government instead of implementing the court orders which give strength and clarity to the Fifth Schedule has been undemocratic and unconstitutional in trying not only to ignore the directions but also in its continued effort to reverse the judgment. Moreover, for the sake of mining projects in Scheduled Areas, the government recommended that the Fifth Schedule itself should be revised and amended. But if it is amended for the sale of lands, there will be other sectors which would justify acquisition of tribal lands for other ‘development’ projects and this would only lead to tribals being completely dislocated and destroyed.
Now I would like to draw your attention to the two most alarming aspects of The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 2010 which blatantly oppose the basic principle of the Fifth Schedule. According to this new act even in Scheduled Areas the state can grant land lease to private mining projects with consultation of the Gram Sabha; the permission of the Gram Sabha is no longer mandatory: “. . . in an area covered by the 5th or 6th Schedule, the Gram Sabha or the District Council shall be consulted” (22). The act does not offer any clear measure if the Gram Sabha does not give its consent. Moreover, in this act there is a paradigm shift in the very conceptualisation of the right of the tribals in their lands. The tribals have the right only of the surface but the control over any underground resource is ratified to the state. As it is stated, “… the holder of a mining lease shall, in respect of persons holding occupation or usufruct or traditional rights of the surface (italics mine) of the land over which the lease has been granted be liable to –
- allot free shares equal to 26% in the company through the promoter’s quota in case the holder of lease is a person, on account of annual compensation (italics mine) and,
- provide employment and/ or other assistance in accordance with the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy of the State Government concerned.”(61)
Let us first consider the inherent irony of the compensation policy which makes the tribals, themselves the share holders, i.e. an integral part of the very project that dislodges them from their roots. It therefore logically follows that the adivasis are displacing themselves. In fact, in this act the tribals are called the ‘host population’. Now let us come to the rehabilitation/ resettlement policy. Even if we keep aside the numerous debates regarding the nature and objective of resettlement policies and principles, we have to raise some basic questions- Does it internalise the gender issue? Is the usufruct right of women in communal lands with its major, functional contribution to the economy acknowledged? When they are talking about the employment of the affected tribals are they including the tribal women who are going to become as unemployed as and, perhaps, more severely marginalised than their male counterparts? The comment of N. Baijendra Kumar, the principal secretary to the chief minister of Chhattisgarh is pertinent to note here. He says that mining projects have not yet taken off in Bastar because “44% of Bastar is forest and most of our mineral resources are beneath that. Environmental issues come with the application of the Forest Act. Also with tribals we have seen emotional problems where it comes to land.” To quote from a report by Krishnamurthy Ramasubbu, Expressbuzz, 25 Oct, 2009, “Tribal lands are shared and each parcel has 10 to 50 people dependent on it. A single job for each piece of land will not help.”
Now, the tribal resistance movements against these policies and the position of the Indian state have brought several contending issues in the forefront. The tribals are fighting not only to retain their traditional rights but also to protect the ecological balance from utter destruction and the participation of women marks a different dimension of these movements. These are heterogeneous in character but the state in its continued effort of homogenising these resistance struggles is trying to legitimise the issue of the state sponsored violence in the most brutal sense of the term. Operation Green Hunt has been started with a declared aim to flush out the Maoists, the biggest internal security threat for India but also with an undeclared agenda to crush any and every resistance against the corporate loot. Under the official banner of Operation Green Hunt the state has waged a war and this war is not exclusively against the Maoists but rather inclusively against all indigenous people who have their traditional and even constitutional rights over the lands which have the richest mineral deposit in our country. Again, it is the adivasi women who are on the one hand resisting against this and on the other are, perhaps, the worst victims of this war.
Some civil rights and human rights organisations – PUCL (Chhattisgarh), PUDR (Delhi), Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (Dantewada), Human Rights Law Network (Chhattisgarh), ActionAid (Orissa), Manna Adhikar (Malkangiri) and Zila Adivasi Ekta Sangh (Malkangiri) – jointly published a shocking report on the Gachanpalli ( 17th Sept, 2009) and Gompad and Chintagufa (1st Oct, 2009) killings by the security forces in Dantewada during Operation Green Hunt. Practically nothing regarding these killings was reported by the mainstream media. According to this report in those villages the people were killed, tortured, their houses were looted and burnt by the security forces, cobra, local police, SPOs and notorious Salwa Judum leaders. Here I will cite only three among the numerous incidents to bring home the extent and intensity of this state sponsored violence. In Gachanpalli, an adivasi woman, Dudhi Muye was killed with others by the security forces. She was 70 years old and could hardly walk. She was murdered after her breasts had been cut off. Her family members, who had fled the scene on seeing the security forces, found her lying dead in a pool of blood. Muchaki Deva, a 60 year old man, was caught by the forces, hanged upside down from a tree. A pot of hot oil was lit below and he was dropped into it. He was then pulled out and poured over with water. As a result the upper part of his body was severely burnt and he developed maggots in his wounds. Even a 2 year old child was not spared. The security forces beat him, cut four of his fingers, broke his teeth and cut off part of his tongue. But since I am writing about Dantewada, one may still argue that such brutality is justified because these people are all Maoists and this operation has nothing to do with the mining policy at all. But then one must remember that Dantewada has also a rich deposit of iron ore in Bailadila. Chhattisgarh is the only tin producing state in India and Dantewada district was reported to have a deposit of tin ore by the Directorate of geology and mining. Potential base metals like copper, lead and precious and semi- precious corundum also occur in Dantewada (Mineral Resources in Chhattisgarh, 6-8).
Maoists or no Maoists the adivasi people are resisting the land grab policy. The Vanvasi Chetna Ashram founded by Himangshu Kumar who is a staunch Gandhian, was also demolished by the security forces during Operation Green Hunt because he also protested against the land acquisition policy of the state. Gladson Dungdung, a human rights activist of Jharkhand observes, “The villagers’ freedom is seised. They are questioned, inquired and prevented from access to necessary commodities. They are being watched everywhere by the security forces. Those adivasis leaving at the top of the hill (the Indian state loves to call them primitive and maintains the status quo) are mostly affected in the process. They have stopped collecting the forest produces, the only livelihood resources left for them in the forest. . . This kind of painful stories can be heard across the state, where the operations are going on since March 10.” Therefore, it follows that even when the adivasis are not directly evicted they are being deprived of the basic subsistence items and women again are naturally the worst victims.
Victimhood arouses sympathy but resistance raises several questions. It is then that the mode of resistance becomes an interesting point of debate. The adivasi women are not only suffering but also resisting against the state policy. Somewhere it is non- violent and somewhere again it has developed into an armed struggle. But consider the following facts: the state itself is perpetrating violence heedless of the voice of the people; the dissenting voice is denied any avenue whatsoever to secure its presence in the strict legal democratic discourse; the state itself is up in arms against its people and conspires to gag every firm protest with draconian laws like UAPA. Should we not then think twice before blurring the terminological difference between violence and resistance? These women are fighting to preserve nature and also for their rights. When we are prescribing the strategy of ‘creative non-violence’ for all ecofeminists how are we going to accommodate these women who do not have any audience for this nicely performed political theatre except the security forces and Salwa Judum who are very much violent? If we believe that all feminists must be pacifists and have to depend on non- violence normativity and we judge the perpetrator and the protester with the same universal ethical parameter, what then are we going to offer as a concrete theoretical alternative to these women? While we are critical about their tactics, about the way they are resisting it is important to bear in mind that they are struggling in a political milieu where the state or the legal system does not ensure the preservation of their legal democratic rights of life and livelihood, let alone the right to dissent. We all know that the Lalgarh movement started on this point. But we live in a democratic system where a policeman cannot apologise to people; rather the people can be crushed by Operation Green Hunt. It is high time to think about these rather problematic questions or are we also going to practice a politics of exclusion?
Agarwal, Bina. A field of one’s own: Gender and land rights in South Asia. Cambridge UP, 1994. Print.
Burnt in oil: A fact-finding report on operation Green hunt in Dantewada in September- October 2009 Posted by Rajeesh on October 22, 2009, www.indianvanguardwordpress.com.
Mineral Resources in Chhattisgarh, http://chhattisgarhmines.gov.in.
Resource Rich Tribal Poor: Displacing people, destroying identity in India’s indigenous heartland (2008), The Action Aid Report, www.actionaid.org/ micrositeAssets.ind.
The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 2010 (www.minesandcommunities.org)