Corporate India vs indigenous peoples
The commercialization of the land in India is shattering the lives of millions of the country’s poorest, hungriest and most malnourished people.
The state has more or less abandoned rural people (70 per cent of the population) and turned the countryside over to corporations. Mineral extraction, dam building, infrastructure projects, water appropriation and industrial farming make up their burgeoning business portfolios.
The acclaimed author and political activist Arundhati Roy says the land and everything inside it is now owned “by the corporations, every mountain, every river, every forest, every dam, every water supply system”. Add to this the telephone networks and the media, and some say the judiciary, and the world’s largest democracy looks rather less democratic. Indeed, to the persecuted people in the forests and the urban poor crying out for justice, democracy is a city fable of little significance and no reality.
Violence in the name of development
Land sympathetically and sustainably nurtured by the Adivasi people for generations is being violently taken from them in what Roy describes as “the biggest land grab since Christopher Columbus”. In varying degrees of intensity, conflict and resistance is taking place throughout the areas affected by the land appropriation.
Massive numbers of people are being displaced, villages destroyed and women raped. As Human Rights Watch (HRW) states, numerous people “have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and charged with politically motivated offences that include murder, conspiracy and sedition”.
Mira Kamdar, Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute, says India’s oldest and most marginalized people are “completely cut off from the economically vibrant, rapidly growing India of the country’s major cities”, and they are facing a major threat to their livelihood. They are sidelined, intimidated and labelled Maoist (or Naxalite) terrorists by the government and most of the media.
Clear off, we want our Bauxite
Within some of the poorest states of India, from West Bengal and Chattisgarh in the northeast to Karnataka in the southwest, sits a treasure trove of minerals worth trillions of dollars. The area affected is huge and incorporates large tracks of ancestral land where the Adivasi, numbering about 150 million, and Dalit peoples have lived for millennia. Rich in bauxite, iron ore and uranium, this area is an Aladdin’s cave of minerals, which India’s corporations, and the 1 per cent beneficiaries of a decade of economic growth, see as theirs by right.
To facilitate easy access to the bauxite, corporations need the land to be cleared of obstacles, i.e. the indigenous people and their homes. According to Ashish Kothari, author of Churning The Earth, in recent years India “has seen a massive transfer of land and natural resources from the rural poor to the wealthy. Around 60 million people have been displaced (although some put the figure much higher) in India by large-scale industrial developments.”
The millions of mainly Dalits and Adivasi, made homeless and destitute, are forced to relocate to the slums and shanty colonies of small towns and mega cities where they are also unwelcome, all in the name of an apparently greater good. But as Roy says in Capitalism: A Ghost Story, “by now, we know that the connection between GDP growth and jobs is a myth. After 20 years of ‘growth’, 60 per cent of India’s workforce is self-employed, 90 per cent of India’s labour force works in the unorganized [unprotected and unregulated] sector.”
India’s internally displaced persons fall into a bureaucratic chasm, with neither local nor national government taking responsibility for them. Moreover, although the government occasionally publishes figures of internally displaced persons in camps, there is no monitoring of the number of people in displacement outside camps, including in urban areas. Official figures are therefore likely to underestimate the scale of the actual situation.
…to the Adivasi the bauxite is an ecological keystone, its value resting in its being in the mountain because … it “makes the mountain a porous reservoir, which holds water, that irrigates the plains”, sustaining hundreds of thousands of people.
According to HRW, in the resource-rich areas of central and eastern India, where large-scale mining and infrastructure projects are taking place, fast economic growth has been accompanied by rapidly growing inequality and widespread displacement of forest-dwelling tribal communities. Furthermore, despite the fact that India is bound by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which places internally displaced persons under the protection of the state and entitles them to the same rights as everyone else, “the government has yet to enact comprehensive laws to protect, compensate and resettle displaced people”.
A violent, undemocratic river of greed and indifference is drowning the indigenous people of eastern and central India. The Adivasi and Dalit peoples are, according to Roy, being surrounded by government forces and cut off from their resources, so much so that they cannot come out of the forest and are dying of malnutrition, all of which constitutes genocide by attrition. To their great credit and indomitable will, these ancient peoples are fighting back, waging a tribal uprising against the range of security forces deployed against them.
As it attempts to clear tribal land of millions of people and extract the treasures sewn into the fabric of the earth, the Indian government is trampling on a range of international treaties and vandalizing the constitution in support of Indian businesses. The prize for these businesses is a wealth of minerals. One of these, bauxite, runs through the mountains of Orissa and, when extracted, is estimated to be worth 4 trillion US dollars.
However, to the Adivasi the bauxite is an ecological keystone, its value resting in its being in the mountain because, as Roy tells us, it “makes the mountain a porous reservoir, which holds water that irrigates the plains”, sustaining hundreds of thousands of people. To the people who live on the land and in harmony with the environment, the bauxite outside the mountain is worthless – they will not benefit in any way from the minerals being extracted, nor indeed will the people of India generally. Corporations, which are exempted from all manner of taxes and offered a range of government incentives to rape the land, pay only a nominal “royalty” to the government of India.
Out of step with the time
Destructive government policies pursued for the last two decades are at the root of the intense suffering being caused to millions of Adivasi and Dalit people, not just in the Dandakaranya forest but also in towns and cities across India. They are seen as remnants of the past, to be swept aside and eradicated, lest India’s image as a financial destination of choice and a great shopping centre of Asia be tainted. These policies are condemning hundred of millions to extreme poverty, fuelling cataclysmic inequality, and feeding a system of injustice and division that is trapping the poor into ever greater poverty and destitution, while concentrating more wealth and power with the wealthy and powerful.
Under the banner of growth and development, international financial agencies are dictating the economic plans of governments, offering them support on condition that they keep to their diktats and, in effect, turning them into little more than agents of corporate power.
The outcome is a system that is destructive, divisive and often violent in its methods and impact. It promotes separation and inequality, and seeks to reduce mankind to think in limited and limiting material terms, with everything and everybody seen as a commodity to be exploited until utterly spent. Crude by any standards, its manifestations fuel the corporate political machinery that is violating the lives of millions of India’s most vulnerable people in the forests of central and eastern India.
Out of step with the new time that speaks of cooperation, unity and social justice, this neoclassical model has served its purpose and had its day. It does not meet the needs of the overwhelming majority of the people of India or the world. It restricts the possibilities for change to its own limited paradigm. It is a model that has quashed the imagination of the unimaginative who deny even the possibility of a fair and just alternative.
But there has to be an alternative. As Roy says, we “have to begin to formulate some kind of vision and that vision has to be the dismantling of this particular model, in which a few people can be allowed to have an unlimited amount of wealth and power, both political and corporate. That has to be dismantled” and “a new imagination” beyond the restricting ideologies of communism and capitalism explored.
A system that grows out of and perpetuates injustice and suffering, as market totalitarianism does, is one for which an alternative is not only required but is essential for the health of the planet and the wellbeing and survival of humanity.
What is required is a pragmatic alternative that is rooted in principles of sharing, justice and freedom.