Less time to play and more time to war Tribal Kids have in Chattisgarh: Nandini Sundar

Nandini Sundar talks on a variety of issues with The Morning Chronicle
Nandini is a beautiful albeit popular name in Chhattisgarh, especially in Bastar. Simultaneously, this name also courts numerous controversies. Armed with numerous national and international degrees, Nandini teaches sociology at Delhi School of Economics. She has been connected with Jawaharlal Nehru University and enjoyed constant exposure in magazines and newspapers. She has also been a member of the Technical Assistance Group which draft the Rules of Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2007. Additionally she also served in the erstwhile Planning Commission and NCERT.

Nandini Sundar played an important role in rendering Salwa Judum unconstitutional. Consequently, she was also accused of being a Maoist. Nandini would probably be one of the rare or only social activist whose effigy was burnt by the Chhattisgarh Police. Nandini Sundar was interviewed by Shams Khan of The Morning Chronicle when she came to Patna to attend Chandrasekhar Memorial lecture in Patna. Excerpts of Nandini's conversation with Shams Khan are as:

Shams: Certain lobbies have created perception that all the social activists are anti development, in fact they have succeeded in spreading this view. What is your take?

Nandini: It seems a strange confusion. Name any development project which is in peoples  interest and has faced opposition from social activists. Name a single such social worker/activist who has spoken against any project which is in the interest of general public. Social activists have opposed only those projects that are not in the interest of people. Social activists have opposed projects that would lead to large scale displacement of people. Take the example of Sardar Sarovar Dam. Check the data of migrants. Calculate the gains and losses, and then tell if social workers are wrong.

Shams: Social Activists are hypocrites. They initially criticize advance technological shift on various pretext but later on they themselves embrace them. Examples include computerization, Information Technology, etc. Now once again they are highly critical of the bullet trains. How do you respond to that?

Nandini: As I said it is a very strange kind of accusation. I believe most of the great inventions were done by people who were associated with the goodwill of the society somewhere and most of them were social activists. Take Albert Einstein himself, who was a great pacifist. Take Alan Turing, the father of the computer, he was a computer scientist, as well as a social activist.

As far as technology of bullet trains is concerned, no social activist is opposing the technology India will bring. Social activists are raising concern over current condition of our railway system. Do we not need to improve our existing rail system?

Shams: The present Maoist movement seems to be more Anti capitalist and less Anti feudal. Do you view it as changing face of Naxal Movement in India?

Nandini: Today, capitalism has taken the place of feudalism. The nature of the Naxal movement has not changed.  

Shams: The government machinery accused you of being soft towards Maoist. In the name of human rights, activist like you and Bella Bhatia have joined hands with the Maoist. What is your reaction?

Nandini: What do you think? Right now, I told you that I am raising my voice against the capitalism of their thinking. Every time I have raised the issue of Chhattisgarh I have advocated peace talks. Guns should be silenced on both the sides. Government is no longer interested whether Maoists should face criticism or not, their sole issue is that the government should not be criticized. If someone speaks against the government, the government terms them as Maoists, anti-national, anti-development and abuses are heaped on them. The government is hardly interested in peace talks for solution to the problems. The government is relying only on the strength of the gun to squeeze the people. Big mining companies are coming, and all these allegations are ways of misleading them.

Shams: Wherever violence is occurring, especially in Chhattisgarh, I saw that the children are most affected there. Children are targeted by both the government and the Maoist.

Nandini: There the children’s life is very painful. There is less time for the kids to play and enjoy but more time to war. That is to say they are forced to fight. There are no schools for studying. Since the Salwa Judum started, the security forces have been living in schools, and the Maoists are blasting those schools. After that there are no schools there for almost 12 years. Their childhood passes in situations where there are no schools, no rationshops and no anganwadis.

Shams: This will only increase the problem?

Nandini: Right now, there is a need for peace talks and return to normal life. We had tried a lot. A rehabilitation program was created. There was an effort that there should be an independent commission with help from the government or courts, where a retired judge would oversee the establishment of schools, primary health centres in different villages but the government did not show any interest in any of them. Rather the government imposed the entire accusation on us.

Shams: Do you think absence of any democratic political force among tribals of Chhattisgarh is the main factor of growth of Ultra Left Movement? For example, in Jharkhand, there is an alternative political platform like Jharkhand Mukti Morcha which gives them a chance to ventilate their grievances but in Chhattisgarh there is no such political organization and that forces them to take up arms. In Chattisgarh, beside ruling BJP, the other party is Congress which on this issue has more or less same view.

Nandini: This is not true.  Communist Party of India was a big strength there, but after Maoists came, their cadres went with them as they were more dominant in the villages, making them feel more secure. They thought they would get benefit in sharing of land. And in all the elections most parties join hands with the Maoists. For example, in the  2013 elections, the BJP had an understanding with the Maoists. Newspapers reported  that Dharmendra Chopra was a person who used to arrange meetings between  BJP's top Brass and the Maoists. It is not that this is happening in the absence of the parties. Truly speaking CPI is the only party that is being suppressed from both the sides. The police think they are Maoists and the Maoists feel that the CPI has become revisionist.

Shams: What is the reason that the Left Extremism is declining in the whole world and it is emerging in India?

Nandini: Not so. Right now there is the phase of Right Extremism. The history of left extremism in Latin America is that there were radical left movements in the 50s, leading to dictatorship. There were dictators. Then  the extreme leftists  compromised through peace talks. You will see that this year, FARC, which was the oldest guerrilla group in Colombia, has come out of the jungle and emerged overground. Everyone goes through a phase. In between there were new types of movements in Latin America. I do not think it's finished. I think that something new will come after this.

Shams: As a sociologist how do you view the upsurge in tribals as well as Dalits in India in recent years?

Nandini: The cases of Tribals and Dalits are totally different. Their problems are different. If you look at Health and Nutrition, tribals are the poorest people. 46% of the tribal women have a body mass index - BMI less than 18.5. Their landholdings are reduced. They have suffered maximum migration. Their trafficking is the highest. The problem of tribals is the decrease of natural resources.

This is not the case with the dalits. Here the issue is of caste system, it is of high and low, of untouchability. The problem of  Dalits is related to their work. Both the groups have deep problems but very different.

Unfortunately, the RSS has made a lot of entry into the tribal area and has associated many people. Tribals are not able to recognize their interests. By identifying themselves as Hindus, they are fighting with the Dalits and Muslims. They cannot see how much they have suffered due to association with the RSS.

Shams: What prompted you to take up the cause of tribals of Chhattisgarh?

Nandini: When I was doing my PhD in 1990, then I had made an all India tour. At that time, in sociology, there was a great passion for reading about revolts. I went to every place in the country where rebellion was taking place. At that time there were very big revolts like Narmada Bachao Andolan etc. In this order, I liked Chhattisgarh Bastar very much.

At that time a movement of Subaltern Studies was going on in the history of Sociology. I had to do a research on Bastar's movement against the British. Nobody had done any research on Bastar's movement. So I researched it. Since I had done PhD on the same subject, I started activism from there.

Shams: The agony of Displaced persons has fuelled such discontent. How do you link the resentment in Chhattisgarh with the peaceful movement led by Medha Patkar and others who are fighting for the cause of displaced person in Sardar Sarovar?

Nandini: This is called path dependence in social science. The movement of Medha Patekar was in Madhya Pradesh, which was the area of ​​Gandhians. There was the method of protest was Gandhian so the people there chose the Gandhian way. As Chhattisgarh was closer to Andhra and the People's War Group in Andhra was stronger from beginning. There they took that path which was already available to them there. That is to say that the methods of protest that were available were adopted by the respective groups.


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