Remembering B. D. Sharma

December 8, 2015

BD Sharma: Advocate of Adivasi Rights

PUDR mourns the death of Dr Brahma Dev Sharma, one among the rare breed of civil servants who, in service as well as on retirement, continued to stand by the marginalised and the oppressed. His lifelong service of championing the rights of the Adivasis has stood the test of time. From when he was the District Collector of undivided Bastar (1969-71), he blocked the expansion of Bailadilla Mines, heeding the appeal of the Adivasis that iron ore mining was ruining their lives and destroying their habitat. He never looked back even though he was humiliated and physically assaulted by Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad in Jagdalpur. As Chairman National SC&ST Commission he brought into national spotlight the issue of forest management, rights of Adivasis over forest produce, payment of wages for forest produce etc. After retiring from the post of Chairman of National SC&ST Commission (1986-91), BD Sharma returned to Bastar to live and work among the Adivasis. He spearheaded a campaign in 1992 against an Iron and Steel plant being set up by M/S SM Dyechem in Tongpal block of Bastar. His self-modesty and diffidence hid his indomitable commitment. His brush with the Establishment, to which he once belonged, and his commitment to the Adivasi cause which led him to acknowledge the Maoists as a legitimate political movement, made him stand out as the stoutest defender of Adivasi rights.

PUDR salutes him for his lifelong service to our people.

Megha Bahl and Sharmila Purkayastha
(Secretaries PUDR)

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Campaign for Survival and Dignity: B D Sharma

Yesterday night, many of us lost a teacher and comrade, and India lost an extraordinary person. Dr. B.D. Sharma was an IAS officer who began his administrative career as the Collector of Bastar and retired as the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes; and then went on, for another 25 years, to be a mass leader of the Bharat Jan Andolan and an influence on countless other platforms (as well as one of the key figures in the formation of the Campaign). Throughout his life, in government and out, he fought against the brutal exploitation of India’s poor and oppressed classes, particularly the adivasis. He also played a key part in framing many of the laws that today exist to defend people’s rights, including the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, the Forest Rights Act and numerous policy and executive measures on these issues. He never lost sight of his fundamental belief in the need for people to organise themselves and to fight for a better and more just society.

Dr. Sharma, or Doc-saheb as he was known to many, was not only an official and an activist – he was an excellent writer in both Hindi and English, publishing tens of books and booklets on resource rights, adivasi issues, agriculture and the unorganised sector. He focused particularly on two themes: on the power of direct democracy, and the struggle for people to collectively control their resources and livelihoods; and on the manner in which policies and laws were constantly distorted to the benefit of large corporates, urban elites and the exploiting classes. He wrote eloquently on how agriculture had been systematically destroyed, and, at a time when natural resources are being grabbed by companies across India and farmers are being reduced to destitution, his writings are more relevant than ever.

His vision of direct democratic governance has had far larger influence than many are aware. His ideas spread far and wide. His books can be found in tribal villages in Chhattisgarh and with activists in Assam; his slogans resonated in areas as far apart as Kerala and Maharashtra; he and his comrades built movements in several parts of central India. Almost till the very end of his life, he traveled the entire country, usually in the unreserved carriages of trains, teaching, inspiring and building struggles.

Dr. Sharma’s life represented the fundamental truth of what our rulers never seem to realise: people do not accept injustice lying down; they do not go quietly into the night; they rage against the dying, and the killing, of the light. Till the end that is what he did, and the legacy he has left will live on as an inspiration for countless others.

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Dr B D Sharma : A Life Lived in Struggle for the Rights of Marginals

New Delhi, December 7 : Dr Brahma Dev Sharma (known to many of us as Dr Sahab), left for passed away on December 6th in Gwalior. He was not keeping well for sometime and was being looked after by his son and daughter-in-law. Narmada Bachao Andolan and NAPM pay its heartfelt condolences to the family and to the Andolan Biradari, of which he was an integral part.

He led many battles in his life and worked tirelessly to achieve the constitutional rights of the adivasis, dalits, workers and farmers, over five decades of his working life beginning with the troublesome days in Bastar (1968) and being the last Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (1986-1991). He also served as the Vice Chancellor of NEHU, Central University and in numerous committess of Planning Commission and National Advisory Council.

He was a bureaucrat, a contemporary of late S R Sankaran, B N Yugandhar and others who stood for the people, just a way government servant should. As SC/ST Commissioner, he not only authored seminal reports on empowerment of SC/STs but also played a key role in authorship of the Bhuria Committee report, enactment of PESA and Forest Rights Act. As Secretary in the Minister of Tribal Affairs, he initiated the idea of Tribal Sub Plan. Untill as late as 2014, he continued to collaborate and help Government in its various initiatives with the tribals and adivasis, but also challenged them on every front, for their continued betrayal and non-implementation of various plans and governance failure in the scheduled areas.

He was extremely disturbed by the violence and war like situation in the tribal areas, and in a letter, dt May 17, 2010 to the President of India, he wrote :

I am constrained to state at this critical phase of the history of tribal people that the Union Government is guilty of abdicating its Constitutional responsibility by allowing the situation to degenerate from that of stray revolts in 1960s to ‘warlike situation’ at the moment. It has remained unconcerned with the simmering discontent from day one with the adoption of the Constitution. It has not issued a single direction to any State in 60 long years. You as head of the nation, at a critical time must ensure that the Union Government accepts unequivocally its Constitutional responsibility with due apologies for the decimated, shattered and disinherited tribal communities whose irretrievable loss- physical, economical and emotional – is an un-washable blot on the fair face of our nation that still stands by equity and justice.

He stood for the rights of the people, for implementation of the self rule in the Gram Sabhas as mandated by the Constitution and championed the cause of the Hamare Gaon me Hamara Raaj. Even while serving as the SC/ST Commmsioner, he filed the first case in the Supreme Court, demanding the implementation of the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal (NWDT) award. SC ordered the implementation of the NWDT award by the governments, which paved the way for allotment of land for land to thousands of the project affected families. Unfortunately violating the SC order and order of numerous Tribunals and Commissions and in face of continued struggle of Narmada Bachao Andolan, the NDA government is pushing ahead the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, leading to submergence of nearly 2 lakh plus people in the Narmada Valley.

Dr Sharma was a visionary and was troubled by the growing inequity in the society in the wake of the neo liberal reforms pushed by the government. He worked tirelessly to implement the laws, policies, programmes and schemes of the government using all the means available with him, but he knew the real swaraj will come only if people themselves organized and fought for it and took control of their own life, means of livelihood, control over natural resources, had a say in the development plan and became a beneficiary in the process of development. He founded Bharat Jan Andolan and lent his voice and support to Narmada Bachao Andolan, National Alliance of People’s Movements, Kisani Pratishtha Manch, Campaign for Survival and Dignity and many more people’s struggles and movements.

He travelled through out the country and propagated his views and solutions to the farmers and workers distress, advocated for their rights and kept stressing the fact that we are headed towards a agrarian crisis and something which stemmed from the fact that farmers and workers were not getting their due. They were not being compensated for their efforts and hard work. He would often ask at the gatehrings, bata mere yaar, meri mehnat kaa mol hai kya ?

He wrote extensively and also published for which he set up his publishing unit, Sahyog Kutir Prakashan. He lived frugally and minimally, travelled across the country as a simpleton, wearing his dhoti kurta and remained accessible to every one. Even when he was not keeping well, he joined us all at the completion of 20 years of NAPM at its biennial convention in Pune, last year.

He will be missed for his courage of conviction and dedication to the cause of the marginalized. In his death we all have lost a great teacher and a comrade, who was always there for us in times of crisis and in struggle.

Saathi tere sapno ko manzil tak pahunchayenge ! Zindabaad !

Medha Patkar – Narmada Bachao Andolan and the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM); Prafulla Samantara – Lok Shakti Abhiyan & Lingraj Azad – Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, NAPM, Odisha; Dr. Sunilam, Aradhna Bhargava – Kisan Sangharsh Samiti & Meera – Narmada Bachao Andolan, NAPM, MP; Suniti SR, Suhas Kolhekar, Prasad Bagwe – NAPM, Maharashtra; Gabriele Dietrich, Geetha Ramakrishnan – Unorganised Sector Workers Federation, NAPM, TN; C R Neelkandan – NAPM Kerala; P Chennaiah & Ramakrishnan Raju – NAPM Andhra Pradesh, Arundhati Dhuru, Richa Singh – NAPM, UP; Sister Celia – Domestic Workers Union & Rukmini V P, Garment Labour Union, NAPM, Karnataka; Vimal Bhai – Matu Jan sangathan & Jabar Singh, NAPM, Uttarakhand; Anand Mazgaonkar, Krishnakant – Paryavaran Suraksh Samiti, NAPM Gujarat; Kamayani Swami, Ashish Ranjan – Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan & Mahendra Yadav – Kosi Navnirman Manch, NAPM Bihar; Faisal Khan, Khudai Khidmatgar, & J S Walia, NAPM Haryana; Kailash Meena, NAPM Rajasthan; Amitava Mitra & Sujato Bhadra, NAPM West Bengal; B S Rawat – Jan Sangharsh Vahini & Rajendra Ravi, Madhuresh Kumar and Shabnam Shaikh – NAPM, Delhi, Brother Varghese, Hyderabad and Subhash Lomate, Jai Kisan Andolan

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Strengthen the struggles for Gram Sabha and people’s sovereignty

Remembering Dr. B. D. Sharma

December 7, 2015

Yesterday, 6 December, Dr. B D. Sharma left us, and an era in the history of Indian Social Movements came full cycle. Dr. Sharma was an exceptional person, not only because he was an exceptional bureaucrat who tried to battle the various ills of the system he represented, and because of his staunch persistent efforts to defend democracy. He was exceptional because he redefined the notions of democracy and democratic rights; for him democracy did not reside in the race for state power but the reverse: he articulated, organized and fought for a people-centric, decentralised, away-from-the state form of bottom-up democracy that has influenced nearly all social movements in India in his time, and inspired millions of people fighting for social, economic and political justice.

The notion of autonomous village republics in the form of Gram Sabha, and the great slogan, our village, our government, were among the many legacies he had passed on to the movements, many of which he himself initiated. The struggle for Gram Sabha, for people’s sovereignty and for commons continues as attack on land,water and forests increase, and the predatory demons of capital and a state fully subservient to it become more aggressive as the days pass. Landmark legislations like PESA and FRA which owe a lot to Dr. B D. Sharma, both notionally and otherwise, are being violated routinely. Perhaps the best homage to him will be defending his ideals against such attacks, and to continue the struggles for complete realisation of those.

We at AIFFM join our all our colleagues in various movements throughout India in mourning: certain vacuums can never be refilled. Certain deaths weigh like mountains: this is one of those. Let sorrow unite us and strengthen our resolve.

on behalf of All India Forum of Forest Movements(AIFFM)
Pravin Mote, Debjit Nandi