Where Ants Drove Out Elephants – The Story of People’s Resistance to Displacement in Jharkhand

January 6, 2012

By Stan Swamy

This article is an introduction to the trajectory of peoples’ movements against displacement in Jharkhand in the last few years. As the author writes, the resistance in Jharkhand has resulted in the fact that “[o]ut of the about one hundred MOUs signed by Jharkhand government with industrialists, hardly three or four companies have succeeded in acquiring some land, set up their industries and start partial production.” – Ed.

Displacement is painful for anybody – to leave the place where one was born and brought up, the house that one built with one’s own labour. It is most painful when no alternate resettlement has been worked out and one has nowhere to go. And when it comes to the indigenous Adivasi People for whom their land is not just an economic commodity but a source of spiritual sustenance, it can be heart-rending.

A very conservative estimate indicates that during the last 50 years approximately 2 crore 13 lakh people have been displaced in the country owing to big projects such as mines, dams, industries, wild-life sanctuaries, field firing range etc. Of this, at least 40%, approximating 85 lakhs, are Indigenous Adivasi People. Of all the displaced, only one-fourth have been resettled. The remaining were given some cash compensation arbitrarily fixed by local administration and then neatly forgotten.

Independent studies done during the mid-1990s reveal that in Jharkhand about 15 lakh persons have been displaced and about 15 lakh acres of land alienated from mainly Adivasi people. Needless to say, during the last 15 years a lot more displacement of people and alienation of land have taken place. Strange but true, rehabilitation of the displaced was never taken seriously by any govt during all these six decades when the process of industrialization for ‘national development’ has been in vogue. In fact there was no rehabilitation policy at all!



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MOU-signing spree after the creation of Jharkhand
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The real reason for the creation of Jharkhand as a separate state in November 2000 was not so much to respect and honour the long cherished wish and struggle of the indigenous people to govern themselves as per their culture & traditions, but in view of opening up the vast mineral resources to national & international mining companies whose pressure was increasingly brought to bear on the government. Quite understandably, one MOU after another was signed between the state government and various companies without any reference or consultation or consent of the mainly Adivasi people in whose land all this natural wealth is stored.

Legal safeguards meant to protect Adivasi land from being alienated to non-Adivasis such as The Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (1908), The Santal Parganas Tenancy Act (1949), the Constitutional provisions through the Vth Schedule, The Provisions (Extension to Scheduled Areas)Act (1996), some significant Supreme Court judgments such as The Samata Judgment (1997) were and continue to be neatly ignored by the central & state govts in generously awarding vast tracts of land to industrialists at their asking. Over hundred such MOUs were signed during 2001 and 2010. Rough estimates indicate that about 1.4 lakh acres of land have been signed off. A cruel betrayal of the Adivasi people for whom land is not just an economic commodity but a source of spiritual/cultural sustenance.



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Enough is enough . . .
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In a span of three to four years the Jharkhandi people began to realize that the central & state governments were not for peoples’ welfare but that they were laying steps to sell off peoples’ land, their water & forest resources together with all the mineral riches to corporate houses. They decided to act. Wherever projects together with land requirements were announced, people mobilized and organized themselves and said a definite ‘no’ to the government and companies. People’s Resistance Movements Against Dispacement sprang up in different parts of Jharkhand from 2004 onwards.

Even as people stood together in the form of micro-resistance movements, the industrialists , local administration, police, lower judiciary, most of print & electronic media and the urban middle class joined forces. They began to sing the song of ‘development’ and accused the peoples’ resistance movements as ‘anti-development’. The police started to harass the leaders of people’s movements as ‘obstructing government work’ and as having extremist leanings. It is this situation which brought together activists leading anti-dispacement struggles, some socially concerned intellectuals, a few members of the media, a few folk artists, and some journalists. After a series of discussions & reflections it was decided to bring together the various anti-dispacement movements under some umbrella organizations so as to strengthen people’s struggles and to express support & solidarity to each other. Three to four such macro bodies emerged. Public meetings, rallies, advocacy , press conferences were held to educate and motivate the people in struggle. It was made very clear that these anti-displacement movements will not enter into any dialogue with the government or the company to discuss rehabilitation facilities for particular projects since it would imply that people accept to be displaced.

By 2009 it became clear that companies are not making any in roads in Jharkhand in terms of acquiring land and setting up their industries whereas they are ready with their large investments and latest technology and the only thing they want is land. The corporate houses then started to exert pressure on the central & state governments to take some drastic steps by which this stalemate could be put an end to.



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Operation Green Hunt . . . meant to hunt out the people and clear their green fields & forests to give to mining companies.
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A new philosophy was created to the effect that development is not taking place in the tribal belt of central India because of the ‘menace of Naxalism’ and if the Naxals/Maoists can be eliminated, the government will undertake systematic development programs and the tribal population will catch up in the developmental process. Hundreds of police and CRPF jawans were sent into the villages of the so-called “red zone”. They did not have the guts to go deep into the jungles and confront the Naxals. Instead they gave vent to their frustration on the helpless innocent village folk. They harassed them, beat them up, ransacked their houses, humiliated the elderly, dishonoured the women, arrested or shot any young person. They were not accountable to any civil authority. The peaceful life of village communities was shattered.

Protests against state repression by human rights & civic rights groups started in good earnest. During 2010 public meetings, rallies, advocacy work condemning state action against its own citizens were conducted. At the same time, resistance to displacement was also strengthened. The end result was despite the state coming down so heavily on them, the indigenous adivasi / moolvasi people steadfastly refused to part with their land for the industrialists. Out of the about one hundred MOUs signed by Jharkhand govt with industrialists, hardly three or four companies have succeeded in acquiring some land, set up their industries and start partial production. This too they did by dividing local communities, enticing them with false promises or threatening them by using hired hooligans. Most significantly, the big companies which asked for hundreds and thousands of acres of land were turned away empty handed. This is indeed a heroic achievement of the poorest of the poor against the mighty industrialist giants.



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‘Operation Anaconda’!
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This operation brought in a change of strategy in the state’s war against the Adivasi people. It was unleashed in August 2011. Anaconda, the huge serpent of the Amazon basin in Latin America, was the code name. A thickly forested area by name of ‘Saranda’ in Singhbhum district which had been under the influence of CPI (Maoists), was chosen as a forewarning of things to come. So now on it will not be a hunt spread out over a large area but pin point smaller compact areas as “terrorist affected” and swipe the Adivasi people out even as Anaconda swipes every thing in its way.

Thousands of police and para-military forces were brought in from the different parts of the country to do the swiping operation. Even the names of these battalions (“Greyhounds”, “Cobras”, “Scorpians”) were supposed to evoke a sense of fright among people. They were mostly outsiders who did not know the culture, language of the Adivasi people and they did not have any sympathy towards the simple village people. Their achievement during these months was three villagers dead, three in death bed, several houses destroyed and granaries incinerated. They swept through village after village, destroyed the straw roofs, drove the people out of their homes, burnt their clothes, valuables, stole their money and killed their cattle.

This cruel action of the state was brought to light and condemned by human rights activists, artists, leftist political parties, press & electronic media. An appeal was made to the National Human Rights Commission which was good enough to respond and made its investigation although its final report is still awaited.

The central & state governments have gone into face-saving exercise, ended the infamous Operation Anaconda, offered some monetary relief to the victims and is now speaking of developing Saranda villages with top bureaucrats in command. The end result of this cruel exercise on people is that the Jharkhand government has allotted iron-ore to 19 steel companies.

At the same time, the Adivasi people who have nothing to lose but the chains of state repression, will continue to resist displacement and land alienation.



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Where lies the future …?
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Three apparent possibilities:

1. The “red corridor” is also the mineral corridor. The state, through its war on people, may clear the mineral rich land from the indigenous adivasi and hand it over to mining corporates on a platter. The people will be driven out of their ancestral land and forced to settle down in the slums of towns & cities and eke out a living as casual and contract labour. They will lose their adivasi identity, their culture, their language, their communitarian character. The extermination of the indigenous adivasi will be complete.

2. Flocking to join the Maoist militants as the sole alternative. This is a real possibility insofar as the bourgeois state is bending over backwards to oblige the corporates rather than fulfill its constitutional obligations towards its own people, particularly the indigenous adivasi people who have been the most exploited and oppressed all through India’s independent history. It is this state which has scant regard for those constitutional & legal provisions and some judicial interventions which have sought to protect and safeguard the interests of the indigenous peoples of India.

Is there any wonder then the Adivasi youth constitute 99% of Maoists in Jharkhand and neighbouring states?

3. Drop the gun and start talking to Maoist militants. This is still a possibility if people who cherish the cause of justice will rise up to the occasion. Writers, poets, artists, media persons, human rights activists/defenders, trade/labour union activists, cultural activists, each using their own forums, can surely highlight the inhumanity in the state’s war on poorest of the poor. Justice -oriented legal professionals can well initiate legal action against the state for its violations of constitutional and legal provisions to protect the rights of the indigenous people. Advocacy work can be done with well-disposed legislators, parliamentarians, political parties. Christian churches, whose 90% membership consists of indigenous people in the tribal belt of central India, should surely raise their voice against the unjust displacement of adivasi people and alienation of adivasi land.

In short, It is time to stand up and be counted.

1 Comment »

One Response to “Where Ants Drove Out Elephants – The Story of People’s Resistance to Displacement in Jharkhand”

  1. Ajit kongari Says:
    December 9th, 2012 at 8:23 am

    This is a classic case of everything you can call a cocktail of all sorts, Genocide, Apartheid, Racism Fasism.The Indian pschic if it has no sympathy for the Adivasis at least it showed care for the environment flora fauna of free India.Just because the land grab is effecting only the Adivasis, in general the mainstream society is least bothered and they look at the tribals as trouble makers or anti developement miscreants.only time will show as to how much India is being sold out to foreigner corporates.At least one thing has been proven that the adivasis are not that easily bought.or they are not “bikaus”.Let India shine for the few, its only matter of time when Indians will ask if they really attained freedom from the British Raj, in 1947.After all 1894 Land Acquisition Act is very much into play, throwing constitution out the window.

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