The Architect of Adivasi Misery

The Architect of Adivasi Misery

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January 11, 2010

Gladson Dungdung, a Human Rights Activist and Writer from Jharkhand, examines the origins of India’s modern class struggle and the hypocrisy surrounding its architect: India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nerhu, pictured here sitting with Mohandas K. Gandhi.

The Architect of Adivasi Misery

By Gladson Dungdung

The India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nerhu, who is also known as the architect of modern India, once said, “Dams are the temples of modern India.” According to him, the big dams would address the issues of hunger and poverty of India. Unfortunately, the big dams only created pains, sufferings and sorrows to the owners (mostly the Adivasis; the indigenous people of India) of the lands, which were submerged by the temples of modern India. Similarly, the big steel companies like Heavy Engineering Corporation, Bokaro Steel Limited, and the mining industry created only misery for the Adivasis. Consequently, the Adivasis became landless, daily wage labourers and servants of the bigwigs after losing their land, forest, water and other livelihood resources.

Ironically, the architect of modern India did not create space for the Adivasis in their own modern country. He only inspired them to add more sufferings to their lives for the sake of national interest, saying, “If you are to suffer, you must suffer in the interest of the country.” Perhaps, the Adivasis never knew what that meant, because they have always suffered for the national interest but never enjoyed the fruits, or given place in history or remembered in the holy land of martyrs in the Nation’s capital. Needless to say, the architect of modern India did not even bother to count the people who have suffered. Nearly 50 million have sacrificed everything for the national interest: Among them 40 percent are Adivasis, 20 percent are Dalits and rest 40 percent are the people of other backward classes. Indeed, the elites have never suffered for the national interest as they are born only to enjoy the fruit. And of course the country protects them in every manner possible.

However, when the issues of the Adivasis are discussed, Nehru is always remembered for his ‘Panchsheel for tribal development’, which is also called the five pillars of the tribal development. But does his panchsheel work for the Adivasis? Of course, it does not. In fact, Nehru himself went against the principles of Panchsheel and so did the Congress party and other Indian rulers. The history suggests that some policies were made only to close the Adivasi mouths. According to Vincent Ekka of the Indian Social Institute, whenever the Adivasis protest against unjust policies of the state, they are given a taste of the fruit, like some rights on paper, to keep them muzzled like dogs. Obviously, Nehru’s Panchsheel is the best in principle but the worst in practice as it was made for keeping Adivasis silent.

1. Non-imposition: The first pillar of Panchsheel says that the Adivasis should be allowed to progress according to their own pace and understanding of the situation. In principle, it seems to be very good but practically, the Indian government went against it. The most important question is, how can you ask the Adivasis to go with their pace and understanding if you snatch their livelihood resources in the name of the national interest and then do not provide them with support? The idea of Nehru was just like a day dream. The fact is the Adivasis’ indigenous method of development was never counted by people of the mainstream society. The corporate development model was imposed on them instead. The Indian rulers never walk their talk for the Adivasis. In the last 6 decades, many policies have been made, which displaced, dispossessed and deprived the Adivasis from their livelihood resources and rehabilitation was never a concern for the government. They were much too concerned about the corporate houses.

2. Respect of tribal customs: The second pillar of Panchsheel also did not work because the Adivasi tradition, culture and customs were never accepted by the Aryan invaders. Only the folk songs and dances of the Adivasis were romanticized to some extent – but the tradition, culture and ethos, which are based on community living, equality for all and a need-based economy were always neglected, depicted as vulgar and destroyed in many ways. Similarly, the Adivasis religion was never recognized by the Indian constitution—though, many other religions emerging much later in India, were. As a result, thousands of the Adivasis accepted other religions, and religious enmity was created among them and thousands of their sacred groves were destroyed in the name of ‘development’. Where is the principle of Panchsheel buried?

3. Development of tribal youth: The third pillar speaks about the leadership of the Adivasis. But the fact of the matter is the Adivasi leadership is not acceptable to the so-called people of the mainstream Indian society. For example, history proves that the Adivasis legend Baba Tilka Manjhi was the first man to fight against the Britishers in 1780 and subsequently hanged, but he was not recognized by historians of the mainstream. Similarly, other Adivasis leaders: Sidho-Kanhu, Birsa Munda, Fulo-Jhano, Nilambar-Pitambar and many others fought against the British government but they, too, were not given their deserved space in India’s history. Therefore, the Nehru’s third pillar doesn’t make any sense to the Adivasis. As far as the Adivasis are concerned, they have always groomed, inspired and promoted youth leadership in their community.

4. Simplicity of Administration: The fourth Pillar of Panchsheel seems to be very good idea as the Adivasis’ strong traditional system of self-governance (TSG) exists even today. The Britishers were not able to destroy it, so they accepted it and made laws for its protection and promotion. Ironically, the rulers of modern India, including Nehru, did not accept the Adivasis’ TSG. Instead, he preferred the voluntary agencies for carrying out development work in the Adivasi regions. The Adivasis’ traditional self governance was not accepted precisely because it was a biggest threat to the authorities of Indian rulers. Though the Indian constitution has some provisions for the Adivasis regions as 5th and 6th schedules, there was never any attempts to strengthen their traditional self-governance. In fact, the Indian rulers wanted the Adivasis regions under their control – so they imposed legislation – Forest Acts, Laws to protect wildlife, land-related Laws, mining Acts and various civil as well as criminal laws. Finally, they captured the natural resources of these regions and exploited it as much as they could.

5. Emphasis on human growth: The fifth pillar of Panchsheel emphasizes human growth in terms of living standards, which is appreciable. But as far as the Adivasis are concerned, they are not even accepted today as human. They are always portrayed as uncivilized, sub-human, demons, forest-dwellers and mindless people. The Aryans invaders never treated the Adivasis as equal human beings. The Adivasis are always racially discriminated, exploited and dispossessed. The question is, if you take away the livelihood resources of Adivasis without providing them alternatives, discriminate against them and treat them like sub-humans then how can you expect their human growth? The Adivasis regions lack education, health facilities, drinking water, sanitation and shelter—even today, due to the deliberate inhuman treatment of Adivasis by the Indian rulers.

Undoubtedly, Nehru is the architect of modern India, but it is also the fact that his modern temples of India, industrialization process and corporate model of development are the main reasons for the Adivasis’ pains, sufferings and sorrows. Indeed, he is the architect of the Adivasis’ misery. Today, millions of the Adivasis are struggling for their survival, as a result of Nehru and his Congress Party. Later on, the right wing and the left wing also added salt on the wounds. Therefore, now we (the Adivasis) must realize that no one can fight for us but we have to fight for ourselves. If we protect our natural resources today, we would be ensuring a better future for our children tomorrow. Before, we go for another movement against displacement, we must pray to our super natural God for not to forgive Nehru because he knew what he did to us. He created misery for us, he ensured that we must suffer and he turned our heaven into hell. His temples of modern India dispossessed us, his temples of modern India exploited us and his temples of modern India created graves for us.

Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist and Writer from Jharkhand. He can be reached at

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