Saturday, June 9, 2018

Javed Iqbal - Gadchiroli Ground Zero: The Adivasi Struggle Against Displacement

Gadchiroli (Maharashtra): Over 76 trucks and heavy moving vehicles from the Surjagad mining site or Thakurdev, the holy mountain for the Madia Gond adivasis, have been burnt in Gadchiroli in the past few months. Two adivasi women, who accused the special anti-Naxal force of rape, have been ‘kidnapped’, and many village elders and anti-mining activists have been arrested.

In the middle of that, two anti-mining adivasi activists recently won the zilla parishad (ZP) elections. Sainu Gotta, a political leader who was previously a ZP member between 1992-1997, and Lalsu Nogoti, an Indian Law Society’s Law College (ILS) alumni lawyer and activist, won from Gattapad and Bamragad respectively. Along with them is Mahesh Raut, a Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) alumni, who has been actively working with the adivasis of Gadchiroli since 2011. “I didn’t come here to work with the people,” he said. “People were working from the beginning itself, I just joined them, learned from them and started working with them.”

Raut is also a central convener and committee member of the Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan (VVJVA) in Jharkhand, which, along with the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, was recently accused of working as a front organisation for the CPI (Maoist) by the central government. “We ran for the zilla parishad elections here in Gadchiroli and won. And people now say the Maoists have entered the zilla parishad,” Mahesh laughs. “I want to ask, if the Maoists entered electoral politics, then isn’t their entire ideology of the past 50 years finished?”

The Wire met Mahesh and Lalsu in Gadchiroli on the day they had been campaigning to directly provide tenders to the adivasis for tendu patta collection, instead of working through middlemen. “We’re actually all gram sabha activists, that is our main work.” One hot afternoon in Hemalkasa village in Bhamragad block, they had invited contractors to openly and transparently apply for a tender in a public meeting with members of numerous gram sabhas. In three meetings so far, none of the contractors agreed to the minimum fixed price for the adivasis and their respective sabhas. “Looks like the time is up for them to put their tenders,” announced Lalsu at the public meeting. “We should remind them again that we are the masters of our forests.” All of them had vastly different journeys but are at the forefront of the latest development versus mining quandary the state and the people find themselves in.

To begin with, what exactly happened outside the lawyer’s office at Nagpur where two adivasi women, who alleged rape against the security forces, and activists, who tried to bring them to court, were arrested by the police?

Mahesh: On January 20, near Etapalli there was an incident near Gattapad. Two women from Naitala village of Chattisgarh were visiting their families in Maharashtra. Later, their family had approached our movement, and spoken to Sheela Gotta, who was an ex-sarpanch and now is a sabha samiti sadasya, and they told her that their girls are missing. Later, they went inquiring and they found out that at Gottagutta, the police had brought them in the morning and taken them to Gattapad police station. When the families approached the police they said that they had to make some inquiries and the women were with them. When they were released, they went to a nearby village where a lot of people gathered around them and that was when the women told Sheela that the C60 (Maharashtra’s special anti-Naxal force) had misbehaved with them. They had been physically assaulted and abused. This is what the women themselves had shared with us... read more: