Girijana Sangam – Resistance Exemplified

Sandip Chakraborty

THE situation of 69 year old Murlimmo of Pulmanvalsa village in Andhra Pradesh’s Araku taluk is no different from other elderly members of the particularly vulnerable tribal group, earlier known as primitive tribal group or PTG. With her wrong Aadhaar, she has been told that she was not eligible for Cyclone Hudhud victims beneficiary shelter. Her present shelter made of makeshift tin structure and twigs houses hens and ducks, along with her. Her husband died in Cyclone Hudhud in 2014. She had got Rs 5 lakh compensation, only on paper. Under such circumstances, she says that it is the CPI(M), besides their own organisation Girijana Sangam, that looks after her needs. 

 Accompanied by Ramu and Chandhu, SFI activists from the same PTG living at Pulmanvalsa village, and K Surendra of Girijana Sangam, we reached the village on a wintry morning. It is not safe to travel in these areas, located on the Araku-Koraput-Malkangiri border and prone to Maoist insurgency, at night.

The Girijana Sangam is acting as a confluence of all who want to save the 90 per cent tribal population of the area from extinction under the dragnet of the remaining 10 per cent non-tribal, upper caste residents. In Araku, most of the trade and commerce and operations of the 42 adivasi markets are wholly controlled by the non-tribal population. Many of them dupe the tribal population by bartering inferior quality soaps, shampoos, nylon shirts and ornaments with fresh produces such as apple, coffee and vegetables. Such exploitations are not the headache of the Maoists. At the epicenter of the struggle against such exploitations is the Girijana Sangam.

Paradoxically, the Andhra Pradesh government led by N Chandrababu Naidu, staying true to his class approach, has taken the decision to transform the 11 lakh hectares of land for coffee cultivation. However, he has still not announced the minimum support price for coffee which is selling as low as Rs 82 per kilo as opposed to Rs 240 as demanded by the Girijana Sangam.

“Actually, the ruling class here is involved in the plunder of tribal assets…the above exploitations are only the tip of the iceberg,” said CPI(M) leader Kilo Surendra.  In fact, he went on to add, on paper every taluka in the tribal-dominated agency area has a super-specialty hospital, but in reality, there are no medicines, not enough doctors and even nurse to attend to the poor tribal. While snake bite, dog bite and scabies are common in these areas, medicines for their treatment are not there in hospitals. The government also failed to make arrangements for food for patients and their relatives at these hospitals.

The Girijana Sangam runs community kitchens in the hospitals. And in order to provide medical facilities in border areas such as Malaba, Chintapallu and Matsakund, it operated mobile medical units where its activists including former MP Dr M Babu Rao participated and treated the tribals. A school, called Sarada Vidyaniketan, has also been set up where tribal children are provided free education.

“However, the core struggle revolves around the attempts of the ruling classes to start bauxite mining in the agency areas,” said K Surendra. In view of the huge Bauxite reserves in these areas, the government has since 2000 been trying to dislodge the tribal people from their forest areas and is hell bent on giving mining rights to foreign multinationals and their Indian agents. It was only in 2017, yet another attempt to start Bauxite mining by Ras al Khaimah, a Gulf-based MNC, and its Indian corroborators Jindal Group was thwarted as the people rose in revolt. Several lakh tribals took part in protest marches in all the 244 villages at the call of the Girijana Sangam. The decision to allow mining in these areas is supposed to be taken at gram sabha level, but the Andhra Pradesh government bypassed it and the real decisions were taken at the cabinet. Against this, there was continuous movement by the CPI(M) and organisations such as the Girijana Sangam.  The people’s movement forced the government to postpone its plan.

Next in line, is the movement against forcible creation of coffee plantation. A strong movement is also being forged to ensure that the tribal people get land patta under the forest rights act. 

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