New Delhi- In a pivotal public meeting held at the Press Club of India in New Delhi on November 20, the Forum Against Corporatization and Militarization (FACAM) addressed the critical theme of 'Anti-Displacement Movement & State Repression.' Acknowledging the pressing necessity to foster discussions in solidarity with the ongoing struggles against displacement, the event served as a platform for activists, dignitaries, and members of democratic and progressive entities to shed light on the widespread repression faced by communities opposing exploitative mining projects. This gathering aimed to bring attention to the crucial issues of displacement and repression often overlooked in mainstream media and civil society discussions.
More than 70 Adivasi villages from Maharashtra's Surajagarh and Gadchiroli, have been protesting for over 250 days against the proposed 6 iron mines owned by Jindal Steel, Lloyd’s, and others. On Monday morning, armed forces took violent action, surrounding Todgatta, searching protestors, and, according to Ehtmam from FACAM, 8 protesting leaders were taken by armed forces in a helicopter to Gadchiroli. This incident was the primary topic of the press meet.
FACAM, a collaborative alliance of democratic and progressive entities and individuals, is closely monitoring the current and persistent state crackdown on activists opposing displacement and engaging in anti-mining efforts against exploitative mining projects. Despite the widespread repression faced by these movements, the media narrative and civil society discussions are notably devoid of the crucial issues of displacement and repression.
Multiple dignitaries took part in the press meet to call for public attention to the ongoing fight for justice.
Advocate Lalsu Nagoti was the first speaker to take the stage. He talked about the collaboration of various Gram Sabhas at Surajagarh Patti to look after Forest Resource Rights of the communities. Their land was leased to Lloyd’s, a mining company in 2007, and they have been protesting ever since. Initially, they sent petitions to the district magistrate, governor, and the president but in vain. In 2018, mining work began, but due to constant protests, the work had to be halted by the company. Lloyd’s soon realized they could not work alone, so they took the help of Triveni Earth Mover’s Company.
Nagoti asked, “The company promised us employment and development. We do not require either. We have always been living in harmony with nature. We are self-sustaining. We have land, water, and access to so many resources. Many regions are backward in the real sense. Why do the companies want to hamper a harmonious existence? How is displacing hundreds of people, destroying the environment we call home, in exchange for employing a few men termed as development?”
Lalsu Nagoti is the first lawyer from the Madia-Gond Adivasi community, listed under the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups category.
Punem Jetti, local sarpanch and member of Damkondawahi Bachao Manch, Surajagarh, was the next panelist. She spoke on the importance of Gram Sabhas and explored how important it is for the companies to take consent from specific Gram Sabhas. The sarpanch said, “Just like Surajagarh, Damkondawahi is only being taken advantage of by various corporations. We are also protesting, but the police force has been using brute force against us. Today, the police lathi-charged on our rallies. But we will still fight. No one is trying to have a discussion with us. We also want development, but none thinks about the term through our thought process.”
Next, it was Damodar Turi’s turn, an Anti-Displacement Activist from Odisha. The activist drew parallels between the British empire and the current government. Exploitation of resources was an idea whose seeds were sown by the English. He said, “Any protest can be divided into three types. First is the Gandhivadi Andolan, which talks about alternatives to exploitative processes such as Adivasis themselves taking part in the process. This type took over the nation mainly after the globalization of the 1990s. The second type is the NGO Model, which talks about the solution in terms of compensation and rehabilitation. This has never happened properly in the country. The final type is the one that came out of Shingur-Nandigram, Niyamgiri Hills, and many such struggles. If we want to protect our Jal Jungle Jameen, we have to follow the third model.”
Prafulla Samantara, Environmental Activist from Odisha, appealed to the crowd to choose governments wisely. According to him, every political party, to support the economy and compete with other nations, takes the route of over exhausting natural resources. He added, “Everything is interconnected. When the naturally available resources are overused, the water levels are also impacted, leaving less freshwater for us to consume and use for farming.”
Madhusudan from Mulniwasi Samajsevak Sangh drew a connection between corporatization and casteism. According to the activist, this stems from the already existing status quo wanting to establish control over the indigenous communities who are otherwise self-sufficient. Displacement is dependent on caste, class, cultural movements, climate change, and capitalism. He continued, “Nowadays, you will see people trying to label Adivasis as Hindus. We are not Hindu but follow different codes according to the varied beliefs of our communities. We do not want Ram Rajya; we want Gram Rajya.”
The last speaker of the evening was Dr. Saroj Giri, an assistant professor at Delhi University’s Political Science Department and a member of FACAM. He criticized the nature of today’s mediascape, citing the lack of coverage of the struggles faced by Adivasi communities. The professor drew parallels with the ongoing Israeli Genocide and the situation in Adivasi areas. Although the intensity is very different, there have been aerial bombings in Bastar as well, from the armed forces. “I was very amused when I realized the drones used for the bombings are Israeli made.” Just like the Palestinians; the professor added, Adivasis are being targeted and displaced.
The meeting cum press conference was needed to open the eyes of the citizens to the constant abusive measures the indigenous communities of our nation have been going through. Only a united might will be able to stand against the rampant corporatization and militarization of the nation.