Land Acquisition In Bastar At A Critical Stage
By Debaranjan Sarangi, Countercurrents.org
March 15, 2007
The situation in Bastar is at a critical stage, with clashes on 27-28 Feb trying to force land acquisition for Tata’s steel plant. The “manufactured civil war” pursued by Salwa Judum continues with at least 80,000 tribal refugees in what are virtually concentration camps.
The steel plant is planned on 2,000+ hectares of tribal land belonging to 10 villages in Lohandiguda block, near the amazing Chitrakot waterfall on Indravati river. The agreement for the plant was signed between the Chhattisgarh Govt & Tata in June 2005 – precisely the month when Salwa Judum was formed – labelled a “people’s movement against the Naxalites” but actually a police sponsored terror militia forcing the evacuation of one tribal village after another, with refugees pressurized to join SJ.
On 27 Feb police in the 10 villages to try & force thro land acquisition arrested a number of tribal leaders and were pelted with stones. The next day (28th) a leading non-tribal activist who had come to support the people was hounded out of Bastar. He was slapped in front of the hotel manager where he had stayed in Jagdalpur, who was warned the hotel would be burnt if he put him up again, and all Jagdalpur’s hotelowners have been told not to accept any guests who may be opposing Tata. This activist was then hounded by violent mobs threatening to burn him alive, and also police accusing him of running someone over. There is an ONLINE PETITION TO APPEAL TO CANCEL THE PROJECT. Please sign. This is at Gopetition.com – the petition is called “Protect the property rights of poor tribals“.
The next day (1st March) the Collector of Dantewara Dustrict called a meeting of all the political parties (except CPI who are siding with the tribals), journalists, business leaders etc, and reiterated the message that opposition to the Tata project will not be tolerated.
The area is outstanding for the tribal culture as well as outstanding for nature – this part of Bastar is one of the few places in India where wild buffaloes & Cattle survive. The tribal culture of the Maria Gond & other tribes is one of the world’s most beautiful & wise of all surviving tribal cultures, written about beautifully by Grigson & Elwin in the 1930s-40s. Their culture survived intact at least till 2005 when the Salwa Judum war started, which has split virtually all the tribal villages into Salwa Judum versus Maoists. There have been 1000s of deaths & rapes. See e.g. human rights reports by Peoples Union of Civil Liberties (pucl.org) and Asia Forum for human rights.
On 17th Feb an organisation called Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini organised a day seminar in Delhi as propaganda for Salwa Judum, at which the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh Raman Singh talked about Naxalism as India’s greatest threat, and the Director General of Chhattisgarh police called Salwa Judum “a process of purification”. Other pro-Salwa Judum academics & journalists spoke of it as a “people’s struggle – the most important since Independence” etc. This is the greatest inversion of the truth I personally have ever come across, similar to holocaust denial. The Naxalites are undoubtedly misguided to use violence, but they are opposing an extreme level of exploitation and corruption, and stand up for the rights of tribal people, and appear alot more principled than the SJ & State forces opposing them. Since Bastar tribals have been opposing Tata steel plant plans for many years, it does actually seem that SJ was largely set up to implement Tata & other mining/metal plans. (The Chh Govt is also recommending Tata to prospect at Bailadila iron ore Mt range)
Please circulate news about what’s happening in the tribal heart of India, and the terror tactics & utter thuggery being used to promote Tata, whose steel plant plans in Orissa at Kalinganagar caused 13 deaths in Jan 2006, and are still being opposed there, and similar terror tactics at Singur in W.Bengal. Please sign the petition or take any other appropriate action.
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