‘Murmu should declare Adivasis as India’s indigenous people’

‘I welcome Droupadi Murmu as the first Adivasi woman President of India, but her track record has not been good as a politician and governor of Jharkhand when it came to helping Adivasis,’ points out activist Gladson Dungdung.

Gladson Dungdung has been campaigning for the rights of Adivasis in Jharkhand and has been a vocal critic of corporate India who he charges with illegally grabbing Adivasi land in the region.

For his critical views he was offloaded from an Air India flight to London in May 2016 by the Narendra Damodardas Modi government.

Dungdung, activist, writer and author of Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India which outlines the plight of tribals in Jharkhand’s mineral rich Saranda forest, spoke to Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com on what he expects from Droupadi Murmu, India’s first tribal President.

I was expecting a historic speech on Monday by President Droupadi Murmu at her swearing-in, like Jaipal Singh Munda’s first speech in the Constituent Assembly, but it didn’t happen.

She very clearly said that her focus would be youth and women. However, I would still insist that she address some of the prime issues of Adivasis.

The question of Adivasi identity is at the top. Adivasis are the aboriginals, but the Indian government refuses to recognise them as indigenous people.

However, on January 1, 2011, the apex court, while delivering the judgment in Kailash and Others Vs State of Maharashtra, said that Adivasis are the indigenous peoples of India.

Therefore, the President should declare them as indigenous people either on the International Day of Indigenous Peoples or on the eve of Independence Day.

Besides, she should also initiate a process to replace the words ‘Scheduled Tribe’ with ‘Adivasi’, ‘indigenous peoples’ or ‘aboriginals’ in the Constitution and unify the list of Adivasis at the national level by repealing the state lists.

The illegal grab of Adivasi land is rampant. The governors of Fifth Schedule states (external links) have special powers to prevent it. Therefore, the President of India should order the state governments through the governors to enforce the land laws strictly, monitor it and safeguard Adivasi land.

The territorial rights of Adivasis must be protected. The President should order the Fifth Schedule state governments to make laws for the imposition of the reasonable restrictions under Article 19(5) and (6).

Precisely because of this, the Adivasis have become minorities in these areas due to the constant influx of non-Adivasi population.

100% representation for Adivasis from the scheduled areas must be ensured in Parliament, legislative assemblies and local bodies. Population-based representation is unjust for Adivasis because, historically, the Scheduled Areas belong to them.

The right to freedom of conscience is another big area. On the one hand, the Adivasis have been denied their right to religion and on the other, they are forced to adopt Hinduism under the guise of ‘ghar wapsi.’

Therefore, their religion must be codified as ‘Sarna’ or ‘Adivasi religion’. The President should instruct the Indian government to enforce the code.

The President should also ask the government to make laws to protect Adivasis from all forms of injustice and exploitation mentioned under Article 46, because thousands of innocent Adivasis have been brutally murdered by security forces in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, etc.

The economic rights of Adivasis must be ensured under Article 275 of the Constitution. At the same time, 50% of the amount earned from mining should be invested for the welfare and development of Adivasis. The President must look into the matter.

However, Murmu’s track record as the governor of Jharkhand was not good.

She did not help Adivasis in any way.

She was the Constitutional head of the state and Adivasis expected that she would be good to them, but that did not happen. Everything went against the Adivasis’s expectations.

During her governorship, sedition charges were filed against Adivasis when they launched the Pathalgarhi movement for installing a stone flag in front of every Adivasi village of Jharkhand claiming it as their land and not meant for corporate India to grab in an illegal manner.

This was a big movement of which I too was part because corporate India was only grabbing the land, water and resources of the Adivasis of Jharkhand in the name of ‘development’.

Some 11,000 Adivasis were booked under sedition charge and she as governor kept mum and did not say a word.

Her duty as the Constitutional head of the state was to protect Adivasis, which she did not do.

The BJP government of Jharkhand amended two land laws which were historical: The Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Pargana Act.

They amended these through an ordinance and then passed it with amendments without discussion in the Jharkhand assembly.

As governor she did not do anything to help Adivasis who were opposing this Act. Protests erupted across the Adivasi areas of Jharkhand against these two Acts. One person was killed in police firing and 92 different organisations sent a letter to her and told her to act.

It was only after that she returned these two bills passed by the BJP government of Jharkhand.

Under Schedule 5 of the Constitution she as governor had the right to protect Adivasis. The Constitution has given the right to repeal such laws against Adivasis with just one notification, but she did not do it.

She could have just rejected both the laws, but she did not do so, only returned them back to the Jharkhand assembly.

And now take her past role as MLA and minister.

When she was nominated as the Presidential candidate, news came that there was no electricity in her own village.

This at a time when she was a two-term MLA and also a two-term minister in the Odisha government.

If she did not provide electricity in her own village, you can imagine what will she do for Adivasis as the President of India.

I do welcome Droupadi Murmu as the first Adivasi woman President of India, but her track record has not been good as a politician and governor of Jharkhand when it came to helping Adivasis.

The BJP has got Adivasis who call themselves Hindus like Arjun Munda, Babulal Marandi, Jual Oram or Karia Munda.

The Adivasis are fed up of these people. The RSS later uses them to achieve their own goals.

Without including Adivasis into the caste system, Aryans will not be considered as the indigenous people of India. That is why the RSS always use the word ‘Vanvasi’ for them and never ‘Adivasi’.

Moreover, you saw what happened during the transfer of power.

Brahmins transferred power to an Adivasi President. How can they do this in a democratic country where the Constitution is in operation? They are doing this drama.

Adivasis are not from the varna or caste system. They come from a different ethnicity, but the RSS tells them they are Hindus.

In their argument they say the puja system of the Hindus and Adivasis are the same. If you buy this argument, then that way Muslims and Christians will be the same because to some extent Muslims too follow (parts of the) Old Testament.

Take the example of the Hindu Marriage Act, the Hindu Adoption Act, etc; it clearly states that Adivasis are not a part of these laws.

There have been cases in courts on the basis of these Acts.

Lastly, since for the first time an Adivasi has become the President of India she should have the United Nations Declaration on the Rights for Indigenous People (2007) adopted in India.

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