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Two-nation praxis

Public attention in the country is being engaged on the phone tapping issue with political leaders of various hues competing with each other with accusations of their phones being tapped.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2006 01:43 IST

Public attention in the country is being engaged on the phone tapping issue with political leaders of various hues competing with each other with accusations of their phones being tapped. At the same time, in Real India — Asli Bharat — a grim situation is unfolding with growing incidents of violence based on exploitation. The disconnect bet-ween these two is so vast that the former appears almost surreal.

This is not to suggest that the issue of phone-tapping is trivial. The intrusion of privacy by any agency is a violation of fundamental laws of our country. As the PM himself suggested, these allegations need to be thoroughly investigated and the culprits must be brought to book. Further, with the growing number of private players in telecommunications today, it is absolutely necessary that transparent rules and regulations be drawn up and the government be able to exercise control over these private players to prevent them from intruding into the privacy of their subscribers.

Having said this, it is most unfortunate that under these circumstances the plight of the vast majority of our people struggling to eke out a decent livelihood is relegated to the background. It is this disconnect which is pregnant with alarming consequences for our country and its people. Let us consider a few incidents that occurred during the past few weeks.

As Page 3 celebrations heralding the new year were exploding across the country, at the stroke of midnight on December 31, a pregnant woman with five of her children were burnt alive in village Rampur Shyamchand of Vaishali district in Bihar. A few weeks earlier, in Cheelrao village of East Champaran district, five poor peasants/agricultural labourers were hacked to death by the private army of the local landlord over a land dispute. Since the regime-change in Bihar through elections that were fought over mainly the law and order situation in the state, more than 200 people have been done to death by such violence in 40 days.

The root cause of all such violent acts which inevitably claims the lives of the oppressed and the exploited is the issue of land and the merciless hold of the feudal landlords. Far from seeking to redress the situation through implementation of radical land reforms, the political leadership in the state draws its sustenance from such elements and their associated criminal gangs. So much for the electoral rhetoric calling for an end to the ‘jungle raj’ in Bihar.

Within three days of the new year came the shocking incident of 12 tribals being killed in police firing in Kalinga Nagar in Orissa. The tribals in this region had been protesting against their displacement done in the name of industrial development in the state. This is not the first time that such incidents are taking place in Orissa. Wherever the tribals have put up resistance when deprived of their lands, the police have resorted to firing. This happened in Kashipur a few years ago and in Kalahandi when the tribals opposing the Vedanta project were subject to such repression.

The Kalinga Nagar incident is particularly illustrative to understand what is happening in real India. There are nearly nine crore tribals today in our country who live in the forests. It is a deliberate fallacy spread that the eviction of tribals is necessary for the country’s green cover through the protection of the forests. It is the tribals who, because they feed off the forests, nurture the forests and enhance the green cover. Such arguments are often advanced as a cover to deprive tribals of their right to use forest land.

In this particular incident, the tribals were being deprived of their land to enable huge mining corporates to operate their industries in the forest areas. Such has been the intensity of the reaction against the police firing among the tribals in the area that they continue till date to blockade the national highway leading to the Paradip port. Yet, the state government and the concerned authorities have not responded so far through any expression of remorse or arrived at any settlement with the tribals on the issue of compensation and rehabilitation.

The question of the right of the tribals to forest lands appears in one form or the other in various parts of the country. There is, today, a big controversy over the proposed construction of the Indira Sagar (Polavaram) multipurpose project by the government of Andhra Pradesh. Upon construction, this project will jeopardise the livelihood of nearly two lakh people, mainly tribals, in 276 villages in three districts of Andhra Pradesh. Of these, 274 villages are notified under Schedule V of the Constitution. The Constitution provides that these Fifth Schedule areas cannot be modified or altered except under the specific direction of the president.

Such a presidential order has not been sought. Yet, all these villages are destined to be submerged if the project proceeds. Worse is the fact that alternative models that obviate such large scale submersion have been placed before the government, but which have been ignored till date.

This is not to suggest that the tribals must be consigned to live only off the forests in perpetuity. Of course, they must be integrated into modern Indian society. The moot question is how this must be done.

For instance, ethnic American Indians are today part of the US society albeit, victims of racial discrimination. This, however, has been achieved after centuries of brutal extermination in the US’s ‘Wild West’. Such ethnic cleansing and integration of the remnants into modern society cannot surely be a ‘model’ for India as far as our tribals are concerned. They have to be integrated through a process of protection of their rights, interests and cultures.

With this background, it is absolutely essential that Parliament urgently enact the introduced Bill on the protection of the tribals rights on the use of forest land. The growing violence against the worst exploited landless sections — Dalits, backwards and tribals — intensifies along with the alarming increase of reports of ghastly crimes against women. The frequent incidents of rapes reported in frightening periodicity, particularly in Delhi, only suggests a degenerate dehumanisation of society. The urgent necessity to arrest this leading to a reversal of this trend is what that must occupy the attention of the political leadership of our country.

Clearly, the focus of the country’s economic reforms must shift from the merciless preoccupation with increasing corporate profits towards improving people’s welfare. This, in turn, means the urgent intervention to tackle the current agrarian distress that engulfs millions of our people. The many promises made in the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA need to be translated into action. Instead, the UPA government has suggested a cut in food subsidies. This can only compound the current agrarian distress in our country, which, in turn, will only unleash a greater dehumanisation of the real India.

The UPA government must abandon the thought of reducing the subsidies and, instead, concentrate on increasing the levels of public investment in agriculture and rural India. This is absolutely necessary to protect India and its people from a disastrous social implosion.

The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP and member, CPI(M) Politburo

First Published: Jan 13, 2006 01:43 IST