By Ashley Tellis
What is the value of an adivasi life in India? Clearly nothing and the recent Nulkatong massacre in Bastar is evidence. Surrounding a laadi and brazenly shooting its sleeping occupants, killing minors who were asleep there, smashing the heads of two of the adivasis and not conducting postmortems on those bodies, brutally beating adivasi women – mothers, grandmothers – who were protesting these murders – all of this is routine in Bastar and indeed all the lands where adivasis live. The state sees them as impediments to the juggernaut of development. If it has to litter the landscape with dead adivasi bodies on the path to development, that it not a problem.
The national media, as usual, did not cover it in any detail. The state, as usual, claimed it was an ‘encounter.’ Independent journalists and human rights activists, the latter under huge pressure already and constantly under attack, uncovered the facts against tremendous odds, are writing about it but the damage has been done and this is not a one-off incident. It is daily life in these regions. The state wants numbers to prove that the “Naxal menace” is destroyed. Anybody’s body in a bodybag will do. Nobody with any power will ask questions.
From the changing of the clothes on the victims’ bodies to the fact that not a single retaliatory bullet was fired from the laadi, the pathetic attempts at covering up what is clearly massacre of civilian adivasis can afford to be so pathetic only because no one will be held accountable. The courts, as usual, will drag their feet and the bodybags will multiply and videos of the dead bodies go viral.
Despite all the rights and protections on paper, this is the real story of adivasis in this country. We have to reckon with the fact that the image of booming India is literally soaked in the blood of adivasis, the original inhabitants of the land. They have neither the wherewithal nor the clout to reach Delhi and protest in large numbers.
What is the value of a migrant labourer’s life? Clearly nothing as the mass exodus of terrified migrants from Gujarat this past week has shown. Migrant labourers build the cities and towns we live in, clean the garbage we produce and survive on the less than minimum wage they earn, living away from their homes where they cannot even produce enough to survive, which is why they become migrant labour, and for their pains we turn on them and hound them out of cities and towns.
This is what the ‘development’ model is based on, the ‘Shining India,’ the ‘Make in India,’ a large informal economy full of exploited labour that doubles up as easy targets for the pent up rage of the lower and middle classes not happy with their share of the pie. You turn on the more vulnerable than you because you can and you terrorise them because you can.
We know they will come back; we know they need to come back. Most have no land; the ones that do cannot afford to cultivate it. Cities will grind to a halt if they really leave en masse but they are unaware of their irreplaceability. To them, they are easily replaceable, disposable, destroyable. Where do they go? Home is where they cannot survive. Survival trumps the idea of collective organising. Survival is more pressing and it depoliticises the best of us.
‘Smart cities’ are being built on the sweat, blood and tears, and the dead bodies of migrant labourers just as ‘development’ is being built on the raped and killed bodies of adivasis. The booming Indian economy is a necrophilic one. The Indian nation is a necrophilic one.
Yet we delude ourselves that this trail of bodies will not reach us.
Our indifference to what is happening to adivasi and the migrant is based on the mistaken impression that their lives have nothing to do with ours. Their fate is what is going to become of us in a matter of years. The destruction of the environment, based on this mad pursuit of money, is going to kill us all. We may not be as easy to kill as adivasis and migrant labourers but we will be destroyed too, sooner than we think.
Standing up with and for adivasis and migrants is the only way we can halt the ineluctable destruction of the world in which we live, the only way we can hold on to any idea of the future. The sooner we realise this the better.
Ashley Tellis is an LGBH, anti-communal, feminist, child, Dalit, adivasi, and minority rights activist. He lives and works in Hyderabad.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
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