Online Santal Resource Page: the Santals identity, clans, living places, culture,rituals, customs, using of herbal medicine, education, traditions ...etc and present status.

The Santal Resource Page: these are all online published sources

Santal Gãota reaḱ onolko ńam lạgit́ SRP khon thoṛ̣a gõṛ̃o ńamoḱa mente ińaḱ pạtiạu ar kạṭić kurumuṭu...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Adivasi Women: Situation and Struggles

Volume 7, No. 7, August-September-October, 2006

Adivasi Women: Situation and Struggles
{The tribal question is becoming more and more intense in the country. Severely affected by the policies of the pro-imperialist, pro-comprador, pro-feudal Government tribals are on the warpath in various parts of the country.
The following paper was presented at a seminar "Adivasi Women: Situation and Struggles" organised in Ranchi in March 2006 by the Sangarshrath Adivasi Mahila Manch, a front of various women’s organisations working among adivasi women in Jharkhand.. Noted Bengali writer Jaya Mitra inaugurated the seminar and Prof. Uma Chakravarty made the keynote presentation. Various women’s organisations and intellectuals from different parts of the country also presented their experiences and analyses. We found the paper presented by the Manch informative so we are publishing a summarised version of the paper for our readers………. Editor}

This paper tries to briefly portray the situation and struggles of the adivasi women in the Eastern, Central and Southern parts of India. The adivasi population in most states in the North East have politically transformed into nationalities which are struggling for their rights to self determination. Their conditions, experiences and struggles need to be dealt with separately and deeply. Hence in this paper we have not attempted to cover the situation and struggles of women from North East who are ST in government classification.
The paper is presented in three parts. The first deals with the situation of adivasi women in their traditional societies. The second part deals with the laws and policies adopted by the colonial and present governments and their impact on the adivasis especially women. The third part deals with the various kinds of struggles waged by them.
The general problems faced by the adivasis are affecting both men and women. Poverty, exploitation, displacement, land alienation, illiteracy, lack of health facilities etc are such problems. Though there is a gender angle to these problems (intensity being felt by the women a bit more due to their being women), the general impact is on adivasis as a whole. It would neither be correct to view them only from a women’s angle nor to view them just as general problems and consider only the problems of patriarchy and gender bias as ‘women’s problems’. So in this paper we are presenting the situation and struggle of adivasi people and at the same time we are also presenting the specificities of the situations for an adivasi woman. Thus we wish to present a more or less comprehensive picture of the overall situation of the adivasi women and the struggles they are waging to change all this and not just the patriarchal traditions in their society. 

I. Conditions
Adivasis are among the most deprived and oppressed sections of India. Gender bias and gender oppression has meant that Adivasi women are worst affected. Adivasis constitute 8.4 crores of the population in India. India has the largest number of adivasis (indigenous peoples) among the countries in the world, followed by Myanmar and Mexico. Yet, in many cases the tribal population is decreasing, and some tribes are on the verge of extinction.
Although, the sex ratio of 972 amongst Scheduled Tribes (ST) in 1991 was much higher than that of the general population, which was 927, yet it started showing a declining trend. This adverse sex ratio, and its decline from 982 in 1971 to 972 in 1991 could be attributed to higher mortality amongst females and their limited access to health services. This shows a decline in the status of adivasi women and the need to pay much more attention to this issue.
Further, the incidence of poverty among Scheduled Tribes continues to be very high. Official statistics show 45.86 and 34.75 per cent living below the poverty line in rural and urban areas respectively in 1999-2000. In comparison the figures for the general population were 27.09 and 23.62 per cent respectively. {Both figures are highly understated….. Editor}
The per capita income of tribals continues to be one of the lowest in the country.
Role in economy: Adivasi women are central to the economy of their society. They take part in agricultural production, gather forest produce, do wage labour where available (from government or forest department works, tendu leaf and road contractors etc) and almost single handedly bear the whole burden of domestic work, child-rearing, rearing of cattle/livestock, going to markets to sell their produce, do the marketing for their families etc. In one word, except those tasks which are a taboo for them, they do all the work. There may be variations in what they do in various areas but their central role is undeniable. In many adivasi communities, the men even marry more than one woman so that they can sit comfortably (doing the minimal work) while their wives toil away day and night.
Poor adivasi women commonly referred to as head loaders, walk miles through different conditions, collecting wood. Gathering fodder, picking leaves, brewing liquor and selling them, the typical items of work of adivasi women are all characterized by monotony, hard physical labour, harassment and exploitation. The activities they predominantly engage in are such as trade in ‘minor’ forest produce and manufacture and sale of products based on minor forest produce. These activities are typically low income, seasonal activities, and marginal to the economy.
The liquor trade in tribal areas finds a predominance of adivasi women. This may seem a sharp contradiction when viewed in terms of the problems faced by adivasi women on account of male alcoholism. But when viewed in context of the limited availability of economic options and issues of survival, it is perhaps less surprising that such trade is taken up by women. In the few cases that employment is available to adivasi women, gender based discrimination in wages both by government and contractors reinforces their economic marginalization. The government and its departments itself pays lesser wages to women than men.
Land rights: Half of the adivasi people do not have land. Even when they own some land, in most cases they may be only marginal holdings. According to the 1991 Census, 42 per cent of the ST population were Main Workers. Of these, 54.5 per cent are cultivators and 32.7 per cent agricultural labourers. Thus, more than 87 per cent of the tribal main workers are dependent on agriculture. Further, while 42.9 per cent of the operational holdings of tribals belong to the category of marginal farmers with less than 1 hectare, 24.1 per cent are of small farmers category with 1 to 2 hectares; and only 2.2 per cent STs have large operational holdings with more than 10 hectares.
Importantly, however, in most of the regions, in most of the tribes adivasi women have no property rights over land. While adivasi families survive predominantly on account of women’s work, it is primarily men who have full usufructory and other rights over land and other resources. But customary law has allowed women usufructory rights to some extent.
According to a report prepared by the British ruler Gautzer on the Santhal Paraganas during 1922 to 1935, called the Gautzer’s settlement Report, in Santhali Adivasi Law only males can inherit land, where sons jointly succeed their father. An unmarried daughter has no right in the immovable property. A widow has no claim on her deceased husband’s property if there are male relatives. If a widow does not remarry, then her rights to maintenance will continue. There is no uniform customary law for Santhal adivasis and it often varies across villages and could be significantly different between areas.
Some organizations have demanded that the Hindu personal laws be made applicable to adivasis so that polygamy can become illegal and women may inherit property. But under the political conditions prevailing today this will end up as part of the campaign to Hinduise adivasis. Adivasi women are struggling to reform their customs and it is in this process that they can gain their rights.
Education: In spite of the much publicised Sarva Shikshan Abhiyans, Ashram schools, mid-day meal schemes the number of Adivasi children going to school and finishing at least primary school is low. The number of ST girls in school is even lower. The female literacy rate among tribals in 1991 was far lower (18.2%) as compared to overall female literacy for the country (39.2%). According to the latest 2001 Census figures female literacy among Scheduled Tribes went up to 28.36 %. Though there was an increase in total as well as female literacy among tribals, it is still at a slower pace as compared to the overall population, and to the general female literacy in the country. In 136 identified districts of erstwhile 11 states (now 13) tribal female literacy was below 10% as per the 1991 census. But the total figures may not give the actual picture in particular areas. On the one side the ST female literacy rate in north eastern states is very high while on the other side there are states where their literacy rate is abysmally low. For eg. districts like Jalor in Rajasthan with as low as 0.6 per cent of ST female literacy rate, while Aizawl in Mizoram has a female literacy rate as high as 85.7 per cent. (1991 Census).
The number of adivasi women going for higher education including professional courses is miniscule. All over India, there were one lakh 90 thousand adivasi women who are graduates and above in 2001 !
The pace of progress of enrolment of both ST boys and girls at the middle level between 1990-91 and 1999-2000 has been quite impressive, the problem of dropouts happens to be a common feature for both general and ST students. While both the categories have been showing a decreasing trend during 1990-91 to 1998-99, the problem still appears to be the worst with regard to STs.
The attitude of the central and various state governments towards adivasis can be seen from their unwillingness to start even primary education in the adivasi languages, while spending crores on Sanskrit. In spite of the population of the main adivasi communities like Gonds, Santhals, Bhils etc., running into lakhs up to today the state governments are not conducting teaching in the adivasi languages forcing the already alienated people to study in the state’s official language.
Health : Health is an important indicator of the well being of any group
Literature on the health status of the tribal women in India is not comprehensive. Most health related studies are limited, they do not cover the various dimensions of health affecting the status of tribal women like i) sex-ratio, ii) Female literacy, iii) Marriage practices, iv) Age at marriage, v) Age of mother at first conception vi) Life expectancy at birth, etc.
In Andhra Pradesh, for example, more than 50 per cent of the tribal people do not have access to drinking water, 70 per cent do not have power connections and more than 75 per cent do not have access to roads. Although Rs.50 crore was allocated to private contractors for tribal education and health, thousands of tribal people were affected by malnutrition, hunger and disease. In Orissa, Rs.680 crores allocated for tribal development had not been spent.
Poverty, deprivation and now the reduction of government expenditure on basic medical health facilities is reflected in the absolutely poor health condition of adivasi women and children. Child bearing is in this 21st century still a risk to the life of the woman. Anaemia is the normal condition for women, and malnutrition is rampant. Thus, the uproar in Maharashtra in 2005 over malnutrition deaths exposed the fact that the infant mortality rate (IMR) in tribal areas was 80 per 1000 births and over 50% of these deaths were of newly born children. Further the report revealed that 23,500 children died every year in tribal areas in the state alone. In AP too, in the ITDA areas 80% of the deliveries are conducted at home. The IMR rate is 165 per 1000 births while that for the general population is 92/1000 births. 55% of children in the ITDA areas are underweight. Even in the so called advanced state of Kerala the IMR in a tribal block of Palakad dist. was 66 per thousand births. In UP’s Sonabhadra dist. in one month alone 19 ST children died of malnutrition, which actually means due to lack of food. The plight of the women who are bearing these children can easily be understood. While these facts have been highlighted by a section of the urban media what we want to highlight is that it is that it is the policies of the government which have led to this state of affairs. Some piecemeal solutions like serving nutritious khichdi in anganwadis cannot change the basic conditions of the advasi population ( not to mention the corruption rampant in such schemes).
The scanty data and information available on the health status of the Adivasi population clearly show that the maternal mortality (between 8 to 25 per 1000) is more than double the rates than in the more advanced regions. Maternal mortality was reported to be high among various tribal groups but no exact data is available. The main causes of maternal mortality were found to be unhygenic and primitive practices for parturition. The crude death rates are also very high. These adverse health indicators are largely due to inadequate access to the nutritious foods and lack of access to health care services.
High levels of Hepatitis B infection among sections of the already minuscule tribal population of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands raise medical and social concerns. Compared to the average 4 to 5 per cent rate in the general population of mainland India, the prevalence rate in these tribal populations is over 20 per cent. The lack of purchasing power to buy food even at the public distribution system (PDS) rates and the distress sale of whatever food surpluses exist are the main reasons for the starvation deaths in the Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput (KBK) region. The coal mafia in West Bengal is employing poor Santhali adivasi men and women to extract coal illegally from abandoned open cast mines. This is posing serious health hazards. Accidents and deaths are common here.
The lack of food supply through the TPDS is compounded by the fact that Adivasis have no rights in forests that used to provide them with a variety of food. A ban on hunting has meant reduced supply of healthy meat while a switch-over to cash crops has led to reduced availability of food. Due to the depletion of forests due to excessive felling by vested interests adivasi women have to walk much longer distances to collect fuelwood and minor forest produce. Even in advanced stages of pregnancy women have to work hard and go long distances. Thus their workload has increased. The problem of hunger and malnutrition in Adivasi areas is clearly linked to the inequalities and threats to livelihood security in these regions. The solution of providing food for work (EGS) or free food would only take care of the immediate needs of the Adivasis, but will not provide a long-term solution.
The plight of adivasi women in AP symbolizes their situation in all the backward forest areas. On an average, 312 tribal people die in the Integrated Tribal Development Agency area of AP every month. There could be several factors responsible for this, but there is no denying that malaria is a major cause of the deaths. Even if one survives an illness, it only leaves him or her more vulnerable to another, with the body’s defences dwindling because of poverty and malnourishment.
Poverty stops them from visiting the doctor when they fall ill. The maternal mortality rate is nearly 25 per cent and the infant mortality rate is around 165 for every 1,000, compared to 95 for every 1,000 at the State level. The under-five mortality rate is also very high, nearly 50 per cent. Eighty per cent of the children are anaemic and 55 per cent under-weight. Almost all the tribal girls get married by the time they attain puberty and become mothers at a very young age.
Maternal and child health care practices were found to be largely neglected in various tribal group (i.e. Baster tribal groups, Kutia Kondhs of Orissa, Santals, Jaunsaris, Kharias etc.) From the inception of pregnancy to its termination, no specific nutritious diet was consumed by women. On the other hand, some pregnant tribal women (i.e. Dudh Kharias, Santals) reduced their food intake because of the fear of recurrent vomitting and also to ensure that the baby may remain small and the delivery may be easier. Vaccination and immunization of infants and children were inadequate among tribal groups.
There were two genetic disorders namely sickle cell anaemia which were found to occur in rather high frequencies in Schedule Tribes and Scheduled Caste populations, both male and female were equally affected.
Patriarchy within the community:
Though it is true that adivasi women enjoy better status in the tribal societies when compared with the casteist feudal Indian society in some aspects due to their central role in the economy, it is by no means an ideal picture. In addition they have been subject to patriarchal influences of the outside society. "Outsiders" like traders, contractors, govt employees, police have been sexually exploiting adivasi women. If the adivasi women in some parts of central India once committed suicides, now with revolutionary movements and other mass movements raging across their areas, adivasi women are taking their lives into their hands and consciously trying to change the patriarchal structures inside their society and are also fighting the outside influences thereby saving their male members as well from these evils.
Forms of patriarchy : Since adivasis belong to different tribes and live in different areas their customs vary. So the forms of patriarchy may also vary. Basically the denial of land rights and their restricted role in community public activity and religious worship in most tribes is discrimination against women. Commonly patriarchy also finds expression in the form of taboos. Some problems are found among most of the communities like witch hunting, polygamy and liquor consumption etc.
Among the Birhors of Jharkhand hunting wild animals and deep forests are taboo for women. During menstruation women are not supposed to touch the hunting nets and other implements. They are patrilocal (but not so strictly followed) and patrilineal. (Though there is not much property to pass on except ‘a few brass utensils’). In the Munda, Ho, Oraon and Kharia tribes men do not, as a rule, participate in the domestic labour of cleaning, cooking and childcare. They do these jobs only if the woman is ill or otherwise unable to tackle them. Among the Ho and Munda a woman must not even touch the plough. So as to minimize the chances of accidentally touching the plough, it is kept outside the house. Among the Santhal, Oraon and Khasia there is no such taboo. They often carry it to the field but not on their shoulders. (Women are not allowed to carry loads on their shoulders nor use a carrying pole – except among the Mundas). Munda women can use the carrying pole, but they must not touch a yoked plough. Santhal and other tribal women cannot thatch a roof or use a leveler. They may not shoot arrows, use a razor, chisel holes, strike an axe or fish with line and hook. They cannot weave cloth or string a cot.
Among the Munda there is no prohibition against women touching weapons or using them, though they must not step over them. But most of the tribes have prohibitions on women handling some or all weapons or they are allowed to carry them only during certain functions. Women cannot partake of the sacrificial meat offered to the family spirits (bonga). They can assist in certain ceremonies but can only share certain portions of the sacrificial meat, i.e., other than the head, which is the most valued part of the meat. Among traditional Mundas, making rope bins, storing grain in them and taking it out, even for day to day use, is the exclusive right of man. Among the Santhal, menstruating women are not supposed to go into the vegetable garden or make pickles.
Among the Gonds of AP, Chattisgarh and Maharashtra there are taboos on women eating delicacies of hunted animals, and eggs. They do all the agricultural works including ploughing but they cannot bundle the stalks or step on the threshing ground. They should not enter the grain storage room. The serious problem they face is that of forced marriages. The father drinks liquor and accepts to give the daughter in marriage. Young men some times abduct and marry them forcefully. Some girls run away but life becomes very difficult after that for them. During menstruation they face a lot of discrimination and humiliation. They are kept in small, ill-maintained huts away from the village and have to cook in broken vessels.
The lack of strong preference for sons does not necessarily mean there is no discrimination between boys and girls. This may not be so in matters of food but boys do get more time to play, unlike girls, who at an earlier age have to begin contributing to the family labour. The discrimination between boys and girls is most strongly reflected is in the field of modern education. Female literacy among the adivasis lags considerably behind male literacy.
In a process of contact with outsiders there is also a conflict in cultural norms. The Ho women in Singhbhum treat regular sexual relationships as marriage while non-adivasis sexually exploit them, treating them as promiscuous. Such women are virtually ostracized when they return to the village especially if they have had a child by the alliance. Hence the only cases of official marriage between non-adivasis and adivasi women will take place for the purpose of a legal foothold and appropriating adivasi land. A socially ostracized woman will get no help in ploughing her land, thatching her roof (both of which are taboo for her). She gets no help in the essential rituals, nor help, such as food loans in times of scarcity.
The adivasi society (especially the upper echelon) that comes into contact with Hindu caste society aspires to its values in an effort at upward social mobility. Though bride price is still an important part of marriage negotiations, the practice of dowry is being increasingly adopted. The position of a married woman too takes a beating during such transactions. Divorce and remarriage become more difficult than they originally were. Children out of wedlock are now considered "illegitimate". Adivasi men prefer their wives to become housebound on the pattern of Hindu peasant groups. Polygamy is still prevalent. According to Santhali customary law, a man can have up to five wives at a time. If a man is dissatisfied in any way with his wife, he can easily throw her out of the house. With no land in her name, this leaves her in a particularly vulnerable position. Their rights to their children are also not absolute. In some tribes if a woman remarries she may not take her children with her.
In recent years, land hunger is causing more and more male relatives to forcibly occupy land where a woman has no brothers. There are increasing cases of brothers-in-law throwing out the widows of their dead brothers.
The incident of migration of men, the option of having more than one wife, the absence of women’s rights over land and other productive resources, have all combined to create an environment where deserting of women by their husbands is extremely common. Access to land, that is, in combination to other forces is much more than a mere economic factor affecting adivasi women but has strong social implications.
Witch hunting:
The real motivation for witch-hunting is the desire to eliminate the woman and take away her land. Witch-hunting reflects the immediate economic objective of taking away of widow’s rights to the land in favour of the husband’s male relatives. Among the Santhals, where widows have a relatively stronger transition of rights on land, witches are exclusively women, whereas among Munda, Oraon and Ho it can be both men and women.
Witch hunting is an instrument of class as well as gender oppression used by the propertied classes by recruiting adivasi people as unconscious accomplices. Though men suspected of practicing witchcraft are also sometimes attacked or killed, women that too poor dalit /adivasi women, single, widowed, disabled, women without children i.e., those who lack protection or support are the most vulnerable. Witch-hunting, as many studies have shown has economic connotations and revolves around land. Whenever landlords or family members (men) or just men from the community want to usurp the land especially of widows who have got land rights in the tribal communities they are branded as witches by the ‘ojhas’ ( witch doctors known under different names in different areas like bhagats, guruvus etc). Egged on by the ojhas the mob lynches them or attacks them so brutally that they become unfit for any work for many days. The attacks can include stripping and parading the victim, tonsuring, blackening the face, slashing the victim with knives or other sharp instrument, beating, burning, knocking away the teeth and even burying alive. The social boycott which follows is the most feared punishment.
The ojhas are not just acting according to superstitions but are often supported by vested interests – economic, political and social. Since illnesses are common and there is no public health care system to speak of, adivasis inevitably end up consulting the ojhas and due to traditions and lack of any scientific knowledge about the cause of illness easily believe him when he points to some helpless widow. The police too take the side of the ojhas and landlords. The administration plays a nominal role.
The State and Central governments have done next to nothing to curb this evil. Due to pressure from women and democratic organizations ‘ Prevention of Witch Practices Act 1999’ had to be passed to outlaw the practice of witch craft in Bihar. [This itself indicates the proportions the problem had taken. In Jharkhand alone, around 200 women are killed every year. They are regular reports in AP, Assam and other tribal dominated states.]
On the other hand on September 22, 2003 at a function in Patna, Sanjay Paswan the then union minister for human resource development felicitated 51 witch doctors, shamans and sorcerers. He even had the guts to declare that he was seriously thinking of introducing a new course in school syllabus on the basis of experience of witchcraft practitioners for ‘it is they who protect the villagers from evil spirits’. No doubt, the NDA government thought it best that such superstitions continue so that the atmosphere in the tribal areas would be more conducive to the saffronization drive of its main partner BJP in those areas.
The liberalization policies of subsequent governments from ’91 have worsened the health scenario and people find health services becoming more of a mirage day by day. So it would not be far from the truth to claim that the ruling classes are directly responsible.
II. Laws and policies and their Impact
The adivasis live in resource rich regions that have been administratively neglected. The regions are rich in forests, water, minerals and fertile land. About 70% of the country’s forests, about 90% of the country’s coal and more than half of the remaining mines are located in regions inhabited by them.
The oppression and exploitation of adivasis and the exploitation of the forest resources date back to the British colonial rule. Restrictions were imposed on adivasis using forest resources who till then enjoyed them as their natural right. The British considered forest their property and imposed taxes on everything – land, water, timber and other forest produce – it was during British rule that the migrations of the non-tribals to the tribal areas began on a large scale. Since collection of land tax was done in cash, adivasis had to depend on moneylenders to raise enough cash. Their labour became a commodity and they had to sell it in British estates or mines or in the various construction projects such as roads and railways. Worse still, some of the communities were branded criminals and the cruel term ‘criminal tribes’ was used which our rulers continued to use shamelessly.
Transfer of power in 1947 to the Indian big landlords and big bourgeoisie only helped more exploitation by them and the imperialists. Many laws and policies have been adopted by the ruling classes which either remained unimplemented or just worsened the situation for the adivasis. The courts have been the unscrupulous accomplices of the ruling classes in interpreting these laws to benefit the landlords, big bourgeois and the imperialists.
The Forest Conservation Act (FCA) of 1980 arbitrarily froze approximately 22 per cent of the country’s land for forest conservation, including areas recorded as forest in any government record.
Several other Acts have even intensified the exploitation of tribals further. Acts such as: (i) the Mining Act, (ii) Land Acquisition Act (by the government for its various projects) (iii) Wild Life Preservation Act (iv) Excise Act etc. have not only deprived the adivasis of their traditional occupations and control over land and forest resources, but also displaced them from their traditional homelands and disrupted the tribal bonds of solidarity and life patterns. There is also a rapid migration of the non-tribals into tribal areas leading to discrimination and suppression of the adivasis even in the Scheduled Areas.The governments have been trying to abolish the laws which gave protection to the adivasis. It was only with the resistance of the people that such attempts have been thwarted time and again.
Not only that but the government flouts the very laws it makes to serve the imperialists’ interests. The mining leases granted to the private companies militated against all laws and principles governing the protection of tribal people. They violated, for instance, the Environment Protection Act, 1986, and the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. When the tribal people protested they were suppressed, arrested, illegally held or evicted from their homes. The companies began to mine the area without the mandated environment impact assessment; without putting in place any relief, rehabilitation and disaster management plans; and with scant regard for the tribal people’s means of livelihood.
In May 2002 the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) issued a circular to all States ordering them to evict all ‘encroachers’ immediately. A massive eviction drive ensued, which targeted forest communities rather than the commercial and mafia interests which have actually led to the destruction of forests. This has led to huge dislocation and suffering among already impoverished people. Lakhs of families have been rendered homeless - as many as 40,000 families in Assam alone - and there are many recorded cases of excessive violence. Large scale evictions followed in 2004 also. In response to the widespread protests that followed and according to the election promise the UPA government brought the Scheduled Tribes and Forest-Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005.
But before that the NDA government formulated the draft National policy on Tribals. It spoke of ‘assimilation’ and used words like ‘mainstream’ which denote complete absence of respect for their independent status and unique culture. It even dared to categorize them as Hindus irrespective of their own affiliation. And it did not address the problem of adivasi women or girls. It blatantly sanctioned the displacement and land alienation of the adivasis by stating that displacement can be allowed in the name of ‘public interest’!
Since the adoption of New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1991 the control of World Bank in many of the projects and schemes concerning forests is very obvious. These have the sole aim of gaining unrestrained access to the natural resources though it is disguised under attractive names like Joint Forest Management (JFM), restoring forests, preserving bio diversity etc. The forest ‘Protection Committees’ to be formed under JFM are in effect controlled by the forest department for their secretaries have to be forest rangers. Worse, in AP, the JFM has industry as its third partner facilitating quicker privatization.
Moreover forests are being opened to private entrepreneurs in the name of promoting tourism. Eco tourism is promoted in the adivasi areas by the state governments. This is not only posing threats to ecology and destroying indigenous cultures but is also increasing the danger of sex tourism. Tourism too plays a role in alienating adivasis from their lands. Adivasi communities living near Borra caves in AP became mere contract workers as they have been taken over by the government.
The draft bill brought by the UPA government proposes to distribute 2.5 hectares of forest land each tribal family occupying forest land before October 25, 1980. The manner in which the various governments (irrespective of the political party in power) have dealt with the struggles - incidents of firings on their demonstrations, killing people, mass arrests, lathi charges, rapes and sexual harassment and other forms of brutal repression points to one fact , that they are hell bent upon giving the rights over forests to the big landlords, big capitalists and imperialists and not to the adivasis as claimed in the bill.
Displacement, relief and rehabilitation:
Millions of people have been displaced by various planned development schemes since independence, and adivasis form a significant part of those displaced and affected.
By a conservative estimate, in the period 1951-90, over 26 million people got displaced by ‘development’ projects such as dams, canals, mining, industries, thermal plants, sanctuaries, and defense installations. Although adivasis make up just 8% of our population, they account for more than 8.54 million (40%) of the displaced persons of all projects and of those only 2.12 million (24.8 per cent) tribals could be resettled, so far. Due to rapid industrialisation in tribal areas, 3.13 lakh people have been displaced due to mining operations, and a total of 13.3 lakh tribals have been displaced from their ancestral lands. In addition to direct displacement, mining activity also affects the livelihoods of thousands more as water tables get disrupted, an excessive burden is dumped on fertile agricultural land and forests are cut.
Despite large-scale displacement of people by various development projects since 1947, the country lacks a comprehensive resettlement and rehabilitation (R and R) policy. It was in 1993 that the ministry of rural development drafted a national rehabilitation policy. In the Indian federal structure, resettlement is a state issue, but only a few state governments have come out with a comprehensive R and R policy to resettle project affected people.
Around 24 villages with 1,545 families, mainly Sahariya Adivasis, were relocated outside the forest in northwestern Madhya Pradesh to create a sanctuary for five to eight Asiatic lions from the Gir forest in Gujarat. These six years have been full of hardship and poverty. The lions are yet to be brought into the forest. Meanwhile, thousands of displaced villagers are practically starving.
There is also gender bias in the form of compensation. Substantial land is often worked, owned and even inherited by women in many cases, but compensation is provided to the head of the family or to men. A uniform, state regulated patriarchy is thus forced upon different cultures. Compensation to oustees is limited to individual landowners, who have land titles. The nuclear family is the basis. In tribal households and joint families, households are often registered in the name of one individual, thus other members of the family including women are deprived of compensation. Such a policy provides the Indian state with the opportunity to minimize its expenses on compensation. Besides a substantial number of adivasis do not have legal rights to the lands they have cultivated.
Trafficking and Migration of Adivasi Women
Poor economic conditions, usurpation of their land by outsider landlords, lack of employment opportunities, displacement and poverty are forcing adivasi men and women to migrate to urban areas or to areas where there is work. Earlier only men migrated to urban centers but in recent years large scale migration of single women is taking place from all regions. Tribal families are driven by poverty to send unmarried daughters. These single women and tribal girls are being exploited by employers and are in a vulnerable position. They are also becoming victims of attacks by anti social elements.
Many tribal girls from Sundargarh district have been sold to brothels in Delhi for sums varying between Rs. 8,000 and 20,000. The social repercussions are proving disastrous. Migrant tribal girls find it difficult to get married within tribal societies, as people suspected she could be HIV positive euphemistically called ‘Delhi disease’. Even minor illnesses are feared to be this disease and the girl is socially boycotted and her family also faces social isolation. In some instances, the families of the tribal girl have refused to accept her as she had migrated without permission. Many kidnappings of tribal girls are also reported and the most likely place they were to end up at brothels of Delhi and Mumbai. Sundargarh district has become a wholesale market for bringing girls to the send the sex bazaars of urban centers.
Placement agencies have also came up. The girls lived in extremely deplorable conditions before employment. 15-20 girls were forced to stay in a small and dingy room in extremely unhygienic conditions. Exploitation continued even after employment as they were never paid the full salary and most often, half of their salary was taken by the placement agencies. These agencies are run by non-tribals and unregistered and resort o fraud and deceit often. Some tribal girls from Orissa have also been spotted working in massage parlours. Severe exploitation, sexual harassment, human degradation, trafficking and poor health and disease are the cruel consequences of such migration.
A recent report says about two lakh adivasi young women from Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal are presently working as house-maids in middle class houses! 61,000 in Delhi, 42,000 in Kolkata, 36,000 in Mumbai, 13,000 in Bangalore and 26,000 in Goa. Young Jharkhandi men and women are lured by agents, taken out of Jharkhand like cattle to contractors and brick kiln owners. Many middle class and upper middle class houses in Hyderabad have house maids who are as young as 9 or 10 years old belonging to the Lambada, Gond and other tribes from the neighbouring Telangana districts. Away from homes and the love and care of the elders they are losing their childhood in the innumerable household tasks. The newspapers time and again report incidents of cruelty (burning their bodies with hot irons, locking them up without food, beating them black and blue etc) by employers but these are falling on the deaf ears of the administration.
Cultural and religious onslaught :
While the work of Christian missionaries among adivasis started during colonial rule, the Hindutva forces have been concentrating on the adivasi belt for the past two decades. Due to the work of the missionaries many adivasis have been converted to Christianity. Now Hindutva forces claim that all tribals are Hindus and are seeking to ‘reconvert’ them in an aggressive manner. They are establishing schools in forests for adivasi children, conducting Kumbh Melas like Shabari Kumba Mela, health centres and faith centres, distributing or selling calendars, pictures of gods Hanuman, lockets, stickers etc., in the adivasi areas to achieve their target. In Rajasthan on one occasion, 4,000 activists stayed with every tribal family for about seven days and arranged a picture of a Hindu god in every home and gifted Hanuman lockets for every individual and took Rs. 5 from each family for the lockets, calendar and the flag. Hanuman is portrayed as a tribal god and built statues/temples to Hanuman all over Rajasthan. In his name, they are encroaching government land. Dalit Christian women have been dragged out of their houses, publicly tonsured and socially boycotted. In some villages they constructed fences dividing the ‘Hindu’ tribal people form the ‘Christians’. Many tribal Christians left their home in fear and even if stay on it is amidst fear. A number of Christian’s houses were ransacked and looted and churches and prayer halls were destroyed throughout the Dang district of Gujarat. Schools were also damaged. In the name of ashrams of so called godmen, large tracts of forest land is occupied but the administration looks the other way. There have been allegations of sexual harassment and rapes in these ashrams in Bastar in Chhathisgarh. Both Christianity and Hinduism as religions preach the adivasis not to revolt against the treacherous injustices they are subjected to. The manner of their funding or their motives is definitely questionable. But in the present juncture, the particularly aggressive tactics of Hindutva forces, the deadly attacks on Christian missionaries as well as adivasi Christians, pose a grave threat and should be condemned as the immediate danger.
With its imminent changes for adivasi culture as a whole, for women embracing Hinduism means losing some of the freedoms they enjoyed in their society and becoming docile Sitas.
In reaction to the aggressive attempts of Hindutva forces like Bajrang Dal and VHP to claim adivasi as Hindus, a small section among some adivasi communities esp. educated sections are building organizations and conducting activities asserting their distinct religious and cultural identity, like the Gondi Dharam or Gondwana Samaj. Some organizations have also tried to develop scripts for languages of the Gond, Munda, Ho people. In other regions too, in Chotta Nagpur region, there have been campaigns during census operations to not get classified as Hindus and assert the tribal religion.
Role of NGOs :
The doors being fully opened for penetration by the IMF/WB and loot of natural resources by the MNCs was accompanied by another phenomena is the flooding of NGOs on to the social and political scene. Most of them were funded by US, EU and Japan imperialists through multinational funding agencies. One section of the NGOs, like the conservationists have taken an openly anti-people stand demanding that forest dwellers be evicted from the forests to preserve the animals and trees. Union and State government also funded local NGOs, which claim to have an alternative for every problem (like alternative forest policy, grass roots democracy, participating development, alternative development etc.) but the actual aim of all these high sounding names is to divert the people’s attention from the main causes for the problems – big landlords, big capitalists and imperialists. In the adivasi areas hundreds of NGOs have seen formed. With their collaborationist approach they obfuscated the reality and stopped the people’s resistance from turning militant. The huge amount of funds only helped create a set of power brokers at the local level.
The NGOs tried to make people feel that the state was very much concerned about people’s betterment and only because of some dishonest politicians and officers, benefits doled out by the state were not reaching them, otherwise, their fate would have changed. This approach by the NGO not only made the people more loyal to the state/existing order but also more dependent on them.
III. Adivasi women in the Fore
Adivasi women have been part of struggles of the community from the earliest times. They were part of the struggle to resist forced integration into the caste based agricultural societies in the feudal period. During colonial rule even British officers have documented their active participation in the revolts and uprisings,.
Revolts against the British
From 1763 to 1856 there were at least 40 major rebellions against British rule. And among these the revolts of adivasis were many. In all these revolts, many of which were concentrated in Central and eastern parts of India, women played an active and important part Women’s role in the Kol rebellion, in the Santhal uprisings, in the revolt led by Birsa Munda, by Alluri Sitaramaraju, the Bhumkal revolt led by Gundadhur has never been given its due though they were very much involved in the entire struggle and faced the repression too.
Struggles against Land Alienation:
A study of 1996 shows that most Adivasis and Dalits (comprising about 47 per cent of the population) have been divested of "good and fertile" lands and have become marginal farmers or labourers. In contrast, the low lands with high productivity and fertile lands are controlled by fewer than 10 per cent of the people, most of whom are non-Adivasi absentee landholders.
As per the information available with the Ministry of Rural Development, as many as 4.65 lakh cases of alienation of tribal land covering an area of 9.17 lakh acres were registered. The states affected by large scale tribal land alienation include Andhra Pradesh (2.79 lakh acres), Madhya Pradesh (1.58 lakh acres), Karnataka (1.30 lakh acres), and Gujarat (1.16 lakh acres).
Among the most important struggles in which adivasi women have been in the forefront militantly have been the struggles to regain the lands alienated from them by landlords, moneylenders. For all the promises of the Central and State governments, and the laws enacted by them adivasis never got back the lands they had been cultivating for centuries. In the forests they are considered as encroachers. Their very existence is bound up with the land and forest. Inevitably the land struggle has been an important struggle for women. While local struggles were taking place in various parts of the country it was the Naxalbari movement in North Bengal’s Siliguri sub-division that attracted the attention of the whole country. It began in March 1967 when the poor and landless adivasi peasants of North Bengal surged forward to occupy the lands on the call of the Kisan Sabha, that had resolved to seize the lands illegally taken over from them by exploitative landlords and smash the power of the landlords, women were there in large numbers. They were there to plant the red flags in the occupied fields. Inspite of police trying to suppress their movement the women too were active to keep the struggle alive. Seven women and two children were killed on May 25, 1967 in the police firing when they tried to go ahead with a meeting at Prasadjote. Later, when the men went into hiding in the face of police repression women kept confronting the police while looking after the fields and home. Many women also left their homes in order to organize the peasants. The participation of adivasi and non-adivasi women was even more marked in the Srikakulam struggle that broke out in the hill districts of north Andhra Pradesh in 1967 against landlord power and for the seizure of their lands that had been illegally acquired from them by the moneylenders and landlords. The movement’s turning point came on 31st October 1967 when landlords of Levidi village physically attacked and fired on a large group of women going to a Girijan Sangham conference with red flags in their hands. Later as the struggle took an armed form, some women joined the dalams (guerrilla squads) as well. At great personal risk village women helped to sustain the squads in the face of encirclement by armed police. Many were arrested. In this Srikakulam struggle, among 157 people killed by the special armed police in so called encounters 17 were women, of which 13 were adivasi women.
The militancy of adivasi women has been remarkable. They have been in the forefront of the struggles in Adilabad and Khammam districts (Andhra Pradesh) for land occupation – lands of landlords and government lands under the banner of the Adivasi Ryotu Coolie Sangham (ARCS) in the late 1970s. During the course of the struggle a Conference organized in Indervalli in Adilabad district in April 1980 was suddenly banned by the State government. Among the thousands who had gathered there, it was an adivasi woman who killed a policeman with her bow and arrow. In the ensuing police firing over 60 people were killed. Movements to end landlord oppression and to occupy lands have continued throughout the decade of the 1980s and the 1990s by the destitute, land hungry adivasi peasantry in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh under the leadership of the revolutionaries and others and in most of these struggles women are an important component. They have also occupied and started cultivating forest lands and faced harassment of forest officials and the police. Their role in production and in the family inevitably has made them break the barriers of patriarchal restrictions to come forward in the struggle. These have been struggles for their very survival. The struggles led by the Adivasi Mukti Sangathana in Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh in the 1990s was for regaining the lands lost to landlords and moneylenders. Similarly the adivasis of Kerala united at the State level in 2002 to force the government to give them lands that had been promised to them over the past two decades. Women from among the adivasis came into the leadership of this struggle. The center of the struggle was Wayanad district when the people entered the forest and occupied lands there. The State government had to agree to give land and to make Schedule V applicable to Kerala.
The efforts of subsequent governments (of TDP and Congress) in AP to get rid of the 1 of 70 Act to protect the landlords’ lands or to sell off the mineral resources to MNCs in 1989 and 2000 have been stopped due to mass resistance and again now another attempt is being made by the YSR government under various guises to give away the rich resources to the MNCs, but adivasis and democratic forces are fighting it out. Between 1996 and 2004 due to severe protests by the adivasis and other people the government had to backtrack on the attempt to give Chintapalli forests for Bauxite mining to a Dubai company.
Struggle against Major Projects and their Impact:
40% of the people displaced by development projects are Adivasis and this amounts to about 10 million persons. It is estimated that another 10 million will be displaced in the next couple of decades. This means, that at the dawn of the 21st century, almost a third of the entire Adivasi population of the country will be development displaced persons. The past two decades has led to major struggles by affected people against big projects - mining, industrial and irrigation - being planned by the state and central governments in the interest of big capitalists. Adivasis have been active in the struggles since they have learnt from the bitter experiences of their neighbours what the horrifying consequences of displacement are. While some struggles have concentrated on preventing a project from being set up, others have struggled for proper rehabilitation and some against the damage to environment and health. Though these movements may not be exclusively women’s movements, undoubtedly women have been an extremely active and effective part of the mobilization.
The Narmada valley has sustained lakhs of adivasi and non-adivasi peasants for hundreds of years but the major plans to build 30 big dams and almost 3000 other smaller dams and other projects on the river has meant the displacement of thousands of families.It is estimated that 40,000 families are affected by the project. From 1986 when the construction on the Sardar Sarovar dam had commenced the question of the rehabilitation of those whose lands were acquired by the government came up first in Nandurbar district on the border of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, and later on the movement spread to other parts of Madhya Pradesh. A broad front uniting the rich peasants and traders the adivasi small peasants mobilized to oppose the dam and expose before the world what development means and whom it benefits. But from 1990 when they were unable to stop the construction of the dam the focus of the agitation and mobilization became proper rehabilitation and restricting the height of the dam to minimize the number of villages and people affected. The main force in the mobilization for the various rallies, satyagrahas, dharnas and even jal samadhi programs. In this two decade long agitation have been the adivasis, esp adivasi women. Women have been beaten by the butts of rifles, they have been dragged on the ground, faced rape yet they have continued the struggle saying "no one will leave; the dam will not be built." (Koi nahi hatega, band nahi banega)
The Struggle against the dams on the Koel Karo in Ranchi district too has been a long one. The project was initiated in the mid 1970s but picked up momentum in 1983. Munda adivasi women from the villages facing submergence have been involved in the agitation to save their fields and homes. Women and men mobilized in large numbers, barricaded the roads, women sowed crops on the mud roads so that police jeeps cannot enter the area. Thus they prevented the foundation stone laying program by Prime Minister Narsimha Rao in 1995. In February 2001, near Tupkara police outpost the police fired on 5000 men, women and children, killing 10 people including three children.
The adivasis of Vishakapatnam and other districts of north Andhra have formed various fronts to struggle against the state government’s efforts to give mining leases to private companies in the reserved forests of the district. The state government attempted to grant the leases for bauxite mining in contravention of the Forest Conservation Law and the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution thereby harming both the environment and also further eroding the rights of the adivasis. Massive mobilization of the women and men from the hills and forests of the region in December 2003 forced the government to step back.
Similarly the villagers of Kashipur taluka in Rayagada district have been struggling for 12 years to prevent the mining of bauxite in their area and the setting up of an aluminium production plant by the Birlas and Canadian company ALCAN in the vicinity, and have successfully blocked access to Baphlimali, a sacred mountain that is the site of the mine. On December 16, 2000, three adivasis were killed in Kashipur when police fired on unarmed villagers associated with the people’s struggle against bauxite mining. On December 1st, 2004, the state police launched a brutal lathi charge on 400 adivasis, mostly women, who had gathered to protest the inauguration of a road to a proposed bauxite-mining site in Baphlimali owned by ALCAN. As a result, 16 people were critically injured and three women were beaten unconscious. Since this incident, platoons of armed police with firing orders have occupied the plant. This has led to long drawn agitations in different parts of the state.
Kalinga Nagar itself has witnessed scores of demonstrations and protest meetings against different projects in the past. Thirteen industrial houses are presently implementing their steel projects in the area.
The Kalinganagar dispute centred on the acquisition of 12,000 acres of land rich in iron and chrome ore. The Orissa State sold 2,000 crores to Tata Steel for its Rs 16,000-crore project at Rs 3.35 lakhs an acre. The tribals who own land in the locality are angry that while the State’s Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IIDCO) paid them Rs.37,000 an acre for their land in the early 1990s, the authorities are now handing over the land to industrial houses for Rs.3.5 lakh an acre. The compensation was later increased to a little over Rs.50,000 but many have not accepted the money. Those with no land of their own are the worst sufferers.
Armed tribals objected to commencement of construction work at the site of the six million tonne steel project of the Tata Steel at Kalinganagar on January 2nd 2006. The police opened fire killing 12 persons. A havaldar was killed by the adivasis in retaliation.The firing comes less than 15 days after the Adivasis of Kashipur (Orissa), observed Martyr’s Day on December 17 to mark the fifth anniversary of the killing of three youth from Kocheipadar by police during a demonstration against the proposed Utkal Alumina Plant.
Many fact finding teams have established the fact that they were shot while retreating or at point blank range by holding them. A 28 year old woman Jinga Jarka was also killed while retreating. Bodies of four men and the woman handed over to the adivasis by police had their wrists chopped off. The killings and the ghastly treatment of the dead shocked the country and led to wide scale protests.
Kalinganagar is a turning point in that it had brought other and previously dispossessed adivasis also to the war path. The effect of the firing spread to other parts of the State. Hundreds of people blocked the entry points to Rourkela city demanding that the Rourkela Steel Plant return its surplus land which it had taken from them about 50 years ago. And the Kalinganagar people have vowed not to forget the sacrifices of the 12 martyrs and by propagating their struggle and sacrifice throughout the state they are now building a even more broad based movement against the lopsided development model of the BJD-BJP government in Orissa.Struggle for right to forests and other natural resources
Ever since the governments have taken over the forests the forest produce has become a source of revenue and income not only for the governments but also for contractors. Adivasis are the wage labourers who sweat through the heat and rains to collect the produce and then sell it to avaricious traders or contractors for a pittance. Adivasi women are very much in the forefront in foraging for leaves and roots to fill the empty bellies of their families, for collecting firewood for the needs of the home or to sell in the local market, to collect tendu leaves, fruits, bark and the innumerable other produce from the forests that have a market. But the curtailment of their access to the forest and their right to collect the produce of the forest has affected adivasi women the most and hence they have been militant in the struggles against forest officials and their harassment, for proper rates for the produce they collect. Women have been in the lead in the struggles to get higher rates for tendu leaves they pluck and against the numerous ways the contractors cheat them in various districts of Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Maharashtra etc wherever they have been organized. In Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra women have been successful through in getting the right to cut and sell bamboo (or bamboo products) after paying a nominal royalty from the forest.
The Coca-Cola plant in Plachimada, a village in Palghat, Kerala was commissioned in March 2000 to produce 1,224,000 bottles of Coca-Cola and other drinks. The company started to illegally extract millions of liters of clean water from more than 6 bore wells installed by it using electric pumps in order to manufacture millions of bottles of soft drink.
According to the local people, Coca-Cola was extracting 1.5 million litres per day. The water level started to fall, going from 150 feet to 500 feet. As a result the borewells and other water sources for drinking water and for irrigation went dry. Further the waste water entered the fields affecting crops. They sold sludge as fertilizer damaging the fertile soil.
The women realized that the water was toxic and polluted and they had to walk bring water. The women started a "dharna" (sit-up) in 2002 at the gates of Coca-Cola which went on for days together. A movement started by local adivasi women had unleashed a national and global wave of people’s energy in their support. The police gave protection to Coca Cola and the people waging struggle especially women and children were put behind bars. During one day on dharna about 130 protesters were arrested of whom 30 were women and 9 were children, mostly babies, at around 5 pm and taken to the Chittoor Police Station. Blouses of 5 Adivasi women were torn and some senior officials were particularly keen to abuse and threaten the protesters with further physical attack. Due to the agitation the High Court ordered Coca-Cola to stop pirating Plachimada’s water. These are only some of the struggles going on.
Struggles against Patriarchy and Social Evils:
Within the adivasi communities themselves, especially those which are in the throes of broader struggles, adivasi women are themselves organizing struggles to change the patriarchal customs that are hampering their desire to gain an equal status within the community. Among the Gonds, esp the Madia Gonds in Gadchiroli girls have struggled and won the right to wear blouses after marriage and motherhood too. Girls in Bastar division of Chhathisgarh are struggling to end menstruation taboos, against compulsory attendance in Ghotuls, against forced marriages, against the system of marrying young women to boys much younger in age. Adivasi women’s organizations in Jharkhand are campaigning against witch hunting and helping women who are affected. They are conducting people’s courts to nail the culprits and expose the mercenary motives behind such practices. They are also campaigning against superstitious beliefs that make ordinary people support these practices. Women’s organizations are campaigning against and even stopping marriages being conducted against the will of the girl. If the practice has reduced in recent times it is because of the efforts of the campaigns. In various parts of Chhathisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand women’s organizations are campaigning against polygamy – educating women about the powerless and miserable situation of women in polygamous marriages.
Women have been forced to struggle against village elders to attend meetings and participate in programs of women’s organizations and struggles on general issues. Women’s organisations in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh are also campaigning to educate adivasi girls against marrying non-adivasi men who lure them into marriage to gain control over the lands in the control of the adivasi community. Women have taken militant processions to close down govt licensed liquor shops which are playing havoc with the lives of families and increasing indebtedness, wife beating and other forms of violence against women.
One of the most common problems which adivasi women face is sexual exploitation by outsiders – forest contractors, usurers, landlords, forest department officials etc. the relatively free sexual relations among unmarried adivasis were also exploited by them for their own ends. The innocent adivasi women would be ensnared mostly by force. There have been militant agitations against this by both revolutionary and reformist organizations and it has come to an end in those areas. But this exploitation continues where they are not so organized.
As a broader consciousness grows among adivasi women these campaigns and struggles will inevitably succeed in transforming the entire community and its social relations in a democratic direction.
Struggles for political power:
There is another kind of struggle waged by adivasi men and women in unity with all of the exploited classes which aim to completely change the present socio-economic structure of this society and believe that all the present day problems plaguing them would be solved in the new society as that society endeavors to bestow political power on them. In fact, they are the fighters for that society now, they will be the builders of it and wield the political power in it. The struggle for political power of adivasis along with other oppressed and exploited sections of the society can be stated to have begun from the Naxalbari movement in the late 60s. Adivasis had been part of Communist led armed movements in the 20 century and in their armed revolts against the British, but this was different because this was fought with the aim of political power for the oppressed masses. Since then the Naxalbari tradition of armed struggle continued in various rural parts of India. But quite significantly it has a strong presence in the forests of central and southern India. The most striking feature of these revolutionary movements is the large presence of adivasi women. They are becoming part of revolutionary organizations like adivasi peasant organizations and women organizations and militantly fighting against the exploitation of forest department officials, contractors and also against the looting of the forest by big capitalists and MNCs. They are forming cultural organizations which propagate against the oppressive aspects of the tribal culture and give the revolutionary alternative to such culture, simultaneously preserving the rich cultural heritage and the literary tradition. But all these activities are not done just for their sake but with the ultimate goal of capturing political power. That is why they have taken up arms. They are forming organs of political power and taking up all economic, political and production activities under them. They have built up a strong women’s movement which fights against patriarchy in their society and recruits women for the revolutionary cause.
The state has taken the revolutionary activities of these poor adivasis seriously from the beginning and has been unleashing severe repression. As a result many adivasi men and women were killed in real and false encounters with the police and para-military forces. Scores of women were sexually assaulted and raped. Many were thrown into jails under false cases. In some instances police did not give away information about their whereabouts and they languished in those hell-like conditions without any contact. Police raped them in custody but took videos of them by forcing them to say that revolutionaries raped them. In the name of giving employment the governments are forming ‘Girijan (adivasi) Battalions.’ Already in some states such battalions were formed. In AP adivasis have protested this severely and so the government had to backtrack. They alleged that the government wants to use them as cannon fodder and against their own brothers and sisters in the revolutionary movement. This repression on adivasi women has taken a particularly barbaric form in the Salwa Judum campaign organised by adivasi ruling class Baster. Since June 2005 gathering their supporters and with the direct help of the armed police and para military they have been attacking villages supporting the revolutionary movement, raping and killing women, burning houses and driving away thousands of villagers But just as their predecessors these adivasi women are giving a fine example of resoluteness in face of all this and forging ahead. There is basic difference in the development model pushed down their throats by the present govt.s and the development model they want to pursue and establish. The hope of a new society is attracting adivasi women into these revolutionary movements in large numbers. Dozens of them have emerged as leaders of the revolutionary movement which is quite remarkable considering the general picture of backwardness.
A study of the social, economic, political and cultural conditions of the adivasi women underlines the fact that unless the exploitation and oppression of the landlords, capitalists and the imperialists ends and the patriarchal oppression inside their society is fought adivasi women cannot be liberated. And it is equally true that they can never achieve it in isolation but only by integrating with the other oppressed masses in this struggle. The adivasi women in the revolutionary movements are exactly working for that end and this presents a bright future to all adivasi women.
The appalling situation of the adivasi women presented here points out the drastic changes that have to be made even if the least improvement in their conditions is to be achieved. They establish without a doubt that independence doesn’t mean anything if millions of adivasis are suffering this fate in India. Though adivasis especially women may be one of the most exploited and marginalized people in our country the situation of other poor, oppressed classes is not much different either. This shows that the exploitative, oppressive socio economic order of the society itself has to be drastically changed if all of them have to be liberated. It has to be a joint struggle of all these classes and not separate struggles by each class or section as the root cause of their problems is the same.
It is only natural that adivasis are in the forefront of struggles not only to fight injustices against them but also in the struggle to change society as a whole. The freedom loving, militant, sacrificing adivasis are becoming a source of inspiration to all struggling people. On the other hand the state is trying to repress them in the most vicious manner and adivasi women are especially bearing the brunt. So we want to call attention to the need for all democratic forces to come out openly in support of their struggles and against the brutal state repression unleashed on them. We want to emphasize that emancipation of adivasi women doesn’t just mean an end to patriarchal practices or prejudices in their society but also liberation from all problems faced by them. Both these struggles have to be waged jointly by men and women and women should play a leading role in both these struggles. The women’s movement in India should stand firmly with the struggling adivasi women to the end in both these struggles because women’s liberation in India is pointless if millions of adivasi and peasant women are not liberated.


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