Adivasis claims over land do not just demand material rights but also call for recognition of their unique identity. The Adivasis of Jharkhand recently marched over 175 kilometers from Latehar to Ranchi over four days to stage a dharna in front of Raj Bhawan on Monday, 25th of
April, to submit a memorandum calling for the cancellation of the Netarhat Field Firing Range project.
The project started when the undivided Bihar government issued two sets of notifications on November and March 25th, 1992, under Section 9(1) of the Manoeuvres Field Firing and Artillery Practices Act, 1938, which notified that the area would serve as a field firing and artillery practice zone for ten years. In 1999, another order was issued to extend this provision till 2022. The intention of the protests mentioned earlier was to cancel the projects. The demand to cancel the project has existed for the last 28 years. The firing range covers an area of around 1471 square km, and it is estimated that it impacts over two lakh Adivasis from 245 villages. In a recent development, on 11th May, Kendriya Sangharsh Samiti who was leading the movement organized a protest by forming a ‘Human Chain’ of the affected people.
Land dispossession is a vital issue for Adivasis. Prior to the advent of modernity or to be precise the modern state, the Adivasis had no bar on accessing their habitat. With the arrival of the modern colonial state, everything was structured and everyone was being brought under the fold of a uniform mainstream structure. The modern postcolonial state emulated the continuity of the colonial state in the governance of Adivasis areas. The postcolonial Indian state is continuously failing to protect the interest of the Adivasi community.
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With the increasing reach of state and mainstream society, it became challenging for Adivasis to protect their rights over land and their identities. In the name of development, they are being stripped of their livelihood and most importantly their being of Adivasiness. They are the most displaced community in India. More than 40% of displaced people are from Adivasi communities. Several research has shown that forced displacement of Adivasis is a major cause of increasing vulnerability and exploitation which has lead to poverty and poor health among them. Rehabilitation of Adivasis has proven very problematic not just due to the red-tapism of the State but also because living in alien places not only snatches their livelihoods but also pushes them into alien socio-political and economic cultures. These processes of rehabilitation significantly affect the Adivasi women and push them further to the margins. Despite the presence of special acts like the PESA Act(1996) and the Forest Rights Act(2006), nothing has significantly improved. Furthermore, some states have yet to implement these laws(especially regarding the PESA Act). The Governor is appointed as the protector of Adivasis in the fifth schedule area, however in most cases, she/he follows the likes of the government.
The Adivasis have a special bond with their natural surroundings which strengthens the tribal land conservation, just as it does their immediate subsistence needs as farmers or forest inhabitants. Despite the shifting nature of the political and economic character of the Indian State, demands of Adivasis have remained the same, ‘rights over Jal, Jungle, and Jameen’. The recent protest march of Adivasis in Jharkhand against the Netarhat field firing range is indicative of the constant violation of Adivasi rights and culture. In order to protect the rights of the Adivasis, the government should emphasize on the robust implementation of the already existing laws (Forest rights Act, 2006) which empower Adivasi ways of governance and life and, at the same time, ensure that any land acquisition should get a nod from the affected Adivasis community.
About the author:-Chhotelal Kumar is pursuing MA in Political Science from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His research interests include Adivasi Politics, Culture, and society.