AARM National Conference Calls for Intensifying Struggles & Building Unity
AMID slogans, songs and drum beats hailing the success of the second national conference of the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch (AARM), its newly re-elected chairman Bajuban Riyan called on the 345 delegates representing 14 states to take the inspiring message of the conference –intensify struggle, build unity and strengthen organisation, to every village and block where adivasis reside. The conference was held in Bhubaneswar from January 29- 30. Earlier, on January 28, thousands of adivasis marched through the streets of Bhubaneswar in an impressive rally and public meeting addressed by Dr Babu Rao, national joint convenor of AARM, Sala Marandi, Brinda Karat and Janardan Pati along with office bearers of the state adivasi organisation. The spirited display of adivasi militancy with participants holding aloft the traditional bows and arrows and the notable participation of adivasi women many of whom had been in the forefront of land struggles in the state of Orissa set the stage for the conference. Thirteen years ago, the Ranchi convention in 2002 had developed a class based perspective in understanding and addressing the specific issues faced by adivasi communities. Several states had set up organisations of adivasis following the Ranchi convention. This developed into the formation of AARM in 2010 at the New Delhi convention in which an all India committee had been elected. This helped the further development of work among adivasi communities, struggles and interventions. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of states with separate committees for work among adivasis has expanded from 8 to 14 states. The many dimensions of exploitation and oppression of adivasi communities require a combination of methods of work and struggles on economic, social and cultural issues specific to adivasi communities, as kisans, as workers, as migrants, as unemployed youth, as women, as displaced and dispossessed citizens. This requires a strong coordination with other class and mass organisations. The conference while discussing all these aspects laid stress on uniting adivasis on their issues as an integral part of the wider struggle of working people against the present exploitative system. The conference was marked by confidence of the delegates, by their serious attention to the proceedings, by their enthusiastic participation and determination to take the organisation forward through struggle. INAUGURAL SESSION The conference started on January 29 with flag hoisting by the chairperson of the AARM, Bajuban Riyan. Riyan along with seven veteran adivasi fighters and leaders comprised the presidium – J P Gavit, Rajinder Singh Munda, Saloni Minz, Duli Chand Meena, Sala Marandi, Pulin Baske and Vidyadharan Kani. It was a solemn moment when Dr Pulin Baske read out the condolence resolution paying homage to the martyrs and specifically recalling that in the last few years over 61 adivasi comrades have been brutally murdered by TMC-Maoist gangs working in tandem in West Bengal. The reception committee chairman, educationist Dr Nabon Soreng, greeted the delegates on behalf of the organising committee. In his opening remarks, Riyan outlined the challenges before the adivasis of the country and spoke of the need to intensify the struggle for adivasi rights against the neo-liberal policies followed by the Congress led government and BJP ruled states. The delegates were highly enthused when Manik Sarkar, chief minister of Tripura inaugurated the conference. Recalling the struggles and the movements of the oppressed tribal people he stated that the adivasis had been very active in the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles. They fought against the oppression of the British as well as that of the landlords. It is a glorious chapter of our freedom struggle. In independent India, land alienation became one of the major problems and the Congress government only accentuated their problems and their land and forests were taken away from them. This was also the position in Tripura where the tribal people were being driven out of their land till 1978 when the first Left Front government came to power. The first step taken by the Left Front government was to stop all land alienation. This is true not only of the Tripura government but also the Left Front governments in Bengal and Kerala. In Tripura, the Congress tried to stop this by trying to mobilise non-tribals against tribals but because of our strong tribal organisation and its correct perspective of building unity with all oppressed sections, tribals and non-tribals, it did not succeed. Another pioneering achievement was the implementation of the Sixth Schedule and the formation of the Tribal Autonomous District Councils which worked for the betterment of the tribals. This was again opposed by the Congress. The third achievement was regarding education, where Kokborok was recognised as one of the official state languages and is taught in schools and colleges including the Tripura Central University. Tripura has now achieved the top position in literacy even overtaking Kerala. Reservation has been implemented. He said that both the BJP and the Congress are committed to the pursuit of neo- liberal polices which are disastrous for the people and in the coming days the challenge is to defeat both these parties and to be part of the movement to build an alternative. FELICITATING HEROIC FIGHTERS His inaugural address was followed by an inspiring programme introduced by Jitendra Choudhury of greeting adivasi fighters. The fighters were felicitated by Manik Sarkar, Prakash Karat, Biman Basu and leaders of AARM. Among those felicitated were Sobol Sardar, son of martyr Sudhir Sardar who had been brutally killed by TMC-Maoist goons. When Jitendra described how the armed goons had broken into the house and pulled out his father and killed him before the eyes of his family, who in spite of the terror continue to owe allegiance to the red flag, the delegates broke into applause and slogans. Two fighters for the land rights of adivasis, Bhukiya Veerabhadram from Khammam in Andhra Pradesh and Vithal from Karnataka were felicitated. They had to face false cases and were locked up for several months, one by the Congress government the other when the BJP was in power in Karnataka. As soon as they came out of jail, they continued their struggle for justice for adivasis. The conference greeted Chitra Vachathi, a courageous woman from Vachathi, Tamilnadu who was among the scores of adivasis who had been brutalised by the police and armed forest guards in Tamilnadu in 1992 but who had continued their fight for all these long years helped by the CPI(M), the Tamilnadu Tribals Association and AIDWA and who at last succeeded in getting their tormentors arrested and winning compensation. The conference greeted with slogans the young Sahitya Kala award winner Shyam Tudu from Jharkhand who overcame discrimination and disadvantage to develop into a poet, a writer with many publications to his credit. Thereafter the conference heard the greetings to the conference from Prakash Karat, general secretary of the CPI(M). He had been the convenor of the 2002 Adivasi conference. Both he, in his address and Biman Basu (in his valedictory address) who had also played an important role in organising the Ranchi conference, congratulated AARM for the great progress made in the organisation and struggles in different states since the Ranchi convention. Karat strongly criticised the UPA government and the BJP for conniving to subvert constitutional provisions and laws to encourage the loot of natural resources of the country. Calling for increased resistance against displacement of tribals and land grab, he said that around 2.5 lakh hectares of land belonging to tribals had been taken away by big mining and other projects many of which are in the private sector. Thus, it is the corporates, not the people, who were benefitting from India's natural wealth. Further many adivasis are being forced to leave agriculture and the proletarianisation of adivasis is taking place. This is a new situation and the AARM will have to respond in coordination with other class and mass organisations. Along with the struggle against neo-liberal policies, he also pointed towards the threats posed by Maoists and the RSS. Pointing to the dangers of narrow identity politics promoted by agents of the ruling classes, he spoke of the tragic situation in some of the North Eastern states like Assam where different communities of tribals were being incited to kill and unleash violence against each other. He called for the need to build adivasi unity along with the unity of other working sections of the people. Leaders of fraternal organisations CITU, AIKS, AIAWU, AIDWA, DYFI and SFI namely Lakshman Munda, Duli Chand, Sisir Hui and Mariam Dhawale, Abhay Mukherjee, and Satarup Ghosh, greeted the conference. CONFERENCE REPORT The main report of the conference dealing with policy issues and also a note on organisation was presented by M Babu Rao and Brinda Karat on behalf of the central executive committee. The comprehensive report outlined the main issues and challenges facing adivasi communities today. It made an analysis of how the aggressive spread of capitalism in tribal inhabited areas is forcibly changing the livelihood of tribals. The report specifically noted the following changes: • significant shift from cultivator to worker in adivasi livelihoods driven by land grab and displacement. The report notes that for the first time since independence a larger number of adivasis are dependent on wage labour than on cultivation • the increased proletarianisation of adivasi communities and increase in migration, particularly women • increase in the proportion of tribals in urban areas • subversion and aggressive attempts towards elimination of protective constitutional and legal provisions in the period of neo-liberal policies • increasing population of tribals in non-scheduled areas without any protection leading to further immiserisation. The report also had a section specifically on the new aspirations and also growing frustrations of tribal youth and the need for a special focus to increase organisational work among younger tribal populations. The report also poses the question of the strategies required to organise and defend tribal rights, livelihood and cultures through multi-dimensional efforts of organising adivasis along with integration and much closer coordination with class and mass organisations. It noted the increase in struggles and the experience of the different states: Andhra Pradesh in its multiple struggles on a range of issues starting with the historic struggle against bauxite mining; Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka against forcible evictions and land grab, Maharashtra for implementation of FRA; Kerala for land distribution; Tamilnadu for scheduling of tribal communities who were discriminated against; Chhattisgarh for NREGA struggles; West Bengal struggles based on huge sacrifices to defend the democratic rights of tribals; Assam in efforts to maintain tribal unity and of course the glorious struggle of Tripura on issues connected with unity, democracy and development with the support of the Left Front government. The report places these struggles and issues in the context of the pro-corporate policies of the Congress led UPA as well as BJP led state governments which have driven the elimination of the constitutional and legal rights of adivasis under the Fifth and Sixth Schedules and under PESAA, FRA. The report pointed out that since 2008 to 2011, 1.82 lakh hectares of forest land was diverted by the government for various projects including mining. Forest land had been forcibly taken over by the central and state governments in most cases bypassing the gram sabhas. The non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act is reflected in the shocking figure that 60 per cent of claims have been rejected. This also affects the livelihood of tribals in minor forest produce collection. Tripura on the other hand under the Left Front government holds the record in successful implementation of the Act. The report discussed the situation of adivasi migrant workers. It pointed out that there was a need for all states from which there was an outflow of tribal migrants to discuss the measures required for their protection including registration as migrant workers whether at the village or block level or at the destination point. It also pointed out that in the era of privatisation the number of reserved jobs for STs had drastically fallen. At the same time the backlog in the tribal quotas is as high as 43 per cent of the over 29,000 vacancies for ST posts in 2012. The section on the Tribal Sub-Plan notes that the shortfall in allocations is around 32,000 crore rupees in just the last two years. Describing the political scenario, the report focused on (1) the impact of neo-liberal policies and the anti-tribal policies of the Congress (2) the fundamental similarity in the economic policies of the BJP and Congress, and the diversion of huge funds in BJP led States to Hindutva organisations working in tribal areas to promote communal politics (3) the dangerous divisive and communal slogans and politics being promoted by the RSS and its affiliates in tribal areas with the aim of Hinduising tribal communities. (4) the divisive and disruptive role of some foreign funded organisations promoting narrow sectarian identity politics which lead to ethnic clashes (5) the role of Maoists and their extortionist, terror based politics because of which tribals are caught between their violence and that of State repression on innocent tribals in the name of fighting Maoists. The report gave a call to fight against these forces and to support and promote Left, democratic and secular values and politics. In the context of the forthcoming elections it called upon tribals to support the candidature of those parties like the Left parties who promote alternative politics and policies to the BJP and the Congress. The organisational aspect focussed on development of tribal cadre, on sustained local level work towards developing a mass base and training the organisation to meet the ideological and political challenges. DISCUSSION ON THE REPORT Thirty delegates from fourteen states deliberated on the issues raised in the report. They shared their rich experiences of struggle and defence of rights. Issues like implementation of FRA, struggles against land grab, on the low prices they are getting on minor forest produce were raised. Some delegates raised the non functioning of Tribal Advisory Councils in different states. Rich instances of land struggles and the fight against the corporate loot of resources came to light. M L Kishor from Kerala stated that in 2012 the Adivasi Kshema Samiti had held a land struggle where 5000 adivasis participated. The struggle lasted for 16 days. Another struggle was organised for the proper implementation of the Forest Rights Act where 24,424 people participated. Dandapani Raita from Odisha informed the delegates that 2000 tribals had participated in land struggles and 670 titles were distributed because of it. The issue of land displacement and the fight against the corporate loot of land was also raised by delegates like Gautam Damor from Rajasthan who said that they had waged struggles against illegal acquisitions by mining companies and the atomic power plant. Suknath Lohra from Jharkhand narrated how 6000 acres of adivasi land were acquired by the Jindals and that the AARM and Kisan Sabha were jointly fighting against this. Similar experiences came up from Karnataka related by Ganesh and from Tirupati Rao from Andhra Pradesh amongst other states. The Andhra Pradesh experience of struggle, organisation and development of adivasi cadre was particularly educative. In contrast with these experiences of government repression and official land grab, Naresh Jamatia from Tripura informed the delegates that the Tripura government had distributed land titles to over two lakh adivasis under the Forest Rights Act. Another issue that figured prominently in the discussion was the non-implementation of the Tribal Sub Plan. Jatin Boro from Assam said that no allocations were taking place for adivasis under the Sub Plan and that urgent pressure was required to implement the Sub Plan. The impact of neo-liberal policies on the implementation of the Sub Plan was emphasised by Selvan from Tamilnadu who gave the example of the lack of health facilities because of adequate funds. Numerous examples were cited about the lack of sufficient funds for scholarships and education and their impact on the adivasis. This was leading to the problem of the employment for the adivasi youths which was prominently raised by Barkya Mangat from Maharashtra. His view was also supported by delegates from other states. States like Karnataka and Bengal reported that they had started working amongst the adivasi workers in the unorganised sector. The third issue of prominence was one of scheduling and certification. This was prominently brought up by Jokulal from Madhya Pradesh and Bal Singh from Chhattisgarh. Delegates also focused on the need to strive for the proper implementation of reservations in educational institutions and jobs. Inderjit Gavit from Maharashtra pointed out that many non-adivasis were getting jobs meant to be reserved for adivasis. Experiences from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and other states also confirmed this experience. The problems faced by tribal women were particularly mentioned by Sangita Ozare from Maharashtra. The attack from terrorist groups and right-wing reactionary forces also found prominence in the discussions. Vinaya Hansda from West Bengal gave a vivid account of the atrocities perpetrated by the TMC government on the adivasis. The TMC goons prevented adivasi candidates from standing for Panchayat elections in adivasi reserved seats. The role of the Maoists in oppressing the adivasis was also pointed out by delegates from Bengal and Odisha. The delegates from Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Odisha prominently discussed the attacks on adivasi culture by the Sangh Parivar organisations and emphasised the need to fight communal forces. It was pointed out that languages like Gondi and Bhili (the languages of two dominant communities) should be recognised. The report was adopted unanimously by the conference. RESOLUTIONS ADOPTED Ten resolutions were adopted by the conference. These were resolutions demanding (1) the release of innocent tribals jailed in the name of fighting Maoists (2) on the implementation of the forest rights (3) the implementation of PESAA (4) the demand for a time bound Commission to go through the demands for recognition of those tribal communities deprived of Scheduled Tribe status and to remove anomalies in various states and between states on recognition and scheduling (5) the protection of tribal languages and for recognition of tribal languages in the Eighth Schedule including Bhili, Gondhi; (6) adoption of a law to make the TSP mandatory (7) a resolution opposing the RSS attempts to sow communal divisions among adivasis (9) resolution for access to higher education; (10) and the resolution against the reports regarding the Western Ghats issues. NEW COMMITTEE ELECTED A new central committee of 57 members including eight women and a team of thirteen office bearers was elected. Bajuban Riyan was re-elected as chairman of the AARM. Three national secretaries: M Babu Rao, Gautam Damor, and Pulin Baske were elected. Jitendra Chowdhry was elected as treasurer. The vice presidents elected are J P Gavit, Purna Boro, Sala Marandi, Saloni Minz, Brinda Karat, Rajendra Singh Munda, Dilli Babu and Vidhyadharan Kani. The conference ended with the valedictory address by Biman Bose who congratulated the AARM leaders for their work and asked them to remember their glorious history. He said that the organisation had to brace up to the current challenges. He spoke about the specific issues of the most vulnerable of the STs which were earlier described as primitive tribal communities. His words "from Ranchi to Bhubaneswar, you have developed your understanding, your struggles, your organisation and you should be proud of it" evoked cheers and applause from the delegates. Paying tribute to the martyrs he said that the successful conference and the taking forward of the ideals of tribal rights as part of struggles for fundamental social change for which they had sacrificed their precious lives was the most fitting homage to their memory. The conference closed with thankful greetings to the Orissa reception committee through its secretary Suresh Panigrahi and all the comrades, especially the many volunteers who had worked hard to ensure that the conference was a success.