Mining in the Central Indian Tribal Belt:
(From: The Socioeconomic Determinants of Natural Resource Conflict: Minerals and Maoist Insurgency in India
Department of Political Science, University College, London, United Kingdom, and Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom)
Historically, the greatest social cleavage in India is between ‘‘heterogeneous, differentiated and stratified’’ Hindu society that inhabited the plains, and ‘‘homogenous, undifferentiated and unstratified’’ tribal communities that lived in hilly, forested areas. The 84 million people who are classified as Scheduled Tribes belong to 698 separate communities that vary enormously in terms of population size, geographic spread, mode of livelihood, social organization, language, and customs. Despite their differences, historically tribal communities had one thing in common: ‘They all stood more or less outside Hindu civilization’ or they ‘continued to be distinct because they escaped colonisation and subjugation’. In practice, this meant that tribal communities tended to have strong material and symbolic links to the natural world. The forests historically provided them with their primary means of subsistence: They practiced shifting cultivation, hunted, and collected forest produce for food, fuel, medicines, buildings materials, and alcohol, as well as to exchange with traders from the plains for salt, cloth, and. Over the past two centuries the state gradually increased its control over tribal communities’ historic homelands and many tribal people have been alienated from their land. Nevertheless, forest resources continue to play an important role in the tribal livelihoods; for example, the Government of Chhattisgarh estimates that in Dantewara district 40% of tribal communities’ livelihood comes from the forest, while 30% comes from agriculture, 15% from animal husbandry, and 15% from wage labor. Moreover, tribal religions tend to worship the spirits of nature—the trees, mountains, and streams in the areas that they live. One woman who had observed the destruction of holy sites in her village and the surrounding area in order to make way for Lanjigarh refinery in Orissa exclaimed : ‘‘They even destroyed our Gods.’’ Additionally, metals are thought to be sacred substances: to rip up forests and mountains, to ruin springs, and to pollute streams and rivers, in order to extract metals and sell them for profit, is seen as a particularly degenerate act. We would expect that because tribal communities tend to have stronger material and symbolic attachment to the natural world, mining activities will be more destructive to their lives and livelihoods, and therefore more likely to lead to violent resistance and insurgency.
Furthermore, in tribal areas the state’s role as facilitator of mining activity takes a form that is reminiscent of its colonial predecessor.This is not just motivated by economic concerns—it is also related to the view that tribal communities are ‘‘backward Hindus’’ who needed to be forcefully developed into useful citizens. Former Minister of Finance Chidambaram sums this view up: ‘‘Do you want the tribals to remain hunters and gatherers?’’ and ‘‘We are not building museums here, we are building a modern society, a modern state’’ The provisions of the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, as well as later legislation such as Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act and Samatha judgment,7 should protect tribal communities’ rights to their land. But in practice, the spirit of this legislation is subverted and the state uses the colonial-era Land Acquisition Act (Government of India 1894) to expropriate land for development projects that are deemed to be ‘‘in the public interest’’ The state and mining companies use police and goonda violence to suppress protests against these processes. For example, in January 2006, in Kalinganagar in Jajpur, Orissa, police shot 12 tribal people protesting because they were not adequately compensated for an iron ore mining and processing project being built by Tata Steel on their land. The brutality of the neo-colonial state is perhaps most evident in Dantewara district, southern Chhattisgarh. In 2005, as the state government signed memoranda of understanding with Tata and ESSAR to build steel plants, Salwa Judum—a counterinsurgent militia funded by the state and these mining companies—displaced a quarter of a million tribal people in a process that was accompanied by murder, burning of houses, looting, and sexual violence. Thus, Arundhati Roy argues: If the tribals have taken up arms, they have done so because a government which has given them nothing but violence and neglect now wants to snatch away the last thing they have—their land. Clearly, they do not believe the government when it says it only wants to ‘‘develop’’ their region … They believe that if they do not fight for their land, they will be annihilated. That is why they have taken up arms.*
* There are references to many back-up materials which have been omitted here; can be provided on request.