January 05, 2014

Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch Holds First State Convention

Mariam Dhawale

THE Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch (AARM) organised its first Maharashtra state convention on December 21-22, 2013, at the Comrade Godavari Shamrao Parulekar Bhavan at Talasari in Thane district. It was attended by 362 delegates from 15 districts plus the union territory of Dadra & Nagar Haveli. There were also five observers from the adjoining tehsil of Umbargaon in Gujarat. The convention and its concluding rally were addressed by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat and by Jitendra Choudhury, minister of industries and commerce, rural development and forests in the Left Front government of Tripura. The bulk of the delegates were from the three stronger traditional districts of the adivasi movement in the state, viz Thane (178), Nashik (109) and Nandurbar (36). But a significant feature was that there were nearly 40 delegates from 12 other newer districts, including Ahmednagar, Yavatmal, Nanded, Pune, Amravati, Nagpur, Chandrapur, Gondia, Bhandara, Buldana, Jalna and Mumbai. Only a few districts with some adivasi population went unrepresented. As many as 347 of the 362 delegates were adivasis and they hailed from 16 different scheduled tribes in the state. INAUGURAL SESSION Lahanu Kom, former MP and former MLA, explained the objectives of this convention and warmly welcomed all the delegates. The convention paid homage to the memory of the legendary hero Nelson Mandela. A five-member presidium comprising Rajaram Ozare (MLA), Gunaji Gavit, Tapibai Mali, Devidas Mohkar and Tulshiram Katore was elected. The convention was inaugurated by Jitendra Chaudhury. He recalled the big struggles of tribal masses from pre-independence days, especially the Warli adivasi revolt in Maharashtra and the Gana Mukti Parishad’s struggle in Tripura, which began at around the same time in the 1940s. He touched upon the inspiring history of the tribal struggle in Tripura led by the red flag against the old monarchy before independence and against the Congress rule for three decades after freedom. As a result of constant struggles, the Left Front state government was voted to power for the first time in 1978. The speaker dwelt upon some of the striking achievements of the Left Front government of Tripura. Literacy in the state had increased dramatically from 20 percent in 1978 to 95.65 percent in 2013, which is now the highest for any state in the country. Per capita income which was abysmally low, has now crossed the national average. In the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and the MG NREGA, the central government has had to admit that the performance of Tripura is the best in the country. Radical land reforms, all-round help to the peasantry and the spread of education were some of the main factors that made this progress possible. The government also encouraged the preservation and enrichment of the culture and traditions of 19 different scheduled tribes in the state and set up a separate ministry for this purpose. The grave danger of extremism and terrorism was fought politically and the unity of tribals and non-tribals was maintained and strengthened. Jitendra Choudhury then dwelt upon the present situation of the eight crore tribals in the country and explained how the neo-liberal policies of both the Congress and the BJP-led governments were attacking them savagely in all spheres. Corruption was eating into all development programmes meant for them. All these issues must be taken up by the AARM in each state. Brinda Karat, while addressing the convention as the chief guest, said that although ‘Jal, Jungle, Jameen’ was the main slogan of adivasis, the aggressive penetration of capitalism was destroying the livelihood of tribals. The latest 2011 census data makes this clear. It says that only 37 percent of tribals are now dependent on agriculture. Thousands are being alienated from their land and are joining the ranks of agricultural workers in the countryside and of labourers in the cities. Tribals are being thrown into the class of the proletariat. Migration is becoming a very serious issue. We must study the situation in every state and district concretely and take up the relevant issues for struggle. Today, she said, we were greatly impressed to see our Comrade Godavari Shamrao Parulekar Senior and Junior College run by the Adivasi Pragati Mandal. I do not think that there is such a college with nearly 2000 students of whom over 90 percent are adivasis, which is run by us anywhere in the country. We also had a glimpse of the cultural programme presented by the students. Today lakhs of adivasi boys and girls go to schools and colleges. This was not the case earlier. What are the hopes, aspirations and dreams of this younger generation of tribals? Are we reaching out to these adivasi youth? Are we attracting them to our struggle and our ideology? These are questions that we must seriously consider and address. The same applies to the problems being faced by adivasi women. The AARM was formed as a platform to oppose the tremendous exploitation of tribals in our country, and to pressurise the government to change its policies related to tribals. While waging militant struggles on tribal issues, Brinda Karat concluded by calling upon the delegates to steer clear of identity politics that tries to pit tribals against non-tribals and by stressing upon the need to combat communal forces like the Sangh Parivar and extremist forces like the Maoists. She hailed the historic tribal movement in Maharashtra that has inspired the entire country, and expressed confidence that this movement would advance and expand further in the days ahead. RESOLUTION AND DISCUSSION J P Gavit, former MLA, then placed the 18-page draft resolution before the convention. It had been given in printed form to all the delegates. The resolution placed the problems faced by adivasis in Maharashtra. As per the 2011 census, the adivasi population in Maharashtra is one crore five lakhs. That comes to 9.4 percent of the total population of the state. Of the total adivasi population in the country, 10.17 percent lives in Maharashtra. There are as many as 47 main tribes in the state. The resolution pinpoints the myriad problems that tribals face, linking them to government policies. They relate to forest land, irrigation, displacement, employment, minimum wages, migration, food security, public distribution system, severe malnutrition leading to deaths of children, dearth of public health facilities, backlog in jobs, bogus caste certificates, lack of access to education, miserable plight of tribal hostels and hostel-schools and tremendous underdevelopment of all tribal areas in the state in every sector. The resolution concludes by setting out eight tasks for the future. In the rich discussion that followed, 27 delegates from 15 districts took part. They recounted not only the various problems faced by adivasis, but also placed inspiring accounts of the struggles that they had waged. They gave several suggestions for consolidating work in old areas and expanding work to new areas. After the reply by J P Gavit, the resolution was unanimously adopted. Veteran leader L B Dhangar, who has worked in the tribal belt of Thane district for over 60 years, greeted the convention and recounted his rich experiences of struggle. He called for launching a struggle on the demand of a tribal autonomous region within the state of Maharashtra The credentials report stated that out of the 362 delegates, 36 were women; 347 of the delegates were adivasis, and they came from 16 different tribes. Four delegates were dalits and 11 came from the non-ST/SC category. Of the delegates, 212 were peasants, 130 were agricultural workers, seven were workers, four were students and three were teachers/employees. While 216 delegates had land in their name, of whom 184 had dry land and 32 had irrigated land, 146 were landless and 274 delegates were cultivating forest plots. Of these, 93 FRA claims were accepted by the government, but 181 were not. This was significant. As many as 51 delegates were less than 30 years of age while another 122 were between 31 and 40 years old. 58 had completed their SSC, 39 had completed their higher secondary, 36 were graduates and 12 were post-graduates. 253 delegates were from AIKS, 37 from DYFI, 27 from AIAWU, 26 from AIDWA, 12 from CITU, five from SFI and two from the Self-Respect Movement. CONCLUDING SESSION The convention unanimously elected a 51-member state committee, which also included representatives from all mass organisations. It elected J P Gavit from Nashik district as chairman, Barkya Mangat from Thane district as convenor and Jaising Mali from Nandurbar district as joint convenor. Senior leaders L B Dhangar, Lahanu Kom and Kumar Shiralkar were elected as advisors. The convention also elected 30 delegates to the all-India conference of the AARM at Bhubaneshwar. CPI(M) state secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale said that this successful AARM convention was the first in a series of three statewide conventions that were being organised to highlight the problems of oppressed social sections and to launch struggles on them. The second convention of the Alpasankhyank Hakka Sangharsh Samiti (Struggle Committee for the Rights of the Minorities) would be held at Solapur on January 8 and the third convention of the Jaati Anta Sangharsh Samiti (Struggle Committee for the Annihilation of Caste) would be held at Nagpur on January 25. He said that the two main bases of the adivasi movement in the state are in Thane and Nashik districts, followed by Nandurbar district. But in the last few years, work among tribals has spread to districts like Ahmednagar, Yavatmal, Nanded, Amravati, Pune and Buldana. This must expand further to all districts with an adivasi population and we must emerge as their true champions. In the immediate future he set out three important tasks. The first was to launch big struggles on the burning problems of adivasis in each district in the month of February and to make special efforts to involve new, young and educated sections among adivasis, who generally remain away from our fold. The second was to complete the signature campaign on the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. The third was to organise district and tehsil conventions of the AARM in the next six months. He concluded by stressing the challenge of defeating the BJP and the Congress and ensuring the victory of the Left and secular forces in the coming Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections. He called upon the delegates to launch struggles to expand our tribal base and increase our political influence. Jitendra Choudhury and Brinda Karat congratulated all the delegates for the great success of this convention and expressed confidence that work among tribals would surely grow in the days ahead. J P Gavit congratulated the Thane district comrades for having made excellent arrangements to host this convention. After the vote of thanks by the new convenor Barkya Mangat and the concluding remarks by Rajaram Ozare, the convention ended with great enthusiasm and resounding slogans. A large and spirited public meeting of several thousand people was held at the Talasari Naka. The meeting began with the traditional adivasi Tarpa dance. The meeting was presided over by Rajaram Ozare and was addressed by Brinda Karat, Jitendra Choudhury, Dr Ashok Dhawale, J P Gavit, Jaising Mali, Barkya Mangat and Mariam Dhawale.