Why do we feel a sense of relief when the year comes to an end and celebrate the dawn of the New Year? Surely when the year has been good, you should feel sad that it has ended. And perhaps apprehensive that the year to come will not be so good. Whatever our feelings, the close of the year makes at least some people pause and think about the year that is about to end, about its highs and its lows.
2004 has been a year of change for us in India, most principally because of the change of government at the Centre. The hype around "India Shining" has disappeared. But the India Un-shining has not yet registered. For the first part of the year, we thought only of politics and elections. Once that episode ended, and also government formation, our attention shifted elsewhere. Now we have the property battles of the wealthy, the Birlas and the Ambanis, the public behaviour of the famous, like the recent Shahid-Kareena episode, and the court battles of religious figures, like the murder charges against the head of the Kanchi Mutt that dominate the news. And, of course, the antics of the rebellious women in the out-of-power Bharatiya Janata Party, Uma Bharati and Smriti Irani. In between all these media preoccupations, there is not much space or time left to report on what is happening in the other India, the one that is not shining.
So spare a thought as the year ends to the adivasis of Kashipur in Orissa. The State appears and disappears from the news. It appears when there is tragedy, flood, drought, cyclone. It disappears when no such natural or man-made calamity kills and maims hundreds of thousands. The fact that regardless of major tragedies, there are minor disasters occurring almost every day in Orissa is not the stuff of headline news.
Orissa is poor, but it is also incredibly rich. Beneath its luxuriant forests, inhabited mostly by the adivasis who form 22 per cent of the population, lies a huge store of precious minerals. Orissa has 70 per cent of all the bauxite found in India, the sixth largest deposit in the world. It also has 90 per cent of India's chrome ore and nickel and 24 per cent of its coal. Multinational mining companies have long been making a beeline for the State mostly to invest in the mining industry. Despite its poverty, Orissa is amongst the top 10 States to attract Foreign Direct Investment.
Yet, if you ask an adivasi woman or man what they think about all this, they will tell you that they are not impressed. They do not like the idea of their sacred mountain being carved up by a mining company to extract the mineral that lies beneath. They do not care to be forced to leave their ancestral lands and forests to be relocated in cement boxes that are supposed to be their new, "modern" homes, which they are told to accept gratefully as symbols of "progress".
From December 1 to 16, hundreds of adivasis, mainly women, have been demonstrating against the company determined to mine bauxite in the Kashipur block of Rayagada district. These people have fought against the mining company for 12 years and have successfully blocked access to Baphlimali, a sacred mountain that is the site of the mine.
- Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik
And to prove his point, the police lathi-charged a peaceful gathering of adivasis protesting against the project and marking the anniversary of the police firing of 2000. Sixteen people including three women were injured. Such news has become so commonplace that it failed to make the national news although one hopes that at least the local papers in Orissa reported it. I looked in vain in a number of newspapers, including one that circulates in the east, and found not even one paragraph on this protest.
The struggle in Kashipur is just one example of India Un-shining, an India we cannot forget. Economic progress comes at a cost. But we can still ask whether the cost has to be borne by people who will never see the benefits. Displacement for the adivasis of Kashipur will mean, inevitably, them joining the ranks of the urban poor. And as we know in Mumbai, there is no welcome awaiting them in our cities. On the contrary, they have been labelled "outsiders". Even if they manage to find a spot to live and some work, they will soon face demolition and displacement, not unlike what they are fighting against in Kashipur. Can one blame them if they prefer to stay where they are and fight it out?
As the year ends, we can certainly celebrate the progress India has made, the recognition it is getting for some of its skills.
We can also applaud a government that is moving in the direction of recognising the rights of the poor to work and of women to an equal inheritance. Yet, we cannot forget that large parts of India still lag behind in basic social indicators such as education and health, that the male-female sex ratio is a scandal, that violence against women continues unabated, and that the disempowered, like the adivasis of Kashipur, continue to fight an unequal battle for their rights.