In a remote corner of Uttar Pradesh, Adivasis and Dalits are standing up against great odds to fight starvation by reclaiming forestland for collective farming
Thousands of Adivasi families are fighting for their forest rights under the banner of the All India Union of Forest Working People (aiufwp) and the Kaimur Khetra Mahila Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti (kkmkmss), an organisation of Adivasi and Dalit women.
As the Government was not keen to implement the Forest Rights Act and protect the rights of the traditional forest-dwelling communities, They have reclaimed around 20,000 hectares of land in the Kaimur belt and have initiated collective or cooperative farming.
Thousands of Adivasi and Dalit families have organised themselves into agrarian collectives and are cultivating several varieties of food crops on this reclaimed land. After keeping a part of the produce for self-consumption, the rest is sold in the market and the earnings distributed among the cultivators.
The story of this grassroots experiment opens a window to a world where the battle for survival of the poorest of the poor pits them against a repressive State.
The Kaimur belt is spread across the inter-state border areas of UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Some social scientists have argued that this mineral-rich region was divided among various states so that all of them have a stake in the revenue it generates, and this was done in total disregard of its possible consequences for Adivasi livelihood and identity.
The appropriated Adivasi land was given to big business groups that invested in such as mining, power generation and cement manufacturing. Apart from cheap land, big business also benefited from cheap Adivasi labour. No wonder the conditions were apt for political mobilisation by the Maoists. However, the State turned the fledgling Maoist presence, too, into another excuse to crack down on all forms of resistance by the Adivasis.
Cheap labour:- Tribal travelling in a truck to reach factory at Renukoot, Sonbhadhra.
Apart from cheap land, big business also benefited from cheap Adivasi labour.
In villages where the Adivasis are doing collective farming, one can clearly see why the dominant classes want to brand them as criminals. (In fact, the branding of Adivasis as criminals has historically been used by the ruling classes to subdue workers and peasants evicted from their habitat.)
Photographs by Vijay Pandey
Text by Nideesh J Villat
©All Photographs Copyright Vijay Pandey