THE third national conference of the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch (AARM) was held in the steel city of Visakhapatnam from June 20-22, 2017. 359 delegates from 15 states and its 16 affiliated units participated in the conference. The conference venue in the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant Town was named as Dr Nilmoni Debbarma Nagar, veteran leader of Tripura Gana Mukti Parishad. He was one of the 11 founder members of Tripura’s historical literacy movement, which was known as Jana Siksha Andolon, which commenced from 1945-48, set up nearly 500 schools in remote areas of the state to educate the adivasi people and fought against the monarchy. The dais was named after M Suryanarayana, a rising and most popular leader among the adivasis and poor in the undivided Andhra Pradesh, who lost his life in a tragic road accident in 2014.
PRELUDE TO THE CONFERENCE
The conference was preceded by a series of public meetings, seminars, cultural activities and fund raising programmes in the agency region of Andhra Pradesh, besides the Visakhapatnam city. A 322 member strong reception committee was constituted on April 9, under the chairmanship of Dr Midiam Babu Rao, ex-MP and AARM leader. Other members of the committee consisted of trade union leaders, youth and student activists and renowned citizens of the city in the field of art, culture and sports etc. The surroundings of the conference venue were decorated by colourful arches, flex and posters depicting the portraits and brief works of the legendary adivasi leaders who sacrificed for the cause of the country. The variety of cultural programmes performed by the troupes from Tripura, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh staged at the adjacent venue from June 19-22 was enjoyed by thousands of local people.
The steel city was witness to an energetic opening of the conference on June 20th morning with Oraon and Santhali dances from Jharkhand and revolutionary songs presented by the members of Praja Natya Mandali of Andhra Pradesh, recounting the sacrifices and struggles of adivasis in the fight against different forms of oppression. Rajendra Singh Munda, veteran leader and ex-MLA from Jharkhand hoisted the flag of AARM after which delegates paid tributes to the martyrs. Dr Midiam Babu Rao who was the convenor of the reception committee gave the welcome address and a condolence resolution was placed by Jitendra Chaudhury paying respects to the martyrs and departed leaders as well as people who have contributed in different fields.
The conference was inaugurated by the chief minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan. Inaugurating the conference, he recollected the historic struggles of the adivasi people against oppression and the systematic denial of their hard-won rights. He also exposed the BJP led central government and different state governments for depriving adivasi people of their legitimate share in budget allocations as well as promoting corporate loot of resources in tribal areas. He pointed out to the fact that the allocations in Kerala under the Tribal Sub Plan were much higher than the percentage of their population in the state. He also attacked the efforts of the RSS to divide the adivasi people on communal lines. He enlisted the special efforts to provide land rights, better housing, health, education and to ensure food security for the adivasi people as part of a Left alternative as opposed to the policies under BJP governments.
CONFERENCE REPORT AND DISCUSSIONS
Jitendra Chaudhury placed the conference report on behalf of the outgoing central committee of the AARM. The report outlined the different attacks on adivasis across the country, the loot of resources, land grab in adivasi areas as well as massive repression against adivasis and the poor. The report explained the sinister design of the Modi government to decimate the constitutional rights of adivasis through attempts to dilute the Fifth Schedule and the PESA Act, sheer neglect in implementing Forest Rights Act, whereas the corporates are given a free hand to exploit the resources. MGNREGA is denied of funds, leaving lakhs of rural families and adivasis to migrate from one place to another in search of job and food. State repression on innocent adivasis in the name of combating Maoists, is on the rise. Backlogs meant for STs and SCs remain unfilled for years and then abolished, adding to the grim scenario of unemployment among these marginalised sections. There is a gross undermining of the established constitutional and social bodies which are instruments for safeguarding the adivasis rights. The report narrated the aggressive designs of the RSS-BJP to seriously assault adivasi entity – their languages, cultures and rich traditions for narrow Hinduisation, in the name of assimilation in the mainstream. The report has also highlighted the big achievements made in the two Left ruled states of Kerala and Tripura, in all aspects of adivasis’ social, cultural and economic life along with the others, through alternative policies.
Delegates deliberated at length on the day-to-day oppression by security forces, forest and police authorities as well as moneylenders, capitalists and feudal landlords. The dismal state of affairs as far as housing, health, education, food security and systematic denial of equal opportunities, employment, land as well as forest rights was brought out. RSS and Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram’s efforts to attack their culture and communalise the society as well as impose Hindu religious traditions on adivasis were exposed. The development of AARM since the Ranchi convention held in 2002, its growth since the Delhi and Bhubaneswar Conferences, as well as various activities, interventions and struggles in the last three and half years were also reported. 35 delegates took part in the discussions and finally adopted the report unanimously.
MEMORANDUM OF ASSOCIATION AND NEW PLEDGE
There are about 12 crore adivasi population in the country, which comprises a significant section of the working people, and belong to the most oppressed and exploited sections of the society. They are the worst victims of feudal exploitation for centuries because of their simplicity and loyalty. And now they are the soft target of religious fundamentalists, identity politics, communal and secessionist forces. Despite all odds, a number of groups and organisations are working hard at the national and state level to voice the genuine grievances of this section of population. But this could hardly yield any tangible result due to fragmentations. With the aim to provide these stray forces a democratic platform and channelise their voices into a collective movement, a Memorandum of Association was felt necessary, which shall guide the AARM based on strong principles and organisational discipline. Brinda Karat placed the perspective on the Memorandum of Association and explained the aims and objectives of AARM. The draft was widely discussed and adopted unanimously.
FELICITATING THE VALIANT FIGHTERS
In an inspiring session on the inaugural day, different fighters from across the country who resisted attacks from State, feudal landlords, communal elements and ruling parties, were felicitated. Soni Sori, the face of resistance in Bastar who faced extreme repression, also addressed the conference, inspiring people to unite and stand up for their rights. Sundara Malekudiya whose hands were severed by a feudal landlord for demanding legitimate wages in Karnataka; Debleena Hembrom, ex-minister, who faced extreme attacks from the TMC MLAs within the West Bengal Assembly and goondas outside; Soren Hembrom, teacher and opposition leader of a zilla panchayat, who was tortured and jailed on the basis of false charges in West Bengal; Bukya Virabhadram from Telangana, who was implicated in a number of false cases and jailed while fighting for rights over the forest land; Rajesh Jani, a young activist of Odisha who faced the wrath of police torture and was implicated in a number of false cases while defending the rights of adivasis, were felicitated. The live saga of resistance of these six fighters has rejuvenated the confidence of the delegates and helped renew their pledges to continue the struggle.
COMMISSIONS AND PLAN FOR FUTURE STRUGGLES
The conference also had six commissions on different issues namely adivasi land rights and attacks through violation of laws chaired by Vijoo Krishnan, on the women’s issues chaired by Mariam Dhawale, on the crisis in education sector chaired by Kavita Ware, on minor forest produce and traditional right of adivasis chaired by Dr Pulin Behari Baskey, on State repression over the adivasis chaired by Prof Archana Prasad and on employment issues chaired by Prof Vikas Rawal. After serious deliberations, the commissions made certain recommendations, which laid the road map for future struggles to be led by AARM.
The conference was greeted by Vijoo Krishnan, joint secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha, Thirunavukkarasu, president of All India Agricultural Workers’ Union, Saibaba, vice president of Centre of Indian Trade Unions, Tapasi Praharaj, Secretary of All India Democratic Women’s Association, Avoy Mukherji, general secretary of Democratic Youth Federation of India and Mayukh Biswas, joint secretary of THE Students’ Federation of India. Parsa Govind, national leader of Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Mahasabha also greeted the conference. All the speakers emphasised the need for building a nationwide sustained joint movement on common issues and to engage upon the local demands on a regular basis wherever possible.
The conference elected a 61 member national coordination committee and a national executive of 16 members. Jitendra Chaudhury was elected as national convener and Dr Midiam Babu Rao as chairman with seven vice-chairpersons – Brinda Karat, Rajendra Singh Munda (Jharkhand), Sunnam Rajaiah, MLA (Telangana), Shankaran (Kerala), Purno Boro (Assam), Debaleena Hembrom (West Bengal) and Salo Marandi (Odisha). Dr Pulin Behari Baske (West Bengal), Sunil Dhanwa (Maharashtra) and Vimal Bhagora (Rajasthan) were elected as joint secretaries. Dilli Babu (Tamilnadu) was elected as treasurer. Radha Charan Debbarma (Tripura), V Tirupathi Rao (AP) and Praful Linda (Jharkhand) were elected as members of national executive.
The discussions over the three days saw a narration of inspiring experiences of struggles, extreme sacrifices amidst intense repression, communal attacks, deprivation and discrimination. The organised resistance and victories achieved in the short period after the formation of AARM also is a harbinger of hope for a just society with equal opportunities and development for the people, deprived for generations by deliberate government policies. The third national conference chalked out the direction for struggles in the coming days and expressed its steely resolve to unite the adivasi people and struggle against all forms of oppression by overcoming State repression as well as countering divisive forces.