‘Development is a mischievous term, one which is universally understood as something ideal- perhaps a ‘better life’. But, such usage conceals the real meaning of development.
–Rajan Gurukkal ,Death of Democracy: An Inevitable Possibility under Capitalism
Karl Marx, in his monumental work Das Kapital, traces the origin of capital and consequently the class distinction between possessors and non-possessors, to the Enclosure Movement in England which facilitated the primitive accumulation of capital in the form of land. In the 16th century, empowered by the Enclosure Act, arable land which was previously held in common by peasants and agriculturalists, were forcibly expropriated and converted to privately owned pasturelands for the grazing of sheep and the shearing of wool- the raw material for the booming textile industry.
The latter half of the 18th Century brought with it the de-population of these enclosures and pasturage. Peasants, agriculturalists, clans, and sometimes even whole villages were swept away by the large-scale appropriation of communal land by the nobility. Between 1814 to 1820, 15,000 members of the Highland Celtic Clan i.e, about 3000 families were systematically hunted and rooted out, an eviction enforced by British soldiers. Their villages were burnt and resistance met with violence. This ‘systematic theft’ (in the words of Marx) , of communal property, according to Francis bacon, ‘bred a decay of people, livelihoods and a decay of towns churches and tithes.’
A few centuries hence, in 2018, in a whole different part of the world, the 14th Prime Minister while inaugurating the world’s tallest statue standing upon forcibly acquired Adivasi sacred ground, in a state still grappling with the aftermath of a mega-dam project, proclaimed, to a crowd of protesting Adivasis, facing the grim prospect of another displacement, that ‘Tourism would surely boom’.
Except that these events occurred several hundred years apart, there is very little difference between the two instances. There is a singular antagonist in these stories- the capitalist paradigm of development which is induced by the State, facilitated by the law, and upheld by the judiciary.
The Paradigm of Development
The Preamble to the Indian Constitution declares the country as a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. However, in the years immediately after independence, the Indian Government ironically adopted colonial notions of development that prioritized rapid industrialization, privatization, and accelerated economic growth, the same notions which had resulted in India’s depredation during the 200 years of colonial rule. The New Economic Policy of 1991, adopted neo-liberal economic policies and equated socialism with economic growth.
This perpetuated the narrative that undertaking mega-projects like the construction of dams, steel, and nuclear power plants, mines, ports, and the provision of unlimited cheap labor and raw materials in the form of natural resources would invite foreign investments into India. This would not only result in her development and progression but would also eradicate the problems of unemployment and poverty, consequently creating social welfare. But, this paradigm of ‘development’ owing to its colonial roots has proved to be predatory, almost parasitic, for it thrives upon the oppression, the continued impoverishment of the powerless, in order to not only acquire but accumulate communally held resources.
This paradigm of development deprives common people of their means of subsistence and vastly benefits the capitalist class by placing colossal amounts of wealth- wealth produced by the exploitation of the ‘de-titled’ masses- in the hands of a few. It has conditioned the common man to accept ‘anti-people schemes as natural, inevitable or even, ‘a necessary evil’ for growth and progression of the State. Under such a paradigm, the seizure of communally owned property by the State, the displacement of occupiers, the destruction of their livelihoods, their death, injury or exploitation, environmental degradation, exhaustion of natural resources, destruction of habitats, etc, that is, the social costs become ‘collateral damage’, inconsequential, even justified in ‘national interest’ or for ‘the greater good’.
According to a study conducted by the Indian Social Institute in 2011, around 50 million people have been displaced in India due to ‘development’ projects in over 50 years. Of these, the Adivasi communities constitute 40% of the total displaced population. These figures are not accidental. Large-scale development-induced displacement is not the result of a State mishap. Booker prize Winner, Arundhati Roy in her article, ‘For the Greater Good’ writes, “The Indian State is not a state that has failed. It is a State which has succeeded impressively in what it set out to do. It has been ruthlessly efficient in the way it has appropriated India’s resources-its land, its water, its forests, its fish, its air- and re-distributed it to a favored few (in return, no doubt, for a few favors).”
It has conditioned the common man to accept ‘anti-people schemes as natural, inevitable or even, ‘a necessary evil’ for growth and progression of the State.
It is equally ironic as it is disappointing, that it is the very institutions set up for the protection of the poor and marginalized that take advantage of their incomprehension and orchestrate, through the systematic dissolution of rights and the abuse of wide ambit of ‘public use’, large scale land acquisitions – a euphemism for day-light robbery.
The Doctrine of Eminent Domain enshrined within the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 has been the most potent tool in dispossession for the purpose of development. According to the doctrine, the State enjoys ultimate power over all land within its territory. It follows that the State has the right to invoke this right for the ‘public good’, and the consequent compulsory acquisition of land cannot be legally challenged or resisted by any person or community. What constitutes `public purpose’ is deliberately left open in the law, and the power to determine its definition rests essentially with the State.
Tribal communities often bear the cost of development, the development of which they are rarely the beneficiaries.
The State empowered by the liberal construction of ‘public purpose’ along with the reiteration of the Supreme Court that public interest must be given priority over individual interests, has used the wide ambit of public purpose, to acquire property for everything– from the construction of a statute on forcibly acquired Adivasi sacred ground to the construction of a network of dams displacing 40,000 families including indigenous tribes. From the construction of a resort on tribal land encouraging ‘human safaris’, to the redirection of natural resources to private entities at the cost of Adivasi livelihood- all sanctioned by the Supreme Court at the cost of minority interest. Democracy wailed in her grave.
Adivasi communities are disproportionately impacted
The Adivasi communities are disproportionately impacted by displacement induced by the current development paradigm. According to a study conducted by the Centre for Policy Research in 2013, the Scheduled Tribes (ST) constitute 55% of the people displaced since independence due to the construction of dams, mines, industrial development, and the creation of wildlife parks and sanctuaries. 65% of the STs are landless as per the 2011 Census. This, despite the fact that the Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Indian Constitution carve out a separate legal and administrative framework for certain designated tribal majority areas within the territory of India.
Tribal communities often bear the cost of development – the development of which they are rarely the beneficiaries. The tribal way of life is intrinsically linked to the land upon which they have historically dwelt. Their livelihood, traditions, beliefs, culture, and identity are built around the spaces occupied by and resources accessible to them. Nature, to many tribal communities, is sacred. Therefore, the displacement of tribal communities from spaces which they have historically occupied not only affects their traditional livelihoods but also compels a restructuring of their lives as a consequence of which traditional knowledge, history, and culture is lost and the community scattered. Therefore, for tribal communities, resettlement does not amount to rehabilitation.
Section 41 and 42 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in land Acquisition Act, 2013, prohibits the acquisition of scheduled areas for developmental purposes. However, the prospective application of the Act provides little benefit to tribal communities already displaced, who still have not obtained compensation due to the lack of formal documentation proving their title over the land of which they have been dispossessed. In 2009, around 245 Baiga families in Chhattisgarh were evicted from the Achanakmar Tiger Reserve. The families were moved to an area where their traditional livelihood of collecting Sal leaves, Tendu, and Bamboo was no longer viable. Not only was this a gross violation of the constitutional right to livelihood under Article 21, but this also resulted in food insecurity, abysmal health conditions, and forced urbanization of tribal lives.
With their traditional means of livelihood becoming non-feasible, displaced Tribals, in an attempt to earn a livelihood, are pushed into the mainstream informal sector.
With their traditional means of livelihood becoming non-feasible, displaced tribals, in an attempt to earn a livelihood, are pushed into the mainstream informal sector and end up building the very dams that displaced them.
Perhaps this has been the outcome the State desired- to create a self-producing capitalist system, where every new profit-making project, generated through forced displacement, sufficient cheap labour required for the project, adding to the already voluminous, insecure, and gravely exploited proletariat class. Under such a development paradigm that thrives upon the continued existence of the exploiter and the exploited, a class struggle is inevitable. As instances of tribal insurgency rise, some would say that it has already begun.