‘They’re All Gone’


In 2008 Mahammad Ashlam of KBK Samachar, a video collective in Odisha, reported that young Adivasi men and women were singing and dancing at a traditional gathering in Kalahandi district when traffickers in jeeps invaded and dragged the women away. This is not an isolated instance. Lily Kujur of Adivasi Mahila Suraksha Mandal in Rourkela, Odisha, informed CGNet Swara, a mobile reporting service, that more than 40,000 Adivasi women have been trafficked out of just one Odisha district, Sundergarh, of whom 15,000 have vanished without trace.

According to activist Gladson Dungdung of Jharkhand, Delhi alone has almost half a million Adivasi girls and women, mainly working as domestic servants in homes but also as prostitutes. Brokers from placement agencies roam tribal villages, especially those where agricultural livelihoods have been damaged by mining, luring women with false promises of jobs in the city. Dungdung charges that these agencies also organize auctions during the Adivasi festivals of Sarhul and Karam, selling women to other brokers or directly to prospective employers. Many of the trafficked women are sexually abused, some are killed, and others return with a child in tow—only to be rejected by their home communities. Many just disappear leaving no clues of their whereabouts. "When I go back to my home village" in Sindega district, says Dungdung, "I hardly see any girls. They're all gone."

If anything, matters are even worse in Chhattisgarh, where the destructive impact of mining and displacement has been compounded by the violent conflict between government forces and Maoist guerrillas. Starting around 2005, the Central Reserve Police Force and the state-sponsored tribal militia Salwa Judum forced some 50,000 Adivasis into camps in order to cut off any contact with the Maoists. Another lakh fled into Andhra Pradesh, estimates anthropologist Nandini Sundar of Delhi University. These state's representatives "were killing people, raping women as and when they caught them, and using girls from the camps as sex slaves," says Sundar. Twenty-two CRPF outposts now ring the Raoghat mining area in north Bastar—in order to deter protests against mining, explains Sundar—and in parts of Dantewada such camps can be found every 5 km. These security centres are usually located on school premises, and with men roaming unhindered many girls are too terrified to attend any more. Few dare to venture into the forest either for fear of encountering police or soldiers there.

Tehelka magazine, not very long ago reported that although official figures say 9,000 Adivasi women have been trafficked from Chhattisgarh in the past decade, activists believe the figure to be 10 times that. Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj noted that the state had yet to register a single FIR for 99 rapes allegedly conducted by the Salwa Judum—despite a 2011 Supreme Court order directing the Chhattisgarh government to act on detailed affidavits regarding them. Such studied tolerance of atrocities committed by the 'keepers of the law' indicates to many observers that the Indian state is now indifferent to the human rights violations arising from its subjugation of Adivasis on behalf of the mining industry. And it is more so after the promulgation of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Ordinance 2015, with a view to granting mining lease to global mining giants and their Indian agencies for 50 years.

Half a century ago, anthropologist Verrier Elwin had observed that the ghotul, or the Muria Adivasi dormitory for adolescents celebrated the idea that "youth must be served, that freedom and happiness are more to be treasured than any material gain, that friendliness and sympathy, hospitality and unity are of the first importance, and above all that human love—and its physical expression—is beautiful, clean, and precious." Almost all of India's ghotuls have been eradicated by now. Instead, as a result of relentless exposure to sexual and other aggression committed by the diku world, Adivasi youth—"a few, maybe, but a dangerous few, are regarding violence as an integral part of sexual relations."

Across the country, besieged Adivasis say that the only hope of slowing the disintegration of their communities is to fight the ingress of the outside world. For the Dongria Kondh of Odisha's Niyamgiri, the disfigurement of the Adivasi culture in Lanjigarh, at the foot of the mountain, was reason enough for their collective decisions, to stop Vedanta from mining the mountaintop. And as a Dongria man told journalist Amitabh Patra, the government and the company had sent forces who were "beating us up, dragging us by our long hair, trespassing in our houses, attacking our women and girls, insulting our gods by entering our sacred places wearing shoes, and looting our valuables. Is this what educated people do?" So far as Adivasis across the country can tell, the answer is an emphatic "Yes."

Vol. 47, No. 29, Jan 25 - 31, 2015