April 13, 2016
The First Dwellers
There were sixty children squeezed into a room which could, at best, accommodate thirty. The room was in the Government Primary School. The teacher said he had Class I to Class V. He was teaching them to sign their names so they could be counted among India’s literates. The school is in the heart of Bhubaneswar—a modern capital city and the seat of power of the Indian state of Odisha; it is built on the lands of the ancestors of these very children. The children are Adivasis. Adivasi means First Dweller.
Pertinent Questions of Hakki Pikkis
Hakki Pikkis are a nomadic tribe settled forcibly on a small patch of land in the Anekal Taluk of Bangalore. When there is any theft or rape in the vicinity, the police first zero in on these hapless people. The Hakki Pikkis ask many questions which the ruling elite find impertinent:
“The British got the Cantonment, the Maharaja the Mysore Palace, and you all the Vidhana Soudha. We were robbed of our forests, our livelihood. The whole earth used to be ours, and now what did we get? We have been tied to this miniscule piece of land.”
“Earlier we could collect firewood from the forest, catch small animals and collect forest produce for food and livelihood. Then came a government. Now the forest is a National Park, the forest rangers harass us when we collect firewood or catch small animals and collect forest produce. And you have given us a ration card that gets us so little grain that our families often have to starve. Why didn’t you let us be?”
“If you could be named after the sun, the twinkling stars, the moon or the lamp for bringing light where there was darkness what’s wrong in naming our child Tubelight?”
Devadasis: God’s Own Sex Slaves
There are over 40,000 women in the Southern Indian State of Karnataka alone. They have been bonded in servitude to the Devadasi system. In the name of being “offerings” to some unseen divine being, they become “Slaves Of the Gods”. In reality, they are used to satiate the sexual desires of the rich and mighty. The feudal lords used divine sanction to ensure their writ ran unquestioned. They created Devadasis to sexually exploit women of the oppressed castes. They created ‘Devabhumi’: Gods own land to retain ceiling surplus land under their control and exploit the peasantry. Political bosses rarely question what has acquired divine sanction.
Thousands in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha too are forced into sex slavery. A large number of the young women end up in Mumbai’s Kamathipura, in the flesh trade.
In 2003, the Devadasi Vimochana Sangha (Organisation for the Liberation of Devadasis) was formed to liberate them from the inhuman practice and rehabilitate them. Consistent struggle forced the State Government to provide homes for 20,000 women and their families as well as a pension of Rs.500/- per month. The struggle goes on. The women need land right pattas; homes; bigger pensions; and security of livelihood.
The author, an academic and political activist, has been President of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union; at present he is Joint Secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha and a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He blogs at ofpeoplelifeandstruggles.blogspot.in.
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