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Adivasis speak up

The Adivasis can no longer be taken for a ride. They are wide awake to the realities that confront them. And leading them forward in their struggle for their rights is C K Janu. LEELA MENON speaks to this Adivasi Joan of Arc when she was in Kochi recently

IF ANYONE thought that the Adivasi imbroglio was resolved with the agreement between Chief Minister Mr A K Antony and the Adivasi leaders they are in for a surprise. The Adivasi hearts are smouldering with resentment at the non-fulfilment of the accord and the perception that they have had. Talk to C. K. Janu, the Adivasi Joan of Arc in the making, and your complacence will be shattered, converting your long-cherished belief that the Adivasis are nave and can be taken for a ride through rhetoric or token rewards into a myth. They are so enlightened that they are even planning to hold a tribal court in Wayanad to try the Forest Department.

Adivasis are wide-awake, sensitive to the fact that political parties are exploiting them. Especially the Marxists, whose ongoing apparently pro-Adivasi agitation cuts no ice with them. "It was the CPM who kept the Adivasis as fronts and got them arrested while encroaching land. They are still in jail", she points out. The Adivasis have become apolitical now. "We will form our own party", Janu says. She was speaking after a meeting held in Kochi with the leaders of the Adivasi-Dalit Samara Samithy, which she had formed.

Won't that party be hijacked, as was her agitation? She negates it. She proceeds: "It was EMS who made the Tribal Project for Adivasis in 1957, promising 50,000 acres. The land is still under government control, growing coffee and pepper. The Land Reforms came in 1960 and Government took over excess land and the Vesting Assignment said 50 per cent of land would be given to Adivasis. There are 23,000 ha in Mananthavady. But we are yet to get land. All we demand is the implementation of the Land Legislation", she says.

Janu is apparently biding her time, waiting for the period of the contract with the Chief Minister to materialise or end. "It will be one year since the contract on October 16. The contract promised integrated development of Adivasis, with inclusion in the five-year-plan. If nothing happens till then we know what to do." Janu is articulate, emphatic, and clear about the rights of her community.

She ridicules the furore about Mathikettan encroachment: " It has been going on for 25 years. Why no protest till now and why the furore now?" she asks meaningfully, pointing out that it was a deliberate bid to subvert the accord and divest the Adivasis of the promised land. She points out that the Adivasis were promised 2252 acres of land in Mathikettan. "Mathikettan was already encroached and there are 12-year-old cardamom plants to prove it. A Congress committee building exists there and there are roads. According to the agreed Adivasi Master Plan 610 Adivasis were to be given land in Mathikettan. The Adivasi colony was government-recognised, as proved by the existence of a school. And now it is decided not to give land to Adivasis at Mathikettan. This is a clear subversion of the agreement entered with us", she asserts. She demands that the unauthorised encroachment be evicted and the Adivasis given the land. "We do not destroy forests. If we cultivate cardamom, it is by maintaining the forest, not cutting trees. No one can care for the forest as the Adivasi. Otherwise this monsoon forest will disappear", she warns.

Janu may be uneducated but she is very up front about the geography of the Adivasi lands, their rights, and their problems. She points out that Mathikettan includes Kallipara, which was old leased land, the three central hills and the V.N.Rao-Mathikettan Estates. "Controversy arises only when the Adivasi demands lands. It is a ruse. Mr Antony says now that it would be maintained as a forest. There is no effort, however, to evict the encroachers who cultivate ganja nearby because he is a prisoner of the ganja-forest lobby."

She argues that the Adivasis can be given land from the area in the possession of the Government, such as reserve forests, land with corporations like the Forest Development Corporation and the Plantation Corporation which is sustaining a loss of 1.5 crores annually as well as surplus land vested with the Government. "If the Adivasi wants we can destroy the entire forests of Kerala. We do not do it because we love the land. It is we who sustain the forests", she says.

When pointed out that all the land once given to them have been taken away from them by bribing them with alcohol or tobacco, Janu says: "That was then. It is now. We were unwise about the land because we thought all the forest belonged to us. We had lived off it for centuries and had never craved for ownership till now. It is only when Government banned us from the forest by making stringent laws that we became aware of our deprivation."

According to Janu this is the prelude to a transformation of Adivasis. "Our population has exploded. We have no land, no means for survival. There are 35 tribes among Adivasis. We die from starvation and we are given just a symbolic one-week of free rations. Adivasis are going to Karnataka in search of jobs now." Janu feels that the public is with her now, after her `Navothana Yathra'. After October 16 she plans to start an `Adivasi Abhayarthi Vimochana Rally', proclaiming resurgence. The framework of the stir to follow will be crafted later. Whom will she net into her proposed apolitical party? "The Adivasis, the Dalits, the slum dwellers, the fisherfolk... all the deprived of Kerala. We have lost faith in politicians. We want to forge an apolitical front."

Janu was opening her heart on these sensitive issues at the residence of Kamala Surayya and all we could do was wish her luck.

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