Victims of development
Adivasi women bear not only the brunt of development’s violence but also the adverse impact of that on gender relations.
UCH has been written about development and its inequalities. One only has to travel through Indian cities or visit rural India to have it stare one in the face. Poverty and inequality are prevalent and part of the everyday reality that one negotiates, often without even batting an eyelid. A History of Adivasi Women in Post-independence Eastern India: The Margins of the Marginals tells the story of one of India’s most marginalised social groups.
Whether the author, Debasree De, is correct or not in pointing out that little has been written about Adivasi women, her book provides important insights into how development has impacted them in that part of the country.
The story of Adivasi dispossession in the colonial and postcolonial period, often in the name of development and the greater public good, is fairly well known. Adivasi women are doubly “disadvantaged” as Adivasis and as women. They bear not only the brunt of development’s violence but also the adverse impact of that gender relations. By drawing on short case studies from across West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, Debasree De offers glimpses of the hazardous work conditions that Adivasi women face as the project of development steamrolls ahead. She narrates how the Oraon, Munda and Santhal women who work in tea estates in West Bengal were hit by the crisis in the tea industry in the early 2000s, many losing their jobs and dying of starvation.
She also details the exploitative conditions of Adivasi labour in the brick and construction indus- tries of Bihar and the mining industries of Jharkhand and Odisha. Many of these stories of development and dispossession, notably those of the industrial town of Kalinganagar, and POSCO and Vedanta, all in Odisha, are familiar, but what Debasree De does well is illustrate how such examples are ubiquitous across the landscape.
Her analysis of the political economy of development must be seen in the context of what was promised. Jawaharlal Nehru’s panchsheel, or five principles, spoke about the need for people to develop according to their own genius and for development not to be imposed. It also spoke of respecting Adivasi rights to forests and land. The reality is a far cry from this: Adivasi land alienation has been the order of the day and relocation and rehabilitation an almost complete failure. Forest-based livelihoods have been undermined with increasing state control over forests and common agricultural practices such as shifting cultivation have been made illegal. While the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Rights to Forest) Act, 2006, goes some way in redressing land alienation, implementation has been slow in many States.
What comes across from Debasree De’s narrative is that the state has tried but failed to cushion the impact of this dispossession. On the one hand, the state does not want to stymie capital accumulation; on the other, it is aware that it must cater to the needs of all its citizens. The vast bureaucratic machinery for tribal development in the country is testimony to the latter, as are government schemes such as the Integrated Rural Development Programme and programmes targeted at women such as the Mahila Samridhi Yojana, which have had a fairly large presence in Adivasi areas.
Tribal development can be seen, therefore, as a form of governmentality that seeks to create new subjects who on paper are increasingly provided for by the state but more imon
A History of Adivasi Women in Postindependence Eastern IndiaThe Margins of the MarginalsBy Debasree De Sage Publications, New DelhiPages: 293 Price: Rs.995