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

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