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Mainstream, VOL L, No 22, May 19, 2012

Gladson’s Burden

Tuesday 22 May 2012

by MALLIKA SARABHAI

Gladson is an Adivasi living in the war-torn Jharkhand. When he was a year old, his family—farmers owning 20 acres of fertile land—became homeless. Their ancestral land disappeared when a dam was built on the Chinda river. As compensation, the family was paid ”Rs 11,000”. When their neighbours and they protested, they were sent to Hazaribagh Jail. Could a family of six ensure food, education, housing and health care for their entire life with ”Rs 11,000”? They headed for the forests. They bought a small piece of land, tilled it, collected forest produce and tried to make a go of it. There was no way of recovering the prosperity they had enjoyed, but with the additional income from their livestock, they got by.

The state would not leave them alone. Cases were filed against Gladson’s father as an encroa-cher (in spite of his having all the papers to show that he had purchased the land on which they lived) and for illegally felling trees. The children studied under the trees, and during heavy rains, not at all. But Gladson’s father continued working for the betterment of their displaced community and taught his children to fight for justice.When Gladson was 11, his parents, on their way to Sim-dega Civil Court, were murdered, leaving their four children orphans.

A few years ago, as a human rights activist, Gladson wrote to his friends and supporters: “The worst thing is the culprits were not brought to justice. Can anyone tell us why the Indian State did not deliver justice to us, who snatched our resource in the name of development? Why there is no electricity in my village even today? Why my people do not get water for their fields, whose lands were taken for the irrigation projects? Why there is no electricity in those houses, who have given their land for the power project? And why people are still living in small mud houses, whose lands were taken for the steel plants? It seems that the Adivasis are only born to suffer and others to enjoy over our graves.

“After a long struggle, we all got back to life but my pain and sufferings did not end here. When I was working as a state programme officer in a project funded by the European Commission, a senior government officer and an editor of a newspaper (both from the upper caste) questioned my credentials saying that being an Adivasi, how could I have gotten into such a prestigious position? Similarly, when my friend had taken me to meet a newly wedded couple of the upper caste in Ranchi, I was not allowed to meet them saying that being an Adivasi if I meet the couple, they might become inauspicious and their whole life would be at stake. Was I a devil for them?

“However, when I joined another firm, I was totally undermined and not given the position which I highly deserved. I was racially discrimi-nated against, economically exploited and mentally disturbed. Can anyone tell me why I should not fight for justice? Can those so-called supporters of the unjust development process, who have not given even one inch of land for the so-called national interest, coin me as a Maoist ideologue, sympathiser and supporter? Respond to me: why should I shut up my mouth and stop writing against injustice, inequality and discrimi-nation? I have lost everything in the name of development and now I have nothing to lose, therefore I’m determined to fight for my own people because I do not want them to be trapped in the name of development. I have taken the democratic path of struggle, which the Indian Constitution guarantees through Article 19. A pen, mouth and mind are my weapons. I am neither a Maoist nor a Gandhian but I am an Adivasi who is determined to fight for his own people, whom the Indian State has alienated, displaced and dispossessed from their resources and is continually doing it in the name of development, national security and national interest even today.”

Recently in Jharkhand, I met Gladson. He had in his hands the first ever Jharkhand Human Rights Report, researched and compiled by him. “I have written about the atrocities committed by both sides, the Maoists and the Forces. So now both are gunning for me. Till now, I was considered a Maoist sympathiser. Now the Maoists call me a government lackey. A fair assessment gets no sympathy from any side.”
This often becomes the fate of people fighting against ills in our society. For each group of offenders, if one is not with them and points out their misdeeds, one is automatically “with the enemy”. Yet, without these voices the stories we get will always be one-sided.

The author is a well-known danseuse-cum-activist based in Ahmedabad.

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