Saturday, April 28, 2007

Homeless in India.

Two items caught my eye on the Edit Page of The Times of India a couple of days back. One of them was an article by a documentary film maker describing the plight of the tribals in India who are made homeless every time the governemnt decides to build a dam on a river. It seems there have been 60 million oustees ever since 1947 as a result of these river dam projects. I had written about this sorry state being a symptom of the utter heartlessness of the Indian State earlier. Sagari Chhabra’s ‘Sarkari Violence’ cites several atrocities perpetrated by forestry department’s official, police personnel and contractors on tribals. The first one of them was at Pararia in West Bengal in 1991 where the guilty went scot-free. In the second instance, a few years later in Sagbara District in Gujarat, the two policemen who raped Guntaben, a young tribal, were imprisoned for ten years thanks to the intervention of Amnesty International on her behalf. The other instance he cites happened in Nandurbar, Narmada Valley, where the tribals were displaced four times, literally hounded by the officials all the time. The motive for the horrendous treatment according to Chabbra is to demoralize the hapless victims who have nobody to turn to, nobody to fight on their behalf. The Dalit have a champion in the shape of a political party. The other instance the author mentions is the first major river valley project, Hirakud in Orissa, where the oustees living on open land were relentlessly harassed by the forestry personnel. The story repeats itself in Singrauli, also in Madhya Pradesh, where the tribal oustees were displaced at least three times in three decades. The other eye-catching item in The Times of India was cheek-by-jowl with Chhabra’s article. This little piece by PM Warrier (‘Banyan Jitters’) was about the writer’s trepidation at the likelihood of what might happen to the banyan tree right across his brother’s house in Kothakurssi (Palakkad District, Kerala), called “our” tree by the Warrier Family. The reason for worry is as follows. One of the nearby banyan trees which was supposed to be the residence of malignant spirits had been sawed down. The oustees had gone berserk and had gone on a killing rampage. The only way to placate them seemed to be to find them a new residence. The author was horrified by the possibility of that “honour” falling on “our” banyan. Ironical, isn’t it? Anything is possible in “our” country, where mangalik brides marry peepul trees in Varanasi, banana trees in Bengaluru and gold or silver idols of Lord Vishnu in Ayodhya and get slapped with a PIL for their trouble, though.

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