When progress stifles democracy

Adivasis are no less than ecological con-servators in the way they understand and relate to nature.

When notions of linear time are being challenged by theoretical physicists today, the concept of development as a linear system seems to have remained stagnant. Time, as scientists say, could flow in different directions. But, it does not pre-exist. The direction and flow of time have to be deduced from what’s happening in the universe.

In that sense, if one tries to unpack the politics of development, one can say that we have failed to understand multiple notions of time as multiple notions of development. In India, however, this does exist.

Today, the situation has beco-me more tragic in terms of understanding these notions. One feels that the polity is unresponsive to the cries and struggles of these thousands of indigenous people who identify themselves very close to nature’s time as opposed to industrial time.

Odisha as a state is known for its multiple facets. It has a glorious history of resistance, sacrifice and folklores. It is culturally rich in terms of its literature, craft and anti-imperial struggles. The biodiversity of the place has been safeguarded and taken care of by the indigenous inhabitants since millennia. The colonial plunder in this part of the state was no less when its rich mines and forest lands were ruthlessly extracted to keep the mills of Manchester in profits.

Like the saying, independen-ce for the indigenous population is nothing but a modern form of legitimate imperialism. It seems to be true with the way the Odisha government is progressing by encouraging and auctioning some of the rich bio-diverse areas for mining industries.

In 2005, the state government signed an agreement with Posco of South Korea for which iron ore mines in Khandadhar hills in Sundargarh was recommended. Since then, there has been a strong resistance from the tribal population living there. Recently, the Central government  included it in the list of mines to be auctioned for leasing out to the corporations.

Paudibhuyian is a tribe which has historically inhabited and maintained the ecological landscape of the region. The culture of this tribe resonates their affinity and relationship that they have carried over with the waterfall named Khandadhara (12th highest waterfall in India) and the mountains around it since centuries.

Today, the corporate loot over this cultural heritage site of ‘Paudi Bhuyian’ is turning out to be life threatening for thousands of people who live around depending upon minor forest produce and their traditional practices of agriculture.

Displacement is one of the inherent result of developmental projects. One has to understand that adivasis are amongst people whose knowledge, livelihood and lifecycle are culturally embedded in the very place they inhabit and live for centuries. Their notion of development does not require our indicators of economics, which we are trying to superimpose on them.

At another level, adivasis are no less than ecological conservators themselves in the way they understand and relate to nature both through their cultural traditions and their very own lifestyles.

So, in a way, their notions of development are way beyond what we think development to be in terms of industrial growth and economic indicators. The concept of cognitive justice is central to their understanding of development and becomes a precursor to how they imagine cognitive notions of development in terms of multiple forms of time, space and justice. 

Justice for nature
In one of my recent visits to the village of Burlubaru in Kandhamal district, Balakrishna Majhi, an adivasi from Kutia Kondh tribe, said “we don’t do farming to market vegetables and fruits, we do it for ourselves and for the various kinds of animal species who live along with us in this forest. In fact, we only carry home, the leftovers, after they have taken their own share.

“We offer prayers to all the species that we have come across in our lives, through our ancestral knowledge, stories and rituals because they are very much connected to why we exist on the first place today. It’s the way we adivasis have lived and will live.”

Balakrishna, in a way, reflected on something that developmental projects never talk about - justice for nature. It’s true, because nothing is more inclusive than the nature itself. Perhaps, that is the reason why adivasis have adopted a lifestyle which surrounds nature as their core value.

It is in that context that one would place the present corporate loot of land for mining in the name of development which governments like Odisha are facilitating. This imperial and genocidal act needs to be questioned and resisted in a larger way. The recent Niyamgiri and Kalinga Nagar movements are advanced outposts and inspirations for people who are forging ahead in terms of democratisation against the imperial governments and institutions of the time.

Unless and until these acts are questioned and resisted, sustainability as an idea in terms of life, lifestyle and livelihood will remain as mere power point presentations and textual documents under government policies and further lead to the continuation of developmental violence.

(The writer is with O P Jindal University, Sonepat, Haryana)

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