Sunday, March 11, 2018

Ensure Life, Land and Self-Rule for Kerala’s Tribal communities

Do not provoke them to another Muthanga; Do not commit them as cannon fodder to the Maoists.

In the light of the cries of agony from the tribal hamlets of Kerala, the last instance of which is the brutal murder of Madhu, the hungry forest dweller of Attappadi in the Palakkad district of Kerala, that has shocked mainstream sensibilities, civil society intervenes.

The following is a joint statement issued by over 50 activists and writers:

The Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act that provides for Tribal Self Rule is in force in nearly 1,500 locales in India. Even with substantial erosion of its emancipatory potential, in the last 22 years assertion of the community will of the tribal populations, as for instance in the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa, has still been possible through the Act. Even now it is the PESA Act and the Forest Rights Act that serve as starting blocks for the protection of Tribal identity and rights in the country.

The agreements reached between the Kerala Governments lead by Mr. A.K Antony and Mr. Oommen Chandy, concluding two historic agitations by the tribal communities of Kerala, have, in principle concurred with the Kerala tribal communities' right to self-rule. The recommendation to this effect from the last Kerala ruling dispensation is lying for approval before the President of India. Giving due credence to the habitat realities of the tribal populations of Kerala, granting of autonomy and self-rule to tribal hamlets of Kerala is a matter of due diligence and political discretion of the powers that be. It is nothing but the inertia and apathy of the ruling dispensations at the Centre and the State that stand in the way. This is similar to the fate of the Plachimada compensation bill passed by the State legislature which has been languishing for years for want of Central approval.

The case for restoration of alienated tribal land is lying buried among the heaps of cases before the Supreme Court of India. Political will alone stands in the way of its 'anthyodaya' immediacy. The land rights and livelihood rights of the tribal communities too have met a fate similar to their right of self-rule. Maintaining the status quo and continuing the apathy involve the risk of a repeat of Muthanga, or even more ominously, the tribal people turning cannon fodder to Maoist adventurism.

It is against the above backdrop that we urge a vigorous and unrelenting campaign by civil society to restore land and livelihood rights to the tribal communities of Kerala under the overarching umbrella of Tribal Self-Rule. We demand that the State and Central Governments act urgently on the matter and ensure that Land and Self-Rule are institutionalised as inalienable rights of the tribal communities of Kerala.

The signatories include Medha Patkar, Sugathakumari, M.G.S. Narayanan, B.R.P. Bhaskar, Satchidanandan, Sara Joseph, K. Venu, Kaleeswaram Raj, K.G. Sankara Pillai, B. Rajeevan, P. Surendran, T.T. Sreekumar, C.R. Parameswaran, J. Devika, P.K. Parakadav, Neelan and Khadeeja Mumtaz.  

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Gandhi is dead,
Who’s now Mahatmaji?

On the morning of January 31, 1948, a silent procession was planned in Thiruvananthapuram to mourn Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination the previous evening. It was to start from the Travancore State Congress office and wind up on the Shankummukham beach by evening.

As we were preparing to leave the hostel to join the procession, a friend suggested that we must go wearing black badges. Everybody agreed with the suggestion, but where do we get black badges? Let us try a tailor’s shop, said one. Since shops were unlikely to open we decided to go to the house of a tailor known to us. He came with us to his shop near Bakery Junction and gave us some black cut-pieces.

We assumed the procession might have started already and were virtually running towards Palayam when we saw a boy on the road, hawking a publication, shouting “Mahatma Gandhi Murder Song Book”.

We stopped him and took a look at the publication. It was a booklet. A poet had sat  , after learning about the assassination, and written an elegy, got it printed as a booklet during the night and engaged the boy to sell it.  The long poem began with these banal lines:

Gandhi is dead
Who’s now Mahatmaji?

The boy had been instructed to join the procession and sell the song book among the mourners. We did not want the solemnity of the occasion to be marred by its sale. We drove him away.