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Bastar. An abstract name of some strange place where there is Naxalism. And therefore a place to be avoided, to be dreaded and mostly ignored. Not a land of a people who love, have children, earn livelihoods, make houses, sing, dance and celebrate. Not a land of everyday interpersonal conflicts, a tiff with a neighbour, a fight with the spouse. Not a land where children play, tease and bruise their knees. Not a land where people can dream of a future.

Just some dark hinterland, a version of Western World’s Africa right here in India.

I bring Bastar to light. Here.

Bastar is a district in Chhattisgarh. The total area is 4029.98 sq kms. It has a population of 1,411,614 humans (as per Census 2011). 70% of this population are Adivasis belonging to multiple tribes. Chhattisgarh has the 4th largest forest land in India with 44.21% of land cover. Many sections of Bastar are poorly developed with no pucca roads and few medical facilities. Traditionally, Adivasis have depended on forest products for their livelihood. In more recent times, agriculture is a mainstay for many.

There are four main issues that should concern us as regards Bastar: 1) Adivasi rights; 2) Rights of the forests; 3) The future of Bastar; and 4) Who speaks for whom?

Adivasi Rights

Way before Naxalism became active, Adivasis often found themselves on the wrong side of forest officers. These officers had been using their authority to make life difficult for Adivasis to continue with their livelihoods. There was intimidation, rampant corruption and frequent sexual abuse.

After the spread of Naxalism and the subsequent attempts of the State to crush their rise, the many failed strategies like Salwa Judum, the everyday Adivasi has become tainted as either a possible Naxalite or a police sympathizer. S/he is born into this taint, unable to make a choice to be apolitical or non-ideological. Nor even to question State or Naxalism. With state control over media and public opinion outside of Bastar, there is a lurking assumption that every Adivasi is indeed a potential Naxalite. Erased by birth, erased by residence.

What has, therefore, followed is dehumanization of Adivasis by clumping them under a label and reducing them to an object that needs to be controlled. And mansplainers are extremely good in explaining in their daddy-voices on how one can’t trust the locals, how Naxalism has infiltrated the community and that therefore State violence is the only way out.

But Adivasis are citizens of India. They are given the same constitutional rights as all of us. They are protected by the Constitution. And no matter what we opiniate, there cannot be a localised need-based convenient interpretation or occasional reference to law. It basically means they are afforded the same freedoms that we have taken for granted — like right to freedom, right against exploitation, right to constitutional remedies, right to life. They are afforded the same human rights guaranteed by The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations.

And yet time and again, irrespective of Government, it has been trampled in Bastar. For e.g. when Soni Sori, an Adivasi teacher spoke up in support of her nephew Lingaram Kodopi, a fearless talented journalist, she was arrested.  Cases were filed against her that led to arrest, torture and brutal sexual abuse. If it were not for the activists who followed up and publicized the gross human rights violation, we would have never heard of Soni Sori.  The courts have now cleared her of all the cases. She, in turn, has become a go-to-person who gives courage to women who have been exploited and sexually abused to speak up.

The question before us is why was she tortured? Even if for a moment we assumed she was a Naxalite, does that warrant sexual abuse and torture? Why were the Constitutional rights so openly flouted and yet key officers were not called to question?

Not only Soni Sori, but hundreds of other Adivasis have been wrongfully confined, false cases heaped on them and reports of torture have emerged from more than one place.

More recently, Bela Bhatia wrote about rampant rape of Adivasi women and random detention and assault of men in The Pegdapalli Files. This report is worth your time. For her efforts to expose the human rights violation, Bela Bhatia has been threatened and slandered.

Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG) that worked for the legal rights of Adivasis have been evicted. Journalists who reported on Constitutional violation of Adivasis rights to life, dignity and property have been silenced – either by intimidation or arrest. As the India Today long story “Life in the Red” shows, journalists are reporting under the shadow of fear.

In absence of activists and journalists, we will never hear the other side of the story, the one beyond what the State machinery wants us to know.

Soni Sori campaign
Soni Sori campaign

Rights of the Forests

Chhattisgarh boasts of some of the densest forest cover in India. It is also rich in minerals, rich in natural resources. But that forest cover is quickly being depleted. Between 2011 and 2013, there is reduction of 19 sq kms (1 sq km= 100 football fields) of forest area in Bastar district alone.

Whereas Forests cannot speak for themselves, we the Citizens should ask why the forests are being cut down indiscriminately. One of the major reasons is mining. The area is rich in minerals, coal and other natural resources. A second reason is movement of Adivasis in giving up traditional forest-dependent livelihoods in favour of clearing land for agriculture which is facilitated by the State. The third reason that is cited is to evict Naxalites from these forests.

Forests hold rich biodiversity. Forests protect landscape from erosion, from multiple natural disasters, and provide oxygen to the world. How is it that under our watch the forests are being cut down and there is not more than a whisper of dissent? Except that of locals and human rights groups like Amnesty India.

Who gains by cutting the forests? The locals or big mining corporations and their corrupt nexus with politicians?

Future of Bastar

Like it or not, Naxalism arose as a counter to the atrocities committed by rich landlords. If you read Hello Bastar by Rahul Pandita, you will know several stories of the horrifying crimes committed by the land-owning upper caste groups on landless. A systematic way in which groups of people were kept illiterate, under-developed, in poverty and complete dependence on the land-owning groups.

Like it or not, Naxalism empowered the marginalized, as Bela Bhatia said and I paraphrase, to name the crimes as injustice rather than fate. It is a different thing that Naxalism quickly veered into violence that consumed the very people they were fighting for. It pushed the locals into a state where they could no longer make choices, but remain in that uncertain diplomatic silence on issues.

So if we assume Mission 2016 will succeed and Naxalism will end, the question before is who will benefit from it? Will Adivasis regain rights over the land and rights to dignity? Will they have a voice in their own development and all issues that pertain to their district, to their community? Will they now begin to receive fair and just trials or will they be massacred as possible Naxalites? Will they be empowered to document injustice and successful get constitutionally-guaranteed remedies?

Or will it pave the path for multinational and big mining groups to set up shops, to make rich richer.

This is the question that we should ask. For Bastar deserves (as every land does) a prosperous, healthy and peaceful future. And the constitution guarantees that India is a democracy -- of the people, for the people, by the people. And Bastar is not an abstract name of a land, it is the breath of a people.

Who Speaks for Whom?

Why do activists speak? Is it because they have no other work to do? Are they mere noise makers disturbing the monolithic State narrative of what is happening on ground—the hurrays for the many surrenders of Maoists, the encounters that are supposed to have killed “dreaded” Naxalites, and the legitimacy of Mission 2016. Minus of course the erring journalists, the outspoken researchers, lawyers and activists. The manufacture of a public opinion -- that if you want to end Naxalism, it is given that there will be collaterals of a legitimate war, a.k.a ‘some’ Adivasis will die.

Democracy requires and is maintained by dissent. In a democracy, there can never be a single narrative. There are multiple truths jostling with each other for significance. A process that forces us to not move into easy judgments, but glimpse and empathise with the complex human lives caught in a complex web of power struggles.

And why should it concern those outside Bastar, in other words ‘us’? Don’t we all have own problems in life, our everyday struggles to make ends meet or aspirations to meet a dream? Don’t we have own interpersonal and organization conflicts to deal with?

Why should we? Because as Rahul Pandita had said in a tweet  in context of journalists and so have others, Chhattisgarh is a lab for brutal policies. You succeed in Chhattisgarh, you develop a formula, you set a precedent and then you can implement it in other parts of the country.

Then we must bring down this laboratory and return Bastar to the protection of our Constitution. Now. We have to ensure the protection, freedom of expression and dissent for local activists like Soni Sori and the many outspoken journalists of Bastar so that they, in turn, may stand up for their community.

There are three ways to support people of Bastar:

  1. Search for news on Bastar and please make yourself aware. Share news, talk about it, write about it.
  2. Follow human rights groups like Amnesty India or National Human Rights Commission and support them as needed.
  3. As a citizen, participate in the #OneMillionPostCardCampaign and send an e-card to Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Dr. Raman Singh asking him to bring CBI and Supreme Court to investigate matters that concern people of Bastar and Soni Sori. Let your voice be heard. http://goo.gl/forms/rvTT6CyHbI

Thank you for taking time to read this post fully. Bastar does need you!

Some information is referenced from Hello Bastar by Rahul Pandita.

Featured image by Pankaj Oudhia

A lunacy drives India's development. Vast untouched treasures of nature are discarded with scant thought on the altar of a mythical development. Lakhs of development hit Indians are reduced to lives of despair.

A tiny hamlet in the state's Raygada district consisting of merely 48 Dongaria Kondh tribals, empowered by Supreme Court's landmark decision of April this year, was the first in a series of twelve village sabhas which will be held across the areas that will be affected by Vedanta's bauxite mining at Niy bbb camgiri. In a dramatic meeting that lasted over four hours and was attended by District Judge Sarat Chandra Mishra serving as observer, tribals emphatically refused consent to the project that various publicity departments were desperately trying to project as their salvation.

But much water has flowed under this bridge, and more will flow. The combined forces of greed and impunity from consequences are a formidable enemy and the state has a record of wearing down any demand for human rights by simply reverting to a stand that has been rejected by those who dissent. Over and over, in varied ways.

Proceedings got tense when on completion of the representation by the tribals, it was declared that their religious and community rights were confined to their villages and did not extend to the entire Niyamgiri hills range. Lingaraj Azad, organizer of the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti said, "This amounts to cheating. We are traditional followers of our deity who not only resides in the Hundaljali but also elsewhere and this mining project will ruin their abode and also threaten our existence." Hectic parleys and heated exchange of words between members of the village and other tribal leaders and the district judge ensured that in the end, the resolution passed mentioned that the rights of the natives extended across the entire hill range.

Of course, the villages allowed to have a say are already selected from among those where the Vedanta view has the greatest chance of being echoed. Reminds me of how Maharashtra government had conspired to prevent the realities of farmers in Vidarbha from being observed by the All Party Parliamentary Committee that was to study impact of genetically modified organisms.

People living at the grassroots have existential struggles to prevent the rich and famous from appropriating their very lives.

All over the country are echoes of these same issues. In Gujarat, you have farmers resisting land acquisition for the special economic zone. In Uttarakhand, there were people whose homes were acquired for hydro electric projects that became their destruction. There are people opposing their land being acquired for nuclear plants. Dams dislocate people by the millions. We, who were aghast at peaceful protesters being lathicharged by the police when it came to middle class protests in Delhi, are barely aware that lathi charges are so routine for people the state intends to evict, that newspapers see no news in it. It is, after all everything going as per plan in a boring routine. Thrash the squatters (on their own land) till they get fed up and leave.

Even as vast tracts of forests go to companies for "progress", tribals who have traditionally lived off the land are losing access to it. Suddenly their home is National property and they must move out of the forests. They who nurtured forests, protected trees have lost their rights because those who can afford bulldozers can "process" them for paper (or something else) more efficiently.

And the propaganda is fantastic. I remember someone being angry with me for not knowing "ground realities" - that tribals were propped up by activists to keep demanding money and place hurdles in the way of projects. And why would activists want to place hurdles? It is a western agenda. Seriously? And here I was thinking that it was the "West" profiting from these projects. The World Bank has money stuck in some, multi national corporations are going to profit from others. How is it that the tribal is so stupid that they cannot recognize prosperity and can be "brainwashed" to remain in poverty and be thrashed by the humanitarian developers? Tell me, what incentive would be a good one to get you to deprive yourself and your family and keep protesting? Would you give up your home in return for inadequate money that cannot buy you comparable land and home? Why should you?

In a country that mints money from exporting minerals, the mines themselves are surrounded by crippling poverty. Economic policies are driving people away from traditional livelihoods. We are losing 2000 farmers a day. Every single day. for a decade at least. Do the math. We are losing 135 hectares of forest cover per day. Remember what they taught you in school about trees preventing soil erosion and retaining water in soil? The water table is in peril in large swathes of India, but the government hardly seems to see this in a crisis in a country of our population. Water bodies have been privatized - sold or on lease. Now we have metered drinking water. Soon, you will find water allocations and then when water is not enough, the whole thing will be turned over to private gigs waiting to own your needs in return for guaranteed money every month. What happens to those who will not afford to pay the bills? Who knows? a fifth of our population still lives below a completely absurd poverty line of Rs. 32. Many of them have water bodies at walking distance that cater to factories, while their fields have no water except rain.

All in the name of progress. The great God of GDP showers its blessings on the almighty decision makers. The textbook defense of progress uses words of law. Everyone will be rehabilitated. They will get a truckload of money - amounts they couldn't even dream of. Locals are greedy. Activists have anti-national agendas... the list is endless. Few of these noble defenders will admit, that the World Bank, famous for extending money to third world countries like us for an agenda, was forced to admit that most people displaced by projects they funded were not rehabilitated. This will not be something you will find the Prime Minister announcing when he announces a new project bringing pride to India in a canned speech delivered from paper to camera without going through a human in between. Imagine:

"It is with great pride that I announce a new dam to be build on river XYZ, which will cost [insert-amount]. Around 2 million people will have to leave their homes and we will make sure they do it. We have clobbered the protesters yet again and we will continue to do so till they give up. We will also give a couple of thousand of them homes so that we can show the world we are kind and you can enjoy your electricity without guilt. Jai Hind"

Why would they? After all, they care about you. Why bother your conscience with the cost of development?

The answer to "Whose land/water/country is this anyway?" invariably seems to be "The guy with the pile of bank notes sitting in another place".

And now the second gram sabha on Niyamgiri too has voted solidly against Vedanta's bauxite mining on their land. Expect more underhand nastiness from our beloved government. Too much money at stake to not squash these brave people like bugs.

Concerns about revisions for Cooperative Housing Society laws. Mumbaikars and Maharashtra housing society residents, watch out! Till now, you may never cared to think about who among your neighbours are Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes, etc. In the past few decades, the caste divide had ceased to matter in co-operative housing societies, and most managing committees (at least in the metros like Mumbai and Nagpur) were generally elected without thinking about such things. Earlier, one or two seats on the managing were reserved for women. But now, the new model bye-laws have made it compulsory for you to exercise your mind as to which of your neighbours is an SC/ST, OBC etc. Please see this comparison of old and new bye-laws no. 115.

Comparison of old and new bye laws for cooperative housing societies
Comparison of old and new bye laws for cooperative housing societies

This is as mandated by the 97th Constitutional Amendment passed in January 2012 (See http://tinyurl.com/97th-Constitution-Amendment-In ). On the face of it, the 97th amendment is wholesome, but if you look deeper, you will find that it introduces many slow poisons into the system. ARTICLE 1: Slow poison for democracy in India: http://tinyurl.com/97th-amendment-Krish-blog ARTICLE 2: Toxic provisions of MCS Act amended as per 97th Amendment: http://tinyurl.com/MCS-Amendment-Krish-blog But don’t take my word for it. Read and understand for yourself: Old CHS Model Bye-lawshttp://tinyurl.com/Old-Model-Byelaws-CHS-2009 New CHS Model Bye-lawshttp://tinyurl.com/New-Model-Byelaws-CHS-2013 Please oppose this entire set of changes in Maharashtra urgently, before the MCS Amendment Ordinance 2013 is ratified by the state legislature, and becomes an Act. Otherwise, within 10 years, the co-operative housing society movement will have regressed by 40 years, and we will be at one another’s throats. Warm Regards, Krish 9821588114 building.rti.union@gmail.com

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5

People who had come from the war zones, from Lalgarh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, described the police repression, the arrests, the torture, the killing, the corruption, and the fact that in places like Orissa, they seemed to take orders directly from the officials who worked for the mining companies. People described the dubious, malign role being played by certain NGOs funded by aid agencies wholly devoted to furthering corporate prospects. Again and again they spoke of how in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh activists as well as ordinary people—anyone who was seen to be a dissenter—were being branded Maoists and imprisoned. They said that this, more than anything else, was pushing people to take up arms and join the Maoists. They asked how a government that professed its inability to resettle even a fraction of the fifty million people who had been displaced by “development” projects was suddenly able to identify 1,40,000 hectares of prime land to give to industrialists for more than 300 Special Economic Zones, India’s onshore tax havens for the rich. They asked what brand of justice the Supreme Court was practising when it refused to review the meaning of ‘public purpose’ in the Land Acquisition Act even when it knew that the government was forcibly acquiring land in the name of ‘public purpose’ to give to private corporations. They asked why when the government says that “the Writ of the State must run”, it seems to only mean that police stations must be put in place. Not schools or clinics or housing, or clean water, or a fair price for forest produce, or even being left alone and free from the fear of the police—anything that would make people’s lives a little easier. They asked why the ‘Writ of the State’ could never be taken to mean justice.

There was a time, perhaps 10 years ago, when in meetings like these, people were still debating the model of “development” that was being thrust on them by the New Economic Policy. Now the rejection of that model is complete. It is absolute. Everyone from the Gandhians to the Maoists agree on that. The only question now is, what is the most effective way to dismantle it?

An old college friend of a friend, a big noise in the corporate world, had come along for one of the meetings out of morbid curiosity about a world he knew very little about. Even though he had disguised himself in a Fabindia kurta, he couldn’t help looking (and smelling) expensive. At one point, he leaned across to me and said, “Someone should tell them not to bother. They won’t win this one. They have no idea what they’re up against. With the kind of money that’s involved here, these companies can buy ministers and media barons and policy wonks, they can run their own NGOs, their own militias, they can buy whole governments. They’ll even buy the Maoists. These good people here should save their breath and find something better to do.”

When people are being brutalised, what ‘better’ thing is there for them to do than to fight back? It’s not as though anyone’s offering them a choice, unless it’s to commit suicide, like the 1,80,000 farmers caught in a spiral of debt have done. (Am I the only one who gets the distinct feeling that the Indian establishment and its representatives in the media are far more comfortable with the idea of poor people killing themselves in despair than with the idea of them fighting back?)

For several years, people in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal—some of them Maoists, many not—have managed to hold off the big corporations. The question now is—how will Operation Green Hunt change the nature of their struggle? What exactly are the fighting people up against?

It’s true that, historically, mining companies have almost always won their battles against local people. Of all corporations, leaving aside the ones that make weapons, they
probably have the most merciless past. They are cynical, battle-hardened campaigners and when people say ‘Jaan denge par jameen nahin denge (We’ll give away our lives, but never our land)’, it probably bounces off them like a light drizzle on a bomb shelter. They’ve heard it before, in a thousand different languages, in a hundred different countries.

Right now in India, many of them are still in the First Class Arrivals lounge, ordering cocktails, blinking slowly like lazy predators, waiting for the Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) they have signed—some as far back as 2005—to materialise into real money. But four years in a First Class lounge is enough to test the patience of even the truly tolerant. There’s only that much space they’re willing to make for the elaborate, if increasingly empty, rituals of democratic practice: the (rigged) public hearings, the (fake) Environmental Impact Assessments, the (purchased) clearances from various ministries, the long-drawn-out court cases. Even phony democracy is time-consuming. And time, for industrialists, is money.

So what kind of money are we talking about? In their seminal, soon-to-be-published work, Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminum Cartel, Samarendra Das and Felix Padel say that the financial value of the bauxite deposits of Orissa alone is 2.27 trillion dollars. (More than twice India’s Gross Domestic Product). That was at 2004 prices. At today’s prices it would be about 4 trillion dollars. A trillion has 12 zeroes.

Of this, officially the government gets a royalty of less than 7 per cent. Quite often, if the mining company is a known and recognised one, the chances are that, even though the ore is still in the mountain, it will have already been traded on the futures market. So, while for the adivasis the mountain is still a living deity, the fountainhead of life and faith, the keystone of the ecological health of the region, for the corporation, it’s just a cheap storage facility. Goods in storage have to be accessible. From the corporation’s point of view, the bauxite will have to come out of the mountain. If it can’t be done peacefully, then it will have to be done violently. Such are the pressures and the exigencies of the free market.

That’s just the story of the bauxite in Orissa. Expand the four trillion dollars to include the value of the millions of tonnes of high-quality iron ore in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and the 28 other precious mineral resources, including uranium, limestone, dolomite, coal, tin, granite, marble, copper, diamond, gold, quartzite, corundum, beryl, alexandrite, silica, fluorite and garnet. Add to that the power plants, the dams, the highways, the steel and cement factories, the aluminium smelters, and all the other infrastructure projects that are part of the hundreds of MoUs (more than 90 in Jharkhand alone) that have been signed. That gives us a rough outline of the scale of the operation and the desperation of the stakeholders. The forest once known as the Dandakaranya, which stretches from West Bengal through Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, parts of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, is home to millions of India’s tribal people. The media has taken to calling it the Red corridor or the Maoist corridor. It could just as accurately be called the MoUist corridor. It doesn’t seem to matter at all that the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution provides protection to adivasi people and disallows the alienation of their land. It looks as though the clause is there only to make the Constitution look good—a bit of window-dressing, a slash of make-up. Scores of corporations, from relatively unknown ones to the biggest mining companies and steel manufacturers in the world, are in the fray to appropriate adivasi homelands—the Mittals, Jindals, Tata, Essar, Posco, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and, of course, Vedanta.
There’s an MoU on every mountain, river and forest glade. We’re talking about social and environmental engineering on an unimaginable scale. And most of this is secret. It’s not in the public domain. Somehow I don’t think that the plans that are afoot to destroy one of the world’s most pristine forests and ecosystems, as well as the people who live in it, will be discussed at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Our 24-hour news channels that are so busy hunting for macabre stories of Maoist violence—and making them up when they run out of the real thing—seem to have no interest at all in this side of the story. I wonder why?

Perhaps it’s because the development lobby to which they are so much in thrall says the mining industry will ratchet up the rate of GDP growth dramatically and provide employment to the people it displaces. This does not take into account the catastrophic costs of environmental damage. But even on its own narrow terms, it is simply untrue. Most of the money goes into the bank accounts of the mining corporations. Less than 10 per cent comes to the public exchequer. A very tiny percentage of the displaced people get jobs, and those who do, earn slave-wages to do humiliating, backbreaking work. By caving in to this paroxysm of greed, we are bolstering other countries’ economies with our ecology.


Some thoughts around tribals in India, and their relative political abandonment. Trying to look at the psychological influences on behaviour and what is possible to address that which is not working. A little hurried, because time is a big issue these days, but I'd like to share these thoughts. Also a comment on the thought provoking article by @sonaliranade: Where have India's Adivasis disappeared?

I think part of the problem with integrating tribals is their relative isolation. Not just geographical, but in terms of culture and power as well. Humans have a tendency to take a dim view of anything not congruent with their reality or something they recognize as admirable. This also fits with our larger pattern of resistance to change, rigidity to integrate with each other, and other issues I speak of in other pages of this blog.

The tribals, with their own culture, no power to project it in order to make it familiar to more people, no means of evaluating which influences of the civilized world are dangerous and which helpful, etc. are at a natural disadvantage from those who have claimed voice on behalf of the entire country, them included. In theory, the government should be safeguarding the space for the well being of all, but at the end of the day, the government is elected from among the people. Missing thoughts cannot be compensated by a role in administration.

It is simple - no one sees it as wrong, or indeed a situation where right or wrong needs to be evaluated, because tribal interests are so unrepresented as to be the power equivalent of finding a coin on the street and picking it up - as opposed to taking a coin from someone's pocket. The tribals protesting are the equivalent of someone coming after you pocketed the coin and saying that it was theirs.

It is not our understanding that the forests are the home of those who stay in them. We choose to see it as "national property" and the adivasis don't have "proof of ownership". This is wrong on many counts. Not only do we arbitrarily impose standards of one culture on another (rendering independence meaningless), we also destroy the diversity of cultures of our country.

This is also a problem faced by many nomadic tribes - some I have lived with personally in my time in the Himalaya. Gaddis, Gujjars, Khampas, Negis, Changbas.... all nomadic, are now dying as livelihoods, some more than others, because grazing grounds are becoming scarce and subject to permissions.

These are ancient lifestyles being sacrificed on the altar of standardization. People being uprooted and thrust into different environments where they are at a natural disadvantage. It is easy to shrug it off as survival of the fittest, but we are losing something precious, that their presence brings us. The claim to diversity. Today, culture is inexorably being herded toward a templatized version. Where people are similar, have same rules, etc. It isn't going to be long before the much acclaimed plurality of India is going to be about similar people speaking different languages, having similar prejudices, similar lifestyles, similar opportunities, similar challenges, nationalized religions, demeaning those who don't fit the format as something to be corrected.

Anyway, coming back to the point, this kind of disenfranchisement is not such a great idea for either the country or the people, because it creates a psychological fracture in the country. The tribals don't experience the development of the country as a good idea for them. They don't think owning land is more important than roaming free in the jungles. They don't experience the disruptions of the ecology that is so closely knit with their lifestyle as a good thing - if we were listening, this is possibly the most knowledgeable alert - the alarm one who lives entwined with the natural life. Instead, we choose to "prove" with facts and figures of specific measures by people who observe expertly, but don't have the nuanced "feel" that one participating has. And we use these numbers to contradict the knowledge of those who can't make powerpoints. This creates a chasm that opportunistic elements like the Maoists exploit.

Arundhati Roy describes the disenfranchisement of the tribals well, but her description of the Maoists leaves much to be desired. I must admit that I did not ever meet a Maoist, so unlike her, I am speaking only on the basis of news reports.

However, a few things appear clear. Maoists are a separate entity from the tribals. Unlike the tribals, the Maoists cannot be called powerless. Unlike tribals, the Maoists control and defend territory. The Maoists are essentially fighting the government for control of a land that belongs to neither.

Some argue that tribals support Maoists. I think this is a stupid conclusion. If tribals are routinely being killed by Maoists, if children are being recruited by force, if the government is ineffective in projecting its control over the terrain, doing anything else is suicidal. It would be wrong to assume that the Maoists provide the tribals a government that is any better than what the country does.

Some have debated with me when I say the tribal land doesn't belong to the government. The government is a governing body on behalf of people. While the land belongs in the country, I don't see this as automatically meaning that the government can do anything with it. I hold it to about the same standard as mining being started next to my home. To put it mildly, I'd take a very dim view of the situation unless my concerns were answered and my well being safeguarded. Sure, I am a citizen, but that doesn't mean my interests can be sacrificed to some objective irrelevant or worse, detrimental to me.

A rather hurried collection of thoughts, since I don't have much time, but I think we have focused on integration, economy, development. It is high time we focused on well-being. On rights being respected. You wouldn't take from someone's home without being respectful and asking for leave. Similarly, we mustn't forget that the land, though seemingly open is the home of many, and we should be negotiating best interests and arriving at joint decisions rather than making decisions and announcing compensations. If our arrogance thinks they cannot understand the nuances, efforts must be made to simplify them or develop capacity in representatives to bridge the gap. This isn't about convincing them through reason or force, but arriving at a joint decision which can also require us to compromise. The use of force, blackmail, or plain old conning by exploiting ignorance... should be policed very strictly, because they may not object till too late.

Most importantly, we must learn to take NO for an answer.