MAHARASHTRA: AARM Holds Second State Conference

Mariam Dhawale

“There are 12 crore tribals in the country. There is a large tribal population in 170-175 districts in the country. The SECC survey of 2011 has shown that tribals are the most backward sections of society. 65 percent of tribals are landless. The income of 90 percent of tribals is less than Rs 5000 per month. Why has such a situation arisen even after 70 years of independence? This is because of the disastrous policies of successive governments, and the current BJP regime is the worst in this regard.

“Tribals have lived in the jungles and mountains since generations. But they do not have any land pattas. They are branded as ‘encroachers’ and are continuously evicted by the forest and revenue departments. The struggle for land rights is the most important struggle for tribals. Land in jungles is being handed over by the BJP government to the corporates while the Forest Rights Act (FRA) is not being implemented, denying lakhs of tribals their right over their own land. Tribals are being evicted from the forests in Assam, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. But the BJP’s crony corporates like Ambani and Adani have been handed over 7000 hectares of forest land in the last three years.”

It was with these words that Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch (AARM) national convenor Jitendra Choudhary, MP, inaugurated the second Maharashtra state conference of the AARM that was held on April 26-27, 2017 at Alangun in Surgana tehsil of Nashik district. The first conference was held in December 2013 at Talasari in Palghar district. The second conference was attended by 123 delegates from seven districts. 15 women delegates and a large number of young delegates attended.

The bulk of the delegates were from the two stronger traditional districts of the adivasi movement in the state, viz. Thane-Palghar (61) and Nashik (42). Other districts present were Nandurbar, Pune, Yavatmal and Nanded. The delegates hailed from seven different Scheduled Tribes in the state, viz Warli, Kokana, Bhil, Pawra, Mahadev Koli, Kol and Kolam. Most of the delegates were working in the AIKS, but there was also good representation from the AIAWU, AIDWA, DYFI, SFI and CITU.

State convenor Barkya Mangat explained the objectives of this conference and welcomed the delegates. A presidium of Ratan Budhar, Dayanand Chavan, Ashok Pekari and Manisha Mahale was elected. Vinod Nikole, Suvarna Gangode and Somnath Nirmal formed the minutes committee.

Jitendra Choudhary dwelt upon some of the striking achievements of the Left Front government of Tripura. In the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and the MNREGA, the performance of Tripura is the best in the country. Land reforms, all-round help to the peasantry and the spread of education were some of the main steps that made this progress possible. The LF government also encouraged the preservation and enrichment of the culture and traditions of 19 different Scheduled Tribes in the state and set up a separate ministry for this purpose. The grave danger of extremism and terrorism is being fought politically and the unity of tribals and non-tribals has been maintained and strengthened. To this has now been added the serious danger of the communal forces.

He said that tribals were in the forefront of the freedom struggle in our country and they made tremendous sacrifices. Birsa Munda is a shining symbol of the struggle and sacrifice of tribals. Reservations were included for them in the constitution by Dr Ambedkar so that they get their share in development. The tribal sub-plan was made to ensure special allocations to the development of tribal areas. But the Modi government has scrapped the concept of plan and non-plan expenditure, thereby burying the sub-plan. Dilution of the Fifth Schedule is systematically taking place to subvert the implementation of PESA.

The AARM, he said, was formed as a platform to oppose the exploitation of tribals in our country, and to pressurise the government to change its policies related to tribals. The AARM has grown and is now active in 15 states. While stressing the need to wage militant struggles on tribal issues, he concluded by calling upon the delegates to steer clear of identity politics that tries to pit tribals against non-tribals and underlined the need to combat communal forces like the RSS-BJP and extremist forces like the Maoists. He hailed the historic adivasi movement in Maharashtra that has inspired the entire country, and expressed confidence that this movement would advance and expand further in the days ahead.

DISCUSSION ON THE DRAFT REPORT

President of the state committee J P Gavit, MLA, then placed the 16-page draft report before the conference. The report placed the problems faced by adivasis in Maharashtra. As per the 2011 census, the adivasi population in Maharashtra is one crore five lakhs. That comes to 9.4 percent of the total population of the state. Of the total adivasi population in the country, 10.17 percent lives in Maharashtra. There are as many as 47 tribes in the state.

The report pinpoints the myriad problems that tribals face, linking them to government policies. They relate to forest land,  irrigation, displacement, employment, minimum wages, migration, food security, severe malnutrition leading to deaths of children, dearth of public health facilities, backlog in jobs, bogus caste certificates, lack of access to education, miserable plight of tribal hostels and hostel-schools and massive under-development of all tribal areas. The report sets out eight tasks.

In the rich discussion that followed, 20 delegates took part. They recounted the various problems faced by adivasis and the inspiring accounts of the struggles that they had waged. They focused on the need to intensify the struggles for land rights. They stressed the adverse impact of the infiltration of RSS ideology on tribal culture. Issues of tribal women and increasing atrocities were highlighted. The importance of holding political classes for AARM activists was reiterated by most of the delegates. They gave several suggestions for consolidating work in old areas and expanding work to new areas. After the reply by Barkya Mangat, the report was unanimously adopted.

CONCLUDING SESSION

The conference unanimously elected a 35-member state committee, which also included representatives from all mass organisations. It re-elected J P Gavit, MLA and former AIKS state president as state president and elected Sunil Dhanwa, currently DYFI state president as state convenor. The conference also elected 23 delegates to the all India conference of the AARM to be held at Vishakhapatnam on June 20-22, 2017.

AIKS national joint secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale said that this AARM conference was the culmination of three statewide struggles that were organised to highlight the problems of the tribal community. The 25,000 strong rally in Mumbai in May 2015 opposing the inclusion of the Dhangar community in STs and for other burning demands, the one lakh strong two-day peasant siege at Nashik for implementation of FRA and other issues in March 2016 and the 50,000-strong two-day tribal gherao of the house of the BJP’s tribal development minister at Wada in Palghar district in October 2016. SFI organised a state level rally of tribal students against the reduction in hostel seats in April 2017.

He said that the two main bases of the adivasi movement in the state are in Thane-Palghar and Nashik districts, followed by Nandurbar district. In the last few years, work among tribals has spread to districts like Ahmednagar, Pune, Nanded, Yavatmal, Amravati and Buldana. This must expand further to all districts with an adivasi population and we must emerge as their true champions.

For the immediate future he set out three important tasks. The first was to launch big struggles on the burning problems of adivasis in each district and to make special efforts to involve new, young and educated sections among adivasis, who generally remain away from our fold. The second was to inculcate progressive values in the adivasi masses, protect the positive aspects of adivasi culture and expose the dangers of communalism, Manuwadi ideology and extremist identity politics. The third was to organise district and tehsil conferences of the AARM and form committees at the earliest.

The conference was also addressed by veteran leader L B Dhangar, who has worked in the tribal belt of Thane district for over 65 years. AIDWA national general secretary Mariam Dhawale addressed the conference. After the speech by Sunil Dhanwa, J P Gavit summed up the conference.

On behalf of the presidium, Ratan Budhar congratulated the Nashik district comrades for having made excellent arrangements to host this conference. The conference ended with great enthusiasm.

Hundreds of tribal youth participated in the competition that was organised on the night of April 26. A large and spirited public meeting was held prior to the competition. Enthusiastic teams from different villages competed with each other for the prizes. Tribal songs using quaint musical instruments, tribal dances with colourful costumes and dramas depicting tribal life continued till late night, making this conference a very memorable event.

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