Friday, May 12, 2006

Victim of civilisation

Growing Deaths of tribal children: Clash of Civilisation

by V.B.Rawat

More than two thousand six hundred and seventy five children have died in five districts of Thane, Nan Darbar, Nashik, Amravati and Gadhchiroli of Maharastra during the past four months. By government’s own admission about 1085 children of less then one year of age and 1590 of between 1-6 died between April and July this year. In Vishakapattanam, over 2000 tribals reportedly died of Malaria. In Uttar Pradesh’s eastern part, encephalitis has caused death of nearly 300 children. 18 Children died in Raup village of Sonbhadra district of Uttar-Pradesh, last year, though reports of hunger and malnutrition continue to pour in yet we only rise up when reports of deaths makes headlines in newspapers and electronic media. The situation in many tribal regions of Andhra Pradesh and Uttar-Pradesh remain bleak and call for attention. The seriousness of administration on this is clearly visible when I saw a district magistrate in Uttar-Pradesh cracking jokes about Sonia Gandhi’s Italian origin to a friend who came from Italy to visit the tribal areas of Uttar-Pradesh.

In fact, many of us working on the right to food issue raised this issue with the authorities, filed petitions with institutions like National Human Rights Commission and now a public interest Litigation in the Bombay High court and yet nothing moves. The question is why are tribals dying of hunger? Will their starvation end with a red card from a defunct Public Distribution Shop that doesn’t really open every day.

One can understand that every time a hunger death is reported that belie our sense of India shining. Last year when the tribals of Sonbhadra protested at the collector’s office, the sub district magistrate blamed activist like me for ‘selling’ their poverty abroad. ‘I have seen poverty’, he preached, and rebuked the poor adivasis who were dying of hunger, that they should work hard to earn livelihood. Perhaps the officer was reflecting the general mindset exist amongst us that tribal and Dalits remain poor because of their ‘merit’ and sluggishness. There seems to be a complete lack of introspection on our parts to think that it might be public apathy added with bureaucratic highhandedness that have added the woes of tribal. Its interesting to know how can a nation matter for those who have lived a generation without two time meals. When the matter was reported at the national human rights commission, the state authorities went to Raup village and distributed 2 liters of kerosene, some wheat and rice. This kind of response is simply a frustration of a civilization which have inherent bias against a set of communities.

The issue of hunger, food security and natural resources are not separate as being suggested by many food rights ‘experts’. The fact of the matter is that hunger is an outcome of persistent denial of rights over natural resources. It is therefore not strange that those dying of hunger and malnutrition are mainly Dalits and tribals. Ironically, all those areas where hunger and malnutrition are being reported have been highly fertile areas, rich with herbs, ores and minerals. The other side of it is that corporations and industries have already occupied these areas without consulting local communities who have sustained the environment. Therefore areas such as Sonbhadra, Kalhandi, Palamu, Bastar, Chitrakoot are represent this paradox of our civilization where locals die of hunger and intruders make profit over their resources.

These kind of short-term measures are being offered for the problem which is he outcome of a complete failure of our system. Instead of a comprehensive land reform with rights over minor forest produce, ‘experts’ focuses on charities like ‘mid day meals’ and ‘Public Distribution System’, which have miserably failed in most of India except for Kerala, Tamilnadu and to certain extent West Bengal. The way the mid day meal is being distributed in the tribal belt and among the Dalits, would put any civilized person to shame. Mid day meals might have increased the enrollment of the students in the schools as reported, though the fact is that there are false enrollment for bigger quota, yet it cannot be termed as an anti-poverty programme. You cannot eliminate chronic hunger with these halfhearted undignified measures.

It is also interesting that the rich tribal belt with poor human resource development has become breeding ground for the ‘revolutionary’ politics. If reports were to be believed then over 25% of the country would be under the radical left wing organizations in next two years. The political system has completely let down the tribal aspirations. The civilization that we choose literally isolated them and made them a subject of ‘international’ ‘experts’ and ‘researchers’. The non-tribal hunted them out therefore allowing the radicals to instill a feeling of honour and dignity among them.

Forest produce have become out of tribal reach. Environmentalists are bothered about tigers while tribals are hounded out of their homes. Forest mafias roam free in collaboration of the authorities while tribals have to pay heavy price for entering into a no entry zone. Today, they are made as if they are anti forest and our city elite which destroyed forest has become the ‘real’ protector of the forest.

This conspiracy of civilizations has to end if we want peace. The tribal will either die of hunger or pick up guns as they are doing in many places. Every death of tribal child due to hunger is a justification of those who recruit them for instance justice and revolution. The deaths of innocent lives are not a matter of an ideological clash but a failure of civilization and a nation. Shining India means nothing for those who have lost their livelihood to our benefits. If the rehabilitation of tribal remains unfulfilled then both the battle of communalism and communism will begin with tribal land with more and more involvement of religious organizations on the one hand and revolutionaries on the other. Not surprisingly, the state of Orissa, Chhatishgarh and other areas have seen growth of both the Christian missionaries as well as Hindutva forces.

The future battle line is therefore drawn that hunger will further alienate the tribal and put them at the hands of those who have exploited their isolation for years in the name of dignity and identity. It is time to realize that tribal are the protectors of the forest and therefore uprooting them from their civilization would ultimately create immense social chaos detrimental to national interest.