Sixth Update from Rajaji: Andhra Pradesh–Displacements and Marginalization

Dear Friends,

Our entry into Andhra Pradesh was through an SEZ called Sri City SEZ. The first village that we visited was facing  a second round of displacements. In the first round they were brought away from Sri Harikota where the space research center was established, now they are being moved for a SEZ run by a private company. Only when you talk to these people will you understand their pain. They are asking some serious questions, such as how many times we should be moved, and ‘what will happen to our community if we are split into different places’?. What about the investment that we have made on our land etc? This is a problem not only Sri City; we are faced with same questions across Andhra Pradesh because there are many special economic zones in the names of ‘IT Park’, or ‘Knowledge City’ and what not. This is one method used for grabbing land. While there is no land for local poor people, there is  always enough land for companies coming from Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Displacement is an important issue in Andhra Pradesh. Nomads, Fisherfolks, Dalits and Adivasis are displaced in the names of mining, thermal power plant, Sez’s and construction of dams. Everything is being done with the understanding that this is ‘real development’. The craze for this model of development is growing very fast. In spite of all the negative consequences of this that we have seen in the so called developed world, Indians are refusing to learn from those lessons.

Some part of Andhra Pradesh is still very feudal, people who had land and opportunities were able to move up on the ladder of economic achievements. But now rather than giving away the land to the landless to move up and sustain themselves we are giving away all the land to SEZ’s and builders, The poor people are left with no opportunity other than migrating to the city. I am always surprised by the attitude of those who have moved ahead, but will not allow others to move up. In spite of all the education and exposure, part of Indian society is still behaving in this manner. In various press conferences.  I have been repeating my call to Non Resident Indians. I am saying that you have moved up economically. Many of you are settled in different parts of world and are earning substantial amounts money to manage your life. Now why can’t you persuade your family to give up part of their land to the tillers who are cultivating it? A large number of Indian tillers are tenants and according to the law, the tenant should get cultivation rights for the land. But in an informal and oral system like the one in India, the tenants are not legally recognized as tenants. There are hundreds of ways to bypass a law, and our educated people have learned to manipulate the laws.

Urbanization of the kind that is taking place in India today should frighten everyone. On one side people are driven from rural India to urban centers, whereas these urban centers can provide no amenities to the people coming. As a result , the cities are becoming more like glorified slums. The poor people , pedestrians, cyclists each one of them is a victim of this urbanization process. This process is also resulting in crime and violence. People find no other opportunity to make a living. In justifying their position they are justifying ongoing violence.

I was repeatedly writing about Adivasis and Dalits. I also wrote about the nomads and fisher folks. I haven’t said much about Muslims in India. My travel from Kerala to Andhra Pradesh, has made me understand, that the Muslim community, especially the women among them are in great distress. Hundreds of Muslim women came with petitions in various meetings, be it Ernakulam in Kerala or Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh. By looking at them you can easily make out the level of malnourishment they suffer from, and they have mere opportunities to deal with their problems. In the district of Mallapuram of Kerala, there are large numbers of Muslim families, without a house. There are not many social organizations, working among Muslim population. I may not justify myself if I say that the Muslims are into some kind of a ghettos, but by and large, they are separated from the other communities, and we don’t have much sight to see their problems. As proud people, they are also not in a position to stand in front of each other with folded hands and ask for help. My friend Arif Mohammad Khan ji tells me that I should not use the word minority for anybody, because Indian Constitution gives power to every individual to vote and act. No power is given to anyone as minority community. But somehow the overall situation in India has marginalized many groups of people, including the Muslims. While we have nothing against those who moved up or made the best out of their lives, we also believe that there should be a all out attempt to provide livelihood resources and justice to the marginalized communities. There cannot be any compromise in this matter. ‘Emerging Super Power’ is the phrase generally used for India by many people. Whether it is Brazil, India or China, thay all like this concept of super power. But what one needs to realize is that you can’t create a super power by pushing millions of your people into super poverty.

I am told that there is a strong lobby that is trying to slowly sell this idea that small agriculture is non-viable. They are also showing the examples of farmers committing suicide in various parts of India. By marketing this theory of non-profitability in agriculture, young people not going to agriculture. They are promoting the idea of consolidation of land for corporate farming. Whenever you ask them , where should the farmers and laborers go? The easy answer is “Put them into service sector”. The truth is that in the service sector and in the government sector put together not even 5% of Indians can be absorbed. Majority of the laborers who have the skill to work on the farm for food to produce, are not even trained for industries or the service sector. By destroying land and agriculture we will be pushing them to cities and slums.

My friend Pierre Avi in France says that the economy of France can be sustained only by sending 70% people back to farming. Ultimately what is important is to provide decent employment to everyone, but by destroying agriculture we are destroying this opportunity to the millions. On the contrary we should make more farmers by distributing land to the tillers so that they can make a decent living on their own farms. Lets also understand that only distribution of land is not enough to bring basic change. The agrarian reforms agenda should be followed with commitment. There is a tendency to blame the farmers, rather than blaming the policy direction and the way they are implemented.

India is very special when it comes to its capacity to change. At the macro level it is changing very fast. Indians can adapt and adjust to any changing environment. They can live like westerners. In many terms they can even defeat them in accumulating wealth and spending it. But at the micro-level, India is resisting this change. We would like to continue our caste system, we want to continue our feudal system. We don’t hesitate to exploit the poor and promote child labor and  thebonded labor system. We continue to maintain our dowry system. This is amazing that while one side is changing at a very fast pace, the other side is holding on to its position as it used to be. This should be a challenge to the thinking minds of India. Unless both the wheels move at the same time we will continue to have this half-baked India. I hope that the young minds in this country will revolt against it and work for a just and peaceful India.

PV Rajagopal


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