Bastar:where war is a way of life
Dandakaranya – Where war is a way of life for Adivasi women
(A Paper presented in a seminar by Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Mukti Manch)
Portrayal of the life of Adivasi masses
Our Dandakaranya is a vast area. Once upon a time we Adivasis were its majority inhabitants. But since the inception of outsiders’ rule in DK (14th century AD), in the protracted period of the past 700 years, our Adivasi population gradually diminished. This pace increased during the aggression of British imperialists and ‘after independence’ in some places we even became a minority. For the area we call Dandakaranya the Sileru, Godavari and the Pranahita rivers form the borders in the East and South, with Raipur in the north and Chandrapur on the west. The vast forest area in between comprising parts of Maharashtra, Chattisgarh and Orissa is in the form of a contiguous area. Many types of tribes with different traditions are residing in this area. The majority of them belong to Dorla, Madia and Muria tribes. We call ourselves ‘Koyathur’ in our language and call our language ‘Koya’. In academic books we are referred to as ‘Gonds’. In this vast area covering more than 55,000sq.km our population is more than half a crore.
Among our Adivasis the ratio between women and men is almost equal. The outside rulers who know only to exploit us and to pillage our areas never aspired for our development. Exploiting our labour cheaply and looting the wealth of our forests has been increasing with each advancing year ever since the British ruled. It never came down. They have confined us to interior (remote) forest areas and to medieval lifestyles and as each day passed our lives became increasingly unbearable. The recent statistics from South Bastar-Dantewada show that literacy rate is not more than 25 percent and among women it is even lesser – 17 percent. The number of our children who die due to malnutrition is more than those who survive. The government record itself shows that the rate of infant mortality is very high. For a woman to be alive after child birth is like rebirth. We have no cloths to cover our entire body and no food to provide at least two meals a day. Our life is a continuous struggle for production and our reproductive activities are leaving us emaciated. ……………….
Unless we work had for the whole day, we cannot survive. Housework, gathering forest produce, agricultural work – these take up the major part of our day. There is no respite even for women who are late into their pregnancy, old women or any girl child above 3 years of age. In spite of working so hard, in the background of globalization we are unable to buy our daily bread and are forced to migrate as it is increasingly becoming difficult to sustain our families. If the lives of the disintegrated and the cheated in all the big cities of India are studies, then the bare fact that they are mainly those of Adivasis and dalits will stare at our face. We are fighting and losing, losing and fighting yet surviving with enormous faith on winning one day in our life struggle.
Suffering from violence has become a part of our life. It is increasingly becoming difficult to face state violence than domestic violence. Though the traditional violence in our family and tribal traditions are utterly crude and unbearable, at least they don’t kill hope in life. Generally, they don’t make you cut off your innumerable bonds with your own people. But state violence is destroying our lives in a physical, mental (psychological) sexual (gender related), political, social cultural and economic sense. That’s why unless we fight state violence first and win, our survival itself is and will be facing a challenge.
The various governments in power have been playing with our health by not allowing scientific thinking into our lives filled with labour. Most of us don’t even know that free education and free health service can be made available to us according to the constitution. In the vast forest area, miles way from development the dispersed village lives of Adivasis can’t even dream of any education or health service. Nobody knows when an epidemic will spread. Nobody knows when, which ailment or pain will claim whose life. Though people say this world has developed so much, we are still dying due to illness like ‘sickle cell’ which remained incurable. Every year due to lack of proper food and sanitation diseases like TB and leprosy are spreading. Along with our poverty and bad habits like smoking, drinking, now due to consumerist imperialist cultural penetration many narcotics, drinks, gutkha and tobacco are rapidly entering and spreading, playing havoc with our lives. Anybody who knows about us need not be told again that Adivasi life is a struggle against all these. As a result, Baigas and Abujmad Madias have become part of those adivasi communities which are becoming extinct in Chattisgarh.
Our surroundings are always resounding with explosions. In our vast Dandakaranya area there are invaluable and innumerable mines and mineral wealth. If any sympathizers of Adivasis try to map all the important mines, minerals and huge projects in this country, they will all be in the adivasi areas. This fact has come forth more prominently in the present than in the past. The hundreds of MoUs signed by the state and Central governments with comprador bureaucratic bourgeois of our country and the MNCs are threatening our very survival. Our land is disintegrating with explosions in Bailadila, Surjagadh, Chargaon, Raoghat, Nagarnar, Pallemadi and Kuvvemara. Our neighbouring Kalinganagar, Rourkela, Jharkhand and Chotenagpur are also disintegrating similarly. Not only have these mines polluted our surroundings but huge projects have also rendered 90 lakh adivasis homeless. This not only affected the human population but all the living creatures which coexisted with us in harmony. They are gradually being destroyed. Rare species of flora and fauna are becoming extinct.
In the above alienating circumstances, we are compelled to wage a war for our survival and for the all round development of our people with the slogan – ‘Jal, Jungle, Zameen Hamari Hai, Hamari Hai’.
Portrayal of the struggle
As the rule of ‘modern state’ on our lives increases, our struggles are also spreading fast. When we remember the fact that the first bullets fired on the British imperialists belong to the Adivasis, we immediately remember the history of the great revolts against British imperialists in our Dandakaranya. In the beginning in 1825 under Gendh Singh, the leader of the Paralkot people’s rebellion, Adivasi men and women waged guerilla warfare against the British – Maratha armies. It was defeated. Till 1910 there were people’s revolts at various places on a local level. Among these, the 1857 Koya revolt took place during the First war of Indian independence. Our Adivasi brave warriors like Veer Baburao Sedmek and Venkat Rao defied foreign rule and chose to sacrifice their lives at the gallows. The 1910 Bhumkal Revolt is unmemorable. Hundreds of Adivasis fell to British bullets in this great revolt. In the terror unleashed in our forests by the British mercenary soldiers to suppress this revolt, hundreds of women, children and old people lost their lives. Though generations have passed, our people in Kutul, Durveda, Kachapal, Chota Dongar, Odcha, Gidam and Kondagaon areas have still not forgotton the massacres, atrocities, loot, torching of villages, burning people alive, loss of property etc. perpetrated a hundred years ago by the cruel Britishers. Their troops were deployed in large numbers. Even today the legendary leader Gundadur continues to inspire us and he has become a synonym for struggle. Fifty years after this, in the beginning of the 1960s in ‘independent India’ Nehru armies mercilessly killed Bastar king Praveer Chandra Bhanjadev and his followers because they fought for genuine Adivasis demands. So when we see historically, the past 200 years have been a history of struggle of our Adivasis against the imperialists in the beginning and later against the Indian ruling classes. It is not an ordinary struggle. It is a war. It is a struggle for life. We are also fighting the modern state and its huge weaponry with arms. The generations before us were ‘Padiyor’ (warriors). Theirs was a people’s war. All women and men were part of the people’s war. All those wars ended in defeat. But we are not tired. Since two and half decades we are fighting under the guidance of clear revolutionary politics.
From 1980 new winds of change began to blow in our area. The word Dandakaranya forgotten by our previous generations began reverberating again in our forests, hamlets and in our hearts. We heard for the first time the slogan ‘right over forests belongs to the Adivasis’ and that we have to end exploitation and oppression by fighting against it. We understood the interrelation between struggle and power. We understood where we were being cheated in our arduous lives filled with labor from dawn to dusk. Though in 1964 itself due to the firings of Nehru armies we understood that the transfer of power in 1947 did not bring any change in our lives, the policies of the Indian ruling classes, for whom the fact that we are getting organized since 1980 is unbearable, are reinforcing our opinions.
Our war is for Right over the forests
Land struggle: Even before ‘independence’ we have been alienated from our forests. We became prisoners of the laws of the British. The British entered our forests for the first time in 1853 and we have been victims of their laws since 1864. In the past 150 years more laws were added to these and forest lands were seized from our hands. It is not coincidental that the ruling classes of the semi-feudal, semi-colonial India have transferred forests from the states list into the bear hug of the central government in 1980. It was a dastardly act to douse the forest flames sparked by the santhals in a far off place called Naxalbari in 1967. With this, our hopes that we could obtain forest lands legally were dashed. If we first realise that in an agriculture based country like India where 70 percent people are peasants, the main issue is land issue, then it will become clear that the main issue of Adivasis constituting 8 percent of the population is also land issue. With the Central Act of 1980, the Adivasi peasantry was denied government patta land. In fact, even before that we did not have the freedom to enjoy our rights over the forest lands. Bringing forest lands into cultivation meant war with the exploitative government forest department. If the forest department got the scent that we were cultivating any forest land, they would pounce on us like vultures. Burning our homes, raping women, indiscriminate beatings, looting our small property like poultry, goats, pigs, ‘Ippa’ liquor (from flowers), ‘tadi’ liquor (from trees) or a few rupees continued till the 1980s. In spite of all this the peasant was finally arrested and put in chains using draconian laws. Even now thousands of cases are pending in courts. There is no life for the peasantry without land and harvest. In spite of severe repression on us we fought for land. This was our main struggle. When they tried to destroy our sowed lands, we stopped them. When they tried to stop us from harvesting, we fought and harvested.When they tried to stop our ploughs, we tied them up and we all Adivasi women and men together ploughed our lands. Our confidence increased. We stopped caring for exploitative government’s pattas and enjoyed our harvests. We declared that no forest department official who oppresses us like the devil himself should roam in the forests. We saw to it that new generations of children did not grow up under the shadow of their oppression. In the past 25 years we have brought more than 2 lakh acres of forest land into cultivation.
Here we have to talk about the forest bill brought by the UPA government. Due to the deluge of people’s struggles in many adivasi areas in our country in the past two and a half decades, the government is saying that it will give pattas (land deeds) to the cultivated lands of Adivasis. In fact this is not due to any love or sympathy for the Adivasis. We have to realize that there is a big conspiracy behind this proposed Bill. Many state governments have signed MoUs with the corporate sector and large tracts of forest lands were given to the big bourgeoisie for mining and extracting minerals. As a result, the very existence of many Adivasi communities is threatened. We are already facing the consequences in Nagarnar (Bastar), Kalinganagar (Orissa), Rourkela (Orissa), Bailadila (Bastar) and other places. That is why we must oppose and obstruct these MoUs. We will expose the false propaganda that they seek to develop Adivasis through industrial development. We will oppose the exploitative government laws by unitedly fighting on a war foot against them.
Forest produce and forest wealth belong to us
Our Adivasi lives can be compared to fuel. Due to big projects in vast forest areas lakhs of Adivasis have been displaced but we did not get any irrigated land anywhere. Though we supply raw material to various industries non-stop, even one meal a day is becoming impossible for us. Our natural resources do not belong to us anymore. As a result we are collecting forest produce as part of ‘food gathering’ which is reminiscent of primitive people. The government arbitrarily categorized the forest produce and said that we can collect only minor forest produce. Our rights on major forest produce were completely denied. Though the government waxes eloquent on gram sabhas, it never respected them in practice. People who propagate the 73rd constitutional amendment as a revolution should at least now open their eyes and realize how they have been under illusions. We have to collect forest produce amidst many limitations.
Though we are breaking our backs to collect forest produce, we are fighting more for rights over them. All the products which are looted away from the forests are collected by us. We are paid very sparsely for this. We are paid very low rates for collecting tendu leaves, cutting bamboo trees, collecting pavuru leaves for making leaf plates etc. The capitalists who exploit us are getting ownership rights. Similarly when we go to the market with our collected forest produce we are blatantly exploited. In the imperialist era nothing remained local and everything is linked with the world market. Due to globalization policies retail traders are disappearing and there is not a single sphere or field where MNCs have not entered. Big corporate houses are in cut throat competition to acquire the more than 1000 crore rupees per annum trade in Bastar alone. Only by stopping them can we advance the struggle for right over the forest.
Along with iron, coal, manganese, limestone, granite, bauxite, dolomite, tin, kimberlite and corundum, gold and diamonds are also found in abundance here. Even in computer age unless raw material is extracted and turned into industrial goods, human life will not get along. That is why big bourgeoisie like Tatas, Essar, Jindals, Nikko, Reliance, Godavari Ispat, Raipur Lead and NRIs like Mittal and other MNCs are competing to grab them. Already they have looted our lives everywhere. Now they are colluding with the state governments to exploit even what is remaining. They are laying roads in our areas which are full of natural resources. They promise heavens to us through industrial development. The medieval feudal forces in the garb of adivasis here are fully cooperating with them. All of them are filling the forest with brute forces and unleashing fascist repression. They are eliminating people who are fighting for their survival. A Nagarnar and a Kalinganagar are in front of us as recent examples. Kuvvemara, Chargaon and Raoghat which came to a stop due to people’s resistance serve as models to us. Let us fight in the same way. We will not allow them to kill us for their profits and domination over our areas and we will fight for our survival. We have resolved to intensify our struggle of the past 25 years. We take a pledge that we will not fight on our own and that we will unite firmly with all the Adivasi and exploited populace in this country.
Let us stop the government tourism which seeks to degenerate people’s culture
The undivided Bastar of Dandakaranya was famous as ‘Chattisgarh Kashmir’. There are thick forests, forest flora and fauna, rare species of birds, ancient caves, waterfalls, very valuable ancient constructions which help us understand the historical progress of humans, temples and religious propaganda centres here. The handicrafts of this area are world famous. Many Indian and foreign tourists come to visit these. These are very helpful to learn mutually the development of various human communities. The exploitative governments are in cuthroat competition to cash in their unique importance into dollars. These beautiful surroundings are given names such as national parks, wild life sanctuaries, tiger projects and transformed accordingly. These are propagated in an unprecedented manner to attract tourists. To serve these tourists intoxicating Star hotels and other resorts are being constructed. In order to destroy ancient people’s culture and establish and encourage dominate imperialist culture which doesn’t hesitate to plunge to any depths for profits, government itself has become a big sponsor. The actual point here is that all these new constructions are built over the graves of the massacred people by destroying an ancient human community, their culture and their history. There is no genuine historical progress without stopping this. In fact, our historical progress took a twisted turn with the advent of the British. Our economic system (base of the society) took a distorted path. This phenomenon continued to become more distorted and reached its high due to the globalization policies of today. The whole population (Koya Bhumkal) is now fighting to establish people’s culture by eliminating this decadent culture.
Militant people fighting state violence
Till 1980 our lives were unbearable. We had been facing brutal state oppression. We have been living away from the vast universe in our confined world as living corpses, crushed under bonded labor, without any development amidst the exploitation, oppression and domination of landlords, shahukars (moneylenders), contractors, big bourgeoisie, government officials and criminals. 1980 was a turning point for lives like these.
We learnt how to live with our heads raised in dignity as humans and started getting organized for the first time in history. Adivasi women and men began joining the mass organizations in large numbers. Separate women organizations came into existence. Organizations were formed in thousands of villages. These organizations which had hundreds of members established their leadership at various levels. Now the women organization units are functioning with more than a membership of fifty thousand.
There is not a single struggle which we ‘organised women’ have not fought. We took up numerous struggles on daily issues, political issues and social issues. We tasted success in many of them. We took up separate struggles for self-respect with the slogans – men and women are equal, they should be paid equal wages for equal work, eliminate the patriarchal violence on women etc. As a result of these struggles, women got equal rights in property and are getting equal wages for equal work in our areas. There are no atrocities or violence and dominance on women as in the past. Domestic violence has come down to a large extent. Respecting women’s opinions has increased. Women are becoming part of all the decisions taken in a village life. But these changes did not come about effortlessly.
Each and every change that has come about in Dandakaranya has been achieved only after a fight-whether it is with the tribal chiefs or with the state machinery. In this struggle process, we suffered under draconian laws like TADA and POTA. We are still suffering. An innocent Adivasi woman Pauri Bai (Maseli – Devuritha, Gondia district, Maharashtra) was implicated under TADA and was incarcerated for six years in the jail. She died recently due ill health a few days after her release. We can easily understand the cruel treatment meted out to Adivasis by these exploitative government by knowing the fact that the first person to be given life sentence after false allegations were proved was Chaithe Pallo, belonging to Mallampudur village, Bhamragadh taluq, Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra. The crook police case alleged that the innocent Chaithe Pallo attacked Lahiri police station in 1991. As a result, TADA court gave a judgment in October 2004 that she has to languish for eighteen years being the bars with her one year old child. Apart from arrests and jail sentences, women are facing police violence in many heinous forms. Tortures, sexual atrocities and harassment are becoming common phenomena in movement areas. Not only this, four women who won the confidence of women and emerged as their leaders were arrested by the Devuri police in 1993 and are missing since then. Killing ‘women in struggle’ in firings is also increasing. In end December, 2002, thousands of Adivasi women and men marched on the streets of Parnasala (Khammam district, Andhra Pradesh) with some of their genuine demands. The bloodthirsty AP police fired on them and Some Kadti died. Police are killing women who oppose their cruel atrocities and are announcing that they have killed naxalities. In March 2004 before the 12th Lok Sabha elections they killed Budiri belonging to Blockpalle village of Bairamgadh in Dantewada district after raping her thus baring the true face of parliamentary democracy to the world shamelessly. Hundreds of young women have realized that the state violence perpetrated on us in fascist methods even while chanting mantras of peace and non-violence and eulogizing Gandhism cannot be defeated with empty hands and have taken up arms as part of the Dandakaranya armed struggle. They have stood firmly in support of us. We hail their bravery. Their sacrificies are bringing glory to ‘half the sky’. In order to completely eliminate the Dandakaranya revolutionary movement which is advancing by proving that arrests, atrocities, violence, mayhem, murders and missings cannot stop any movement, an army repression campaign known as mop-up operations was started in June 2005 and is till continuing. They named this ‘Salwa Judum’.
Salwa Judum started from June 18, 2005 and since then has been killing Adivasi masses. It is being falsely and widely propagated as peace march through the media. The ruling classes are showing the world a completely different picture that it is a peaceful revolution in Gandhi’s path waged in a exploitative system here. A people’s war is going on here to overthrow one class by another class and seize political power. Studying the history in making in DK is studying the history of class struggle. Unless we understand this, we cannot understand the barbarous army repression campaign unleashed by the police, para military, higher officials from key departments in the Indian army, government officials from all departments, ministry, opposition Congress Party peaceful and non-violent manner and that it had arisen spontaneously from the Adivasis. But in reality this is a repressive army campaign. It is collective hunting of the people. Why is this happening in Dandakaranya?
Talking about Dandakaranya at present means talking about the people’s power emerging in embryonic form here. Knowing about Dandakaranya means knowing about a new order being built by the people in the most democratic manner with complete freedom as an alternate to the and the local feudal dominant forces all together. The Indian big bourgeoisie supports this from behind. Its problem connected with its interests came up as an immediate agenda point and hence the call for Salwa Judum.
Human rights organizations who toured our areas have shown with ample proof, to the world that Salwa Judum means murders, atrocities, burning people alive, cruel attacks on women, exploitation, loss of property, burning houses and harvest. People are reminded of the mayhem perpetrated by the British Madras Regiment which came to suppress the Bhumkal revolt (1910) hundred years back. Children and old people are also not spared. Pregnant women are killed. Women are facing some more specific problems in this repression campaign. Apart from rapes, the number of women who have lost their husbands and grown up children is increasing. The number of orphans is increasing. In the past eight months, more than a hundred women were gang raped by licensed goondas (police) and Salwa Judum goons. Local police have set up police camps with additional forces on a wide scale. In these camps known as ‘Relief camps for naxalite victims’ people who were terrorized in their attacks are living. These camps are reminiscent of concentration camps. Many women in these camps have been raped and now they are pregnant. Till now 1800 houses have been burnt down and 150 have lost lives. Small property (poultry, goats, homes, harvest etc) worth more than four crores has been destroyed. This destruction in the name of Salwa Judum is to completely eliminate our Koya community. They are destroying the peace, happiness, relations, harmony, cooperation and justice in our hamlets. We are left with sufferings, tragedies, agony, injustice, barbarity and difficulties. Now you cannot hear any other songs except songs of death (karsad songs) in our hamlets. The only instruments you hear are those played during funerals. The only dances you see are those paying homage to the dead. This is a terrifying situation. We don’t have any other way than intensifying the war to get out of this.
At present, we are completely engaged in war. Our bodies are riddled with enemy bullets. Each day new forces are emerging to take up the arms from our falling hands. Though enemy is using our brothers and sisters as human shields and getting them killed, we pledge in the face of their sacrifices that our war will not stop. On November 22 at Peda Korma comrade Budiri, a mother of four children was killed when the police used her as human shield. We pay our revolutionary homage to her on this occasion. We humbly pay homage to all our children who lose their lives serving the people in this people’s war. Many people are getting injured in this war. Medicine and health care are becoming scarce for them. Our traditional koya herbal remedies are the medicines which are healing them. We women are facing some extra problems. We are solving all problems from childbirth to menstruation amidst these attacks. War is teaching us everything. We are happy that this seminar is being held at a time when war has become our way of life by rejecting the idea that ‘women’s nature is against war’. This forum will be very useful in .sharing experiences between us. Do come to our areas, cooperate with us we will all fight unitedly. Our enemies are the same – our aims are the same. Our struggle, our path are the same.