Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Land. Water. Minerals. Guns. They are all connected. In India’s heartland, after the last metalled road has turned into a dirt track, there are villages where people have not seen tap water and electricity. They have never met a doctor or gone to school. They live in the middle of dense forests, sharing space with dangerous animals. They live on fertile land, but there is never enough food in their stomachs. Hunger they are familiar with and now they are simmering with anger. They realise that they were never given a chance to live with dignity.

They are India’s original inhabitants - the indigenous people we call the tribals. Now, they are caught in a deadly crossfire between the rebels who claim that they are waging a war on their behalf and the State that says it’s trying to protect them from the Maoists’ mindless violence.

Not sure whom to believe, the tribals are confused. And they wonder why there hasn’t been any change in their lives for such a long time.

In Chhattisgarh, the state with the highest tribal population in the country, even basic civic amenities like roads, health centres and education facilities are lacking. Even the areas in the grip of violence are beyond the reach of the police forces. The wells here are dry. The land is parched. The roads are dusty. The people are famished.

It’s the same story in Jharkhand. Even after seven years of its creation, more than 80% of the tribal villages in Jharkhand are without roads, electricity, potable water and health centres.

There is no irrigation facility in more than 90% of the state. No wonder when the Maoists walk into a village and talk of revolution, people listen to them. No wonder when people hear about the mining companies coming and taking away their mineral wealth, they are enraged.

They want their land back. They want their forests intact. And they don’t want others to exploit their minerals. When they see everything slipping away from their hands, they turn to guns.

Source:The Times of India

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Silicosis silently killing hundreds in MP villages

BADHGHYAR (DHAR, MP): Kailash’s wife is dead. His elder brother is dead. His two sisters are dead too. "Woh charon shaant ho gaye hain (they are all dead)," he says, rather impassively. In his mid-twenties, the resident of Badhghyar village in Kukshi block of Dhar district in Madhya Pradesh knows he is next.

Kailash is dying of the same disease as his family members — silicosis. It is incurable. He too worked with them in the Gujarat quartz crushing factories and breathed in silica dust that now covers the inside of his lungs, slowly choking him. He has watched most of his family die. He doesn’t require the doctors to tell him about his painful but short life ahead.

His body has already shrivelled up and his muscles have melted. A skeleton of his previous self, he finds it demeaning but lets his mother bathe him. His lungs blocked, breathless and short of oxygen for his blood, self-esteem is the last of his worries as his body refuses to build new cells while the older ones die. Eventually his system will collapse.

He is one of the hundreds of Bhil and Bhilala tribals in Jhabua and Dhar districts of Madhya Pradesh waiting to die. In a survey conducted in 2007 by a group of doctors in 21 villages of Jhabua, 158 people were found dead of silicosis. "266 others, who have been exposed to silica dust and are sick, will also eventually die," the doctors noted.

All of them had gone across the border to work in the quartz crushing units of Gujarat as unregistered daily wagers. In these factories, quartz stones are first broken by hammer into smaller ones, then crushed and powdered to be used to make glass. Large quantities of dust is generated in the process that the labourers inhale as they breathe deep due to the physically heavy workload involved.

"Initially, the crushing units hired tribals from Gujarat, but when deaths began to hit the tribal region there, the contractors came to Madhya Pradesh in early 2000. Young men and women, jobless in the summers, began to go across the border for what sounded an attractive proposition — Rs 50-60 as daily wages for three to four of the worst months of the year," says Magan, a member of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangathan, a local NGO which helped the doctors carry out the extensive survey.

But when they returned from work, many died with similar symptoms. The Sangathan has filed a case in the Supreme Court. The local administration and the state government have been mostly unsympathetic to the villagers. The National Human Rights Commission is also hearing silicosis cases from across the country. "The disease may not be curable but it is preventable. The factories should be held responsible for exposing the labourers to silica dust," says Magan.

Munni, a Rordha resident in her mid-30s, has seen 13 members in her extended family die over two years. In all, 28 people have died of silicosis in her village. Those left take care of the orphans and the old. Unable to cope, they find novel ways of resigning to death all around.

"Greed is killing my daughter and others," says Anita’s mother, a resident of Badhghyar. Anita, in her teens, along with Kailash is one of the two surviving from the 14 that went together to work in Gujarat for that extra Rs 10 a day.


Monday, June 16, 2008

POLEPALLY 13.......................DISSENT AGAINST SEZ

13 cultivators contested polls to demonstrate their resentment at acquisition of their land by the government
C R Sukumar
Hyderabad: Mala Jangilamma is happy.
The 62-year-old and 12 other farmers who contested the recently held Jadcherla assembly by-elections lost so badly that they forfeited their security deposits. So, why is she so happy?

Jangilamma, Etti Peda Pentaiah, Depalli Yadaiah, Bandapalli Jangamma, Kanduru Mogulaiah, Kanduru Jangaiah and others lost the meagre land they owned — two to eight acres each — to make way for a special economic zone, or SEZ. “Victory or defeat was not the issue. I am elated we could draw the attention of people across the state to our struggle against the SEZ,” says Jangilamma.
Mala Jangilamma, who contested the elections, was one among the 350 families that have demanded their lands back.
Earthy demands: Mala Jangilamma, who contested the elections, was one among the 350 families that have demanded their lands back.
The Andhra Pradesh government acquired 7.3 acres she owned in Polepally in Mahbubnagar district, which is part of the Jadcherla assembly constituency, to build an SEZ.
Jangilamma now works as a construction worker for Rs120 a day on the the same land where Hetero Drugs Ltd, a Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical firm is building a factory.
The farmers say the government has short-changed them, and want their land back. They say they got between Rs18,000 and Rs50,000 for an acre for land that is available in the market for about Rs20 lakh per acre.
The government acquired close to 1,000 acres from about 350 families, who were marginal and small farmers belonging to Dalit, backward and tribal communities. Since their protests fell on deaf ears, 13 of them decided to contest the polls under the banner of Polepally SEZ Vyathireka Ikya Sanghatana (Alliance against Polepally SEZ, or PSVIS), to draw attention to their battle against what they say is a grave injustice.
“We did not receive even half of the compensation that the government announced. Officials at every level from the village to the district took commissions (bribes), and we ended up with paltry amounts,” says Depalli Yadaiah, whose family lost five acres. Yadaiah now works as a mason at construction sites.
“We used to cultivate dry crops such as maize, wheat, pulses and oilseeds in our one acre of land. For other essentials, we used to do labour occasionally,” says Etti Lingaiah, another farmer whose family lost four acres of land. “Since we don’t have land anymore, we now are compelled to work as labourers throughout the year.”
Why field 13, when just one representative would have sufficed?
“We had, in fact, initially thought we will field 150 farmers, but we couldn’t collect the Rs7.5 lakh required for security deposits,” says Madhu Kagula, social activist and convenor of PSVIS, arguing that they knew they could not defeat the candidates of established political parties, and this was their way of registering protest.
“Ever since we announced our decision to contest the elections, leaders of key political parties threatened us. Even election commission officials harassed us by slapping notices on us for not submitting the details of our poll expenditure,” says Etti Srinivasulu, another of the 13.
While political party candidates said they spend a couple of lakhs each to campaign for the elections, the farmers say they collectively spent Rs1.58 lakh that includes the aggregate security deposit of Rs65,000. “We are now left with loans of around Rs78,500,” says Kagula.
In 2003, a government led by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) had acquired the land in Polepally through the Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corp. (APIIC) for industrialization, but it was during the tenure of a Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS) legislator that a Congress party-led state government allocated the land to an SEZ. The farmers are, thus, against all these parties.
They demand that the state hand back their land. “We are willing to give back whatever compensation we received,” said Etti Peda Pentaiah.
Currently, construction works have been taken up in around 100 acres of the 1,000 acres the government has acquired for the SEZ.
“We want the government to give back the balance 900 acres to the farmers and extend better compensation package to them,” says Kagula. “Let APIIC pay to farmers the difference between the cost of acquisition of land from farmers and the cost at which the land was sold to the companies in the SEZ,” he added.
The Jadcherla assembly seat fell vacant after 17 MLAs and four MPs of TRS resigned, saying the ensuring by-elections would be a referendum on their demand for a separate Telengana state in northern Andhra Pradesh.
The sitting TRS MLA lost the polls by a margin of more than 24,000 votes, coming third after Erra Shankar of the TDP, who lost by 2,106 votes. Mallu Ravi of the Congress party won the seat.
Jangilamma polled 1,771 votes, or 3.92% of what Ravi polled. The 13 farmers collectively secured 8,600 votes.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

NOW A HUMAN ZOO.............................

BANGKOK: Thai provincial officials have allowed a new "human zoo" featuring "long-necked" or "giraffe" women to open in Sattahip near Bangkok despite mounting international criticism of the exploitative tourism practice, media reports said on Monday. The residents are part of an ethnic group whose women wear brass rings around their necks as status symbols and for beauty enhancements. They are called the Padung or long-necked Karen in Thailand, but they consider those terms denigrating and call themselves Kayan. Seven Kayan villages are already marketed as tourist attractions in Thailand's northern provinces of Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai, where there is a sizeable population of Kayan, some of whom are refugees from neighbouring Myanmar. But for the first time, a new "village" of Kayans was recently opened in Sattahip in Chonburi province, 100 km south-east of Bangkok and a few kilometres from Pattaya beach resort, the Daily XPress newspaper said. It charges an entrance fee of 25 baht for Thai visitors and 250 baht for foreigners, the newspaper said. Sattahip district chief Narong Thirachantarangkoon brushed off accusations that he had allowed the establishment of a "human zoo" in his district. "I don't think so because the Karen are willingly living here," he said. "This is better than staying in their home region and starving." The rings worn by the Kayan women can weigh 10 kg or more, and over the years, the weight pushes down their collar bones and shoulders, making their necks appear longer and giving the women their nicknames of "long-necked" women. The women, who had originally come to Thailand as refugees, were reportedly lured to a border camp where Thai businessmen created a village to serve as a tourist attraction, or "human zoo". courtesy:the Times Of India
It is indeed very shameful that the Thai govt. has resorted to such gimmicks..It is very harmful to the self respect to these beautiful people..Imagine people paying to see you and peeking at you like you were a curio.Little wonder then , that the tribals all over the world are letting go of their customs and traditions and adopting the pseudo- culture of the so called ' civilised society'.